In 1769, Captain Cook sailed into Matavai Bay, Tahiti.
Before he anchored he took all the money away from his crew.
They’d been at sea many months and he didn’t want them using their money to buy sex from the natives.
But he needn’t have bothered, the natives weren’t interested in money.
Why would they be, they had nowhere to spend it?
Money is an abstract concept about exchanging something for something else at a later date.
Tahitians didn’t do that, they just exchanged whatever they had for whatever they needed.
They didn’t understand little coins and bits of paper.
But they did understand practical things, things they could use to make other things with.
What the women would willingly trade sex for was nails.
The Tahitians didn’t have a source of iron, so metal was a miraculous thing for them.
Until then, the only materials they’d had to make tools from were stone, wood, or shells.
But with iron they could make fishing-hooks, chisels, drills.
And the Tahitian women were beautiful.
They bathed every day, they wore sweet-smelling flowers in their hair, they protected their skin from the sun with oil, they wore hardly any clothes.
To sailors who had been at sea for months, with nothing but stale water and rotten biscuits, they were irresistible.
The sailors took every nail they could find, from wherever they could find it.
When the ship’s supply of nails was gone, they even began pulling out nails from the ship itself, even from the planking in the hull.
Eventually it was discovered and stopped, it began to threaten the ship’s seaworthiness.
The point is, the men would do anything for sex with these women.
And these women would do anything for iron nails.
We might call it prostitution, but either way it was trade, and the nails were money.
The nails were real money, whereas the paper money wasn’t.
Because we’ve grown up with coins and paper, we take it for granted that it’s real money.
But actually it isn’t anything, it’s just the physical representation of a concept.
Because we all agree to the concept we’ve always taken it for granted as reality.
We think how stupid someone would be, to accept nails instead of money.
But you can’t make tools out of paper money, you can’t build anything with it, or use it to feed or protect your family.
And then who looks stupid, the person who prefers practical metal nails or the one who prefers little bits of paper?
And yet, for many people, the concept of money is more real than reality.
People will trade happiness, health, relationships, family, even life for paper money.
Despite the fact that it’s abstract, it doesn’t exist.
The symbol becomes the reality.
Which, in our world, would be advertising award schemes.
Winning awards has become the reality of what we are supposed to be doing.
Even though the awards don’t exist in the real world.
In the real world what exists is fun, and laughter, and songs, and enjoyment, and things you can share, things everyone looks forward to.
But to us that is primitive, like iron nails.
To us, the reality is little gold statues, and we can’t understand why primitive people can’t see the reality.
Why would anyone think those other things are important?