The themes of the project are further explored in a series of image-text pieces on display at the Nordic House. For this part of the project, Learning Site has commissioned aone-act play from the writer Jaime Stapleton:
The following dialogue explores a conversation between three members of the new Pythagorean cult.
Alex is twenty-three, but looks younger. He is English and recently graduated. He came top in a rigorous selection procedure and this is his first job. He only takes his eyes off David when told to. He is too nervous to drink.
Bob is David’s right hand man. He’s from Milwaukee and has spent his entire adult life pretending not be extremely clever.
All three would be extremely uncomfortable if asked to dress casually. Each carries a Blackberry and a Smart-Phone.
Alex: So, how does it work?
David: Pick a city …
David: Pick somewhere ordinary … there’s a lot of us there already. Better to think of somewhere less dramatic, more everyday.
David: Here will do nicely.
Alex: So, how does it work?
David: Look around. What do you see?
Alex: People. Shops, buildings, the sky … ?
David: Look carefully … and think.
David: It’s not that simple.
Alex: Markets I guess. People exchanging stuff. Commerce ... Is that what you mean?
David: No. You have to think. You have to think. And not like them.
Alex: Is that supposed to be a clue?
David: What you are looking at? … open your fucking mind …
David: Imagine they’re fish. All you have to do is put your hand into the water and pull the money out.
Alex: Is that a riddle?
David: And you’re supposed to be fucking smart …
Alex: Well what do you see?
David: Value. That’s the difference. I see value. Locked in those bodies. It’s in the way they walk. The way they talk. The way the fuck, smile, get ill and die. It’s in what they think.
Forget the fucking shops. Its chicken feed. I’m talking about real value.
[Bends to the floor and picks up a tiny piece of gravel]
Look at this little stone. It’s just a rock. That’s what you see. Just a rock. Buddy … humans did that for thousands of years. People stepped on them. Stared at them. Shat on them. Then one day some guy who’d never shaved worked out how to get ore.
There’s materials, there’s people, and there’s ideas. The guy who worked it out made a sword, had a shave and wiped iron oxide on the walls of his cave to make paintings. Industry. Self-esteem. Culture. In ten thousand years we haven’t changed, nor have the materials – that oxide’s in your Blackberry. All that’s changed is ideas.
So. Over there, what I see, is value. Human value. And the issue is how to mine it. How to convert the way they eat, shit and fuck into money.
Alex: It’s about squeezing them?
David: We don’t extract value. We model it. Then make models of the model, and model a bit of that, and another bit from another one.
Alex: I don’t understand.
Alex: Like Second Life?
David: Fuck you!
Alex: Er, oh… so you mean like a derivative… a debt obligation or default swap.
David: Hum. How do you understand that?
Alex: Bank lends mortgages. Some get paid back some don’t. So to cover risk, you make a sausage of good and bad meat, then slice it, and sell the bits on to investors. If you do it well no one dies from the poisonous bits.
Alex: Sometimes they die.
David: That’s not what I meant.
Alex: …Erm, sell them insurance to cover against the possibility of default, and make more sausages, slice them and sell them on, and hope whoever buys them can’t work out what the underlying risk is.
David: Hope? How do ensure against doubt?
Alex: Pay a Ratings Agency? …Right?
David: Its not so simple.
[Pause. Turns to Bob]
Tell him what money is.
Bob: Store of value. [Stares to distance, sipping coffee]
David: A store of value. And so is society. It’s one enormous battery. Full of energy. Full of dreams and hopes … stuff you’re afraid of, stuff you want. Everybody knows you don’t make money by selling stuff; you make it by getting inside the conversation.
Get between them [gestures toward the shoppers] and the people they wanna talk to, and put a tap on it. Sell them a phone. Sell them the means to be themselves – the phone, the net; nice clothes, place to live. Put a tap between them and whatever they wanna do.
David: Well, that’s trade. But there’s too much competition. We’re different.
