“The love of money is the root of all evil.” The New Testament, 1 Timothy 6:10
“If you make money your god, it will plague you like the devil.” – Old English proverb
“The price we pay for money is paid in liberty.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
(Photo credit – Pinterest)
(Note to the reader: The following is not meant as a put-down of honest business-people and entrepreneurs who act with integrity and fair-mindedness. Rather, it is a sort of parable of how so many “regular folks”, even honest business-people, become trapped by and in the moils of the money-game which has produced so much misery and evil in human history over the six or so millennia in which the “game” has been on.)
In the 21st Century, it is pretty much impossible to live without money. It’s nice to fantasize about retreating to the deep wilderness somewhere and “living off the land” as we conceive our remote ancestors once did. Cro-Magnon humans or Neanderthals, and the earliest groups of homo sapiens sapiens, would have done so, according to Palaeontology and Anthropolgy.
The earliest myths and legends do not tell tales of money, although some speak of quests for gold and riches of some sort, usually coupled to a quest for power.
A moneyless society, we imagine, would be a sort of proto-paradise. If only we could return to the barter system, the just and equitable quid-pro-quo method of doing business, cutting a deal to mutual advantage, fair trade between equals. “You want/need this thing which I have, and I want/need that thing which you have. Let’s cut a deal we can both live with. Let’s give our solemn mutual pledge; let’s shake on it; let’s give each other our left shoes.” (This was an ancient custom between negotiators in Hebrew and Canaanite societies about 1200 years BCE).
The perpetual roadblock to realizing such fantasies is stubborn old human nature. You and I may be happy to negotiate as equals, but there have always been shrewd aggrandizers and manipulators looking for the thrill, the pleasure, the “rush” of putting one over on the gullible dupe. “Ah, Suckers! There’s one born every minute!” famously said P.T. Barnum with great relish (or was it mustard he preferred on his circus hotdog?). There have always been lazy, sleazy types ready to latch onto the unscrupulous manoeuvrers and ambitious people seeking advantage over regular folks. The “shifty” types are happy to help the shrewd to “play” the dupes who only seek a quiet life among their neighbours. Scammers call us up regularly offering impossible get-rich-quick schemes, or, in more recent schemes, telling us to pay up or face prison.
Flash back to 3000 or so BCE. Here comes Mr. Shrewd looking ahead to what others are probably going to want and need next season, even if they haven’t realized it yet. He plans how to have it ready or knows how to get it ahead of time so the seekers will come to him first and negotiate on terms to his advantage.
This year, Mr. Shrewd has a bumper crop of emer or barley far in excess of his own needs. He goes out and trades with Mssrs. Hunter and Herdman for their skins, offering them seed, pots, or perhaps tools in exchange. Hunter and Herdman are happy to make the exchange to ensure they will be able to plant and harvest and store what they reap and hunt. And everyone needs skins for clothes and leather. Leather is universally useful. Everyone also needs seed and tools and pots to plant and harvest crops.
Mr. Shrewd has it worked out. In time, everyone will come to him, once they find there’s not enough to go round (and all the moreso since he traded for much of the excess). He has become the essential man. He can even hire a few fellows to serve and “talk” to some of the locals who maybe promised things they haven’t come across with.
In time, and probably not that much of it, the Mr. Shrewds began to network and develop a system of exchange among themselves to make sure that, when the time came, they did not lack the things Mssrs. Local, Yokel, Hunter, and Herdman would inevitably require. Flexibility and collegiality were necessary skills to stay in the game, and the Shrewds who didn’t learn this dropped or were forced out to join the “marks”.
But how to keep track of all this? How to create a trust network where Mr. Babylon-Shrewd and Mr. Assyria-Shrewd would help each other out even if one or the other didn’t have a suitable direct exchange right at the moment when one or the other needed something for his Locals and Yokels? Write it down! Pay it forward! Keep it on record to be redeemed/made good later. Invent writing and create “hard-copy” records that could be carried over distances and stored in a safe place to be kept track of. (Clay tablets were definitely “hard-copy”! Cuneiform was definitely a contract etched in quasi-stone!)
