In days of old, we looked to deities, goddesses, and mythical warlords to help us navigate our troubles and infuse our lives with purpose. Nowadays we look upon those ancestors with a kind of sympathetic ridicule: “They just didn’t know any better back then,” we explain.
But are we so advanced? Here’s a proposition — a thought experiment — to spark some consideration: The global economic system we have created is no less mythical than Zeus.
Granted, this market deals with (supposedly) real and tangible objects: but it doesn’t take a long conversation with an investor or futures analyst to discover that the value determinants of this system are completely and entirely human.
Just as our ancestors concocted supernatural beings and then ritualistically sought their guidance, so we too have created “the market” and seek its omniscient wisdom. Our mantra, our sacred chorus, sums it up: “Let the market decide! Let the market decide!”
Of course, we do not know if future anthropologists will commentate on our holy market system the same way we speak of the ancient gods, but it is evident that every society — past, present, and future — relies on shared ideologies that guide our collective culture-building. In our case, this particular shared ideology just happens to be a religious-like belief that the values of goods and services ought to be rendered by an ever-internationalizing network of trade agreements. My point here is not to moralize this belief one way or another, but simply to point out that it is nothing more than a transcendent assumption about the way the world should work, which a majority of us apparently hold in common.
If you don’t believe the market has wholly devoted, fundamentalist adherents, just try preaching against it to feel its fiery wrath. We virtually define the outcasts and the heretics around either by their refusal to accept the market’s will for their lives or by their status as rejects from the kingdom of the blessed. Great retribution awaits those who evangelize for other gods.
With the enthusiasm of a worshipping throng we declare that our market is free, free for all, free from us — free at last! — as if it exists apart from it’s human architects and engineers. No, like Zeus, our god the market has an inventor: it is not free at all, but rather governed by the prophets, speculators and politics that valuate commodity and negotiate trade. The market is an idol: after crafting it with our own chisels, we turn around seek its direction. Yet, like Zeus, the market is also real, for it has real, physical implications for life today — both civic and personal. Inasmuch as our resources, priorities, worries, and strategies reflect our deepest beliefs, we are all, today, disciples of the market in one way or another. (Even the greatest critics of the globalized market find themselves broadcasting their objections from their coltan-laden smartphones. The market is omnipresent. You are already a believer.)
Every now and again, great swaths of the human populace undergo radical reimaginings of their beliefs — revolutions and enlightenments — wherein we seem to collectively discover that sacrificing our lives to an idea wrought of our own imagination has potential downsides. That said, our belief in the market appears steadfast, despite its recent scandals. The market deity will doubtlessly be with us for many ages to come — bringing with it salvation for some and damnation for others — but what might replace it? For what or whom will we build our future temples? Around what edifice of human construction shall we gather next?