Money can’t buy you love


Paper money, extreme macro by Kevin Dooley via Flickr.

Guy McPherson and Sherry Ackerman are back with us to continue dialoguing about individual components of sustainable living. In this dialogue, they take a long, hard look at money.

Ackerman: Guy, I can’t seem to get past the fact that human beings are the only species that have to pay to live on the Planet. Every other species lives on Earth for free. What do you make of this?

McPherson: It seems we’re too clever by half, to employ the ancient idiom. And it’s a recent phenomenon at that: For the first couple million years of the human experience, we didn’t use currencies. So I’d argue the notion of money isn’t a human construct but, rather, a notion that arose coincident with civilization. We pay only to inhabit the civilized world.

Ackerman: A point well made!

Yes, the development of money coincided with the construction of what we call the civilized world. Prior to that, in earlier cultures (which, of course, were civilized — just not by modern definition) transactions were made via gifting, and/or trade/barter. These kinds of transactions were relationship-based.

Money takes the need for any “relatedness” out of the equation. With monetization, everything is reduced to impersonality.

McPherson:  In the name of comfort for our friends and neighbors, we barter at this homestead, and we sometimes work within the customary system of fiat currency. But I prefer an economy of gifts, which has been the prevailing model for most of our existence as human animals.

Gifting removes the pressure associated with placing monetary value on the exchange of goods and services in a barter system. And, I agree completely with your view: Gifting seems more compassionate and personal than other alternatives.

Ackerman: Yes, gifting is the most intimate form of exchange and, thus, really accelerates community building.

It also helps us loosen the grip of the ego or the sense of the separate self. In offering or receiving a gift, a sense of interpersonal connectedness naturally arises. The exchange goes beyond the mere “thing” being gifted as it involves caring and generosity. It moves away from the mindset of things or services being commodities and returns them to the status of shared treasures.

I’m also intrigued by the concept of time banking. There are times when a person’s needs may move in a direction that can’t be met by a gift and time banking offers a viable alternative.

We are just implementing a community time-bank here in Mount Shasta and it promises to help community members have more quality of life. For example, if people can get essential needs such as transportation, child-care, legal services, fresh produce and so forth met through time banking, they can use their fiat currency (which is scarce here in Siskiyou County, California–our unemployment is currently 18.8%!) for staving off foreclosure on their homes.

McPherson:  Time banking is an excellent idea, and it offers yet another way to build human community as the industrial economy unravels.

It reminds me of one of my favorite expressions: Without money, we’ll all be rich. Most people use the past tense with that expression (i.e., “we’d all be rich”). But I’m looking forward to the day contemporary monetary systems fail. Perhaps the subsequent months and years will be filled with the kind of courage, creativity, and compassion I know we are capable of exhibiting. And escaping the currency that is destroying our lives will no doubt enrich us in many life-affirming ways.

Ackerman: It’s true: without money, we will all be rich. We will have done away with the schism between the “haves” and the “have nots”, which was created by money.

Time banking, for example, creates equality. We all have 24 hours in a day. And, we can all trade those hours at an equal value. This does away with the concept of some jobs being “more lucrative” than others. In our Mount Shasta time banking model, we are valuing everyone’s hours equally. A lawyer and a plumber’s hours are worth exactly the same thing — an hour. This, of course, in the big picture, is exactly as it should be. When my water pipes freeze and break in the dead of winter, the worth of the plumber is undisputed!

McPherson:  In addition to time banking, gifting, and helping push the industrial economy over the cliff, what else can we do now? How can we conduct our own lives in a manner consistent with life itself on this planet?

For me, a big part of the answer lies in opting out of the conventional industrial economy. Growing and gathering food are a revolutionary acts that have many benefits. For starters, every dollar that doesn’t flow through the industrial economy robs corporations of the money they need to survive. Gathering and gardening show us where our food comes from, and assures healthy, GMO-free consumption. Each of these activities has myriad additional health benefits, too.

I encourage readers to grab a field guide or a shovel and get into the dirt. It’s not nearly as difficult as some people think.

Ackerman: Right!