Take an asset. Energy is good at the moment. We’re in gas right now. Borrow on the wholesale market, buy out a downstream firm – usually former state stuff – cut the investment, move it to high-risk areas – places government is unstable. We’ll load it with debt and pay a good dividend – keeps everyone happy. We’re holding off shore, so if this or that vehicle goes tits up we’re fine. But, understand this: we’re not asset strippers. There’s fuck all in pumping shit from the ground anyway. The key … we use the revenue potential as collateral for contracts, derivates we can slice and dice, and we can do the same with insurance to cover the company debt. We’ve got other vehicles for that. It’s securitisation, a very long chain, and we take on each link.
Do you know what derivative markets are worth Alex?
David: The capital base of the whole planet is 53 Trillion bucks. You know what we’ve built on that? 680 Trillion. It’s a fucking cathedral. Markets of markets, of markets, of markets, and right down the bottom there’s a peasant breaking his back to pay a mortgage, some guy diggin’ rocks, some farmer shovellin’ dirt.
Never talk bad about society Alex. You know what keeps the guy paying the mortgage? He believes in something. He’s got hopes and dreams, and he’s afraid for his family. Doesn’t want to look bad. He’s got ethics. That’s where it starts. His values are what we, ultimately, secure on. Providing he stays moral, keeps believing, the banks are in business and so are we. If those guys stop believing. If the foundation stones take a walk … the whole cathedral’s down.
Like if these fuckers [lowers his voice and gestures gently to customers in the café] stop being cosmopolitan … that’s why I believe in culture. We build on that. We make beautiful,
Alex: Its unreal.
David: Do you believe in God Alex?
David: Does that mean God doesn’t exist …? And think before opening your mouth again.
Alex: I don’t believe he does.
David: But others do. And you’ve got to deal with them – right? So, I’ll ask you again: do you believe in God?
Alex: Well no, but you’re saying he might as well exist – right?
David: That’ll do. Whether or not it – whatever-the-fuck it is – exists in some way you can lay your fingers on is beside the point. It affects the way people are. How they think, what they do. It’s about boundaries. Probabilities. Perceptions.
Humans have values. They believe in truth. Laws. Democracy. God. Culture. The church. They believe in their friends. Wives. Husbands. They’ve got ideas about right and wrong … all sorts of stuff. Call it society. Society is a like a bank for all this stuff. And we look deep in, see what’s going on there and we borrow on it, and lend to it, but in a creative way. It about turning a cent or two on top of all that value – you understand?
Alex: Isn’t that kind of the Transformation Problem?
David: Marx! Is that what they teach you in PPE at Oxford? Fucking Marx.
Alex: I mean …
David: Listen fuckwit, you wanna get anywhere, forget theory. There doesn’t have to be a material connection between their lives and what we do. We use the math to make
We’re in the boundaries business …
Alex: You mean like laws?
David: Well, you can lobby and get regulations moved around. Doesn’t matter which way. There’s usually heads making money on either side of a law. Move it a bit, someone loses, someone gains. We can make money on both sides, but it’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about perception.
Sometimes we need to shift the borders, alter the perception.
David: Oh, please … I’m talking connections, networks. There are five times more PRs on the planet than journalists: where d’you think stories come from? For every lazy, piss-head giving puff to the public there are five, intelligent, well-incentivised professionals dreaming up the narratives, digging facts, reading hard, putting it all together. Tell me you don’t think journalists have minds of their own?
Alex: Financial journal…
David: …them least of all. Nobody has the time. It’s public opinion…
Alex: Walter Lippmann, Bernays…
David: Is that a fucking essay you wrote? This is the real world.
Bob: They lay a trail …
David: [Cuts across Bob, who is not the least irritated] It’s better they find whatever we want to give them in pieces ... let them put it back together and print it. If they have to work a bit they’re more likely to believe, if they believe, readers believe.
Bob: It’s not about press releases.
David: It’s inductive. It’s art…
We’re off point.
If we’ve got CDOs or swaps to move, we need to pull the market in our direction. There’s lots of ways to do that. It depends on what we’re in to at the time. Sometime’s the relations people will set up a Potemkin village. So if it’s medical they’ll buy into patients groups or set one up. Or they’ll use some other sock-puppet; rent an NGO; hire activists. You understand?
