3. The POP model

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If we don’t fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognise that we don’t really stand for them.

— Paul Wellstone

Compromise is an almost inevitable part of our lives. Many of us have some vague sense of the ideals that we, at least, aspire to. For all sorts of reasons – financial, social, legal, emotional, physiological – we’re often a million miles away from actually living them out to the extent we would like to, if at all. That’s OK. We’re all perfectly imperfect, and our current culture and its political and economic manifestations certainly doesn’t make it easy for us.

What is a more achievable prospect than going straight from wherever we’re individually at now to living out our highest ideals one hundred per cent, is for us to make a transition in a series of well thought out stages that make sense to our lives. The key here is to make these steps realistic enough in the short-term as to be achievable, yet challenging enough to be considered an appropriate response to the major ecological and social issues of our time.

This book is about creating societies that move beyond the need for money for the simple reason that, as I have argued in chapters one and two, we’re not going to be able live within this planet’s capabilities to host us long-term unless we do. However, the world we have currently created has deified money to the point where it is now the leader of the world’s largest religion, a faith that tolerates no other spiritual beliefs about the world. This tends to make living completely moneylessly a little daunting.

And so whilst some of this book is about holding the moneyless way of life up as a vision, a seed to protect until a time when external factors may leave the soil fertile enough to allow it to germinate and flourish, it also aims to deal with reality. Your reality, whatever that is.

My own ideal form of economy, as I have pointed out, is a fully localised gift economy. Yet for most of you, this may be an impossibility right now; making it to the end of the month without accruing more debt probably feels like a more pertinent challenge. Therefore through this book I want to offer you a spectrum of ways in which you can reduce your dependency on money and increase your connection with your local community and environment. Whilst the ideas themselves will be moneyless (and if not purely moneyless, I will qualify why I have chosen to include them), how many of them you can or want to integrate into your life is entirely up to you. Most will be things you can do today whatever your circumstance, whilst others will be things you may wish to strive for. No matter how much of it you incorporate into your life, whatever you do will help you diversify the way you meet your needs, reduce your dependency on money, give you more resilience, a lighter ecological impact and get you on good terms with the neighbours. The further you can go along the path the better, for the well-being of both yourself and the planet.

In my own personal journey to moneyless living, I felt I needed a framework, a route planner, to not only enable me to get from A (my circumstances in 2008) to B (what I thought was realistic within that year) and all the way to Z (where I want to be in the future), but to actually understand what A, B and Z actually look like in the first instance. How am I living now? In what manner do I want to be living in the future? Out of a long conversation with one of my close partners in this evolving moneyless experiment, Shaun Chamberlin(46) (author of The Transition Timeline(47)), a model emerged that would allow anyone – regardless of political, religious or philosophical persuasions – to think about what each stage looks like, and that by its nature encourages you to make your way up it, in perhaps a similar way to how you might try to ascend Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs(48) over the course of your life. It is a simple way of dealing with both the practical and philosophical issues that arise as we try to align our lives to our sense of values.

We call it the Progression of Principles (POP) model, and it is a model that could be useful to anyone who wants to live closer to their ideals, regardless of whether you want to live moneyless, as part of any religious or spiritual community, or in the Transition movement itself, just to pick a few examples.

As the focus of this book is on diversifying your personal economy and needing as little money as possible, I will apply the POP model framework in that context only, but I hope that readers will still feel able to utilise it to aid their own progress towards whatever way of life is aligned with their beliefs. The beauty about the POP model is that it is tailored by you, for you.

HOW IT WORKS

To illustrate how the POP model works let’s take a couple of examples, which will be uniquely mine. It tends to naturally have between three to eight levels, depending on complexities and permutations, but it can be as long or as short as you want.

First, let’s look at my POP model for ‘economic systems’.

Level 1 (100% local gift economy):
Complete co-sufficiency on a gift economy basis.
Level 2: Co-sufficiency on a local currency/barter basis within a fully localised economy.
Level 3: Gift economies existing with minimal dependency on the dominate economic model.
Level 4: LETS, Timebanks and local currencies existing with minimal dependency on the dominant economic model.
Level 5: A ‘greener’ globalised monetary economy.
Level 6 (100% global monetary economy): A globalised monetary economy.

Most of this particular POP model, keeping in mind my earlier comments, will be self-explanatory. For Level 1, you may ask why ‘co-sufficiency’ and not self-sufficiency? The answer: because self-sufficiency is an illusion. At the very least we are interdependent with bees, bacteria and earthworms, and in all reality on people from our local community, whether that be your street, village or an intentional community. So when I say community, I mean all of the community of life, and not just humans. Whilst current culture has conned us into believing that dependency on others is a sign of weakness or failure, I argue the opposite. Dependency on each other is crucial to the fabric of real community, and in the end to our sense of place, relationship and well-being. The reality now is that we’re not as independent as we would like to think. We talk of ‘financial independence’, but this is another delusion. We have merely replaced dependence on the people around us, whom we know and love, with dependence on faceless, distant strangers who we will never get to meet or thank for what they’ve produced for us. Why do we choose the impersonal over the personal? Is living in a close-knit community of consciously interdependent souls really so undesirable that we will strive to earn money just to avoid it?

