Byung-Chul Han on money, violence, mortality and capitalism

“The archaic economy of violence didn’t simply disappear in modern times. The nuclear arms race also conforms to the archaic economy of violence. The potential for destruction is built up like mana to create the impression of more power and invulnerability. At a deep psychological level, the archaic belief persists that the accumulation of the ability to kill will ward off death. More deadly violence is interpreted as less death. The economy of capital also displays a notable similarity to the archaic economy of violence. Instead of blood, it makes money flow forth. There is an essential proximity between blood and money. Capital behaves like modern mana. The more of it you have, the more powerful, invulnerable, and even immortal you consider yourself to be. Even the etymology of the German word for money, Geld, points to the context of sacrifice and cult. Thus it’s presumed that money was initially a medium of exchange with which sacrificial animals could be obtained. If someone had a lot of money, it meant that he could have many sacrificial animals, which could be offered up at any time. The owner also possessed an enormous, predator-like deadly violence. Money or capital is thus an instrument against death.

On a deep psychological level, capitalism actually has much to do with death and fear of death. This is also what gives it its archaic dimension. The hysteria of accumulation and of growth and fear of death are mutually dependent. Capital can also be interpreted as time spent, since others can be paid to work in one’s stead. Endless capital creates the illusion of endless time. The accumulation of capital works against death, against the absolute lack of time. Faced with a limited life span, people accumulate time as capital.”

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