Building the World of Popinjay Part Three: The Currency of Power

(C) 2017 by Larry Michael Garmon Swain
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Building the World of Popinjay Part Three: The Currency of Power

Sub-Part One of Two: A Brief History of Power–The Suppression of Ego

(Sub-Part Two of Two: Popinjay and the Currency of Gender will be published on Thursday, 20 July 2017)

by LMG Swain

One of the Elements of Story rarely discussed clearly is the Currency of Power wielded by the characters in the story. Whether dystopian, fantasy, thriller, mainstream, or even high school drama, all tales revolve around one character manipulating other characters through some currency of power. Often, the currency holder is the antagonist who uses his power to impoverish the will of the protagonist in order to force the protagonist to submit to the antagonist or to destroy the protagonist.

This antagonist could be an egomaniac wanting to control a whole population, a teenage girl wanting popularity, or a corporate executive lusting to reach the top. The currency could be military might, mean-girl snobbery and gossip, or business back stabbing. No matter the character or his/her currency, the purpose is to control the environment by controlling the other characters in the story.

Because Popinjay falls into the Speculative Fiction category of dystopia, I have, for the sake of simplicity, ease, and expediency created a chart that briefly lists the various currencies of power in each tale. This is by no means comprehensive nor all-inclusive of these dystopian tales and is provided only as a quick glance.

Title Author Currency of Power
Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury Information and emotions through prohibition of books and words that create emotion, thought, and dissent; ultra-consumerism—encouraging the consumption of goods and materials, i.e., keeping up the Joneses; suppression of the individual
Nineteen Eighty-four George Orwell Sexual repression; limiting goods and resources through perpetual war production; food; suppression of the individual through mandated communal activities and social organizations; information (past, present, and future)
Anthem Ayn Rand Subjugation of the individual to the “good of the whole” and suppression of the individual through prohibition of personal pronouns–I, me, mine; choice of occupation and mating; educational choice; suppression of technology; sexual repression
This Perfect Day Ira Levin Every aspect of life is controlled by UniComp, including genetic engineering; suppression of individual thought, choices, and dissent; choice of mate and offspring; choice of occupation and home; freedom of movement; population control—everyone dies between 62 and 64!
The Handmaid’s Tale Margarete Atwood Suppression of religious freedom (Jews, Catholics, and atheists are hung); fascism (despite the Netflix version, those of African descent are exiled from the Republic of Gideon); food; travel; childbearing

Early nomadic Homo Sapiens rarely formed groups larger than forty to fifty individuals. The small size of the group, clan, tribe, band was necessary to ensure the survival of the group. Resources were few and far between, farming wasn’t invented yet, hunting and fishing were difficult with the few primitive weapons and implements available, and the weaker, smaller humans had a damned hard time bringing down game such as bison, wooly mammoths, elk, moose, and birds.

The sole purpose of all living species is to survive through two basic acts necessary for survival: to eat and to propagate. We need not expound upon “eating”. However, we do need to explain that “propagation” has little to nothing to do with sex. The sexual act is merely the means to an end, the end being the most important element to our earliest ancestors: Children. Sex as a recreational activity didn’t come about until humans had the means, methods, and motives to create “leisure time” and needed some activities by which to fill up that leisure time: art, music, story-telling, sex, to name just a few.

Ancient humans killed for food and they killed to propagate. Food provided the energy for daily activity while offspring ensured the species in general and the individual in particular would continue into the future.

Food and children were the first currencies of power. The leader of the tribe who proved the most able-bodied huntsman, the one who could bring back the most food to the clan, also got his pick and share of the females, whose impregnation ensured he would continue through the children they produced. The more children, the more prosperous.

As farming and animal husbandry developed, humans stopped moving around so much. Nomadic communities became established villages, then towns, and, finally, cities and metropolises. Fixed society was created; responsibilities and expectations within each fixed society were established.

The currencies of sustenance and children were now held by dozens of individuals (males) in a given community rather than a single male; thus, the currencies of sustenance and children became deflated.

What’s a strong leader who wants to keep his power to do? Add another currency or two: Land and Water. The best land to possess was land next to water. Those who claimed the most land next to the most water controlled the farms and the grazing lands.

To maintain control over those lands and water resources, managers and guards were needed. Two more new currencies were added: bureaucracy and soldiers.

Soon, government bureaucracy and shire-reeves (who initially were little more than mercenaries) ushered in the long era of monarchs and kings.

If a monarch or king controls the land, the water, the laws, and the policing of an area, he, by default, controls the people who live on that land.

Thus, human beings themselves become a currency of power: feudalism, indentured servants, and a gentry beholding to the monarch or king.

Not enough people to farm the land, tend the flocks and herds, or build vast city structures or pyramidal tombs? Go to a neighboring kingdom, steal the people there, and make them slaves.

Slaves, serfs, bondsmen/women, chattel, vassals, villeins—all human beings who “belonged” to another human being and were counted as currency.

In Russia, up to the 19th Century, a man’s wealth was determined not by land or even money but by the number of serfs he possessed, even if these serfs only existed on paper. These lists of serfs’ names were bought and sold like Wall Street traders buy and sell stock today. For that’s what these serf human beings were—stock.

Federal, corporate, communist, and soviet style collectivism also use human beings as currency of power, channeling vast amounts of energy, productivity, and creativity into one collective mindset and goal as determined by the corporation, the communist committee, or the soviet duma.

Since the creation of society, of federal and corporate collectivism, slavery, serfdom, and indentured servants, the human being as Individual has been attacked as being anti-progressive, anti-benevolent, anti-social, and anti-human. The politics of identity, of pitting one group who feels repressed against another group deemed to be the repressors, are the pestle and mortar of today’s American political parties.

So, what is Currency of Power in this first quarter of the 21st Century, in 2017 C.E.?

Personal Data. The collection, the analyzing, and the abuse of personal data.

Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram all brag about the billions of human beings they have subscribed to their services, as well as the intimate personal data they have collected and have stored in vast computer banks that make Ira Levin’s UniComp look like a kindergartener. Facebook has more followers than China, the USA, and Canada have as population.

Google has admitted to having bots that have scanned all Gmail emails so as to better direct specific advertising to its Gmail users.

If I look up a product on Amazon and then I visit a news site such as or, I suddenly get many ads from various businesses on that news site about the very product I had researched on Amazon. Coincidence? Not bloody likely!

As with the collectivist vision of the federalist, corporate, communist, and soviet apologists, social networking groups such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram repress the individual through propaganda-style mantras that an individual must belong to a group of one billion individuals to be truly successful, fulfilled, happy, and free. Free to do what, one wonders?


This is the real Currency of Power in today’s world: Collectivism. We are all One World. We are all members of a Global Village.

We are Borg.

LMG Swain

Sub-Part Two of Two: Popinjay and the Currency of Gender will be published on Thursday, 20 July 2017.

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