Some of this is too close for comfort, however –
If your guilt is too great, I will make the supreme sacrifice and accept some of your excess wealth, for purification of course.
Money is strange.
It seems to be something quite useful – a convenient way to facilitate exchange and acknowledge debt.
Yet a simple experiment will show that money carries within itself more than just wealth. Take a ten-dollar bill and hand it to a friend. No explanation, just give it to him. A strange thing will happen. Your friend will feel uneasy about you, he may avert his eyes when he sees you, he may even avoid meeting you. The money you gave him seems to have transferred as much guilt as wealth.
If you take a careful look at the money you have given him, you’ll see its twin aspects of wealth and guilt quite clearly. One side is called “heads,” and it usually has on it a head-the part of us with which we enjoy pleasures, eat, smell, hear, look. It represents wealth, the goods side of money.
The other side is called “tails,” and it has on it symbols of death, guilt and destruction: tombs of dead people, birds of prey, branches representing sacrificial trees, etc. Even when the back portrays sexual symbols-as, for instance, the German twenty-mark bill does, with its phallic bow and female violin-they are shown next to a death-dealing bird, and thus represent sinful sex. These images represent the guilt, the bads side of money. Whenever you pass along money, you circulate both heads and tails, both goods and bads, both pleasure and guilt, both food and poison, both life and death.
. . .
Since Europe and Japan haven’t had a real surplus-destroying war for over four decades, the only way they were able to get rid of their guilt and limit their prosperity was to pump money into the U.S. and depend upon them to destroy it. So far during the 1980s, Europe and Japan have lent (given as a poison-gift) America a half trillion dollars, which the U.S. has promptly destroyed by burying it in the ground (nuclear missiles) and throwing it into the sea (nuclear aircraft carriers), just like the Kwakiutl did in their potlatches. Yet there is a limit to how much of the world’s guilt-money America can absorb and destroy.
This is especially true at this present moment, when a terrible thing has happened to the world: peace has “broken out all over,” as Newsweek magazine recently put it.(26) The danger to our psyches of simultaneously having a disarmament treaty between Russia and the U.S., peace in Afghanistan, peace in Cambodia, peace in Angola, peace in Iran and peace in Central America is that if there is no place for external sacrifice (war), the pressures for a major internal sacrifice (depression) become much greater. Here is where our money priests-our central bankers and our treasury officials–are called upon to perform their most serious tasks.
. . .
But of course that’s the purpose, in the end, of all these austerity proposals. Have a giant potlatch, throw our money and our goods into the fire, cleanse the evil world of its sins in one sacrificial orgy, make our lives-and our money-pure once again. As Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon said in 1929 as the Federal Reserve pushed the world into the Great Depression, “It will purge the rottenness out of the system.”(36)