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Mastered By Money

Wednesday October 17th, blue skies, high cloud, strong gusting breeze, strangely warm and soupy air. Torrential rain seems to be skipping the South East this week, replaced by my least favourite global warming weather, the restless tepid soup effect. I remember long ago, when climate change first began to bite (or mouth us rather toothlessly, would be more accurate for this locality), they warned us that the difference between night and day temperatures would be disproportionately affected. Warmer nights would in fact be our most noticeable change, making it more difficult to sleep. It definitely works on me. Even torrential rain is good for some things. Saturday, in the uncertain rain, we went out walking near Arlington, gleaned a very meagre harvest of sloes (for the gin, you know) but could have filled baskets with huge parasol and field mushrooms. It's mostly water, of course, but still tasty.

I had a very vivid dream, after watching The Masters Of Money on Marx...

Watching Stephanie Flanders tackle the content king of Capitalist Theory was like watching a nervous, rather smarmy Papal nuncio circa 1620 or so, explain that Canon Copernicus's heliocentric model is a genuinely important and useful mathematical conceit, invaluable to astrologers as an aid in casting pinpoint accurate horoscopes. But Galileo Galilei's absurd claim to have seen actual moons, orbiting actual Jupiter, would be plain laughable if it wasn't so wicked and downright dangerous...

Many of the present day Masters of Money were more candid, and felt able to concede that, despite the dreadful deeds done in his name, Marx really did know how the capitalism machine works, and his words are true; that in fact Marx may be the only really competent thinker ever yet to tackle the science of money... But I suppose they weren't dreading the hatemail.

Anyway, then I had the dream. It was all about my purple and silver kain panjang ...

(in itself a fine example of the best and worst that capitalist-driven mass-production and mass-marketing can do to a luxury handicraft product: the fabric that would once have been hand-loomed silk become heavy rayon; the hand-stitched silver thread embroidery become printed dye; the product, once elite and ceremonial, become very reasonably priced and attractive tourist goods).

Now venerable (1985, Java) my kain panjang is still a treasured shawl, and a thing of modest, mass-market beauty. I dreamed a golden orchid had grown out of it, and that the flowers of this orchid had become a big, flamboyant, flame-spitting snake. This hunky flame-spitting snake was mine, and I was scared of it. I thought it was pretty wonderful, I wanted to keep it, but it was taking over my life, and I was afraid it would eat my cats. Then along came a man, a very helpful man, with goggle-eye glasses and wild hair (must have been a guru of some kind) and offered to take care of the flamboyant golden snake. I was grateful and agreed to the deal. He presented me with the bill, I looked at it, I thought it was all right, I paid him. And then he said, oh, wait, let me check, oops, I made a mistake, you owe me another £GBP1.00. Hang on, said I (or words to that effect, i can rarely remember what I say in dreams) let me have a look... So I looked at the bill again: but there were so many entries, so many items, I just couldn't be bothered. I gave him his quid, thinking my, he's a speedy calculator... Off went Mr Helpful, with his little bit extra, and a big smile on his face, whereupon I realised that he hadn't checked the bill at all. He had checked me out, and calculated, correctly, that I was comfortable enough to prefer a quiet life, £GBP1.00 was just about the amount I'd certainly hand over without a murmur, and he could rob me with impunity...

& then I woke up.

So that's how we end up, here in the Developed World, with the flamboyant golden snake, aka post-capitalist deregulated money-trading, still strangling us. Despite all the brute's menacing behaviour, and the way it destroys the vulnerable. Mr Helpful knows what he can take us for, and he does.

I read the Communist Manifesto when I was a little girl as Sussex university; it was obligatory. I found it slight, and a bit bombastic. I read the first volume of Capital on my own time, a few years later, because I was curious. I have no doubt that Marx anatomised the Capitalism of nineteenth century Europe correctly and that he named the fuel that drives the engine correctly. (even Mervyn King seems to feel the same). Capitalism needs a callously exploited labour force, which must include a reservoir of the currently un-employed, to keep driving the price of labour down. And of course, an equally compliant force of relatively wealthy consumers, a nomenklatura in short, who are able to close their eyes to the nasty part of the price. This is as true now as it was then: except that the exploited labour is now suffering elsewhere (Do you have a smartphone? Then think on); and possibly, even in the deepest metal mines of South Africa, not suffering quite as much*, because rampant Capitalism, as Marx explained, breeds its own palliatives, and its cure.

I was impressed by Marx, and as a science fiction writer, I felt for him. It's not really all that hard to "predict" the next big thing. But when you tell a story about it, you are inexorably doomed to tell it in the language of your own present time, and describe it in the imagery of your own time, because you cannot speak the language of the future. Marx predicted the fall of Capitalism, and Capitalism fell. You don't think so? Ah, I see, you're talking about the immortality of money. I'm talking about the death of a fantastically successful civilisation entre Somme et Vosges, as the French say, and then later, in the equally terrible aftershock of that fall, at places like Auschwitz. He predicted this fall would be followed by the dictatorship of the proletariat. He was dead right. You don't think so? Think again. It was called the Welfare State, it kept me alive, it sent me to University, and it ruled Europe for a Camelotish brief span of about thirty years (actually not too bad, as Camelots go). It was ****ed up, temporary and partial, and had totally the wrong architecture, but I'm not at all convinced that we're better off without it.

I don't know what he predicted after Volume 1. But if there is a Marxian (as opposed to Marxist) model for globalisation and its discontents, my money would be on a reiteration of the nineteenth century/twentieth century drama of Capitalism's fall, temporary Utopia, then the dirty money; as often as it takes to reach the heat death of wealth & then. . .

The keynote picture is one of the famous twin elms in Preston Park, down the road from me: held to be at least 400 years old and still looking wonderful. Taken this July. Home improvements continue to plague me: I write this on a borrowed machine, in enforced idleness, which is why it's sooo long. Back soon.


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