I’m very into wild-crafting, as well as gardening. Tonight’s meal is a huge bowl of wild-crafted greens with some eggs from our chickens. Wild-crafting takes me back into the magical and mythic consciousnesses — prior to deficient rationality. When one becomes aware of just how much food is available in the wild, it’s humbling!

I’ve begun to see the whole world as a garden — and “getting my groceries off of the ground” as a real way to unplug from monetized commercial culture.

We use solar dehydrators, too, to dry the wild greens for winter use — throwing a few tablespoons of dehydrated, powdered wild greens into a smoothie in the dead of winter is like getting a little blast of summer sunshine. It’s real food–and it’s not for sale. It is completely outside of the money culture.

McPherson:  Humans formerly obtained all our food via wild-crafting.

In fact, locking up the food, and requiring people to pay for it, is a defining element of civilization. I’m a huge fan of re-wilding (i.e., primitivism), even though I live in agrarian anarchy (sensu Henry David Thoreau, Wendell Berry, Noam Chomsky, and Howard Zinn). Really, I support just about any way of living outside the mainstream.

I recognize that we face formidable challenges when we try to feed billions of people via wild-crafting and gardening. We’re deep into human-population overshoot, with consequences that are likely to mirror other species that go into overshoot.

On the other hand, high-intensity organic gardening can feed at least twenty times as many people as the current version of agriculture in the United States. Whereas industrialized farming requires a few acres to feed each person, each acre of organic garden can feed several people. It seems too good to be true, but it’s one of those rare occasions in which it’s not.

Ackerman: This has been a great conversation, Guy. Let’s do it again soon–and talk about housing.

Sherry L. Ackerman and Guy McPherson for Transition Voice Magazine

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  1. Gita Moulton says

    Wildcrafting . . . a lovely image. But for most people in this country who live in cities, there is a distinct shortage of wild greens. And even outside the city about the only wild plants available without concerns of herbicide contamination or trespass would be in state or national parks – and they definitely discourage foraging.

    I enjoy your thoughtful postings and hope Transition Voice will continue to talk to the rest of us.
    Thank you,
    Gita Moulton

    • says

      I hear you, and thank you for your comment. However, I would remind you that an interest in wildcrafting offers a legitimate reason to appeal to your city’s environmental policies and ask for a ban on spraying. It also offers you an opportunity to do something, city-wide (perhaps a Transition Town initiative?) like Seattle is doing, whereby they are planting both domestic and wild edibles throughout their park system for free harvesting by the public. Rather than limiting ourselves to the current paradigm, we must begin the process of ushering in a new one–one that is more life-sustaining for the whole planet.

  2. Nate says

    Let’s not forget the benefits that modern civilization has brought us, and no I’m not referring to technology. Back in the days when economies relied on relationships and gifting, people were fiercely tribal and willing to cast people out of their society when they did not conform. As a member of a sexual minority, I am acutely aware that my current freedoms could only have arisen in a setting that allowed some anonymity, and the impersonal monetary system is part of that.

    I’m not saying the monetary system is perfect. What it does is more than mediate transactions, though; it often indirectly mediates actual relationships. It provides a context for complete strangers to begin to have working transactional relationships, if nothing else. It would be foolish to simply cast off money and embrace simple primitivism without providing some other means to bring together people of varying situations. While we rediscover the lost values of the past we must be careful not to also embrace past systems that caused so much suffering.

  3. the virgin terry says

    nate, i suggest u check out a brief section of a long book by a famous french philosopher named foucault. i forget the complete title, but knowing the first 2 words, INTIMATE MATTERS, followed by a :, should get u there. pages 6-9 compares sexual mores of colonizing christians vs. indiginous pagan natives. guess which group was the most tolerant and open minded? point is, don’t assume ‘primitive’ tribes are more conformist than complex civilized groups.

    • Nate says

      I’m well aware of ancient and ‘primitive’ cultures that were far less puritanical than the colonizing west. I’m not saying that money is the only or the ideal means of mediating relationships, just that it does. If we replace it, we need to replace it not with a vacuum but with another social system that can mediate relationships, even relationships between strangers.

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