Monday, October 12, 2009

Money Tracers

Ending the Tyranny of Opinion, of Money and of Things

There are many kinds of imitation, prejudice and ignorance in the world but one of the most oppressive and difficult to eradicate is the tyranny of opinion. John Amos Comenius suggested a systematic, scientific technique for eliminating the tyranny of opinion that has a strange resemblance to what Immanuel Kant later called the Categorical Imperative. If we are to avoid recklessness, he says, we need "the trusty guidance of a true and clear philosophy. Come! let us hasten to acquire it." This philosophy would counteract fundamentalism. We can set up this universal science or philosophy if we refuse to accept things as arbitrary rules, but instead demand a good reason for every idea, course of action, even for every object in the world.


"The last remedy for recklessness in handling affairs will be for us all to begin to avoid all misuse of things and observe and follow all their true uses. We should therefore hear no more of the attitude of the tyrant which has hitherto been applied all too widely to men and things alike.

`This is my will, and this is my command. My will supplies the reason.'

Instead we should recite the holy line:

'This is the will of God and Nature: let my will be based on reason.'

In other words, the Reasoning of conscience dictates that things should not be used for other purposes nor treated in other ways than they themselves wish to be used and treated according to their nature, and this is what God commands and prescribes.

(Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 9, para 20, p. 150)


Here Comenius goes beyond Aristotle's definition of science as "knowing the causes of things" and adds a further requirement that one adduce a public reason for all things. Plants and animals should be treated as "they themselves would wish to be used and treated according to their own nature." This hierarchy of treatment would seem to rule out the massive cruelty of factory farming. Identification can even be extended to objects now that RFID devices containing large amounts of data about origin, nature, intended use and recycling instructions can easily and cheaply be implanted in every product and artefact. This allows the price of objects to reflect their real costs over their useable lifespan, including disposal and recycling fees.

This new ability of things to be rendered fully accountable is most needed for money.

Until now it has not been possible or even thought desirable to track the ebb and flow of cash. At the same time, organized crime is spreading alarmingly around the world, in part because on the international level the transfer of funds has been "liberalized." Criminals can easily launder cash and move it around the world at the speed of light. In many countries and even certain American states one can register a numbered company and open a bank account with only minimal identification.

Meanwhile, it is possible circumvent morality and responsibility without even breaking the law. For example, shipping companies burn the cheapest, dirtiest grade of oil, with the result that shipping lanes around the world are choked by thick smog. Since there are no locals on the open sea to complain about the air, savings are passed on in cheaper goods shipped from poor lands where labour is cheap. This is globalization, the result not of closer international ties for the benefit of all but of liberalization on behalf of a selfish few. Comenius's "reasoning of conscience" would eliminate this injustice by demanding a reason for every decision, by requiring an accounting from companies, money and possessions themselves.

In a cosmopolitan world order there would be a clear system of priorities made up by philosophers, confirmed by a religious parliament and enforced by a world political body bent on peace. Embedded microchips would fit each object into a clear hierarchy of possessions; this would include domesticated and wild animals, each of which would have rights defined by their own nature. As for objects, an individual would choose to own things according to a clear moral hierarchy. Anything that is local, made by themselves or by artisans in their household would come first. Then, each costing a little more to own, would be artefacts made in their neighbourhood, locality, town, region, and so forth. Lowest priority would be given for things bought with borrowed funds, with outside money, etc.

Complex as this seems, it is easier to dispose of material possessions compared with ideas. This is where we will have to expend most of our time and patience in future, for each of us must accept and reject far more ideas and opinions than we do physical things. Although reason enters in, very often these choices are made on aesthetic grounds. For example, the decision to burn cheap oil by shipping companies would not have been allowed if artists and monks plied the sea-lanes seeking the most beautiful seascapes and places of meditation. This leads us to one of the most important innovations of a Comenian order, which I call "beautiful balance sheets." That will be our theme next time.


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