For some reason The KLF popped into my head earlier. I was musing on Twitter about how great they were when Caesar Lopez sent me a clip of the duo on The Late Late Show discussing with Gay Byrne their burning of one million pounds. The interview is fascinating – Gay Byrne is clearly mystified by the duo and their action, even going so far as to call them ‘weird people’.
It threw up some really interesting points. Byrne, speaking on behalf of the shocked and appaled citizens of the world, argues that they could have given the money to charity. Bill Drummond makes two excellent retorts – firstly, if they had of spent the money on ‘swimming pools and Rolls Royces’ people wouldn’t have been upset, which Gay Byrne concedes. The act of destroying the money is wrong – but spending it on superflous luxury items instead of helping the needy is not. This exposes an amazing hypocrasy.
The second point Drummond makes is even more interesting. I’ve written before about the disconnect we have between money and wealth. We have mistaken money for wealth; money is a symbol, whereas wealth are the actual resources we have and can use to improve our lives. Drummond:
Us burning that money doesn’t mean there are any less loaves of bread in the world, any less apples, and less anything. The only thing that’s less is a pile of paper.
Byrne retorts, saying there could have been more bread and apples. Drummond repeats that they did not destroy any tangible goods.
Byrne and the audience do not buy (or understand?) his line of thinking.
Joe Elliot of hair-rockers Def Leppard butts in, saying “I used to talk like that when I was 16”, and the audience also wade in with hostility, and there is a general air of bewilderment. There is also a great moment where Byrne asks “Why are you here?” to which he is answered “Because you invited us….” (It’s really worth watching…some great moments)
I never really understood the K Foundation burning the million pounds until this point. And as I watched it, I kept thinking of Alan Watts’ arguments about wealth and money
What wasn’t understood then, and still isn’t really understood today, is that the reality of money is of the same type as the reality of centimeters, grams, hours, or lines of longitude. Money is a way measuring wealth but is not wealth in itself. A chest of gold coins or a fat wallet of bills is of no use whatsoever to a wrecked sailor alone on a raft. He needs real wealth, in the form of a fish rod, a compass, an outboard motor with gas, and a female companion.
Maybe it was a really foolish act, but at the very least it gets people talking about something which is never really talked about, and now more than ever needs to be – our relationship with money and our concepts of what money really is.