Re: Query: Money as Magic

Cameron Laird (claird@Starbase.NeoSoft.COM)
25 Jul 1996 14:31:51 -0500

In article <4sgao3$>,
Matt Silberstein <> wrote:
>Ande Somby <> wrote:
>>I have been looking for a text, that is written by Mary Douglas. She
>>emphasises similarities between the modern monetary system and
>>traditional magical systems: Both work because people believe on it.
I suspect Mr Somby is looking for

Douglas, Mary, and Baron Isherwood
1979 The world of goods. Basic Books, New York
>I don't know of the book, but it does not sound like a reasonable concept.
>In essence, the modern monitary system does work. The belief in the system
>has certain helpful aspects. OTOH, magic does not work. So the initial
>premis is false.
Yikes! There's quite a density of anthropologic misunder-
standing in that paragraph. I think Mr. Silberstein is
writing from some sort of scientistic perspective that,
well, is not particularly helpful in grasping much of
human affairs.

Briefly: let's suppose "the modern monetary system" works;
it should be a commonplace that this is so only as a cul-
tural convention, or "belief system". Gold, or dollar
bills, or tenure at a university, are not valuable in the
epistemologically objective way that, say, carbon has a
proton count of six. All these "economic facts" are facts
only within a culture, and only as "arbitrary", social,
selections. There's nothing iconoclastic, unreasonable,
or threatening about this observation. It sometimes
resists acceptance, though, because once people have
learned a bit of relativism, they're liable to apply it
to such distinctions as why AFDC payments are shameful
charity, but research grants are laudable, and even
heroic, awards.

Magic: again, my guess is that Mr. Somby had in mind
nothing out of the ordinary. I don't know the literature
at all, but people who do seem to regard "placebo effect"
and other cognates of magic is uncontroversial.


Cameron Laird +1 713 623 8000 #227
+1 713 996 8546 FAX