Ooh, Shiny!

12 03 2009


There’s been an amusing email forward making its rounds regarding a starling that worked very hard to loot an automatic car wash of a small fortune in quarters.  A security camera was mounted to catch the thief, and the owners had a bit of a surprise coming to them.  They found the stash on a nearby rooftop, and it was clear that this little bird had been about as enthusiastic as it might have been had it understood the monetary value of money.  Well, no one faults the feathered creature for wanting to collect shiny things.

That was, after-all, the only reason that the bird wanted it, right?

This brings us to a deeper question as to why money would be made from a material such that it would be coveted both by people and animals.  Way back, long ago, when people first learned how to bake metals out of common everyday rocks and refine them into a smooth shiny blob, I imagine their first reaction was something like, “Ooh, shiny!”  Yeah, Neanderthals who could barely talk were busying themselves with rudimentary metallurgy and mineralogy…something that less than one hundredth of a percent of today’s population could even begin to do.  Never mind.

“Now look here, Fecundus, would you not say that this is a most extraordinary new material?  Might it have some excellent new potential uses?”

Yeah, that’s more like it.

The earliest metals, gold and silver, were so prized for their beauty, that they became a symbol of wealth.  The more a person could afford, the more they adorned themselves and their possessions with pretty, shiny metal.  Eventually, it was so much a symbol of wealth, that people came to see it as wealth, itself.  People bought and sold goods and services using measured weights of gold.  Then, someone got the bright idea of certifying units of gold by stamping them with an image.  That way, the value of a chunk of metal would not have to be ascertained with every transaction.  Rome mastered the concept of such a common currency.  Paper money, when it first came out, was nothing but a promissory note.  No one valued it for its own sake.  Every dollar bill could be redeemed for gold, originally.  During the colonial era, metal money was so scarce, that people resorted to buying and selling with pounds of butter and bolts of fabric.  The conversion factors must have been a nightmare to work with.  Besides, it had to be awkward to go to the grocer with a stack of butter tubs, in order to buy other food and goods.  When the promissory notes were printed, they were a great improvement in the way people did business.  Until relatively recently, before people had homosexual marriage and abortion to argue about, the big topic was whether our paper money (IOU bills) would be backed by gold or silver.  Those were the days….  Now, our money isn’t backed by either one.  The government simply prints as much as it sees fit.  Now, we hardly use the paper stuff, even.  We get our paychecks direct-deposited, and we make our purchases with credit cards, which we pay online.  If that fails, there’s always debit.  If we don’t have enough, then we can always borrow it.  Money is nothing but an abstract concept now.

So, we went from valuing the shiny metal for it’s own sake, to using that metal to buy other things.  Now we use some abstract idea birthed from that to buy prettier, shinier things, like the LCD monitor you’re staring at like a hypnotized chicken.

Ooh, shiny!

Meanwhile, the starlings, crows, raccoons, rats, sparrows and other highly materialistic creatures are still only just dazzled by the thing that built our global economy.  Greedy little imps.  I’d like to know the presumed evolutionary explanation for the love of pretty things.  Are birds’ nests stronger when they’re built out of coins?  The fact that the love of metallic money crosses species, from mammals to birds to fish, suggests some kind of universality, as though there might be something bigger at stake.  It’s as though all of creation has a shadow of a memory of something that has parted from this world, or something that we were destined to find, something shiny.  If that’s the case, then the love of money really boils down to a case of misplaced treasure.

“He took me there, and I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand.”  (Ezekiel 40:3)

“His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.”  (Revelation 1:15)

“You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared.”  (Ezekiel 28:13)

“And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.”  (Revelation 4:3)

“The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls.  The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long.  He measured its wall and it was 144 cubits thick, by man’s measurement, which the angel was using.  The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass.  The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.  The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.”  (Revelation 21:15-21)

Beauty is something that we cannot reason-out.  I cannot say why a shiny piece of metal is pretty.  I ponder, though, that maybe it resembles something heavenly.  This may be why people make idols out of shiny metal.  It may be why materialism started with a shiny metal.  It may be why a bird that doesn’t know gold bouillon from a dime still values both.

And it may be why the love of money has so often usurped the love of God.





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