ii. Foreword by Charles Eisenstein

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by Charles Eisenstein

Going into my first conversation with Mark Boyle a year ago, I was feeling a little bit defensive. “He probably thinks he is better than the rest of us,” I thought. “More ethical, more pure, less complicit in the sins of civilization.” His very lifestyle was an implied accusation.

When we actually began talking, though, I found Mark to be free of sanctimoniousness or self-congratulation. That is why his message resonates with so many people. His evident goodwill, care and compassion disarms us so that we can take in what he has discovered: going moneyless is a gateway to connection, intimacy, adventure, and an authentic experience of life. Far from being a path of sacrifice to qualify oneself as good, it is a path of joy and – dare I say it? – a path of wealth.

One contribution of this book is to open that path to others. Often I hear people preface their thoughts on right livelihood with, “Of course, we all have to make money…” We have mortgages to service, bills to pay; there is, after all, a ‘cost of living’. We take it for granted that we have to pay merely to be alive. What Mark shows is that this assumption is part of an illusion.

While we might for very good reasons choose to use money, we may not actually have to. To break free of that illusion requires a profound shift in our perceptions, habits, and core beliefs; a shift in our way of being in the world, even in our sense of self. The monetized life is a life that separates people from community and from Nature, channeling our interdependency through an anonymous medium. Money promises that, if only we acquire enough of it, we can be independent. We can be independent of the people around us: “I don’t need their help – I can pay for whatever I need.” We can be independent of the nature around us: “If the water is polluted, I can buy it in bottles. If the soil is toxic, I can buy organic food from afar. In the worst case I can afford to move away.”

Here, then, is another illusion: we cannot actually achieve independence via money. All we can do is transfer our dependence from one place to another: from the people and places around us, to money and the distant institutions it associates us with. In fact, we are connected beings, utterly dependent on the rest of life to sustain us. Civilized humanity has denied that dependency for a long time, seeking lordship over Nature, transcendence of Nature. Money has been part of that illusion of mastery. But today we are moving into an ecological age, seeking to rejoin the circle of life in all its dimensions – ecological and social.

Mark Boyle offers us one way to do this. The circle of life is the circle of the gift. Except in those rare instances of barter, living moneylessly reconnects a person to the immediate experience of giving and receiving, and to the ties that result from that experience. Receiving a gift, one feels gratitude toward the giver, toward the giver’s community, or even toward the universe, and with it the desire to give in turn. Giving a gift, one feels a connection as well: a freedom to ask something of, and receive from, that person, community, or planet. Whereas a money transaction is a closed relationship, over as soon as the money is paid, a gift-relationship is open-ended. Gifts create bonds, connections. This, and not some imagined exculpation from the sins of industrial society, is the best reason to live moneylessly.

None of this means that living moneyless is the only way to enter the spirit of the gift. After all, money itself can be given as a gift. However, money as we know it is fraught with noxious, disconnecting states of consciousness that are contrary to that spirit: scarcity, anxiety, grasping, competition. Going moneyless is therefore a short-cut to the spirit of the gift.

What about the collective level? Can we build a society on the spirit of the gift? And would this necessarily be a moneyless society? Perhaps so, in the long run, but even then we will need some way to circulate various forms of wealth, to coordinate labor over vast social distances, and to direct human creativity toward a common purpose. Money, although increasingly dysfunctional today, is supposed to perform these functions. In a more enlightened society, money would do so while evoking a whole new set of intuitions about wealth, security, and the nature of work, and a different way of being in and relating to the world. Indeed, I and many other theorists are working on how to transform money so that it is no longer the enemy of ecology, sustainability, justice and abundance.

That is why I believe Mark’s work has a significance beyond merely describing a more joyful, connected way of living. He is also contributing to the psychic groundwork of a new system – even if that system includes something we might call money. The revolution before us is only worth joining if it goes to the depths that Mark has explored: the surrender to the flow of life, the recognition of generosity as a core principle of human nature, the trust that as I give, so shall I receive. It is my hope that this book will deepen its readers’ belief in the possibility of such a world.

Charles Eisenstein August 2012,
author of Sacred Economics – Money, Gift & Society in the Age of Transition