Economy of Meaning: The Past

Fri, Mar 4, 2011


Thousands of people have already started transitioning into The Economy of Meaning and over the long term (decades) this trend will grow until millions and then billions have transitioned into this new economy.  In this article we examine the origins of this Economy, laying the ground work for a discussion of how this economy is moving today to be followed by series of case studies about how individuals have transitioned into the economy of meaning.

The Economy of Meaning has existed in some form or another as long our collective memories stretch, except that such activities had been limited to a very small elite group of individuals.  The best example of this is priests and in an older time shamans or individuals similar shamans.  These individuals were the chief meaning makers of their society, helping individuals come to terms with uncontrollable forces (Mediating Physical Existence), such as disease and natural disasters.  Also these individuals were the chief story tellers of their community.  They were part of an economy because their services were not free and usually demanded some form of payment, whether they were offerings or cash.  Some of the earlier forms of priesthood were also medicine men or women, but as history advanced, priests became increasingly dedicated to the pure creation of meaning.  The many artists and musicians that created cultural items cannot be classed as meaning creators, as their work was in service and support to the priests.

What distinguishes today, however, is the impending massive expansion of The Economy of Meaning to dominate the activity of the majority of individuals.

Perhaps the first individuals to transition into this new mode were European artists.  Beginning with the painters and sculptors of Renaissance, we see for the first time artists creating new meaning from old subjects.  Almost every artist was still working for the church (i.e. for priests), and required to create items that glorified or illustrated meaning created by the church, yet these artists had finally acquired their own name, and under this name they attempted to add new meaning to their works.  So for example, Leonardo’s Last Supper, shows the disciples arrayed around Christ each in an attitude never before seen, or Michelangelo’s depiction of heroism in naked male figures contained meaning that he aspired to rather than his church masters.

Later the same pattern repeated with early European composers, with Bach struggling against the church to express what he loved, and Mozart and later Beethoven going against the church to express entirely new subjects.  Again what matters here is that these individuals were actually engaged in economic activity and were earning a living (though at times struggling to do so) while creating new meaning.

Yet another group that transitioned into this new economy were writers, chief amongst them philosophers, and those engaged in social sciences such as history, sociology, and psychology.  Note that I have left out scientists as this group was chiefly involved in understanding nature and it was only the philosophers that took their discoveries and tried to apply it to society.  Philosophers & historians have been around for as long as we can remember, with the first philosophers being priests and the first historians being oral story tellers.  But the rest of the social sciences are much newer.

What is often confusing, is the portrayal of these individuals as purely engaged in some form of scientific exploration.  But upon closer examination, we can see that these individuals were directly involved in meaning creation, with many holding beliefs towards which they worked, while perhaps from time to time some were inspired by new findings and created new meaning in their fields.

Out of the group of story tellers then rose the modern day story teller in her or his myriad forms such as novelists, short story writers and film makers.

Fewer than one percent, and perhaps even a fraction of one percent of the population of the planet has succeeded in making a living in any of the professions I have outlined here.  In the next article we will talk about how these numbers will expand, and how or where new professions will be created if The Economy of Meaning is to encompass most of our economic activity.


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