Happy Circumstantial Things

“A dollar is a sign of what?”

“Err…” I think to myself hurriedly, equivalent exchange, the gold standard, fiscal security. But I am fairly sure the punchline is going to be a negative poke at society. Supply and demand, a means of representing valuable exchanges. My pregnant pause is running out. Everything I could think of, things a dollar can symbolize, it all doesn’t sound that bad, I give up, “what?”

“A broken relationship.”

Even as it is sinking in, wrapping itself slowly around my head, I can feel the truth. Even as it is filtering past my cerebellum, I can feel the revolt. After all representation of a transaction is not a bad thing. Convenience is certainly worth something. Does it really matter if you are paid in one commodity and use that commodity to trade it for something of actual worth to you?

“I feel like there is truth to what you are saying, but I am not sure I am quite wrapping my head around it.”

She looks back at me, a nod in her eyes, as if she expected such a response.

“Think about it this way, transactions used to mean something. They were a sign of trust between two people. So many transactions used to be things that people did for one another, like pet sitting, babysitting, watering your neighbor’s lawn, are now things that we pay for. They used to be things that helped to build a community that took care of one another.”

“So psychologically, it is not that money is not useful, just that having it serve as an intermediary between people creates an inevitable feeling of distance, of alienation.”

“Something like that. When you pay for something, you don’t feel like you have to care as much about the other person and when you get paid for something, you are less likely to go above and beyond. People start worrying about doing exactly what they are being paid for. I think you get much better care from people in a community of trust.”

It is unquestionably useful to be able to carry around a stored value of potential transactions, rather than being able to always have something of value to the person who has something of value you want. However it is worth considering that if we had to stop and think about what each of us have to offer, the person who is offering something to us might also stop and think about if the thing they are offering really has enough value. And such thinking would lead to some improvement in offered things. If it was a matter of personal pride that the thing you offer to barter has actual value, there might be more things of substance/value being offered.

Otherwise the question becomes, was the time I spent on this product worth how much I will be offered in return for it? The value of the product itself is no longer in question. The focus is on the return on time spent on the product. The value of the product itself is inconsequential.

Not that it cannot have value, only that psychologically, the return on investment takes precedence over actual value of product.

Somewhat disjointed speed up to today, I have been going through a disorienting period of self-reflection and went to one of my favorite coffee shops. Short story, I do not come here that often, however when I do, I always get the same drink: mint mojito ice coffee. One of the few caffeinated drinks I actually like. I ordered it as usual, and as usual, the person running the cashier asks me how I’m feeling today and unlike the previous times, I said today felt like it was looking up (in previous times, I did not feel like lying so I did admit it was not great). He told me that was fantastic and when I ask to pay, he told me it was covered. Immediately I panic.

I feel like I need to do something now. Something equitable. I need to know why today, did I look down? Did I do something to deserve it? Did I seem happy? I feel an urge to just pay so I do not have to “owe” anything. So it can be a clean transaction, I do not have to worry about, so I do not have to feel guilty about not paying back the right amount. After taking a few breathes, I look around. Everyone is still going on with their lives, the workers here are laughing and talking as if nothing has happened. If anyone notices my distress, they are doing a good job of neither ignoring me nor acting as if anything out of the normal happened. As I calm down, I watch the employees here. They seem truly happy. If they knew that they were giving me a gift, they show no sign of it. No expectations, no strings attached. Just people being happy, doing what they wish to do.

As I sit here, drinking my mint leafed drink, dwelling on the quelling anxiety, thinking. It is not just a medium of transactional value, the dollar.

“The sign of a dollar?”

I would say it is more than that. It is also a barrier to trust. To not having to trust. A way to avoid communicating, a way to avoid vulnerability. To get what we want without having to bargain, barter, to communicating. To not asking questions. To allowing us to remain distanced from others. To not forming relationships and preventing the simple enjoyment of happy circumstantial things.