Alex: [Nods silently]
David: It’s down to the PR. The best you’ll never have heard of. You know the devil’s greatest achievement is to spread the belief he doesn’t exist.
Alex: The Usual Suspects!
David: Baudelaire. [The accuracy of his pronunciation is revealing. Sips his latte.]
Alex: So the PR buys …
David: You’re gonna learn subtly. Nobody buys anything. People talk. That’s all.
Hardly anyone has ideas of their own. Take a look at yourself: full of shit from Oxford and the movies.
Everybody wants an opinion. More than that, they want the freedom to have an opinion. And where’s the freedom if it’s not used? To use it you need a thought. But, hey: there’s a supply problem. We just solve that. … It’s about sharing … openness… you know the kind of thing …
We’ll give money to … someone… and they’ll talk to a foundation, and the foundation talk to someone and they’ll find a friend in some fucking society or college with Royal in the title and they’ll fund a project, or we’ll get a Chair endowed somewhere if its longer term… Neutrality persuades … If its digital we’ll hire activists. They’re cheap as fuck and for each one you get a zillion monkeys regurgitating the line for free – you’ve just gotta bend the story around freedom. Ideology reproduces itself.
Then there’s blogs. Social media. Wikipedia… Twitter. The relations people provide Muppets. They’ll have them working up on something else irrelevant for a few years, or we buy ‘em in …
Alex: From where?
David: China, Brazil, like everything. Then we … the relations guys, will turn them hard on to the narrative. Set up some kinda following. It’s a couple of cents a head for Twitter. So with sixty thousand followers ... someone gets laid … we’re all social creatures … the blogs pick up. Eventually, they’ll lunch the journalists … kind of tell ‘em where to look. But its better the narrative has several centres …
Alex: Doesn’t anyone suspect?
David: Fourth estate is bust. They need stories cheap. And Twitter’s not going to do anything. Hundred and twenty million, er, [fingers lifted in parenthesis] “users”… Hell’ll freeze before they disclose how many are active. It’s like the activists. You ever met an activist Alec? Nor me. Everyone belongs to someone. Take out the cops and corporate shape shifters … who’s left? … Students.
Anyway, that’s one way. If its policy, the relations people will talk to friends, and them to their friends. There’s fifty opinion makers in this city. People who are really listened to. Shape them, shape the regulators, shape the market.
You know … [sips coffee] … people get lonely in their job. It’s a tough world. Its nice when you find a friend you can trust – particularly if they’ve got ideas. It’s a social kind of thing. They’ll put a friend in … … Group-think doesn’t just happen, its gotta be worked at.
Alex: What? Are you talking about …
David: Bob, you’re empty, why don’t you get a latte?
[Bob goes to the bar and stays there, taking calls.]
If there are obstacles, they need managing. Give them something they want. Make friends. Nothing corrupts like friendship – except, maybe, loyalty. In extremis we can arrange some guy’s wife to come into an [fingers raised in parentheses] “inheritance”, but it’s not smart. Better to make the horse believe it found its own way to river.
Alex: Er, yeah. OK.
David: But we need that stuff at the bottom. It happens here. In front of you. A city like this. Happens everywhere. It’s the everyday. But you’ve got to look. Be a student of places, of people. Think like they do. Imagine … this is difficult … what it’s like for them. The fears. What d’you plan to do about it? All that.
Right now, its energy and food. The oil’s out. Everyone’s scared. They’re fracking in Europe. Nuclear’s up, but the planets warming and you can’t stop Tsunamis … so… [Sips his latte, thoughtfully] … Most places food’s an issue … that can only get better for us.
We’re looking for ideas.
Alex: [Stares ever more blankly and silently at David.]
David: What we do is beautiful. We build beautiful things. Remember that. I wouldn’t do this if it wasn’t beautiful.
Bob: [At the bar, mobile in hand, covering the rece iver]
David, there’s some guy from Elea? … D’yatake it?
Democratic Bank of Everyday Things
International Consolidated Bank of Non-Commercial Values
Confederated Bank of Urban and Rural Possibilities
Global and Consolidated Bank of Inevitable Futures