In days of old, if somebody asserted that they were wealthy, you could test the assertion for yourself. They would show you a veritable Aladdin’s cave filled with jewellery, precious stones, bullion, gold plate, precious metals, and fine hand woven carpets and so on. Their stash was abundant evidence of their acquisitive powers and hence, their ability to pay for whatever they wanted. They were powerful and wealthy because you could see, with your own two eyes that they had the means to pay for whatever it was you were trying to sell them – services, goods, land, etc. In extremis, if they didn’t hand over payment, you could seize it.
When the hoarding of objects of value became cumbersome or insecure, people began to deposit their gold in bank vaults. The cave had moved. Now, you had to take the word of the vault owner that the bullion was in the vault. In many cases, it simply wasn’t. Through a trick, which came to be known as fractional reserve banking, bankers issued IOUs, pretending that the gold was in the vault and available on demand, when it really wasn’t. If you were forced to seize payment and were able to penetrate the vault, you still might find nothing in there.
These days, most money isn’t in the form of bullion, valuable metals and stones, or even the paper IOUs that the bankers issued. These days, your wealth consists of a record in a database, which ultimately is physically affixed as changes to magnetic domains in the magnetic particles on a rotating disk. There are multiple copies, of course, but essentially your stash, your horde of wealth, consists of a few encoded numbers on a hard drive or several.
Here’s an electron photomicrograph of what the surface of that disk might look like:
Your wealth is on this surface. Here it is. It doesn’t cover much area, does it? In fact, it’s so small, that you can’t even see it with the naked eye. Even with an electron microscope, you can see the grains, but you cannot directly observe their magnetic orientation, in which your wealth is encoded. You need the hard drive read head to do that. Here it is: a stash so miniscule that you can’t even see it. You also cannot defend it against thieves. You don’t hold the hard drive and anyway, how would you protect the one part of the disk surface that represents your wealth, without affecting everybody else’s?
You also have to take the banker’s word for it that your wealth, as encoded on these microscopic few grains of magnetic material, represent the number you believe they do. Bankers, as we know, rely on trust, and yet they are currently accused of rigging the Libor rate, miss-selling payment protection insurance and then short changing those affected when paying out compensation. They caused their own banks to require publicly funded bailouts. In these people, your wealth is entrusted. They tell you which numbers are encoded on this tiny magnetic surface. You believe them.
On the basis of which number happens to be encoded on this disk surface under your name and data record, your entire future and life hangs. People rent private jets, buy fast cars, bribe, spend lavishly on themselves, buy off politicians and act outrageously, when they believe a very large number is encoded on their tiny part of the hard drive. They throw their weight around, as if this part of the hard drive represents an overflowing Aladdin’s cave of valuables. It doesn’t, of course.
If somebody with a large number owes you payment, how can you seize their number, or even a part of it? You can’t see it, let alone touch it and take it. Of course, those with large numbers have bought and paid for laws to be written that protect their “assets”, but their “assets” are nothing more than magnetic domain orientations within magnetic materials. You can’t eat them. You can’t do anything with them, other than store information.
People who are thought to have very small numbers encoded in their part of the hard drive are discriminated against, excluded, punitively charged for services, denigrated and made to feel guilty and obligated to those with much bigger numbers. They sell all their waking hours to others, neglecting their health, children and relationships, in an attempt to make their number go up. They do terrible, inhumane, desperate things, like selling their own bodies or souls, in an attempt to increase their number. They corrupt themselves in order to change the encoding affixed in their part of the hard drive, in this miniscule piece of magnetic media. Police officers and the military will do whatever they are ordered to do, by those with large numbers, in order to keep their own meagre little numbers positive. They don’t care who they harm in the process.
Still others notice that their number is negative, or believe the banker that tells them so. As a consequence, they kill themselves. They terminate their own life on the basis of what might be encoded on this tiny magnetic area. They forget everything about themselves that makes them valuable as human beings and annihilate themselves, because those little magnetic particles are not encoded as they would have liked them to be.
Governments tell you that the encoding representing the public finances on this magnetic surface is not a big enough number, so they allow pensioners to freeze and starve, the disabled to fall into terminal despair, the youth of the nation to remain unemployed, hospitals and libraries to close and the arts to disappear entirely, in the name of austerity. They incite hatred toward sectors of society that have small numbers in their accounts and toward immigrants. We can’t let those unworthy, immoral people take our numbers!
Some people rent out their encoded number and expect you to return a bigger number for the privilege, even though they are never actually denied the use of their original number. By asserting they have a number that is big enough to represent an Aladdin’s cave of valuables, they let you have a much smaller number, but insist you pay it back with a bigger number, or else forfeit your land and possessions. People are thrown out of their homes and left to live on the street, because their part of the hard drive is thought to have too small a number on it to cover the demands for interest payments on the loan of the number that the person who considers himself wealthy made to them, even though nothing was deducted or erased from his big number, when he made the loan. He was denied the use of none of his wealth (i.e. number), but asserts you must pay for the use of his number, even though your loan was freshly recorded, on a virgin part of the hard disk, when the loan was made.
All of the numbers on the hard drive can be erased by the accidental or deliberate application of a strong magnetic field. We trust the banker who owns the hard drive not to do this. We also trust our enemies won’t erase our number. If that were to happen, how would the previously wealthy person prove that the number encoded on the hard drive used to be big? What evidence could they produce? What would they do to establish their previous wealth, standing and value? What difference would it make to the obligated and indebted? The feeling of obligation and indebtedness would disappear, but there would be no other material change to their lives.
We are so brainwashed and enthralled to these little magnetic encodings that we live our lives as if they really do represent Aladdin’s caves worth of valuables and act as if those with large numbers are morally and intellectually superior to those that have smaller numbers. Is it real?
Do we need to live our lives according to something so small we can’t even see it, even with an electron microscope? Is it rational to allow real, physical infrastructure to fall into neglect and disuse, on the basis of these recordings? Should real, living, breathing human beings be forced to suffer and die, because the numbers are wrong? Should we destroy the land, the air, the water and all life on earth in order to make these numbers get bigger? Should we cheat, lie, kill, adulterate the food and water and use law enforcement officers to harm and maim people, to preserve the encoding of these numbers on the hard drive?
Are we completely insane?