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The motivation of money

It’s pretty undeniable that money is a force which strongly influences modern society, shaping much of what is happening as well as the life being created for us all. Maybe that’s another case of me stating the obvious; but it’s an interesting situation.

Looking at the nature of money itself, it seems to seek or demand a certain consistency which, in turn, must limit our freedom to act. Money and business – with their notions of property, scalability, projections, and growth – seem to be systems that inherently try to control markets and resources, often manufacturing those needs through advertising or culture. And while with any given decision the ‘costs’ of our choices can be calculated; prioritising such considerations over other values must lead us down different paths (see Notes One).

From the human perspective, money clearly motivates us in a very practical sense; representing freedom and status as much as security. So much of our social and cultural ‘worth’ is now largely defined by money, in that most of what we’re told to value or admire can be bought (Notes Two). We essentially exist within this economic model that shapes our ideas, activities and lives in many ways: we work to gain money in order to survive and have social value in the eyes of others, and preferably to become free of that very system.

That last point I find intriguing: how many people say that if they became independently wealthy they wouldn’t work, but would travel and enjoy life. Because to me that implies we’re not truly invested in the societies and lives we’re creating; it’s all just a means to an end. Which seems true, but what does it mean if we’re existing in that way? Is our collective existence meaningless beyond the pursuit of wealth?

Practically speaking, money is this ‘carrot and stick’ that draws us in with certain promises while also creating corresponding fears and uncertainties. Business acts to fulfil our ‘needs’ and provide opportunities to earn an income; and our very existence forms the essential market for the goods, services and so on. On both the human and systemic side we’re then seeking a degree of security within that: trying to build a stable economy, society, or personal existence.

For me, this raises so many questions and it’s something I’ll come back to over the course of this year. Because ultimately these systems seem to be struggling in many ways: in terms of environmental resources and impacts most tangibly, but also in the sense of what it all means and where it’s leading. What has money come to represent, and what does it truly mean in both a practical and a human sense? How is it shaping the lives we are creating and the meaning we assign to one another and the world around us?

The economy seems to be this complicated system sitting at the core of our lives, and it would be wonderful if that could become much more human and much more meaningful.

Notes and References:

Note 1: Values and the economic
Note 1: Is sustainable design an impossibility?
Note 2: Relating to cultural benchmarks
Note 2: How many things are cycles (we could break)

This also relates to Laws and lawlessness, in the sense of the systems we’re a part of and the deeper meaning of our participation in them.

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