I am spending a little while in Paris, as will be apparent from the continental looking rooftops. From the balcony of the building where I have been lucky enough to find a summer let, I can look up at the sky and down at the busy streets five floors below.
The studio flat I’m staying in is bang in the middle, it turns out, of the red light district. For centuries this part of Paris has been the place men come to find prostitutes and there is quite a range. An elderly, kind-looking lady in her doorway, her face pulled by surgery into a strange sort of smile, her cannonball breasts barely covered by a skimpy top; Vietnamese women in ones and twos sauntering up and down the boulevard and frighteningly young, beautiful African women pacing their patch of pavement in the side streets, engaging or batting away the men who approach.
I guess they can tell pretty quickly who’s just up for a chat, who’s there to hassle them and who’s likely to make them some money. I have no idea who controls them, who is, to use the Parisian slang, their ‘mackerel’.
Truly, everything is for sale.
I’ve been thinking for a very long time about how our world is organised in terms of money, resources, power and ownership. Surely there has to be a better way to run things; so few with so much, so many with so little. Since the crash of 2008 the inequality has only got worse – so much suffering.
It strikes me that a big part of the problem is the phenomenon of interest. All the major monotheistic religions originally prohibited usury, as it used to be called, as a sin. They realised the monster that would be unleashed on the world if money became a product in its own right, which it does once interest is levied on it. Interest transforms money from a neutral token of exchange into a good, with a value that can rise and fall. Somehow, bit by bit, the sin of usury became normalised and we have a situation whereby the mere ownership of money is a source of wealth and income in its own right.
By the same token, every religion holds theft as a wrong-doing, which means that they all recognise the concept of ownership and possession. The young African women down in the streets possess something their clients want. The men have something the prostitutes want. A fair exchange? I very much doubt it.
In the meantime, there is always a sky to look up at. In the fresh, early morning it is almost possible to forget for a while the problems of this world even if the infinite blue is criss-crossed with the evidence of our all comings and goings. All that busy business. What for? The Earth made us, and provides us with everything we need, if we could but let go of our wish for power. Maybe one day we’ll get there.
Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha