In part 1 of this article series we looked at the curious concept of money and how it can be seen to be contributing to the institutional violence of much of modern society. This part will look at some alternative ways of viewing and interacting with money, while the next part will begin to explore some practical ways in which we can all begin living more abundantly.
Stories For A New World
In part 1 we explored the idea of transcending current modes of thinking or behaving, in order to engage in new ones. As John Paul Lederach points out, if we really want to find new ways of living then we cannot simply create a vision of a different place – we also need to be aware of where we are right now (1).
As Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, put it,
“It is not merely our attitudes about money that must change…rather, we will create new kinds of money that
embody and reinforce changed attitudes” (2)
A Change In The System…
Some alternative economic theories include ideas such as the creation of local currencies like the Bristol Pound (3), non-centralised currencies such as Bitcoin(4) or bartering or exchange systems such as those put into practice using Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS), for example in Australia with the Australian Community Exchange System (5). All of these can be seen to represent important options for those looking to put permaculture into practice by moving away from the monoculture of solely using money.
Or Of The System?
However, such alternatives can be seen to still be based on the premise of exchanging for a fixed rate which is decided abstractly and therefore they still hold within them the inherent disconnection from nature and subsequent destructive tendencies which using money carries with it (2, 6). Therefore, Eisenstein and others (2, 6, 7) suggest that we need not only alternatives to what we use to trade with each other, but to the whole idea of trade and exchange itself. In Eisenstein’s view, this can take the form of a “gift economy” (6).
Money As A Sacred Gift
The gift economy is one in which everything that you make and do, if you do it for others, then this is offered as a gift. Such a gift would have to be unconditional in order for it really to be a gift and not just an offering to trade. This is an important part of the gift economy, as this style of economy is one which fits in with the way a natural ecosystem can be seen to work. As Eisenstein and Mark Boyle quote (2, 6) from the Sufi poet Hafez,
“Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe Me.” (8)
This recognition of the natural world as part of an interconnected whole, whose parts are interdependent but not demanding of each other, is a key part of how the gift economy works. In order to fully practice this, it is essential to bring this recognition into our attitude towards money. As we explored in part 1, money right now can be seen as enhancing the illusion of separation of humans from nature, and as such, it can be seen as an integral part of us cutting ourselves off from what could be called “sacred”; that is, the recognition of and participation in the world as part of an interconnected web of which each individual human is one strand.
As I (see for example 9) and others (see for example 10, 11) have explored, if this illusory disconnection can be transcended it can become part of a great healing between humans and the other animate beings of this planet. Eisenstein calls this a recognition of the sacred, that is, of the two qualities inherent in all living things and hand-made items: “uniqueness” and “wholeness, interdependency” (2). So finding ways to get the things we need or give what we have to others which encompass both of these qualities can help us to transcend disconnection and begin the healing process.
Changing Our Stories
Lederach (1), Eisenstein (2) and others (see for example 12) often speak of change coming from the way we tell stories about our world; if we tell stories about scarce and finite resources then this may perpetuate behaviour motivated by selfishness and fear. If, however, we can recognise that such stories may be false, and instead tell our own stories of abundance and the interconnectedness of nature, this can encourage behaviour motivated by generosity and peace. Eisenstein calls this a “transformation of our defining Story of the People” (2).
He also explores the stories embedded in our concept of money and its evolution in human society. Contrary to popular economic belief, Eisenstein says, according to extensive anthropological research, so-called ‘primitive’ or traditional societies used bartering or exchange rarely or never (2). Instead, they provided for each other using complex systems of gifting (2). So one way to changing our attitudes towards money could be to re-tell this story of a human society sustaining itself not with competition or even trade, but by its members giving each other gifts. Such gifts, though often given as part of a strict social code, are always unconditional – i.e. the giver does not expect anything in exchange for the gift given.
Gifts In Connection
Giving gifts in isolation does not necessarily fulfil the function of interconnectedness; although by beginning to put into practice the art of giving unconditionally you may begin a quiet revolution within your own mental landscape, which can ripple out towards your family, friends and community. We can also bring this attitude into the work we do. Even if, while we are still within a system which uses money and exchange, we still do work for money, we can begin to gain a sense of the “sacred” nature of our work if we consider what we are doing to be truly a giving of our gifts to the world. This change of perception may also be helpful in deciding whether what we are doing is really what we want to do.
Part of the way that gift economy has to function effectively, it seems, is for the gifts given to be part of a community of humans who share the ideas of unconditional giving as part of respect for the ecosystem. In part 3 I will explore in more detail how such communities can function.
Interconnectedness In Crisis
In part 1 I shared Albert Einstein’s words that “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive” (13) and that this time of so-called crisis makes these words more pertinent than ever.
In the same article, Einstein continued,
“We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty” (13).
As I explored previously, a crisis can be an opportunity (14). As Satish Kumar put it,
“Any crisis is a call for attention. We need to address it with grace and gratitude. All crises, be they outer or inner, come from disconnection. The resolution of these crises is reconnection” (7).
In the next part of this series, we can look in more detail at some practical ideas for how to take steps towards reconnection, wherever we are and whatever our situation.
- Lederach, JP, 2005. The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK
- Eisenstein, C, 2011. Sacred Economics: Money, Gift and Society in the Age of Transition. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, USA.
- Bristol Pound, 2020. “About”. https://bristolpound.org/about/ – retrieved 23/4/20
- Bitcoin, 2020. “How it Works”. https://bitcoin.org/en/how-it-works – retrieved 23/4/20
- Community Exchange System Australia, 2020. “About”. https://communityexchange.net.au/info/trading.html – retrieved 23/4/20
- Boyle, M, 2012. The Moneyless Manifesto: Live Well. Live Rich. Live Free. Permanent Publications: East Meon, UK.
- Kumar, S, 2019. Elegant Simplicity: The Art of Living Well. New Society Publishers: Gabriolas Island, Canada.
- Hafez, ? As quoted and translated by Ladinsky, D, 1999, in The Gift: Poems by Hafiz, the Great Sufi aster. Compass: St Petersburg, USA.
- Ashwanden, C, 2019. ‘Permaculture and Ecopsychology: Coming Home to Our Souls’. Permaculture News, 9/8/19. https://www.permaculturenews.org/2019/08/09/permaculture-and-ecopsychology/ – retrieved 23/4/20
- Abram, D, 1996. 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.
- Katie, B, 2008. Who Would You Be Without Your Story?: Dialogues with Byron Katie. Hay House, Inc: Carlsbad, USA.
- Einstein, A, 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 – retrieved 23/4/20
- Ashwanden, C, 2020. ‘Planting Seeds in Crisis’. Permaculture News, 8/4/20 . https://www.permaculturenews.org/2020/04/08/planting-seeds-in-crisis/ – retrieved 23/4/20