One more stroke of genius was required to perfect the Shrewd System. They needed a substitute form of payment rather than the cumbersome barter system. After all, Mr. Shrewd-Babylon might not have what Mr. Shrewd-Assyria needed, but he knew Mr. Shrewd-Elam did. So if Mr. Shrewd Assyria would give him something to offer Mr. Shrewd-Elam, all three could be happy. And he, Mr. Babylon the middleman, could make a little (or a lot) extra for doing the extra work at both ends. The substitute payment medium would have to be accepted by everyone in the network, something everyone thought was special and valuable. Gold! Silver! Some other special things too – precious stones, rare things of beauty or special status. Everyone likes those glittery things.
Voilà money! Naked Power is already on the ground. The local King-Priest-Chief Strongman’s tough boys demonstrate that. The powerful immediately see the usefulness of getting control of the trade routes that everyone needs and wants. The Mssrs. Shrewd quickly learn that their access to this rapidly growing network rooted in both the local and wider economies gives them a fast in with the powerful. It also gives them a sort of power of their own which, used carefully, could even move the warlords to forward the interests of the Shrewd network.
The rest, as we say, is history. Eventually, money needed to become even more readily portable than lugging around rings and bars and ingots of gold, silver, bronze, and even copper and iron. In the early Sixth Century BCE, King Croesus of Lydia found the solution and minted the first honest to goodness coins. Henceforth, currency minted by some bona fide person of power and authority vouching for its purity and consistency becomes the medium of exchange. And, just as in the old barter and trade system, the more you have the more powerful and influential you become, or can become.
Croesus lost his kingdom to Cyrus of Persia (ca. 550 BCE), who was so impressed by Croesus’ invention (and legendary wealth) that he made coinage the universal means of trade and exchange in his vast empire. From Persia, the money-dance-and-romance spread like a prairie-fire around Eurasia and into Africa.
Such is a very bare-bones story of the coming of money. But what of its intimate relationship with the phenomenon of evil? After all, how can something so indispensable be “the root of all evil”?
The old English Proverb of our second citation tells us, and Mr. Stevenson seals the deal about money in the third. Money can and does very often climb, wheedle, and claw its way into the heart of the one needing and seeking it. And it is not only the rich and ultra-rich who become bewitched by it, thinking that if only they had more of it, life would be all wonderful.
The madness of gold, silver, precious stones, and even our (in reality almost worthless as real things) plastic and paper symbols of those ephemeral baubles has driven countless millions and probably billions away from what can make them really content into the arms of the beguiler who claims he can make us content as he dangles the golden carrot in front of our noses and keeps it just out of reach until we are so crazed that we can no longer see or even think about the road back to harmony of body, soul, spirit, and peace of mind. Now the insanity is at the point where most money is not even a real physical thing but a digital accounting engram which has no substance except in human minds, yet the lust for it has never been greater!
“Money is the root of all evil,” a saying of the Apostle Paul, must be understood as part of an even bigger picture: that humans have turned their faces away from the Creator towards the bewitching glitz of things that can never do more than give fleeting pleasure and simulated happiness (and yes, even fifty, sixty, or seventy years is fleeting beside eternity). Beneath the hunger for the glamour and shine and sense of being in control that real or digital bullion promises, there is the age-old original lie. “You will not die if you take it, but you will become as wise as God, knowing all about [and by implication controlling] good and evil.”
The old Liar of liars (who goes by many names, including Satan, Lucifer, Ba’al, etc.) has found the lure of lures to keep us swallowing the same old rotten fruit. It’s on us that we keep on reaching for it to taking the fatal bite that, like Sleeping Beauty or Snow White, makes us comatose to our real situation.
How many fruit-(f)lies (one of Old Nick’s Biblical names was “Ba’al-ze-bub” – Lord of the flies!) does it take to justify accumulating into billions the innumerable small holdings weaseled from billions of simple honest folk, or speculated out of driving up the cost of most everything they need to live on?
Yeshua of Natzeret put “paid” to this discussion when he said, “Nobody can serve two masters. Otherwise, they will either hate the first and love the second, or be devoted to the first and despise the second. You can’t serve both the Creator and wealth.” (Matthew’s Gospel in the New Testament, chapter 6, verse 24).
Choose your god wisely.