You may notice from the structure of this POP model that I place slightly more personal importance on 100% localised living than I do on the spirit in which the acts are done. This is partially due to the ecological imperatives of our time, but also because I believe that as personal relationships are formed through the exchange of local currency or other forms of credit exchange, that unconditional giving will come to replace the bartering/exchange element anyway. But again, depending on your own personal philosophies, your POP model could look much different to mine.

For another example, lets look at the category we’ll call ‘Transport’.

Level 1 (100% local gift economy): Walking barefoot, connecting with the earth beneath my feet.
Level 2: Walking in shoes I made myself (or were unconditionally gifted to me) from local materials.
Level 3: Walking in shoes I bartered for, which were made from local materials.
Level 4: Walking in trainers made in a Chinese factory.
Level 5: Cycling on an industrial scale bicycle.
Level 6: (100% global monetary economy): Driving a hybrid car.

I’ll explain this example to aid understanding of the technique and to reveal a little more about my personal version of moneylessness. The top level, in this scenario, will be seen as quite extreme by most people and not desirable on any level. And for some good reasons: our land has been covered in cities and their asphalt, gravel and concrete; our feet have been softened by generations of wearing increasingly comfortable and warm footwear; and why put yourself to the trouble when there are already tonnes of second-hand shoes in existence?

It is OK to find it too extreme, this is my POP model for transport, not yours, and that’s partially the point. But I believe that until we feel the earth beneath our feet again we will never learn to walk gently on Her. We will fail to bring a level of awareness into our lives that, unfortunately, only seems to come when necessary and unavoidable. When you walk barefoot you take notice of the flora of an area (or the amount of litter), if for no other initial reason than you don’t want to get a thorn (or piece of glass) in your foot. I’ve often found that when I walk barefoot I forage a little more, as I become much more aware of what is around me.

Whilst bartering is most often an exercise in local economy (though this has changed a little since the advent of the World Wide Web), it’s still an example of our current culture’s fascination with exchange. I often wonder why we can’t just share our gifts and talents with each other for no other reason than they will help somebody. Hence why bartered shoes are on the third tier, whilst shoes given to me unconditionally make it onto Level 2. Cycling, that great symbol of sustainable living, only makes it to Level 5. I don’t want to be too harsh on cycling using industrial scale bicycles, as it has many benefits, and I agree it is more sustainable. I just don’t believe that it is absolutely sustainable, given that it requires various materials imported from around the world using a globalised infrastructure that is inherently destructive and exploitative to the rest of Nature. If it is not sustainable in absolute terms, why do we think we can continue with it indefinitely? Cycling of any sort disconnects us from the earth more than walking, and speeds life up for us (which usually only results in us consuming more things with the spare time it affords us), which is why it falls lower down than ‘walking in trainers made in a Chinese factory’ in my POP model for transport. That said, it still allows you to get around without needing to spend money (especially if you can scavenge spare parts to maintain it), which may be what you are striving for – if that is the case, cycling may be top of your POP model.

Don’t worry if you’re still on the basement floor of your model. I currently cycle an industrial scale bicycle more than I walk, though this model has helped me clarify my commitment to doing much more barefoot walking in the future.

Bear in mind too that the ‘distance’ between the levels is fairly arbitrary. In a particular POP model, the ‘gap’ between Level 4 and 5 might be a lot bigger or smaller than the gap between Levels 1 and 2, for example. This also allows you to ‘zoom in’ – if your aim for the year was to move from driving a hybrid car to riding an industrial scale bicycle (Level 6 and 5 in my version), then you might want to stick those in at Levels 1 and Level 6 respectively, and add a few more stages in between.

As I describe many of the solutions available to us in the coming chapters, I will briefly refer to this concept from time to time in order to illustrate how striving towards moneyless living doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing from the word go, or ever, but as a step-by-step plan towards a somewhat more diverse personal economic model, one which I hope leads you to create a more resilient economy for yourself, one less vulnerable to a larger system founded on the absurd concept of infinite growth on a finite planet. The point of this model, however, is not to be a novel little exercise that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy about ourselves, though that can be a very nice bonus. The point of it is to help ourselves get to a place where we are living harmoniously with the Earth and each other. If it is not applied with some degree of courage and determination, we will never get to the world each one of us knows is possible.