Home - Introduction

The following essay is an attempt to connect our taboos over money and wealth, which songs occasionally touch upon, to our historical, current and antecedent religiou
s landscapes.  That money is a taboo is something which at this stage requires some arguing for, but in many ways it is - money isn't simply something we hide from others for our own financial protection, rather our own finances are usually something best left undiscussed so as not to cause envy or resentment in others.    Smouldering and volanic envy in the bubbling waters of ubiquitous competition are what keep our mouths sealed on the matter of private wealth.    Taboos are also usually noted for the peculiar way in which they compel us to use language in ever more inventively indirect ways - just like the male member, money has hundreds of words we can refer to it without actually referring to it at all!  (I don't need to give examples, we are all acquainted with examples of these words no matter what our first language may be).
Those who flaunt their wealth in public are very much regarded as vulgar and foolish, and every culture has coded rituals of avoiding comparing wealth directly, while permitting slight and subtle mechanisms of communicating status without offending others.  Bragging is universally negative for a reason, and it is better to avoid mentioning one's wealth so as to avoid the risk of bragging and in doing so reducing the status of another.    A woman's wealth is ultimately her youthful grace, physical desireability and sexual allure - these too are carefully controlled in every society with some cultures going to great extremes to force women into burkha to keep male eyes, imaginations and passions in check.     From this perspective, envy could also be the foundation upon which aversions to flesh have  developed.  Every culture has its own concept of 'modesty' which may also have developed as a mechanism to control those who are arrogantly disposed towards spreading envy in others by having smoother, slimmer, more fertile, muscular, efficacious and younger bodies. Showing one's flesh can be seen as boasting; being confident with one's body can be seen as demeaning to others already having to deal with the caustic reality of their own envy.
America, with is own ultra powerful form of capitalism, is peculiarly less inhibited in its displays of wealth and status.  Yet, despite America's lack of public shame in the face of great wealth, even it, has its limits and informal controls on displaying wealth. Bill Gates and President Obama do not go to meetings dressed in gold chains and jewelry, despite having the financial means to do so. And of course it shouldn't surprise us that no one claimed to have noticed the stalkerish  nature of Envy more than the American writer and cultural commentator Gore Vidal, when he made quips as enduring as 'when a friend succeeds, a little piece of me dies' and 'a narcissist is simply some with a better body'.  Where else is Envy likely to have such a ferocious foothold than in America's high powered economy where sadly crime rates are as frighteningly mutated as the economy is both comprehensive and expansive.
         In relation to music, Rap and hip hop videos are very much in a unique category of creativity that deliberately seek to agitate and rile audiences with super ostentatious displays of gold, jewelry and limosines (plus girls who are also a living form of male wealth that can be flaunted to an insulting degree).  The sexual content, although equally obvious, is usually what gets attention, which would also suggest displaying money and wealth in public is more taboo than sexuality in fact, most of us are happier seeing women underdressed than men overdressed and laden with gold and finery ....

How we dress is but one way of seeing how we encode discourse on wealth, for the professional male suit, consisting of a a bland jacket with matching trousers, a white shirt (most of the time)  and the tiny oasis of flamboyance that is the tie or cravat, is just one pretty banal way in which clothing and uniform seek to impose a cooperative and professional mindset, undisturbed by individual differences in style and wealth that can separate individuals and turn a cooperative group into a fissile and self-destructive unit of Envy.  Of course, suits vary in price and quality, but nevertheless, in insisting on a common professional uniform in business, nausea and envy are reduced, a logic that can also be seen in those countries where school uniforms are a norm (such as the UK) where school pupils are obliged to wear uniforms to reduce the chances of some children feeling different, subordinate on the basis of clothing, or envious of others who do themselves command greater envy from others.  The slightest glimpse at a school uniform will reveal how similar it is in both design and mission plan to business suits.  The agenda is clear -  differences are fissile, and wealth is a marker of difference that can cause Envy, and Envy which has become the powerful dynamo of creative evolution in capitalist states, is a singularly corrosive force in less developed states, where the level of ambition has to be dampened because options and opportunities are simply non-existant.  It is in conditions of scarcity and absence of opportunity that most of today's religions have originated and even in under developed countries, men (who occupy the public spaces) wear clothing that is remarkable similar to that of others in their group, what can easily be called a uniform.    Only monarchs with devine sanction, stand above the uniformed classes and have the entitlement to dress beyond the reach of those bound by the ditates of common shame and decency.  A monarch has the right to be rich and to flaunt that wealth with an impunity granted to no one.  That Envy is a source of our discomfort over human flesh (that is naked or revealed flesh) may also explain why some Islamic women prefer the institution of burkha, hijab or wearing a chador, given that women are also competing with one another in informal beauty stakes.
    The songs gathered in this list are from the English speaking pop tradition, and so it is the Christian traditional that gets notable and understandable prominence, although other belief systems are mentioned for purposes of clarifying and elucidating.  The reason for dwelling on religion, is simply that we all stem from deeply religious pasts, and even those of us deeply embedded in today's secular oasis, have to accept that we can not understand ourselves today, unless we understand the traditions, decisions and beliefs of those who preceded us.

    The general conclusion of this paper is that we are running away from ourselves - the law of the jungle forever stalks us, threating to unmask the despised reality that we are all struggling for survival and position beneath the veneer of 'civilisation' that has developed to regulate the jungle that houses our competitive instincts that are built on our overwhelming drive to survive.  This drive to survive, which, at its most destructive can even unsettle the most treasured bastion of cooperation, the family, is the reality that unsettles most.  We want to be brothers, sisters, good neighbours in healthy communities, not
fractious pirhanas biting at everything that moves.  Both religion and forces such as socialism, are two examples of man made institutions that seek to regulate this jungle of perpetual friction by humanising both us and our environments to increase the numbers of brothers, sisters and comrades in the jungle of struggle in which Thomas Hobbes' picture of war of all against all is the most hideous of scenerios. Hobbes himself, recognised that states had developed to contain the control the utterly corrosive potential of envy and the will to survive.  Ideologically, these institution (religion, socialism, the state, etc.)  strive to impose the informal patterns of family and kinship on the rest of society in a bid to lessen the impact of competitive forces (religion even posits a father figure to mediate law and morality), whereas the state is very much a physical embodiment of fatherly authority, with never ending debates ensuing on exactly what type of father the state should mirror - a strict but benign one that lord from above and beyond or a more relaxed and open one that communicates and communes with its subjects.

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