Permaculture design is about finding ways in which parts of a system can harmonise together, creating regenerative patterns and structures which can help us to develop as part of an interconnected whole(1). We can use permaculture design not only to help us to change physical systems such as in gardening, but also with less visible social structures. One of the most universal and destructive of these ‘invisible structures’ can be seen as the globalised, competition-driven economy, and more specifically, the concept of money which upholds it.
Back in 1949, physicist Albert Einstein said “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive” (2). Decades of environmental destruction, characterised by the perpetuation of a seeming disconnection between humans and nature, along with the current global “crisis” catalysed by people’s reaction to the Corona Virus, seem to show these words as more pertinent now than ever.
This article series will explore some ways in which money itself can be seen as the destructive element encouraging this disconnection. This part will look at some theories of how money, violence and psychology are closely inter-related, while subsequent parts will go into detail about alternative ways of using or relating to money, and some practical ways to achieve this in your own life.
Money & Mind
Many proponents of a moneyless society, such as Sacred Economics (3) author Charles Eisenstein and Moneyless Manifesto (4) author Mark Boyle, have theorised that money itself is perpetuating violent and destructive behaviour in human society (3, 4). That is not to say that we should necessarily get rid of money, though there are many ideas for how we could do that (more about this in part 2). It seems more important at this stage to look at our relationship with money, which is by definition a psychological one, since money exists mainly as an abstract human concept. If we can change the relationship, and the mindset behind it, we can truly step beyond the violent cycles we may currently find ourselves in, towards regenerative and mutually beneficial ways of interacting.
How can it be that money – that thing which exists as “at most symbols on a piece of paper but usually mere bits in a computer (3)” – is violent? To attempt to demonstrate this, let us first explore what exactly is violence.
As I have explored in previous articles (see for example 5), much of modern society can be seen as inherently violent. Direct physical violence from armed conflict is apparently currently affecting the inhabitants of 22 countries around the world (6), while the UNHCR counts the number of “forcibly displaced people worldwide” at 70.8 million (7) (we can compare this to the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, which at the time of writing was given as 1.9 million, with 119,686 deaths (8)).
Such numbers do not necessarily convey what I feel is important; that is, direct human experiences. They perhaps go some way towards imagining the feelings of our fellow humans who are living in places where physical violence is part of day-to-day life. Let us look more closely now at what violence actually is, and see if we do not feel with them.
Though when many think of violence it is as a direct physical communication, often using weapons, if we wish to achieve peaceful ways of interacting with each other and the world, we need to expand this view. Violence in general can be seen as “the behaviour of someone incapable of imagining other solutions to the problem at hand” (9). This includes not only direct physical violence but also what Johann Galtung and others have defined as “negative peace” (see for example 10); that is, when a society is based on principles which cause violence, either physical, emotional or psychological. This includes any society which has a retributive justice system (where those seen as disobeying the society’s rules are forced to “repay society”). On a more subtle level, we can see it in any social structure where humans or other living beings are forced into situations which they did not necessarily choose, or where their freedom is restricted. This could apply to many aspects of modern social life, from factory farming to mainstream education.
So even if you do not live in such society where physical violence is part of day-to-day life, you probably experience this “negative peace”, also called “structural” or “institutional” violence (see for example 10). On a more individual level, we can also see the very language we use on a day-to-day basis as sometimes containing inherent violence in it; which happens when it is aimed (intentionally or subconsciously) at eliciting fear or panic, or hurting others’ feelings (see for example 11).
We can also see that a food system which has as its modus operandi the tearing down of forests or the draining of rivers in order to make way for intensive, chemical-heavy monoculture agriculture as being violent towards the inhabitants of entire ecosystems, thus embedding violence into the very food which nourishes us every day (see for example 3, 4, 12, 13). Many have pointed out that this type of fundamental violence is only possible as part of an ongoing story of humans’ illusory separation from the rest of nature (see for example 3, 13, 14); a story which is clearly untrue in a very physical sense, but which is perpetuated by much of modern societal structures which are based on abstracted concepts rather than directly tangible entities.
