WE ARE NOT FUNGIBLE

Someone on Twitter published two maps, one of resource development and one of “sex trafficking” and pointed out that they matched. Of course they did. Extracting mineral resources or even water or timber resources is hard physical labor, often done by men in “boom” fashion that exhausts them and is no place for family. This is nothing like agriculture as a resource which encourages permanence and families, except for illicit crops which might have be foreclosed in a hurry.

Just this plain observation implies much about the way social structures develop and persist. The systems of extraction and transportation, refining and eventual delivery, are accompanied by parallel structures of sex, food, drugs and alcohol, and gambling that ameliorate the toll of physical labor. A less noticed system operates from cities where the owners and profiteers live. And a “refined” artistic community, plus a system of bankers, is related to those business “leaders.”

Some of these systems favor one social group or another because of the skills they encourage and how coherent they are. But we have become wary of labeling social groups in stereotypical ways because of concerns about stigma. At one time beliefs about what people were like could be unjust to individuals. Also, we are ambivalent about systems that encourage their members to be like the others, offspring guided into the affairs of their parents to strengthen and continue them.

The Bellevue UU church has always been one of the big prosperous churches, reflecting the opinions of the Niebuhr brothers that congregations and even denominations are determined by socioeconomics. The city has always been a sort of pleasant haven near to Seattle for those in what might be called “legacy” business like law or finance. Unitarians in Boston were an early source of development funds in the West and their “style” carried along with their money from one coast to the other.

But now the demographics of the area is dominated by the new “resource” of computer business where Asians excel. The change and growth of Bellevue has meant that the church membership has dropped by half. If black people moving into an area mean that white churches shrink, it seems that if Asian people move into an area, the white churches will shrink, however much they claim to be based on belief systems rather than practical economics.

Much has been made of the creation of machines that can do what humans do, pushing them out of their jobs. The resource of labor skills would be diminished. But maybe not enough has been studied about the also predictable change from a resource based on tradition and muscles, anchored in the land, to a resource that is math-based, relatively separated from ethnicity or location, and “fungible.”

Fungible means “something (such as money or a commodity) of such a nature that one part or quantity may be replaced by another equal part or quantity in paying a debt or settling an account. Oil, wheat, and lumber are fungible commodities. fungible goods.”

Money is meant to be fungible, exchangeable according to equivalent value which is meant to be definable. There are a few dangerous steps in this. One is the insurance industry’s equivalence of death or mutilation to a recommended amount of money according to an algorythm. Another is the assumption that all cultures value an arm or a life to the same degree. Insurance becomes a business system that flattens the uniqueness of humans.

Besides that, the value of money is set by nations according to commerce among all nations. Each money system is unique and the value of a unit can be changed by the government. The fact that this happens over time is often talked about when discussing the unit per hour pay decades ago, versus now. It is social systems that can bring this into public awareness and insist on change, but they rarely escape their national “box”, maybe even their demographic group.

Not many talk about resource bases for the value of money, though it is clear that it is a concrete anchor for interchangeability. The combination of money and the internet has heightened the ease with which money can be moved, laundered, and made altogether elusive. But because the laws of nations address money, why couldn’t they simply rule that amount credits kept in records on small unregulated islands isn’t money anymore. Is Confederate money negotiable now? Money is laundered according to national rules, but also money can be seized and nationalized. Therefore, it is wise for criminals to seize the government.

What are tomorrow’s social structures based on resources? We hear about the depletion of the exotic metals needed to make cell phones. But tomorrow’s social structures may not be based on digging up things to sell. The internet allows planetary affinities to gel into common interests. But it also discourages building in one place as Manhattan has done. (The population crushes of Bellevue and San Francisco have more to do with wanting to live together.) Our experience with the pandemic has highlighted this.

The old social structures have fallen apart. Even something so simple as the determination to eliminate drunk driving had already hit the taverns and clubs. Now with the pandemic a shocking proportion has gone out of business, revealing how dependent people are on a place to blow off steam, get loud. This was a resource for business. Not having it becomes a pressure that might be a source of demonstrations.

The government has been surveying citizens again, but they do not define them properly. Instead they insist on knowing what each person “is” as an ethnic, sexual, and age category. Decisions such as money allocations, infrastructure, education, are based on this information, without real justification. It is impossible to assume that everyone who has ancestors from a specific country, who is a particular sex without considering gender performance, or even is the same chronological age, or isn’t or hasn’t been legally married, isn’t distributed along several possibilities and variations. These assumptions are based on raising livestock, which are meant to be in predictable breeds. Treating citizens like livestock is a mistake. People are not fungible and should not be treated that way.

More accurate afiliations, preferences, sympathies, abilities and value to society are impossible to get onto a questionnaire or are they revealed by people calling on the telephone at mealtime. But they are there and they are important resources. Just not fungible.

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Mary Strachan Scriver

Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.