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Wealth, writing and religion

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The Aikwa river, downstream from freeports Grasberg mine

I have time to think, here in the cage. Kick back and smell the … concrete and this concrete in these ‘ere cage it smells like banknotes.
Geoff on Freeport, Patagonia and the history of money

Some of you have handled banknotes like regular like. Like every day. You know how they smell. Like something that has been handled every day by every body and their fingers. Think about it. A very used smell. But that’s not how this cell smells. There is a sort of musty undertone to the smell of a banknote. A good Tempranello has a black currant aftertaste, and an old banknote has an earthy nose that underwrites the high notes of a million fingers and their most recent meal. That’s the smell I’m talking about. It’s the smell of a bank vault and it is the perfect accompaniment to gold.

In 1936 Dutch Geologist Jean Jacque Dozy discovered the world’s largest gold mine Grasberg in West Papua. He was mountain climbing for fun when his nostrils flared. “The smell of gold has never hit me so strong in three decades of exploration,” he wrote that night in his diary. Eighty five years later we are still blowing up that mountain and pulling $US6billion of gold out of mine every year. The US mining giant Freeport is the Indonesian government’s biggest taxpayer. After taking over Papua in 1967, Indonesia granted the mining rights to Freeport in 1969. Freeport’s board has included notables such as Godfrey Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger.

West Papua. Source of many fortunes but not so fortunate for the locals. You’d be better off in here with me, than being West Papuan in West Papua. That, right there, is genocide. Prove me wrong. In fact, prove the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission wrong, their long and detailed report uses the term.

Stop me, though. My nostrils lead me astray, like good journalism … they follow the money.

Now money’s on my mind because of Patagonia the outdoor clothing company run by eccentric mountaineer Yvon Chouinardas. Yvon has been the sustainable billionaire for decades. He started by providing climbers with gear that did not pollute the mountains, He has developed clothing made from recycled PET bottles. Patagonia was an early bCorp, he has given away hundreds of millions of dollars to environmental campaigns, but on 14th September he took the craziest step of all. He gave the company to Mother Nature.

“Earth is now our only shareholder,” he boasted.

To do this he moved 98% of the shares into the hands of the Holdfast Collective which owns the money that belongs to the Environment, with the other 2% in the hands pf the Patagonia Purpose Trust, which will run the company and donate the billions of dollars each year to climate activists.

Now it is not unusual for social enterprises, like our very own 4ZZZ, to operate as not for profits, making money specifically to achieve some purpose. It is very unusual, though, for profitable companies to give away all their shares to a charity. Private individuals do it. Bill and Melinda Gates , Warren Buffet etc. Individuals donate their land to non-profit causes like GiveNow.

What’s different about Patagonia is that the for profit company now belongs to the social enterprise.

Now, a lot of you, like me grew up with a healthy distrust of the mighty dollar.

Christianity and Marxism combined to underpin our opposition to the excesses of market capitalism. Not only is the worship of money the root of all evil, but capital exploits labour. It easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven and capital externalises costs to maximise profit. Neoliberalism is a response to Marxism, it elevates money from the means of exchange to the purpose of exchange.

The notion that money might work for moral good, then, is repugnant.

But need it be this way?

Money, like organised religion, arose with writing as we settled down. Preliterate cultures used the landscape as their memory palace – recording complex knowledge in songlines built from the very earth itself. They did not own the earth, they tended it. There are no bangles or coins buried in the graves of preliterate peoples. There were no imperial wars or slaves because there was no sense of ownership.

Settlement changed all that. We specialised. Soldiers, priests, farmers and merchants. The hoarding of wealth, the recording of wealth, the writing of the words of wisdom. In the beginning was the word and the word was God. We ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge and discovered good and bad and we did bad things anyway. We sinned.

We invented wealth, writing and religion.

Wealth, writing and religion.

Is writing bad?

It killed the epic poem. It supplanted the song line. But I believe my writing does good.

Is religion bad?

Most of the evidence of my lifetime indicates that it is. But I look at the great vegetarian culture created by Hindus and I wonder if it would have been possible without religion. Take a million farmers on the great fertile plains of the Himalayan rivers and convert them to cow worship. The bullocks provide the power to drive the mills and pump the water, the cows provide the protein. There is some good in there even if the sophisticated society that emerged then invented the bank, and the forerunner of modern accounting.

What happens if we begin to worship Gaia?

Might that not be better than trashing it?

So we can accept writing. We’re a bit iffy about religion, and we really do not trust money.

We might have come back to that.

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