An Antidote to the Spell of the Invisible Hand

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“The colony of a civilized nation which takes possession either of a waste country, or of one so thinly inhabited that the natives easily give place to the new settlers, advances more rapidly to wealth and greatness than any other human society.”

This quote from Adam Smith’s book ‘Wealth of Nations’ invokes different emotions in me each time I read it. This time what hit me was amazement that the writer of a statement like that can be anybody’s father.  And yet he is considered by many to be the father of capitalism. Capitalism is a word that has been politicized, idolized, penalized, outsized, revised and rerevised again and then again. It’s been chopped into little pieces so that it can fit into our hallowed echo chambers known as higher education. The Invisible Hand works behind the scenes training us to trust in Him while he does His magic, adjusting markets on behalf of capitalism’s esteemed name.

Music also works behind the scenes revealing the truth of human connection and exposing the lies of human separation. I can see why The Invisible Hand grabbed music from its human roots and put it into music schools and record companies accessible only to a select few. 

I just came from a zoom meeting of the People’s Music Network. There were one hundred people listening, dancing, and singing along to one person after another singing just one song from the top of their head. we could see each other in gallery view. There were no auditions, no resumes submitted. Anybody who wanted to could sing. Watching humanity sing kept me glued to the screen.

I can’t wait for the day when I get to experience again the magic that happens when regular people get together and feel each other’s souls through the sympathetic vibrations of community music. I would like to see the Invisible Hand just try to play a drum with any kind of groove.  The only beat I’ve heard him play is on the drums of division.

He’s been playing these drums of division since the dawn of my country. All the wars from the ones against the indigenous inhabitants, through the ones between citizens, to the ones establishing our hegemony across the globe could not have been fought without division. 

The force that separates people from their music is the same force that separates people from their humanity.  It is not a political system or an economic system, or even a school of thought.  What I’m talking about here is a spell. Charles Eisenstein called it the story of separation. I call it the Spell of The Invisible Hand. I am a non-believer who wakes up from the spell sometimes and has trouble going back to sleep.

Looking over that quote in the beginning, I’m not sure what the term waste country meant back in the late 18th century. I’m guessing it was something like what during the cold war would be called the third world, but today would be called developing or shithole countries. I don’t know. Developing is condescending in that kind of way that gets the message across below the radar. Shithole says out loud what developing implies. If you want to be au courant you would call them the global south. Or you could simply say that they are the shit on countries in the shit hole of economic theory.

If we look at the gist of the entire quote we see that it is completely true. The United States has been the poster child for capitalism. The word ‘wealth’ is right on. I’m not sure how he is using the word greatness as I’m sure it had a different meaning back then than most of the meanings it has today. If he meant large, he didn’t know about carbon footprints, or nuclear weapons but he did know about domination. If he meant morally superior, he got that right. That is part of the spell. Wealth as greatness has been packed tightly into our bodies.

So yes, The Invisible Hand is performing its magic just fine. It is completely self-regulating. It doesn’t need a monarchy or any kind of feudal system to keep the economic wheels turning. It really doesn’t care if millions of people starve, because that is part of how the economy balances itself out. So yes, the free market works. Until it doesn’t.

But to invoke a good spell, you gotta have that magic potion. Money is magical. Money is a shapeshifter. Like music, just when you think you got it figured out it changes form. Money and music both have theories that attempt to describe the indescribable. These theories tend to work best within the institutions in which they are created. We are told that the only way to understand them is to study them in these institutions which cost money that has been handed down from father unto son.

Money can express love. It can be a weapon. Back in the 80s a friend said, man it’s just energy. You could probably trace it back in one form or another to when humans became humans. At some point in US history, it was backed by gold. You could pan some gold and go down to the central bank and exchange it for dollar bills. It was the one thing that had a fixed price. You couldn’t barter with the Fed. And our great Mother Earth had more gold than you could ever imagine. All you had to do was cut into her bosom and extract to your heart’s content. Our great Mother was birthing dollar bills. Was that economic growth?

I don’t know when it became clear that bombs became a more powerful backing for dollars. I’m not an economist but I do know that world leaders agreed to let the US set the gold standard about a year before the bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was born a few months later. I’m sure the Oiligarchs were working on this before that.

As the Military Industrial Complex grew, it became clear that gold was no longer needed to legitimize money. Now we’re back to the shapeshifting money potion. Whatever it was before, it has now clearly become among other things, a relative measure of dominance backed by nuclear weapons. When that dominance wains, we must type in more dollars to beef up our military.

This helps me understand the gun rights movement. As any white man can see, we are losing our power. The value of whiteness hasn’t crashed yet, but it’s on the horizon while the Invisible Hand goes poking around, looking for other beings to other. As any shithole country can tell you, it’s rough competing with the US military. But as you can see by the events of January 6th, it’s not as hard as one might think.

It’s hard for me to keep my focus when I’m talking about money and music. You might not think I am talking about music but I am. Money and Music are inexplicably entwined. They both go back to the beginning of humanity. They go as deep as the human psyche, which itself goes deep into human relations. And you can do both of them without a smidgen of understanding.

Music and money got so tight, some people thought they were lovers. It was a long process to cast the spell that caused people to believe that the music they bought was more real than the music they played. Before sheet music was mass-produced music notes were just notes, like you’d jot down in a notepad. They were just loose reminders of what you had composed. Nobody even considered that these notes would ever be confused with real music. You could give specially trained people money to decode these notes into real music, but until you did that, those dots were just notes. Selling those dots became big business. A couple hundred years later, someone came up with the player piano idea. The piano rolls became the first mass-producible digital storage medium for music.

But it got confusing when people realized that as crazy as it sounds, even music itself could be monetized. Any time you monetize something, you create a binary: The gots and the got nots. Some people got music and the rest just listen.

I won’t go into how Sony’s vertical and horizontal monopoly has affected Black communities just now. If you want to think about the cross pollination between the prison, education, and music industrial complexes, a good place to start is the Louder Than a Riot podcast.

Remember the quote that kicked this thing off? The next piece of that quote lays bare the blindness necessary for capitalism to function. If you see the people that are inhabiting the land that you want for your little plan it will be harder to displace and murder them. Capitalism supplies that blindness. It provides a front for crimes against humanity.

Try this thought experiment: What would capitalism look like without stolen lands, slavery, installing dictators, and toppling democracies?

I’ve been running around the hamster wheel of money, looking out from my hamster cage of the Invisible Hand, trying to write this piece for months now. It’s been causing the delay of my newsletter for too long now. Maybe my pain is misplaced. Maybe I’m scapegoating capitalism for something in myself I don’t want to face.

So let me reiterate. I am expressing my personal feelings about a teaching that I feel has now become a spell. When I see and feel suffering that I see coming directly from this spell, I sometimes can’t stop crying. I really could go on and on giving more and more examples to support my case, but I’m just going to stop. I promise you. I can do this. And you will hear more from me about this.

Just do me this favor, please. Humor me in my trust of the power of music to break the spell of whatever you want to call the state of the world.

Listen to every person, animal, plant, rock or car as if they are part of the great symphony that takes you to the depths of understanding of our true connections. Listen until you know it’s your turn to sing. And then sing from deepest darkest parts of your soul to the deepest darkest parts of us all. Don’t hold back. Watch the glimmers of light start to appear.

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