In 1 Timothy 6:10, it says “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. By craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” As for so many of the ethical lessons the bible purports to teach, as well as this one, it can be found to be demonstrably wrong.
Instead of money piercing ourselves with many sorrows, it appears to have sowed together the fabrics of trust and elevated our species to a new level of cooperation.
Homo Sapiens have the evolutionary baggage — only in our carry-on as it helped us survive — of thinking about people in terms of either them or us. “Us” was the group, and often tribe, in your immediate hunter-gatherer vicinity, whereas “them” was everyone else, or at worse a rival tribe. If its not in your tribe, its competition. No social species, therefore, is ever guided by the egalitarian interests of what’s best for the species. Spiders eat their mothers, bears have been known to eat their own cubs and Chips commit vicious genocides of “other” tribes – in the interest of the species this is not!
In the last few millennia, however, Homo Sapiens have become far more socially cooperative. Our species has labels that expand our in-groups, such as “friend,” or “brother,” leading to collaboration with complete strangers. Today, the whole world can be connected to and collaborate with. We no longer are confined to our small trusted tribe, we have national group identity and, now, global cooperative trade networks.
Not all people believe in the same God or live under the same government, but we all obey and are willing to use the same money. As Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens, opines “Osama bin-Laden, for all his hatred of American culture, American religion, and American politics, was very fond of American dollars.” Two completely opposing ideologies, countries and peoples, thus, can still be bound by the idea of money.
The collective imagination
Our minds have combined like a hive to imagine into existence money and maintain the value we assign to these coins and notes. Their worth is by no means an objective fact, the value of money is not bound by any physical laws. Money’s worth is a complex mental construct and is created through a conversion of matter to collective mind. This is why we’re all willing to sell our time and specialised skills in exchange for fancy bits of paper.
But how does a collective imagination get infected by a (helpful) parasite of this kind in the first place?
Trust. Trust is the psychological currency from which all money relies on to exist as valued. When I sell my services for an agreed upon sum of money and go on holiday with that money to another country, I trust that upon reaching my resort of relaxation other people will be willing to sell me their services and goods in exchange for that same money. This can be described as a system of mutual trust. The concept of money, in fact, is the most far reaching and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised. For instance, ISIS are very willing to sell oil in exchange for the American dollar – it’s a hate and mutual trust relationship.
The concept of money commandeered this trust through being involved in the long-term network of political, social and economic relations. I believe in the Sterling currently and the £10 note because my local community does, and they believe in it because I do. And we all believe in it because, in the UK, the government and monarchy do. Inspect the front of any bank note for a second. What does it say? “‘Bank of England’ I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of X.” We accept and trust in money because we also trust the Bank of England. This phenomenon of mutual trust explains why our financial systems are so entangled with our political, social and ideological systems, why financial crashes originating in one country spread to others and why the stock market can rise or fall as a function of how traders feel on a particular day. Money transcends it all and makes trust between Homo Sapiens unavoidable.
So, no, money is not the root of all evil, it’s the root of all large-scale trust.
Yuval Noah Harari. (2014). Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind.