Where do I start?When I was small, back in the just-post-WWII era, I used to be sent to the corner grocer’s on occasion to pick up some small item for my grandmother. My widowed mom and I lived with her folks. (To set the scene, this was a respectable working-class residential neighborhood in Minneapolis, solid duplex and quadruplex houses of early-1900s vintage, tree-lined streets, back yards with clothes-drying yards and big old shrubs next to the garages’ walls.)
Anyway, Grandma would send me for butter, or something similar. My problem was that I didn’t understand change, and my inability to tell ahead of time whether I should wait to receive any was a source of nonplussed amusement to the grocer, who obviously thought a child of 6 or so should know better, and of intense embarrassment to me. I remember my mother trying to explain, but the whole issue of coins, their relative worth, why one couldn’t always pay what the item cost… it was Martian to me.
I can still taste the distant tang of frustration and confusion, of deep, basic incomprehension. Ever since, aside from the knowledge that there are parts of my intellectual equipment that are not, shall we say, well-oiled machines … I don’t remember numbers well, and have had various math problems all my life … aside from that, there’s something about MONEY that I find alarming. More than one something.
Here you’ve got this stuff that is omnipresent and inescapable, and which all of society, from your immediate family to the IMF, judges to be of the utmost importance. And that importance is brutally enforced: the judgments that are wrapped up in money! “Net worth”. “What’s it/he/she worth?” Upscale. High end. Economically disadvantaged. Seedy, down-at-heel, run-down. Skid row. Haves. Have-nots. Third World. Or look at the rhetoric of the recent presidential campaign coming from the anti-safety net side: Job creators, opportunity creators, freeloaders, parasites…
I’ve been around long enough to know that the amount/difficulty of work done has no relation at all to the wage paid for doing it. I think Kurt Vonnegut got a big portion of the current money-power scenery quite right when he wrote of the Money River in “Slaughterhouse-5”, on whose shores some people are born, and all they have to do is lean over and sip. Second nature. Others were born further away, but they know it’s there, and they have a fair idea how to at least approach its vicinity. The vast majority of humanity doesn’t know of its existence, or are so far away their possibility of reaching it is as near zero as dammit.
Most of all I hate the judgment of worth woven into money like the threads in the Treasury’s special paper, or the atomically-bonded alloys in coinage. I hate its inherent negation of generosity and kindness and basic humanity. I hate the way it creates class. I hate the way it cuts and limits and withholds and distributes things that are inherently universal: health, beauty, enjoyment. And I hate the way the lack of it blights lives. It’s Not Right.