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. :(


  1. Melanie,

    I am glad you are back and providing your perspective on the wide array of topics this blog explores. I find your views refreshing and consider your writing to be some of the more intelligent I have come across on the internet, or anywhere else for that matter.

    I share your view on money to a large degree and have never had the drive to make money as a reward either. For me, the much greater challenge is fighting the more pragmatic side of my personality, which seems to need the security that money so easily brings in our society.

    I, too, hope to "live my convictions", which have morphed into something not unlike your own in recent years.

    Thank you for your candor and inspiration.


  2. We've tried to live outside the money economy, preferring instead to build our own place out of native materials, growing much of our food, not being connected to the grid, but having one small pv panel at the beginning and a light over the kitchen sink (with a hand pumped well for our water) and another light over our bed for reading...that was 1984...over time we added more pv panels, more lights, a 12 volt refrigerator (the vented pantry worked fine for the most part). In 94 we built a studio so Cheryl could work here, on our land. She's a wholistic therapist. I have a woodshop here, as well. Commuting isn't something we wish to include in our lives. We live in a small state forest which provides us with 4 legged, winged, and crawling friends...the waters the finned. We give them the space they need and we ask the same of them. The two leggeds interlope at times noisily through the woods not too distant...especially during the deer hunting season. When I first came here I seldom saw (or heard) the sounds of humans. People have acquired more toys and noise over the years.

    I appreciate your words and enjoy whenever you post a new writing of thoughts. Very provoking for me. I'm glad you're out there in the etherworld for all to read.

  3. Forgot to mention Cheryl's shop is made of strawbales.

  4. Great article! I am also longing for a life like that, and my deepest desire is to find like minded people to build a moneyless village.

    One thing though. You say that 'money serves a genuine purpose--facilitating transactions that occur at a distance', because it is more difficult to trust people on a distance. I disagree. Just look at Couchsurfing for instance. A global network of people sharing their couches with total strangers. Of course, there's a trust building tool built into the system online. And that is my point. With today's technology we can have a global moneyless gift economy without a problem. And the more people are 'in on it', the more total trust we will get.

    Moreover, managing and sharing natural resources on a global scale, not to speak of building global transportation networks, etc. can be dealt with much more efficient without money than with. The 'money economy' is looking at nature and the inherent cost and strain as 'externals'. They are not counted in as actual 'cost' towards any product. A moneyless economy that deals directly with the resources, nature and people involved will take all strain on the biosphere into account.

    It is very good that more and more moneyless villages pop up around the world. But we must also start to look at the possibility of a global moneyless economy, something we could call a resource based economy, as well. Hopefully the moneyless mindset on the grassroots will also 'trickle up' and start to take effect on higher levels. :)