Sunday, March 25, 2018

Eat Me, Drink Me, Taste Me, Spend Me

We humans call ourselves with some pride Homo sapiens, after the verb sapio, meaning to taste or have taste and thus to have the ability to discern between that which is tasty (i.e. nutritious) and that which isn't (Genesis 2:16-17). But although the acquisition of knowledge may come natural to us moderns, the pursuit of knowledge as a conscious collective objective is a relatively late invention (Genesis 4:26).

To be wise is to taste

People, like animals, initially counted on their physical power (Psalm 73:22, Ecclesiastes 3:18, 2 Peter 2:12, Jude 1:10) and strength in numbers (Psalm 20:7, 33:17, 2 Samuel 24), and when some proto-nerds began to see the potential benefit of connecting certain sounds to certain objects or actions, they first had to convince their tribe members of the advantages of convention itself. Even something as universally accepted as language was once a novelty, and while anatomically complete ancient humans were living their happy and fulfilled lives, few of them would have imagined that their intuitive yawps and grunts could be refined into implements of data retention. When formal language tried to emerge on the efforts of a few visionaries, it was doubtlessly met with opposition from conservatives and traditionalists, who insisted that the old ways were better and all that new stuff would surely cause cerebral flatulence.

Without a shared language, it's nearly impossible to tell whether another creature is smart — hence the recent consternation among scientists who at long last discovered that creatures such as dolphins and elephants have theory of mind, just like humans, and are therefore quite "sapient." Better yet: without a conscious sense of self and thus others, creatures can not distinguish between themselves and the rest of the group, and even though an intelligent observer may see separate bacteria, ants or penguins, the bacteria, ants and penguins only see the collective. Prior to speech, mankind could have had no clue how different from other creatures man could be, or whether an encountered Denisovan or Neanderthal was a sure foe or potential friend (see for more on this our article on the adjective αγιος (hagios), meaning holy).

The earliest appreciators of knowledge faced the same problem as the earliest linguists: how to convince the populace at large of the vast peace-making benefits of liberally collecting and thus freely sharing information about the natural world (1 Kings 4:33-34, 1 Thessalonians 5:21). If the general population then was anything like ours today, it saw the world as a hotchpotch of uncontrollable forces and no amount of effort other than wielding clubs at anything big and hairy to make any sense.

Only when proto-nerds were able to produce faster spears and hotter fires and so to demonstrate that knowledge equaled power and thus prosperity — which first required convincing people of a correlation between intent and effect, which is still difficult today — began knowledge to be appreciated. People who had knowledge were probably initially domineered by people who had physical power, but when knowledge began to be recognized as something more potent than strength or even wealth, people who had knowledge rose in social status. Knowledge became a commodity, like gold or jewelry, which in turn meant that it could both be hoarded and counterfeited. Both the secret and the lie were invented, and along came a whole new form of tyranny.

Like any currency, knowledge can be converted into a kind of fiat currency. Fiat currency is a unit of agreed upon value (a piece of paper that reads words like "I owe you 10 apples" or "angels will protect you") without an intrinsic value (actual apples or actual protection). As long as currency is redeemable for the value it represents and forgeries can be curtailed, the economy is pretty safe. But when currency is disconnected from actual value, as is the case with modern money and its forgone gold standard, it's no longer clear what actual value the currency represents simply because not all an economy's value is represented in its money.

Such dissociated fiat currency has to be "believed" in all religious meaning of the word, and subsequently controlled by a central institution (a bank or church) which can issue more of it at will. Since in such an economy such institutions are not limited by some actually limited amount of true wealth (gold in the vault, food on the table) fiat currency tends to drift increasingly further away from the tangible value it originally was designed to represent. Fiat wisdom, subsequently allows for speculative bubbles (crazy sects), rampant inflation (hence the thriving Christian Industrial Complex), and economies peopled by revered experts in fields that don't relate to the substantial world (hence the many esotericisms).

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