The Monetary Culture

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Contrary to the linear time frame our present cultural narrative forces us to inhabit, life is a series of cycles. What’s more, unlike a linear system, which starts one place and ends up in another, cycles feed into each other. We reap what we sow what we reap what we sow. Of course, this means that a certain amount of care and thoughtfulness are needed in order to make sure that you reap something worthwhile, as well as a heavy degree of self-restraint in order to ensure the cycles have enough energy to sustain themselves.

Western civilisation, however, has decided to champion the linear, a framework which requires an arbitrary input which eventually gets transformed and spat out as an output into ‘nowhere’. From within those ecological cycles operating quietly all around us, we pluck out what takes our fancy, process it through our factory lines, and enjoy, for a while, what comes out the other side. Then we throw it away, and start again. We are constantly taking energy, and putting none back. At some point, these cycles will collapse. Many already have.

This behaviour is not incidental; nor, as defenders of the status quo would have us believe, is it human nature. It is simply the mindset born of a culture in which disconnection and separation are built into its infrastructure; a mindset which we absolutely have to move on from if we are to have any hope of surviving, let alone reversing, the ecological meltdown we are faced with. If, as the 19th century naturalist Henry David Thoreau said, “In wilderness is the preservation of the world,” then Wendell Berry’s remark has never been more poignant: “In human culture is the preservation of wilderness.”

You might well ask how this fear of the wild has emerged. The answer, unsurprisingly, isn’t crystal clear. Charles Eisenstein(9) has produced a fascinating theory of separation, detailing our transition from bacteria immersed in oneness to the disconnected suburban yuppies we find ourselves today. The metamorphosis, of course, did not happen overnight. We did not wake up in the forest one day, gather some berries for our breakfast, then decide “to hell with oneness! I want an electric toothbrush!” and march out of the trees to build a factory. The process was far more subtle than that – a journey, a long, incremental passage of separation. The cultivation of fire, language, linear time, and measurement, leading to the development of agriculture, technologies, centralised politics and the mass media, all contributed, over thousands of years, to the gradual separation of human beings from Nature, our communities and, ultimately ourselves, until we end up with what we have today – beings utterly swept up in the illusion of our own independence and separation.(10) Born of this illusion is our modern culture.

At the moment, our culture is not preserving the wilderness. It is, in fact, destroying it – obliterating it from the face of the Earth. This is not something new – the war against Nature began in Genesis, and since then a passionate fear and hatred of that uncontrollable, animal nature of ours has manifested itself amongst us, especially amongst those in power. The beast, the wildman, the heath-an, the un-civilized, the savage – all of these images lie deep within our psyche as dark, uncertain forms where danger undoubtedly lurks. The battles to tame our wilderness have raged throughout the centuries, often consciously and deliberately, sometimes simply a natural reflection of the social mentality. The Church waged war on sexuality, animism, witchcraft and herbalism; the aristocracy fenced us off from our commons; the industrialists forced us from our land into the factories; the rise of rationality and science drove emotion and subjective experience out of the land of the respected, and men everywhere have done everything in their power to repress that wild, organic female nature. Some would look out into the world and argue that today our incessant need to conquer Nature is hastening – in genetic modification, nano technology, and the criminalisation of substances which take us to altered states of consciousness. Is it really outside the realms of possibility then that our entire monetary economic system requires us to feel divided and separate from all else in order to function as it does? Divide et impera. Divide and rule. It is the oldest trick in the book. When we’re divided from each other and Nature, we’re easily conquered.

How successful has it been? Let me ask you this. How many of you see yourselves as a spirited and wondrous being, a magnificent encapsulation of the entire universe? How many of you feel that you live in a world that forever affirms and celebrates the beauty, care, compassion and spontaneity that we are all capable of? How many of you feel you live in a world in which integrity and creativity are considered more important than clocking hours, or paying bills? Not many, I would think. Yet who would doubt that living in such a world would make us happier, and more fulfilled?

Wilderness runs much deeper than physical spaces; wilderness – wildness – is an essence, one present in all of us. We cannot put our finger on it, but we know when it is there; we know when we feel it. I would argue that wildness is a state of experiencing and participating in oneness, and that the use of money, as a tool of separation, fundamentally prevents us from experiencing this.

Let me ask you some more questions. Beneath the roar of the machines, do you feel the dying pain of an ancient forest when it is razed to the ground, its songs and aromas and glory gone forever? Beyond the glare of the new developments, do you feel the loss when a species disappears, its own unique perspective and understanding of life irretrievably gone? And underneath the rumble of the gold mine, can you hear the echoes of the dying cries of sadness of an entire culture that once was?

For hundreds of thousands of human beings – billions, if you count those who no longer walk the Earth – the answer is a plaintive, pain-filled ‘yes’. Yet for us citizens of the ‘developed’ world, I would imagine that the answer would be a sheepish, shame-faced ‘no’. We cannot hear the cries, cannot feel the pain, because we – all of us – have been programmed not to. Our deafness and our numbness is essential to maintaining the globalised monetary system, and in a beautiful, sordid dance of chicken and egg, we have enveloped ourselves in a culture which affirms and reinforces it. Standing at the centre of this dance, its arms raised triumphantly, its waistcoat shimmering, is money.