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Blood Money

September 26, 2011

Recently, someone asked me in response to something they read about whether or not someone’s opinions shift based on whether they were getting paid for said opinions or not. It depends on what we mean by “shift.” Of course, if you throw a million dollars and the person throwing you the money gives you specific direction on what you’re going to spend it on and the ideals of the payment, it makes sense. If you’re at work and you’re asked to give your honest opinion about the job, you’re going to try and sand the edges of your message before you give them the real. Money has powers of influence whether we’re in a prosperous economy or not. Man makes the money, not the other way around. However, it becomes a factor in whatever decision one makes when it gets involved.

Having said that, there’s been plenty of discussion around money from ed-deformer organizations like the Walsh Foundation or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, two organizations whose education motives have leaned to assure higher stakes testing, charter schools, and teacher accountability at any cost. (full disclosure: I am on the board of directors for an organization that is a grantee of the latter.) For the most part, I agree with that crowd. Then, I hit a snag when I think pre-1994, and even before the founding of this country. Whenever we speak of money in “blood,” it makes me think how myopic we’ve become about the idea of money and how generations of this money we hold dear have traded hands from “good” to “evil” in a matter of a cycle. Whereas one person used the very same bills I hold for street drugs, another could have used them for pharmaceuticals to nurse their ailments. One person might use it to enrich themselves, and another might use it to empower others.

One person might used it for someone’s exploitation while another uses it for another’s liberation.

Monies, no matter how minty fresh in our hands, has a legacy, a history every time you make a transaction with it. Thus, even when we don’t realize it, the money we have in our hands was used for onerous intentions at one point or another. A very small percentage of us can truly say that the materials we use currently, much less the land we stand on, doesn’t privilege us on a material level to the detriment of someone else on the planet who needs it. The diamonds that power our computer devices had someone to purify them from the drip stains of African men’s fingers. The threads of the sheets that help us sleep at night were worth a few cents and 12-hour work days halfway around the world.

Alas, I recognize my role in the contradictions we perpetuate in the human condition.

So I ask myself whether we’ve always had such ideas about the purity of money or do we just reserve that for the people who we believe have the wrong ideas that don’t benefit us directly. To wit, when Bill and Melinda Gates funded the Coalition of Essential Schools and plenty of art and music programs in schools, nary a peep came out of anyone but some of my truest (socialist) friends … and me. Somewhere along the way, he changed his ideals, and soon he’ll change his ideals again after seeing the failed undertakings of neo-coning the entire nation. These events don’t happen in isolation, but as a string of pieces we ought to inspect more closely.

Further, let’s carefully note the things those grantees actually do with the money that’s passed onto them and not what’s assumed. Fortunately for us, in the age of Google, we have tons of evidence about how shifted people’s opinions became once money entered their coffers. Otherwise, we ought to look at the precedents set in the center of our bills.

Mr. Vilson, who understands the value of a dollar …

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