In part 1(1) of this series, we explored the relationship between money, psychology and violence, while in part 2(2) we looked at some ways in which the stories we tell as a culture to do with money could be seen as encouraging destructive patterns of behaviour. Looby Macnamara would describe such destructive patterns as “spirals of erosion”(3) and this part will explore in more detail some practical ideas for how we can transcend such erosive behaviours and create “spirals of abundance”(3) instead.
Alternative Economic Theories
In parts 1(1) and 2 (2), I mentioned theories about the possibility of a moneyless society, or a society where money takes a different role, such as Sacred Economics(4) author Charles Eisenstein and Satish Kumar, who among other roles was a practicing Jain monk as a child(5). Both of these writers can be said to be influenced by EF Schumacher, whose book Small is Beautiful (6), published in 1973, critiqued the unsustainable model of resource and profit-driven industrialised capitalism, and recommends instead a philosophy of “enoughness” and appropriate use of technology(6). Schumacher was himself influenced by Oriental thinking and in particular Buddhist ideas of moderation (see for example ref 7). In modern society, we can see an example of “enoughness” in practice in the Thai concept of “sufficiency economy” (8).
The above examples show some ways in which alternative economic ideas have been influencing the world, and are somewhat encouraged in some mainstream societies. Yet if money is the very problem, it seems we need to explore more radical alternatives.
Satish Kumar was so influenced by Schumacher’s thinking that he took his name for the alternative education centre he helped to found in Devon, England; the Schumacher College(5). Before this, Kumar already had first-hand experience of experimenting with not using money, such as growing up as a monk. Also in the 1960s he walked, with a friend, from his home in India to the capital cities of the nuclear states, which at the time were Russia, France, the UK and the USA, as part of a “peace pilgrimage” to encourage nuclear disarmament. Following the recommendation of their teacher, Vinoba Bhave, they intentionally did not take any money with them, as well as agreeing to stay vegetarians for the entire journey;
“When you arrive in a place after a long walk, you will feel tired and exhausted. If you have money, you will eat in a restaurant, sleep in a guest house, and walk away the next day. But when you have no money, you will be forced to find someone who can give you hospitality for the night. They will offer you food, and you will say you are vegetarians and they will ask why? And then your communication about peace can begin.”(5)
The story of this journey and the hospitality that the two friends met on their travels is told in detail in Kumar’s book No Destination(9).
Gifts As A Bond
In part 2(2) of this series we explored unconditional giving as one way to begin putting into practice a healthy relationship with the things we make, receive or do. Opening oneself to the possibility of unconditional giving in the same way as Satish Kumar did can be seen as the flip side of this.
Though embarking on such a “peace pilgrimage” is definitely not for everyone (and is probably not possible in the current global situation), Kumar’s journey can help to highlight the power of opening yourself up to the generosity of others. This can be seen as quite an art and to me, it takes a particular kind of attitude. It is different to begging or donation-based economic models, because the relationship created by the practice of begging is one of inequality; the beggar is seen as less fortunate than the giver. This means that those who give to those who ask for things in this way are not truly giving out of spontaneous generosity or shared humanity, but because their feelings of guilt or pity are aroused. On the other hand, what Kumar was practicing seems to be more like opening oneself to and appreciating the possibility of generosity or hospitality, but not relying on it or feeling as though it is “owed” to you.
It is this openness which can help us to experience what Eisenstein calls the “sacred” nature of gifts(4). Unlike monetary transactions, gifts can help to create a powerful bond between the giver and the receiver. In this way, gift-giving can help us to reconnect to our interdependence as a human and “more-than-human”(10) community. With this idea of gifts, the line between “giver” and “receiver” is blurred(4). When Kumar walked his peace pilgrimage, he often received gifts of food and places to stay. Yet he was also giving his own gifts of storytelling and inspiration. The recognition of a visitor as bringing gifts is recognised in the Islamic religion; “Hospitality in Islam is a triangle that links God, the guest and the host”(11).
