Primordial-debt Theory

“The core argument is that any attempt to separate monetary policy from social policy is ultimately wrong. Primordial-debt theorists insist that these have always been the same thing. Governments use taxes to create money, and they are able to do so because they have become the guardians of the debt that all citizens have to one another. This debt is the essence of society itself. It exists long before money and markets, and money and markets themselves are simply ways of chopping pieces of it up.”

-At first debt was expressed by religion, not states. See the Sanskrit religious literature like the Vedas and Brahmanas. Earliest Vedic poems from like 1500-1200 BC are very concerned with debt, which is “treated as synonymous with guilt and sin.”

-In very early texts, “Debt seems to stand in for a broader sense of inner suffering, from which one begs the gods… for release.”

-The Brahmanas started weaving together a more comprehensive philosophy in which human existence itself is a debt to the gods. “A man, being born, is a debt; by his own self he is born to Death, and only when he sacrifices does he redeem himself from death.”

-Leads to the question, “If our lives are on loan, who would actually wish to repay such a debt? To live in debt is to be guilty, incomplete. But completion can only mean annihilation.” So the tribute of ritual sacrifice is like an interest payment, and the sacrificer’s life is the principal.

-Two famous passages in the Brahmanas: “We are born as a debt not just to the gods, to be repaid in sacrifice, but also to the Sages who created the Vedic learning to begin with, which we must repay through study; to our ancestors, who we must repay by having children; and finally, to humanity as a whole, to be repaid by offering hospitality to strangers.”

-Primordial-debt theory say these ideas aren’t peculiar to “a certain intellectual tradition of early Iron Age ritual specialists in the Gange valley, but that they are essential to the very nature and history of human thought.”

-Sovereign powers’ legitimacy comes from their representation of the entire cosmos, and so they invented money as a way of settling debts. So instead of owing the unpayable debt of your life to death, now you have money that you can use to settle more manageable debts. That currency is put into circulation, and then you have to repay it in taxes, and that is a much more reasonable ask than “You owe your life to the God of Death.”

-“The primordial debt is that owed by the living to the continuity and durability of the society that secures their individual existence.”

Religious Materialism

“The attempt to connect myth to social structure has mostly been a failure.”

“There is this great article called ‘Explaining the Political Ambivalence of Religion‘. It’s focused on political science, but I think it’s lessons apply broadly: religion and religious stories neither is defined by the area it comes from, nor does religious tradition define the culture of that area. Instead, how people use those stories and traditions are used is what’s important. After all, we all know the same stories and traditions have been used to justify both the violent conquests of Crusades and the austere, collectivist pacifist Amish and Hutterite communities. The Catholic Church helped prop up right-wing dictatorships in Europe and South America, fight against those same South American dictatorships through liberation theology, and bring down the Communist dictatorships in Poland and Slovakia all in the 70’s and 80’s. That’s what Philpott means by the political ambiguity of religion: each religious tradition can do many things, its specific political theology that matters most. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s famous Islam Observed also speaks to this: the Islam he experienced in Morocco and Indonesia were very, very different as they had been shaped by local conditions (and also shape local conditions).”

“I remember encountering one as an undergraduate (which unfortunately I have never been able to find again) which connected creation myths with primary crops. In areas where cereals dominated, people tend to grow out of the ground or be created from dust (cf. Genesis 2:7). In areas where tubers (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, cassava) were the primary crops, however, creation myths tend to involve chopping up a ceremonial figure and scattering their parts. [For those who don’t know, tuber crops are propagated not by seeds but by chopping them up and letting them grow anew in the ground–every eye on your potato could become a new potato plant if chopped and cared for properly.] I wouldn’t be surprised if this could be to some degree extended to other forms of agriculture. The original Indo-European creation myth was likely something like one twin slaughtering another (see Bruce Lincoln’s work on this–I think it is is still accepted), obviously related to their most important food source of flocks and herds of various animals.”

via This /r/AskHistorians Comment