Dollar Sign as Questionable Map of Capitalism?


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens - TRANSCEND Media Service

Exploring the Malleability of a Fundamental Symbol for Society


3 Apr 2023 – The dollar is the name of some 20 currencies. Its importance at the present time derives from its role as the primary reserve currency. It is a foreign currency that is held in significant quantities by central banks or other monetary authorities as part of their foreign exchange reserves. It can be used in international transactions, international investments and all aspects of the global economy. It is often considered a hard currency or safe-haven currency. The United Kingdom’s pound sterling was the primary reserve currency of much of the world in the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. However, by the middle of the 20th century, the United States dollar had become the world’s dominant reserve currency.

The dollar sign is a symbol consisting of a capital “S” crossed with one or two vertical strokes ($), used to indicate the unit of various currencies around the world. It is also known as the peso sign. It is considered to be among the world’s most potent symbols, emblematic of far more than US currency. It is held to be shorthand for the American dream and all the consumerism and commodification that comes with it, signifying at once sunny aspiration, splashy greed and rampant capitalism (Hephzibah Anderson, The curious origins of the dollar symbol, BBC, 30 May 2019). For Anderson, despite its ubiquity, and as described by Wikipedia, the origins of the dollar sign remain far from clear, with competing theories touching on Bohemian coins, the Pillars of Hercules and harried merchants.

Curiously whilst the contrasting system of communism has used the “hammer and sickle” as a symbol (but not by China), there is no agreed symbol of capitalism. Although it is not sanctioned as a symbol for capitalism, given the extent to which it is practiced in the United States, the dollar sign has acquired the status of the most universally recognized capitalist symbol (Symbol for Capitalism, FB Symbols). For Nichole Fernández:

The dollar sign is commonly used in image production to represent not just US currency but money, wealth, success, and – sometimes – to critically represent greed and ostentatious behaviour. The dollar sign is regularly seen in advertising, it has a presence in media, it appears in popular culture…, and it is widely used in computer coding languages. The symbol surpasses linguistic barriers crossing international borders with its meaning intact and maintaining its widespread recognition. While we immediately understand the symbol’s meaning, we are less aware that it is a modern construction: it was created and designed. ($$ The Dollar Sign $$, itaintnecessarilyso, 21 April 2015)

The concern in what follows is whether the elements of the dollar symbol allow — and invite — some form of decoding, as is the case with many symbols of fundamental importance to society and culture. More specifically, given the somewhat nebulous nature of capitalism — whether appreciated or deprecated — the question is whether its systemic features can be usefully and succinctly associated with those elements. Is the dollar sign effectively an unexplored map of capitalism — a “self-mapping” device?

With capitalism understood as a primary global “culture”, is the dollar symbol to be understood as its “coat of arms” — namely its “armorial bearings”, according to the traditional principles of heraldry? Can the dollar symbol then be usefully explored as a form of mind map?

However as a systemic representation from an objective perspective, any conventional mind map avoids the subjective associations evoked by the dollar as a symbol. It is the entangled complex of such associations which may be somehow succinctly and coherently expressed by that symbol — and presumably recognized intuitively in some manner, if only unconsciously. If they can be explicitly mapped onto the symbol, this would offer a singularly powerful articulation of the nature of capitalism — succinctly depicted, as with valued heraldic symbols. The argument can be made by contrast with the swastika, however deprecated it is as a powerful symbol of fascism (Swastika as Dynamic Pattern Underlying Psychosocial Power Processes, 2012).

As a mind map, it would then be appropriate that both appreciated and deprecated processes of capitalism should be integrated into interpretation of the dollar symbol. For the exercise to be of greater value it would be relevant to indicate how particular processes are more visible in practice — or more readily hidden. Can the mind map be usefully organized to reflect what is held to be “above the table”, “below the table”, and “behind the scenes” — aside from what capitalists claim to be the unquestionable merits of capitalism? How might the symbol also encode what Karl Marx identified as the “internal contradictions of capitalism“?

Given the distinctive perceptions of the questionable nature of capitalism, the exploration here exploits the potential of 3D representations by exploring how the 2D dollar sign might be represented in 3D — with the 2D variant as a projection of the 3D form. This follows from previous exercises (Cognitive Implications in 3D of Triadic Symbols Valued in 2D, 2017; Envisaging NATO Otherwise — in 3D and 4D? 2017). Given the array of symbols of competing currencies, indicative of the fragmentation of global society, the possibility of using such technology to reconcile their disparate systemic functions also merits consideration (Reconciling Symbols of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, 2017). How might the relation between the Dollar, the Pound, the Euro, the Yuan and the Ruble be imagined otherwise, for example?

The argument concludes with the suggestion that the systemic complexity with which capitalism is perceived through the dollar merits recognition as a hyperobject within which hyposubjects are entangled. In that light, the intimate relation between production and reproduction is complemented by that between capitalism and the “arsenalism”.


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