Sorry guys, we haven’t got enough inches

This is an excerpt from a lecture Alan Watts held in the Seventies. We are still that stupid today, perhaps even more so


“Somebody once suggested, by saying that thought is a means of conceiving truth despite the fact that it’s an extraordinarily useful faculty. But in quite recent weeks we’ve had an astounding example of the way mankind can be bamboozled by thoughts.

There was a crisis about gold and the confusion of money, in any form whatsoever, was wealth, is one of the major problems from which civilization is suffering because way back in our development when we first began to use symbols to represent the events of the physical world we found this such an ingenious device that we became completely fascinated with it. In ever so many different dimensions in life, we are living in a state of total confusion between symbol and reality.

And the real reason why in our world today, where there is no technical reason whatsoever why there should be any poverty at all. The reason it still exists is people keep asking the question, “where’s the money going to come from?” Not realizing that money doesn’t come from anywhere and never did, except if you thought it was gold and then of course to increase the supply of gold (use that to finance all the world’s commerce) prosperity would depend not upon new processes for growing food in vast quantities or getting nutrition out of the ocean … no, it depends on discovering a new gold mine.

And you can see what a nonsensical state of affairs that is because when gold is used for money it becomes, in fact, useless. Gold is a very useful metal for filling teeth, making jewelry and maybe covering the dome of the capitol in Washington but the moment it is locked up in vaults in the form of ingots it becomes completely useless. It becomes a false security, something that people cling to like an idol: like a belief in some kind of big daddy-o god with whiskers who lives above the clouds. All that kind of thing diverts our attention from reality. We go through all sorts of weird rituals … the symbol in other words gets in the way of a practical life.

So, you remember the great depression. I expect a number of you around are old enough to remember the great depression when one day everybody was doing business and things were going along pretty well and the next day there were bread lines.

It was like someone came to work and they said to him “sorry chum but you can’t build today, no building can go on, we don’t have enough inches.” He’d say, “what do you mean we don’t have enough inches, we’ve got wood haven’t we? We’ve got metal, we’ve even got tape measures.” He’d say, “yeah, but you don’t understand the business world, we just haven’t got enough inches. We’ve used too much of ‘em.”

And that’s exactly what happened when we had the depression. Because money is something of the same order of reality as inches, grams, meters, pounds or lines of latitude and longitude. It is an abstraction. It is a method of book keeping to obviate the cumbersome procedures of barter. But our culture, our civilization is entirely hung up on the notion that money has an independent reality of its own.”

The lecture is called “The Veil of Thoughts” and you can find it here

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