A Meditation on the Worship of Gold

Biblical prophet Daniel stands in defiance before the golden statue of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar while the Babylonians bow in worship (see Daniel, Chapter 3)

Since the beginning of recorded history, mankind has worshipped the metallic commodity known, colloquially, as “gold.” All other religions fade in comparison with the worship of gold. We create idols out of gold – most famously, the golden calf created by the Israelites who dissented with Moses following their exodus from Egypt, and who were severely chastised for their act of rebellion (see Exodus, Chapter 32). We construct elaborate mythologies based on gold – sometimes involving gold-mining extra-terrestrials, as seen in the creation myths of the Sumerians and Babylonians. We base entire economies and monetary standards on gold. We characterize our standards of excellence, metaphorically, as “gold standards” and we lavish our icons of extreme wealth with golden trappings.

Rebellious Israelites worhip the golden calf after the Exodus from Egypt

When Columbus landed in the New World, it is said (anecdotally), that the first priority that obsessed him was to scour the land for gold. The Spanish conquistadors in South America were predominantly motivated by the hunt for Inca gold. The mass migration of more than 300,00 fortune-seekers to California in the mid-nineteenth century was instigated by the gold rush.

Golden statuettes representing the ancient Sun-Bull cult

And yet, gold has no intrinsic value, per se, other than its bright, shiny color and its relative scarcity, and the fact that its value remains relatively stable over time. In the vein of an Einsteinian “thought experiment,” however, let us consider what might happen if the value of gold suddenly crashed.

The idea that the value of gold might, one day, suddenly collapse is not entirely fictional or fantastical. In relative proximity to the earth’s orbit, there are asteroids floating about in space containing more than enough gold and silver ore in them to permanently crash the value of precious metals on earth. Even as we speak, there are startup companies around the world that are making serious plans to explore deep space, beyond the orbit of the moon, and one of the primary ambitions and motivating factors of these space-faring enterprises, launched by Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and others, is to harness and mine these floating gold and silver mines.

Main nave of the Church of the Society of Jesus (La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús), a Jesuit church in Quito, Ecuador.

But have we seriously considered what such an enterprise, were it successful, would do to human society on earth? What would the collapse in the value of gold mean to centuries, even millenia, of religion, mythology and iconography, all constructed around the value of gold?

Author and scientific visionary Peter Diamandis, in his seminal book Abundance: The Future is Better than you Think, relates, in the first chapter, the fascinating history of another element – the metal aluminum.

He recounts the story of the initial discovery of the remarkable element, described as “a new metal, very light, shiny, almost as bright as silver” (Diamandis, Peter H., and Steven Kotler.  Abundance: the Future Is Better than You Think. Simon & Schuster, 2015., p.3). The metal was, apparently, extracted from clay, using a secret process, by an enterprising goldsmith, during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius (contemporary to the life of Jesus Christ).

However, the goldsmith was rewarded for his pains by being beheaded by the ruthless monarch. Diamandis notes:

This shiny new metal was aluminum, and that beheading marked its loss to the world for nearly two millennia. It next reappeared during the early 1800s but was still rare enough to be considered the most valuable metal in the world. Napoléon III himself threw a banquet for the King of Siam where the honored guests were given aluminum utensils, while the others had to make do with gold.

(Ibid., p.3)
The capstone of the Washington Monument, in Washington, D.C. is made of aluminum, once considered to be rarer and more precious than gold!

As recently as the early 19th century, therefore, aluminum was considered to be more precious, even, than gold! Diamandis continues:

While bauxite is 52 percent aluminum, separating out the pure metal ore was a complex and difficult task. … In 1854 Henri Sainte-Claire Deville created the first commercial process for extraction, driving down the price by 90 percent. Yet the metal was still costly and in short supply.

It was the creation of a new breakthrough technology known as electrolysis, discovered independently and almost simultaneously in 1886 by American chemist Charles Martin Hall and Frenchman Paul Héroult, that changed everything. The Hall-Héroult process, as it is now known, uses electricity to liberate aluminum from bauxite. Suddenly everyone on the planet had access to ridiculous amounts of cheap, light, pliable metal.

