Burning Money

Destroy that which you worship.

Last week a video began circulating around the web that shows several people wearing balaclavas walking calmly into a corner store in Greece. With a lookout man stationed at the door, the camera follows half the group through the aisles as groceries are stuffed into backpacks. Our attention is then directed to the front where the remainder of the group is smashing open the cash machines. Grabbing handfuls of money, the gang makes an orderly exit amid the shrill call of the lookout's whistle.

If we were to pause the video at this point, one could dismiss their actions as the work of petty criminals. And the video would hold no more importance than the surveillance clips of thieves sticking up gas station attendants. Perhaps a few of us would show some sympathy and meekly excuse their actions by pointing out that no one was harmed or threatened and that since they only stole food and money, they must be poor and hungry. In any case, we would be justified in shrugging our shoulders in indifference to another symptom of the latent violence of our society. Resuming the tape, however, melts all this away as petty criminals become bold revolutionaries.

Now outside the store, the camera turns to watch as a gloved hand holds the bundle of cash that was expropriated moments ago. The group stops and cheers as the money is set on fire. As the lucre bursts into flames and is dropped on the pavement, the film ends abruptly. It is this final act, the desecration and destruction of money, that is a shocking political act worthy of emulation.

Money is sacred in our capitalist society. And despite a lifetime of passing it around, very few of us have ever thought to destroy the lucre in our hands. We spend our lives working to earn it, and when we are feeling generous we donate it or if we are feeling frugal we save it. But we never flush it down the toilet or burn it or do anything else that would take it out of circulation. And even the thought of doing so can provoke anxiety.

To break the allegiance of the people to idolatry, Moses destroyed the golden calf, Jesus chased away the money lenders and Muhammad smashed the 360 false gods in the Kaaba. Today the paper bills we pass among us have become our idols and Mammon our god. To smash consumerism, we must do more than simply circulate our money to "green" or local businesses. We must also liberate ourselves from the religion of capital and the belief that money is sacred and can solve all problems.

Here is a revolutionary practice everyone should try: Take a bill from your wallet, think of all the things you could buy and then calmly set it on fire. Smell the burning paper, pay attention to your emotions and meditate on where money goes when it is destroyed.

Micah White is a Contributing Editor at Adbusters. He lives in Berkeley, CA and is writing a book about the future of activism. www.micahmwhite.com or micah (at) adbusters.org