A reluctant author
I’ve found that the more I learn in life, the less I know, or could ever know. It feels arrogant to write a book that could, inadvertently, give the impression that I – a man only beginning to fully understand even the most basic parts of himself – have any of the answers to humanity’s current conundrums. So it is with a certain degree of reluctance that I write this book.
We live in a world of many human cultures, despite the fact that they are being relentlessly homogenised by the cultural hegemony and imperialism that has replaced its more traditional forms and which has become synonymous with globalisation. Amongst these there are myriad subcultures, all existing in relationship with ecologies and social conventions too complex to ever intellectually grasp. We’re a collection of ancestries, with different spiritual and religious faiths and the deep-rooted stories that come with them. Over millennia our planet has been sliced up into nations with borders, who have developed their own laws, levels of development, social etiquette, cultural myths, material expectations, gender and sex issues, physical and emotional addictions, microclimates and financial complexities. Even within such diverse demographic groups, personalities vary widely. The same nation homes both Noam Chomsky and Rupert Murdoch.
Yet despite such vast differences, there is much to unite every one of us. We live on one planet, within one biosphere, and our fates are interdependent. Together we face a smörgåsbord of social, ecological and economic challenges of a truly epic scale, and we hold in common some of the stories that originated them. These converging crises – which provide us with the most exciting opportunity to reappraise and fundamentally change the way we (in the global West) live for the benefit of all life – have no panacea, with one possible exception: the cultivation of a new attitude and spirit in which to live our lives, a simple changing of the lens through which we perceive the world.
While collectively taking off the lens called how much can I get? and putting on another labelled how much can I give?, how many people can I make smile today? or how can we work together to nourish and sustain the life around us? wouldn’t by itself cut the Gordian Knots of climate chaos, resource depletion and TV-generated boy bands, it would make for a crucial starting point. Take a moment and think about it. Imagine how our days would feel if we lived our lives with such a fresh outlook and focus. None of us fully understand what lies ahead, but fostering an unconditional commitment to help each other through it all, come what may, is a rather useful prerequisite to any of the more technical solutions. If we can’t find a more caring, respectful, fulfilling and meaningful way to live together, what is the point of existing here anyway?
Aside from suggesting such a new and radical life perspective, I certainly lay no claim to having any, let alone all, of the answers to humanity’s monumental challenges. It is true that I have a rather peculiar and unique perspective on the world, having made an odd journey from being an overtly consumerist business graduate to someone who lived completely without money for almost three years, allowing me the opportunity to experience both perspectives and to see which story most fulfilled me. It turned out to be a life-altering endeavour,(6) yet it made me realise that there is no one global answer, and the logic behind thinking that there might be is precisely the same logic that got us into this mess in the first place. The answers to the challenges we face must be localised, and stories must be tailored to meet the needs of the people in each unique landbase.
That said, in the coming chapters I would like to do two things. I aim to dive deep into what I believe to be one of the root causes of many of our seemingly unsolvable predicaments and explore one of the myths that have led us to this pivotal point in human history. A myth that almost the entirety of the world’s cultures, nations and faiths now buy into, perhaps the most omnipresent tale in the history of our species.
By suggesting possible solutions to the challenges that await us I aim only to encourage you to recognise that the monetary economy is not the only type of economy we can choose, and to consider whether or not other economic models are needed for the unique period of human history we are facing. This is no longer 16,000 B.C. after all, so why should we continue mindlessly perpetuating rituals which grew from cultural myths that were relevant and useful for that stage in our evolution, but arguably are not so appropriate for us now?
Regardless of whether you love money or hate it, its benefits are widely recognised and it is undoubtedly one of the most revolutionary concepts we’ve ever devised, having provided a framework for all the subsequent revolutionary change that has shaped today’s world. What I feel is entirely lacking, however, is a deeper awareness and understanding of what the full consequences of money are on us personally, socially and ecologically. One of my aims will be to explain why I believe humanity needs to move beyond the tale of money, and its underlying mindset of formal exchange, if we are to have a long-term future worth having on this planet.
This book’s raison d’être certainly isn’t just to explain the reasons I believe we need to reexamine our relationship with money. Its ultimate goal is to provide you with a comprehensive menu of ways through which you can meet your needs without money (or at least become less dependent on it); ways that allow you a lot more control over your life and as much creativity as you can handle; how you can limit your negative – and increase your positive – impact on the rest of Nature and your own community; how to free yourself up from a job you are not enjoying any more; or simply pathways to parts of yourself you didn’t even know existed.
We all have our own reasons for wanting to reduce our dependency on money, or to simply spend less of it. My own initial, and very personal, reason was to reconnect with my landbase and the people and creatures I share it with, as I strongly believe that until we reconnect in those ways, true sustainability and non-exploitative ways of living will simply remain something we talk about at posh conferences over coffee. Now my reasons for moving beyond the monetary economy seem to grow by the day, and I will explore these in the next chapter. I also realised I wanted to live in freedom, in a way that afforded the rest of life I share the planet with that same simple opportunity. Freedom and happiness won at the expense of that of another is not the freedom and happiness I want.
For many people I know, their reason is more urgent and less highfalutin’: they no longer have a job. The large negative equity on their mortgaged homes means that they’re unable to move somewhere that has available employment. Others simply want to live outside of the system and take back some of the freedom they feel is being incrementally stolen from them. More still are outraged at the privatisation of the money-creation process, whilst some are getting ready for both financial and ecological apocalyptic scenarios. These are all mostly practical reasons, but just as many people tell me they strive towards moneylessness for their own private spiritual reasons.
None of these reasons for questioning our relationship with money are more right or wrong than the others, and they are all valid. This liquid tool, one that ought to exist to serve us, has stealthily become our master instead, harming us on many levels, each of us in different ways. It is my opinion that it may have already served its useful time here, having already brought us to a point in our collective evolution where we can now decide to start moving beyond the monetary economy, and into a localised gift economy, which I will describe in chapter two.