Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Moneyless World?

Moneyless World--Free World--Priceless World is a blog I've had listed in my blogroll since back when I first started this blog. It's one man's account of living without money (since 2000, I think). Suelo is not a very active blogger--partly because he doesn't often have access to a computer--but when he does post, his accounts are always interesting. Mostly his posts stress me out, but that's just me. I'm not a nomad or a gypsy; I like to be rooted to a place. So his accounts of standing by countless roadsides with his thumb to the wind, or sneaking into and out of rail yards (and sometimes getting caught) I find exhausting even to read. It's not my idea of a life!

But I don't say that to be critical. I hugely admire what Suelo is doing and his efforts to document his lifestyle. His philosophy is beautiful and right-on in my opinion. Nature operates as a gift economy and we humans should be able to as well. If you've got some time, check out his website (in addition to his blog)--he's got some great essays there that delve into the philosophy behind his lifestyle.

I admire Suelo for living his convictions, for modelling a different (and healthier) philosophy of life. Many of us have noble convictions, but how many of us get out there and actually live them? Suelo is following the path he was put here on earth to follow. That earns him hero status in my book.

I hope to soon (and finally) be living my convictions as well. And when I do, the new world I'll inhabit will be largely moneyless too. It won't look the same as Suelo's world, but that's because it'll be my unique path and not his. My unique path involves becoming rooted to a place, becoming an inhabitant, part of an ecosystem, a participant.

Money has been a huge obstacle for me all my life. I'm missing what other people seem to have--a link between money and the reward centers in the brain. Money just doesn't do anything for me. The prospect of acquiring money doesn't motivate me. I can't make myself care enough to do whatever it takes to earn wads of cash. Intellectually I understand that to make it in our current society, to be functional here, you have to know how to earn money. And I most decidedly am lacking in that skill. I am most decidedly dysfunctional in this society. But, it was Krishnamurti who said:
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
What I am adapted to is the way we lived in earlier times. What I am adapted to is the way we will live in future times, in all likelihood. I am not adapted to living in this sick society.

The economy I participate well in is not the global economy. The economy I participate well in is very tiny--it's a single ecosystem, a single homestead integrated with the surrounding landscape, where a human gives and takes and participates and interacts. There are many, many exchanges, but no money changing hands. There's value created. There's abundance. There's reciprocity. There's balance. There's health. This economy is centered around a single spot, yet it has tendrils that reach out and connect it to other economies and to the larger whole. Most of the exchanges happen on that one spot; fewer and fewer exchanges happen the farther out you go on a tendril. It's a place-centered, intensively local economy.

On that one spot, all exchanges operate on the gift economy. All is freely given and received. A little farther out into the neighboring economies and exchanges are more likely to involve bartering, and farther out still they are likely to require some form of money. I don't believe money is evil or unnecessary. It serves a genuine purpose--facilitating transactions that occur at a distance. At a local level, however, money is unnecessary, perhaps even a hindrance.

I've stated before on this blog that there's a big difference between transactions and interactions. Transactions are distancing and de-humanizing while interactions create bonds, trust, and accountability. Historically, transactions occurred at a distance. They were exchanges with people you didn't know, people you rarely encountered, people with whom you had no opportunity to build trust. Money was the perfect way to exchange goods in those circumstances--it had a very well-defined value so it prevented conflict between strangers. Among your own clan however, transactions were never needed. Your clan was its own ecosystem, with all parts (you and your kinspeople) freely contributing to the healthy functioning of the whole. No one kept tabs--that would be like your heart keeping tabs on how much oxygen your lungs are contributing.

In between these distant transactions and these local interactions was a fuzzy middle ground. Here is where barter took place, or elaborate and often ritualized gift-giving traditions. These were your distant neighbors. You were probably remotely related to them, so there was an accountability to them but it was a bit tenuous. Bartering ensured fair trade practices. Because you might not see these people again for years, an immediate reciprocal exchange made sense. Or, in some cultures there were elaborate and lop-sided gift-giving rituals among distant tribes. If you were the visiting tribe, you flooded your hosts with gifts. That tribe would do the same whenever it visited other neighboring tribes, and whoever visited your tribe would do the same. Thus bonds were maintained, even though it was never immediately reciprocal.

Do you notice something here? The gift economy and to some extent the bartering economy are both based on trust and the building and maintaining of bonds. They build cohesion and harmony. The money economy on the other hand is based on distance and distrust; it's based on remaining at arm's length from potentially dangerous strangers--those mysterious "others". A major part of the sickness of our society today is the fact that we've forgotten how to do anything other than transacting. We've turned everyone into a stranger. No one is worthy of our trust. And so we become these islands, in the process losing community and connection and robbing ourselves of a whole bunch of love, laughter, and joy.

I'm naturally gifted at interacting. I suck at transacting. For me immediacy is what counts, what's right in front of me. That's why I'm so perfectly geared towards living an intensively local existence. I can't handle abstractions, especially that one called money, but I can handle what I can verify with my senses: what's under my nose, what's under my toes, the people, plants, and animals that surround me, the wind and rain, stars and sunshine, rocks and rivers, clouds and sunshine. And those things fill me up in a way that money never will.

Edited to add: My apologies if this post is impossible to read. There's some kind of blogger glitch whenever I use the "blockquote" feature--it screws up the line spacing from that point on. Since it doesn't show up in the html, there's nothing I can do to fix it. :(