Intellectually, we can see that we are already all interdependent, and intimately connected with each other by many bonds; but by removing the abstraction of money, it is perhaps easier to feel this. As we can read in a speech from Shevek, an “anarchist” character in Ursula K Leguin’s The Dispossessed:
“We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give.”
Le Guin, UK, 1974. The Dispossessed.(12)
Experimenting with putting such ideas into practice takes creativity, patience and love. It can sometimes be scary to put yourself in a position where you feel you need to reach out to the world for help, so it maybe takes courage as well. In some ways in our globally connected world it is perhaps easier to put ourselves out there than during Kumar’s pilgrimage. We now have ‘hospitality’ websites such as Couchsurfing(13) which connect travellers with willing hosts, and hitchwiki(14) which provides information on hitch-hiking in different countries. From my own experience, hitch-hiking and staying with strangers you meet on such websites are two ways to find this openness while travelling. However, even using websites can also sometimes get in the way as they are still an abstracted form of communication, and I have had experiences which could be seen as more profound from simply talking to people on the street or following synchronicities which led to the discovery of a friendly squat or intentional community.
From Open Heart To Open Community…
In the next part of this series, we will look in more detail at intentional communities, in particular those which are putting into practice similar models to the “gift economy”. We will also explore some less long-term ways of experimenting with the ideas presented in these articles, such as through alternative business models, or events or gatherings, and will take a look at some examples of so-called “transformational festivals” as potential models for new ways of interacting socially.
Before we can put these ideas into practice as part of a community, it seems essential that we begin with ourselves (as well as the fact that, though we can be as open as we like in future travel plans, right now travelling is not so possible). To open to others, it can be seen, is to open first to oneself. As Shevek continues,
“You cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”
Le Guin, UK, 1974. The Dispossessed.(12)
- Ashwanden, C, 2020. ‘Permaculture and Money part 1 – Cash, Conflict and Crisis: How is Money Connected to Limited and Violent Beliefs, and How Can We Transcend These?’. Permaculture News, 24/4/20. https://www.permaculturenews.org/2020/04/24/permaculture-and-money-part-1/
- Ashwanden, C, 2020. ‘Permaculture and Money part 2 – Living and Giving Abundance’. Permaculture News, 27/4/20. https://www.permaculturenews.org/2020/04/27/permaculture-and-money-part-2/
- Macnamara, L, 2013. People and Permaculture: Caring and Designing for Ourselves, Each Other and the Planet. Permanent Publications: East Meon, UK
- Eisenstein, C, 2011. Sacred Economics: Money, Gift and Society in the Age of Transition. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, USA.
- Kumar, S, 2019. Elegant Simplicity: The Art of Living Well. New Society Publishers: Gabriolas Island, Canada.
- Schumacher, EF, 1973 (original publication). Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered. HarperCollins: New York City, USA.
- Schumacher, EF, 1966 (original publication). “Buddhist Economics”. Available in full at the Schumacher Centre: https://centerforneweconomics.org/publications/buddhist-economics/
- Chaipattana Foundation, 2020. ‘The Philosophy of Sufficiency Economy’. https://www.chaipat.or.th/eng/concepts-theories/sufficiency-economy-new-theory.html
- Kumar, S, 2015. No Destination: Autobiography of a Pilgrim. UIT Cambridge Ltd: Cambridge, UK.
- Abram, D, 2996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. Vintage: New York City, USA.
- Stacy, A, 2014. ‘Treating Guests the Islamic Way’. Islamic Religion, 25/8/14. https://www.islamreligion.com/articles/10662/treating-guests-islamic-way/
- Le Guin, UK, 1974. The Dispossessed. Harper & Row: New York City, USA.
- Couchsurfing, 2020. ‘How it Works’. https://www.couchsurfing.com/about/how-it-works/
- Hitchwiki, 2020. ‘The Guide to Hitch-hiking the World!’ https://hitchwiki.org/en/Main_Page