(Ibid., pp.3-4)

For Diamandis, there is a generic lesson to be learned from the story of aluminum:

History’s littered with tales of once-rare resources made plentiful by innovation. The reason is pretty straightforward: scarcity is often contextual. … Technology is a resource-liberating mechanism. It can make the once scarce into the now abundant.

(Ibid., p.4)

Aluminum products are now widely used as kitchen utensils, cooking foil, etc.

From the perspective of the thesis of this meditation, however, the story of aluminum represents a cautionary tale – the parable of a once-precious metal, regarded not so long ago as even more valuable than gold, but which is now “cheap, ubiquitous, and used with a throwaway mind-set” (Ibid., p.3) thanks to a series of technological innovations in the latter half of the nineteenth century!

Can we, nevertheless, even begin to fathom how disruptive it would be to human society if the value of gold suddenly crashed, as a result of technological developments, such as those described above? The difference between aluminum and gold is stark – while aluminum may once have been more valuable than gold, gold has had a deep iconic status in human culture for millennia – going back to the beginnings of recorded history, in fact – a status that aluminum simply never had. Thus, a collapse in the value of gold, or even silver, would not simply be hugely economically disruptive, it would be socially, culturally, and even religiously disruptive to a level that is currently beyond our ability to grasp! The truth is that, when all is said and done, let’s face it – the worship of gold is the real religious principle that underlies and drives human society, not so much the worship of any deity!

Monsters in the Shadows

I recently had the most bizarre and unnerving dream. I dreamt that I was deep-sea diving, and that I was surrounded by inky blackness in the shadowy depths of the ocean. It was completely silent and dark everywhere I turned. Then, I abruptly turned on a flashlight and swung the beam of light around me. The beam of light revealed that I was surrounded by monstrous creatures hidden in the shadowy depths of the ocean – some with gargantuan humanoid-looking features, others, resembling whales or great sharks – all completely silent, immobile, observing, and completely concealed by the inky depths of the ocean.

This was one of the most unnerving dreams I have ever had. I suffered from a panic/anxiety attack that morning, after I woke up. At first, I was unable to determine the cause of the attack, but I was eventually able to pinpoint this nightmare as the underlying cause.

I was at a loss, initially, about how to interpret this dream. Given the almost impersonal, archetypal elements of this dream, I took it to be a “mythical dream” – a term used by Joseph Campbell in a lecture about Jungian dream analysis. But if this was, indeed, a “mythical dream,” then I had no idea what it must represent.

Then, as I was reflecting on the content of this unsettling dream, I recalled what I had recently heard and read about the pervasive cultural phenomenon known, colloquially, as “social media.” It occurred to me that social media was either being used by or was a front for massive corporate and government surveillance operations – that, according to some commentators, social media corporate giants like Facebook, Twitter, etc., are, in fact, fronts for government agencies like the CIA, NSA and others, and are designed to con the public into revealing intimate personal details about themselves for data collection and surveillance purposes – ostensibly to facilitate targeted advertising features on social media platforms but, possibly, associated with more nefarious hidden agendas.

While I don’t deny that intelligence agencies like the CIA, NSA, MI-6, etc., play an important role in policing the world we live in, so as to ensure a safe environment for all, especially for the most vulnerable among us, it is also true that these intelligence agencies have been linked, through rogue operatives, if not systemically, with some extremely ugly, nefarious activities including drug-trafficking, gun-running, sexual blackmail, child abduction and abuse, human-trafficking, mind control, etc. In fact, in recent news, with the arrest of the supposed “pedophile billionaire” Jeffrey Epstein, evidence has emerged of a likely connection with intelligence agencies like MI-6 and Mossad – that, in fact, Epstein was a Mossad operative, possibly working in conjunction with MI-6, on a sophisticated operation to entrap and blackmail politicians, dignitaries and other power brokers over intimate and revealing evidence of illicit and criminal activity, often highly depraved in nature, which was, apparently, secretly recorded at one of Epstein’s numerous facilities.

If these are the kinds of people behind, or lurking in the shadows of, such social media platforms or, should I say, “operations,” as Facebook, Twitter, etc., then we have reason to be deeply concerned and suspicious. I am not one to advocate panic or paranoia, but it behooves us to be aware of the potential risks involved with engaging in social media – the waters may be far from safe – indeed, who knows who or what may be lurking in its shadowy depths, silently observing us?