Posted by: aboutalbion | June 4, 2012

Temple of Albion (2)

A second anthropological criterion for identifying a religion might be stated as the division of the elements of the world into the sacred and the profane, together with paramount importance being attached to the sacred.

I think an anthropologist in the United Kingdom would pay attention to the central role of ‘the economy’ in public discourse and in public action, and would note the exhortations by the trinity of godlike powers (the Crown, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons) to the people to carry out their sacred duty to play their part in making ‘the economy’ bigger.  The popular phrase, ‘the work life balance’, captures this binary division – with work representing the sacred and leisure representing the profane.

The disadvantage to people of not being able to see the size of ‘the economy’ is overcome by regular reports from a group of experts on the size of ‘the economy’, in the form of GDP figures.  ‘The economy’ is even said to be healthy at some times and unhealthy at other times, and this suggests that some people perceive ‘the economy’ as an invisible godlike character.

On the premise of the legitimacy of the private ownership, people are encouraged to contribute to growing ‘the economy’ by buying and selling almost anything.

A couple of local examples of this kind of commercial activity include a neighbour who rents out space on the house driveway to a car commuter who lives at a distance, and a neighbour who has partitioned the back garden into two areas and created an access to the highway and sold one of these areas to a house builder.

Can everything be taken into the market economy?  Is it the case that every person has their price?  Or is there something which cannot be taken to market?  In the spring of this year, Michael Sandel published a much discussed book entitled, ‘What Money Can’t Buy’, in which he writes an essay on the question of what, in a good society, should not be for sale.

Sandel cites the difference between blood acquisition in the United States and the United Kingdom.  The former buys its blood, and the latter asks for it as a charitable act of donation.  He suggests that we intuit that a better society is one in which the blood necessary for transfusion is given rather than bought.  For Sandel, this is a case study for his general argument that when a good or service is brought into ‘the economy’, the nature of the good or service is changed adversely from the perspective of morality.

For me, there is some evidence that in the United Kingdom there is a clear division between ‘the economy’ and other activities, between work and leisure, together with an almost sacred duty to participate in workplace activities that contribute to the task of making ‘the economy’ bigger.  This seems reminiscent of the traditional split between the sacred and the profane.  And the almost sacred attention paid to of the size of ‘the economy’ continues the case for considering the United Kingdom as a religion.


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