Majestic Mandarin and Banking Anarchy

I enjoyed Majestic Mandarin, the March Geek Dinner. I’ve missed a couple, and it was good to go back after a lengthy gap.

I particularly enjoyed the last two talks. Henk’s humorous “A brief history of modern banking”, covered familiar territory, though unfortunately I can’t find or remember the name of the well-known main source he based it on.

The talk attracted more questions and comments than any other I can remember. Some comments expressed support for the system, ranging from how the banking system actually contains checks and balances, and is quite healthy, to how buying crap is desirable as it keeps people employed.

Let’s just say I disagree.

One of the questions went something like “What can we do to stop them”, and Henk answered, humourously, that he’d “rather join them”.

This was fuel to the fire, and he was immediately challenged by the anarchist in the front (I’ll call her this since I don’t know her name, and someone at the table next to me whispered that she was an anarchist!), who said that we should rather be asking “what can we do to make people stop wanting to join them”.


It was interesting to watch the dynamic. Really understanding how the banking system works is shocking, and humour is probably a healthy response. But at the same time it can be distancing, and the anarchist was probably offended that people could even joke about wanting to fool people and make billions at their expense.

There was a certain irony that Jonathan’s earlier talk was about buying a house, and therefore getting a loan from a bank, and the following talk was Bryn’s hilarious Avon Lady slideshow karaoke. Unfortunately being told by Bryn to buy cosmetics was too much for the anarchist, and she left shaking her head before I could get to chat to her.

So, what can we do? I’ll assume that anyone reading this accepts that the banking system as it is now is undesirable. If not, you need to do some reading – or you can watch Zeitgeist, as the other talk suggested. 🙂 Banks have us all where they want us, right? What could we possibly do?

There’s a lot we can do. It starts by understanding the problem, which is where talks such as Henk’s can help. Next we need to realise our power to change the systems that are failing us, then choose or devise alternatives, and finally, we can work towards these alternatives.

Options mentioned were What Would Jesus Buy, as well as International Buy Nothing Day.

Focusing on consumption is important, as it’s the core of why most people feel trapped into working for organisations and people they have little respect for – fear of not having enough, and a false need to support a consumerist lifestyle.

But this is only part of the picture. There are certain things we need to consume here on the physical plane. Food and water being obvious examples. That realisation is why I am involved in the Ethical Co-op, an attempt to offer a core basic need, food, that’s as healthy as possible (which is why it’s organic), being as transparent as possible, and in a structure that’s as ethical as possible (which is why we chose a co-operative).

But as far as banking goes, there are better alternatives too. Co-operative banks (although sadly in South Africa none of our big four qualify). One local initiative is the Community Exchange System, or the Talent Exchange.

Creating money out of thin air is then not a power granted to the elite few, shrouded in secrecy and smothered by greed and vested interest. It becomes democratized, so that everybody can do it, transparently. And, just like people, when first exposed to ideas such as Wikipedia, will ask why it isn’t vandalised into oblivion, or on encountering Free Software, why anyone bothers to contribute and how the quality can possibly be any good, people generally ask why the system isn’t just abused by people going massively into debt. It’s the strength, as well as the eyes, of the community that will prevent that from happening, sometimes with more structure, sometimes less. As a system, it makes a lot more sense than the current one.

And Henk, your dream has come true – you can join them, along with everyone else!

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  1. “Unfortunately being told by Bryn to buy cosmetics was too much for the anarchist”

    Her name is Sam.. I think it was more of a feminist thing that an anarchist thing.. she believes that Avon has done a lot of good for a lot of woman.

    Good talks indeed.

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