Anthropology Versus Commodification
By Bryan Caplan
…we present a range of sociological and anthropological evidence that
there is no essential meaning to money or market exchange. Instead, the
meaning of money is a contingent social construct. In the absence of
non-semiotic objections to markets, the social meaning of money, of
markets, and commodification, is relative, not objective. Note that we
are not saying that morality is relative or a social construct, but, rather that the meaning we attach to market exchanges is.
There are facts about what symbols, words, and actions signal
respect. But–when there are no worries about exploitation, harm, rights,
and so on–these facts appear to vary from culture to culture. Consider
that King Darius of Persia asked the Greeks if they would be willing to
eat the dead bodies of their fathers. The Greeks balked. Of course, the
right thing to do was to burn the dead bodies on a funeral pyre. To eat
the dead would disrespect them, treating them like mere food. Darius
then asked the Callatians if they would be willing to burn their fathers
on a funeral pyre. The Callatians balked. The thing to do was to eat
one’s father, so that part of the father was always with the son.
Burning the dead would treat them like mere trash.
The Greeks and Callatians agreed about what their obligations were.
They agreed that everyone has a moral obligation to signal respect for
their dead fathers… The issue
here is just that the Greeks and Callatians were, in effect, speaking
different (ritualistic) languages… Asking whether the Greek or Callatian practices are the
correct way to express respect is, at first glance, a bit like asking
whether English or French is the correct language.
Personally, I like the idea of being eaten by my family and friends after I die. But if that’s not your thing, don’t sweat it. 🙂