Money, as Eisenstein has said, is even less tangible; “an abstraction of an abstraction of an abstraction” (15). In this way, money can be seen as a block to our direct experience of the world as part of a holistic and interdependent system. Because of the way we relate to money as a standardised item with which we can calculate the value of anything, we therefore reduce everything to the status of “resources”. As Boyle put it, if we see the stream from which we get our water as an extension of ourselves, we probably do not wish to harm the stream(4). But if we buy the water using money, we abstract ourselves from the life-giving source, and in this disconnection, are more likely to commit violence, such as behaviour which supports the pollution of the stream, and thus ultimately the pollution of our own lives. In this way, any use of money can be seen as a violent act, though such behaviour is so embedded in much of modern society that the violence can be unconscious, compulsive or addictive(4).
‘Transform & Transcend’
Before you go out and make a bonfire of your cash, let us remember that, as Eisenstein puts it,
“Within every institution of our civilization, no matter how ugly or corrupt, there
is the germ of something beautiful: the same note at a higher octave. Money is
no exception. Its original purpose is simply to connect human gifts with human
needs, so that we might all live in greater abundance.” (3)
It is our current attitude towards money which can be seen as unhealthy, and the resultant addictive patterns put into motion, and this is connected to our attitude towards the whole of existence. If we can begin to put into practice the theory of interconnectedness, beginning on an individual level, then this can spread outwards towards the “substantially new way of thinking” (2).
This requires creativity. As peace practitioners Johann Galtung and John Paul Lederach point out, if we are in a violent situation, we cannot find our way towards peace with the same behaviour or concepts which created the situation in the first place. We need to step beyond what already exists and “transcend and transform” (16); or as Lederach put it, to find the “capacity to imagine something rooted in the challenges of the real world yet capable of giving birth to that which does not yet exist”(17).
The next parts of this article series will look at how we can step beyond violence in general and money in particular in more detail, and offer some practical steps which all of us can take towards this.
- Mollison, B, 1988 (2002). Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual. Tagari: Tasmania, Australia.
- Einstein, E, 1949. “Why Socialism?” New York Monthly Review, 1/5/1949. Available to read online here (not free): https://monthlyreviewarchives.org/index.php/mr/article/view/MR-001-01-1949-05_3
- Eisenstein, C, 2011. Sacred Economics: Money, Gift and Society in the Age of Transition. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, USA.
- Boyle, M, 2012. The Moneyless Manifesto: Live Well. Live Rich. Live Free. Permanent Publications: East Meon, UK.
- Ashwanden, C, 20177. ‘Permaculture and Co\mmunity part 1: Permaculture as a Tool for Peace’. Permaculture News, 2/11/17. https://www.permaculturenews.org/2017/11/02/permaculture-community-part-1-permaculture-tool-peace/
- Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), 2020. “Dashboard”. https://acleddata.com/#/dashboard
- UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency), 2020. “Figures at a Glance”. https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html
- Johns Hopkins University, 2020. COVID-19 Dashboard for the Centre for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU). https://www.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6
- Fisas, V; as quoted by Lederach, JP, 2005. The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
- Galtung, J, 1969. ‘Violence, Peace and Peace Research’. Journal of Peace Research, vol 6, no. 3, pp 167 – 191.
- Rosenburg, M, 2003. Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life. Puddledancer Press: Encinitas, USA.
- Kumar, S, 2019. Elegant Simplicity: The Art of Living Well. New Society Publishers: Gabriolas Island, Canada.
- Abram, D, 2996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. Vintage: New York City, USA.
- Fisher, A, 2001 (2013). Radical Ecopsychology: Psychology in the Service of Life. SUNY Press: New York City, USA.
- Eisenstein, C, 2008. “Money: A New Beginning (Part 1)”. Reality Sandwich, 1/4/20. https://realitysandwich.com/1272/money_a_new_beginning/
- Galtung, J, 2004. Transcend and Transform: An Introduction to Conflict Work. Pluto Press: London, UK.
- Lederach, JP, 2005. The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Oxford University Press: Oxford