Money Made Flesh: A New Incarnation

money_and_godDavid Graeber makes the observation that, when speaking of paying a debt to the divine, some sort of equivalence is presumed. Presumed, really, when there could formally speaking be none. It is thus interesting that when Jesus states that one cannot “serve both God and money” that, on a register different to paying one’s debts, there is equivalence between the two. One can serve God – or money!

Is this not, in its way, a recognition of the divine status of money? A recognition of its capacity to be regarded as an immanent, alternative deity? Equivalence here, I’m suggesting, implies a similarity in status between the two. How could money compete with God on any realistic level, were it not possible for it to intend itself upon human life with divine possibility and force?

Is this not exactly what we find with how money has come to function in human life? Dictating and affecting relations, changing behaviours and landscapes, creating itself and new motives and desires – money is a truly metaphysical principle.

Which is why, if we can reasonably talk about money as a deity, it is important for us to take this topic of discussion forward with the realisation that money has gone further than the Christian God ever could: money has become incarnate, in all people.

To work out a claim like this we should reintroduce the notion of debt again. If we do we come to see both of these incarnations as incarnations of a debt. The difference between which Maurizio Lazzarato works out when he writes, “Whereas the [debt] of Christianity is still transcendent, in capitalism its existence is immanent.”

In the first, God, of course, as we remember at the culmination of Advent, becomes flesh – as orthodoxy suggests – in a singular individual, Jesus of Nazareth. God did this, it should be added, for the benefit of all, following a notion like theosis through: “God made Himself man, that man might become God,” as Athanasius put it. Yet, however one here conceptualises the form of indebtness here (human bondage to alternative to powers, human moral corruption), God acts such based on human sinfulness, guilt, and lack; which leads, as Nietzsche so carefully and lucidly conveys, to

God sacrificing himself for man’s debt, none other than God paying himself back, God as the only one able to redeem man from what, to man himself, has become irredeemable—the creditor sacrificing himself for his debtor, out of love (would you credit it?—), out of love for his debtor!…

For what could God, as orthodoxy has commonly laid it out, possibly lack or need from humanity, whatever its situation? In this incarnation, the debt becomes infinite – how could humanity hope to disagree with the terms of the incarnation that God imposes (how could the infinite not be anything but expansive, totalising imposition to the finite)?

Yet money has gone further, becoming incarnate, under the co-ordinates of the neoliberal, capitalist enterprise, in all, everywhere. Here, indebtness becomes immanent and is deployed within humanity’s geo-economic relations, for the benefit of the creditors who, as new priests, keep the books. Under capitalist relations, following the cultural shift of the death of the Christian God, the subjectivity of debt is transformed and monetised. Man becomes debt, becomes commodity – becomes money.

Karl Marx theorised this, with exceptional lucidity and grace, when he writes, and I quote at length,

One ought to consider how vile it is to estimate the value of a man in money, as happens in the credit relationship… Credit is the economic judgment on the morality of a man. In credit, the man himself, instead of metal or paper, has become the mediator of exchange, not however as a man, but as the mode of existence of capital and interest. The medium of exchange, therefore, has certainly returned out of its material form and been put back in man, but only because the man himself has been put outside himself… Within the credit relationship, it is not the case that money is transcended in man, but that man himself is turned into money, or money is incorporated in him. Human individuality, human morality itself, has become both an object of commerce and the material in which money exists. Instead of money, or paper, it is my own personal existence, my flesh and blood, my social virtue and importance, which constitutes the material, corporeal form of the spirit of money. Credit no longer resolves the value of money into money but into human flesh and the human heart.

Under and within the capitalist system this incarnation has occurred. Humanity has become money; become a subject put through regular exploitation so as to create a subjectivity whose consciousness feels the weight of a debt – a debt that must be paid, no questions asked – a subjectivity which feels its morality validated on the basis of finance.

Yet as with the infinite debt owed to the transcendent, Christian God; the debt-become-infinite-and-total under the immanent conditions of money, is no less an imposition. How could the finite possibly relate to the infinite? Whence could it come from? What equivalence could there be?

If there is no equivalence – and there is none – there is nothing to pay; there is no debt; there is no relation. As such, why has this notion been tolerated? Why have we become the conduits for the wealth and excess of new priests? Why has the incarnation of this new god occurred – in our flesh?

Hark the herald angels sing! Glory to money!