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The Origins of Moneykind, Part One: Shared Beliefs

As you all know now, this week sees the release of my new book ValueWeb.  Yes, you can buy it from today on Amazon or any of the other services you use.  It’s released in UK from March 15, and USA from April 7 (this is due to publisher getting hard copies to distributors before it can be released online).

So what’s the new book all about?

You’ve probably made some assumptions or have some views, but it’s really about sex, religion and politics, those things we are told not to talk about. What?  You thought it was about blockchain because the subtitle is: How FinTech firms are using Mobile and Blockchain Technologies to Build the Internet of Value?  Yes, that is the subtitle but, in actuality, I’ve realised it’s about sex, religion and politics, themes I return to often.   After all, these are the themes that determine our lives, and money is at the heart of all three.  As the erudite Jeremy Clarkson puts it: “Money and Rumpy-Pumpy are the twin engines that power everything we do” …

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And he is actually bang on the money.  To put it in context, we need to begin at the beginning, as that’s a very good place to start, and talk about the origins of man which is what I’m going to cover in five blog entries this week.  Why five?  Because various readings and musings have come together into a new presentation that I would entitle: The Five Ages of Moneykind.  It’s a variation of the Five Ages of Man:

  1. The Age of Shared Beliefs
  2. The Age of Farming
  3. The Age of Industry
  4. The Age of Technology
  5. The Age of Space

And I’ll cover these in five blogs this week, starting with:

The First Age: The Creation of Shared Beliefs

Seven million years ago, the first ancestors of mankind appeared in Africa and seven million years later mankind’s existence is being traced by archaeologists in South Africa as we speak, where they believe they are finding several missing links in our history.  A history traced back to the first hominid forms.  What’s a hominid, I hear you say?

Well way back when, the scientists believe that the Eurasian and American tectonic plates collided and then settled, creating a massive flat area in Africa, after the Ice Age.  This new massive field was flat for hundreds of miles, as far as the eye could see, and the apes that inhabited this land suddenly found there were no trees to climb.  Instead, just flat land and berries and grasses.  This meant that the apes found it hard going thundering over hundreds of miles on their hands and feet, so they started to stand up to make it easier to move over land.  This resulted in a change in the wiring of the brain which, over thousands of years, led to the early forms of what is now recognised as human.

The first link to understanding this chain was the discovery of Lucy.  Lucy – named after the Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds – is the first skeleton that could be pieced together to show how these early human forms appeared on the African plains in the post-Ice Age world.  The skeleton was found in the early 1970s in Ethiopia by paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson and is an early example of the hominid australopithecine, dating back to about 3.2 million years ago. The skeleton presents a small skull akin to that of most apes, plus evidence of a walking-gait that was bipedal and upright, akin to that of humans and other hominids.  This combination supports the view of human evolution that bipedalism preceded increase in brain size.

Since Lucy was found, there have been many other astonishing discoveries in what is now called the Cradle of Humankind https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cradle_of_Humankind in South Africa, a Unesco World Heritage site.  It gained this status after the discovery of a near-complete Australopithecus skeleton called “Little Foot“, dating to around 3.3 million years ago, by Ron Clarke in 1997.  Why was Little Foot so important?  Because it’s almost unheard of to find fossilised hominin remains intact.  The reason is that the bones are scattered across the Earth as soil sank into the ground and remains were distributed amongst the porous caves underneath.  An intact skeleton is therefore as likely to be found as a decent record by Jedward http://www.planetjedward.net/ .

More recently, archaeologists have discovered the Rising Star Cave system, where many complete bodies have been found as the scientists believe this was a burial ground.  It has also led to the naming of a new form of human relative, named Homo naledi,

All in all, the human tree of life that falls into the catch-all of the Homo species, of which we are Homo Sapiens, has several other tributaries including Homo erectus, Homo floresiensis, Homo habilis, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo naledi and Homo neanderthalensis.

Hominids

The question then arises: if there were several forms of human, how come we are the only ones that are left?

Some of that may have been due to changing times.  After all, there aren’t any Mammoths or Sabre-Toothed Tigers around today, but there are several forms of their ancestors still on Earth.  Yet what is interesting in the order of Hominids, according to Professor Yuval Harari author of Sapiens and leading authority on the history of humankind, is that Homo Sapiens defeated all other forms of hominid because we could work together in groups of 1000’s.  According to his theory, all other human forms peaked in tribes of a maximum of 150 members – about the maximum size of any ape colony – because at this size of a group, too many alpha males exist and the order of the group would fall apart.  One part of the group would then follow one alpha male and another part the other.  The tribe divides and go their separate ways.

Homo Sapiens developed beyond this because we could talk to each other.  We could create a rich landscape of information, not just grunts and signs, and began to build stories.  By building stories, we could share beliefs and, by sharing beliefs, hundreds of us could work together in tribes, not just 100.

The result is that when Homo Sapiens villages were attacked by other homo forms, we could repel them easily.  We could also, in return, attack those human forms and annihilate them.  And we did.  Neanderthals, who share about 99.5% of our DNA, died out 40,000 years ago and were the last homo variation to survive.  After that, it was just us human beings or homo sapiens if you prefer.

Now why is this important as a background to the five ages of man?

Because this was the first age.  This was the age of enlightenment.  It was the age of Gods.  It was an age of worshiping the Moon and the Sun, the Earth and the Seas, the Fire and the Wind.  The natural resources of Earth were seen as important symbols with the birds of the sky, the Big Cats of the Earth, and the snakes of the below Earth seen as key symbols for early humankind,

We shared these stories and beliefs and, by doing so, could work together and build civilisations.  One of the oldest surviving religions of the world is Hinduism, around three thousand years old, but there were other religions before Hinduism in Jericho, Mesopotamia and Egypt.  The Sun God and the Moon God were the basic shared beliefs, and these shared beliefs were important because they kept order.  We could work together in larger and larger groups, because of these shared beliefs.

This is why there is a lot of commonality of Old Testament stories in the Bible with that of the Koran.  Jews, Christians and Muslims all share beliefs in the stories of Adam and Eve, Moses, Sodom and Gomorrah and Noah, and even some of these beliefs originate from the ancient Hindu beliefs of the world.

Shared beliefs is the core thing that brings humans together and binds them.  It is what allows us to work together and get on with each other, or not, as the case may be.  The fundamental difference in our shared beliefs for example, is what drives Daesh today and creates the fundamentalism of Islam, something that many Muslims don’t believe in at all.

I will return to this theme in tomorrow’s blog, talking about the Agricultural Revolution and the creation of money because, at its core, banking and money is all about a shared belief that these things are important and have value.  Without that shared belief, banking, money, governments and religions would have no power.  They would be meaningless.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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