Sacred Economics

IMG_0193“To be sacred is to be imbued with a specialness, uniqueness, and divine purpose.  To see something that way is to fall in love…The Age of Reunion…Everything will be sacred because we know that everything is unique, even each electron, each drop of water, and certainly each human being.” Charles Eisenstein in The Ascent of Humanity

I haven’t written in this blog for over a month because I couldn’t find anything that I wanted to write about.  My mind and soul were occupied with the realizations that I had on retreat where I found my personal self disappearing into a larger whole. The joy of feeling connected to myself, to others and to everything was indescribable.  Only poetry would do and writing poetry is what I did!

But after some weeks I continued reading and finished The Ascent of Humanity – found myself spell-bound again.  It is a long time since a book has actually changed my mindsets and made me see things differently.  And now I see this book as a spiritual awakening and connects deeply to what I experienced on retreat.  Showing how everything is sacred and everything effects us.

He reveals the illusions we are all living under.  And I don’t mean anything esoteric here. This is REAL in every sense of the word.  It is quite disturbing actually.  Like taking away the Emperors clothes! And yet in the end very motivating and hopeful.

The most pertinent of his themes seems to me to be our economic systems. It is only one of the symptoms of the Age of Separation, (last blog post) but it is the most prevalent and destructive aspect of all the symptoms and perhaps the main driver of our current problems. I am passionate about helping others see the extent of the influence our money system has on our whole society and way of life.  I feel quite inadequate especially since he unpacks so brilliantly the many far ranging effects that touch each of us as we are all part of this system.

I hope I can open some curiosity into this and encourage you to investigate more. The world doesn’t look the same to me after understanding the destructive effects of our economic system – well hidden from our eyes. Eisenstein has actually written a separate book on this issue, called Sacred Economics. I have not read the book but have seen several of his videos on the topic. One of which I have put at the end of this blog.

The major point is that it isn’t people who are selfish but the economic system that actually makes us so. It is dependent on us to be selfish and even greedy.   The system is geared toward each individual needing to get what they want for themselves.  Children learn this early as they receive a constant stream of things.  All of my grandchildren have rooms full of plastic toys.  They come to expect and want more.

The “me” is focused on and pumped up in many ways in order to sell more.  This self-concern makes it very hard for people to imagine wanting to come together to fight climate change or do anything about the trends that are making the planet in deep crisis. A focus on the whole planet doesn’t really exist in our world of money. And it is difficult for all of us to imagine giving up what we like and have.

To succeed, each person needs to gather, accumulate and actually horde money to function in the world and feel safe / survive. This we accept and take for granted.  Yet the whole structure functions in a such a way that money gravitates to those who already have money.  The rich horde their money for their descendants, they make more money with the money they have accumulated.  They tend to not create many more jobs or spend much, as they have what they need and want. Companies try to make work more efficient in order to get more money which usually goes to the top. This usually includes using less people to do more.  Eisenstein sees this as a modern form of slavery where your time is not your own.  The whole system is geared toward creating a situation where the  “few” get most of the money while the majority tend to be the losers. This is already becoming visible to us.

The system uses techniques to make people feel that they need what is being sold which make them addicted to buying, consuming and comparing. That people are addicted is essential to the success of this system. Shop til you drop. This all leads to a diminished sense of self and the need to pump up one’s identity through acquiring things. Think of the troubles parents face when kids want designer clothes.  Status and acceptance is another way to boost our self-image.  The system operates best when people need to keep up their image.

The key culprit in the system is the role of interest, debt and need for constant growth. To survive it must turn everyone into an consumer and everything into a product. This is called monetizing the society. To do this the system takes over anything that individuals used to do themselves or things that were originally free and turns them into services or goods that need to be paid for.  To keep this going is easy because people are more and more busy, trying to make things work.  And therefore are easy prey for ways to make life easier by outsourcing some aspect of their lives. There are also hidden costs in this. I think of an article that I recently saw about all the “save-time” processed foods we eat: Scientists Officially link processed foods to autoimmune disease. We start to see how things really are interconnected as you follow the consequences.

To counteract this we need new systems that do not create the many unwanted consequences of our current system. Better systems are based on the awareness of our interdependency and the complex inter-connectedness of all life. He presents some alternate systems which create different outcomes that are more supportive to humanity’s need for creativity and connection not just survival.

One compelling example is of an actual system (called demurrage) where money is stamped with a date saying when it runs out!  (This is more complex than I am explaining here but will just try to give you the gist.)  The reason for a expiration date is to put money into the same category of  any item or service which also decays or is used up.  Thus money has no intrinsic value of itself and so there is no point to hoarding it – for example just to gain interest.   In our current system it is the opposite. Money of itself has an intrinsic value, independent of physical things, even if it is actually only numbers hidden in a computer somewhere – shuffled around by the banks. Money becomes a “non-existing”, made-up thing, that is still essential for survival in today’s world!  I think of all the young Europeans without jobs.

The alternative approach mentioned was used in a small town in Austria during an economic downturn and the result was the development of a vibrant and thriving community, while other towns who used the current system, slipped into a deepening depression. With the expiration-date-system people needed to spend their income quickly. This generated intense economic activity, which lead to higher employment, completion of common projects and development prosperity for the many.  It also lead to cooperation and enterprise. But the demurrage system was eventually outlawed at the behest of a threatened central bank.

This story doesn’t mean that this particular system is the best, but it is an example of how different a system can give different outcomes that also affect a different psychological as well as physical result. These alternative types of economy are often called “Gifting Economy”.  Many of the blossoming “CrowdSourcing” approaches are also about giving away.

Look how Eisenstein unpacks this gift concept. We give gifts to people we have a relationship with and want to continue it.  We often do this out of love or gratitude.  Notice that in our current societies, we don’t have  close relationships with people we buy things from.  It is not important who they are.  In fact they are totally dispensable because anyone could take their place.  Each person can be replaced.  This is important for the system to work.

If you know that everyone can be replaced because they are not unique it can cause anxiety and leads to insecurity and other negative consequences.  The sense of uniqueness disappears and people become just cogs in a machine.  Their suffering is unimportant.  Or people try to be special and better than others in order to stand out.  Competition about who is best is the stuff of reality shows and entertainment.

Interestingly we try to avoid getting involved with money issues with our friends. In fact in some situations this is considered corruption – if you hire your friends – even though you can trust them to do a good job because you know them.  Looking at our relationships with friends we might notice that they also tend to be rather superficial and our time together tends tends to be consumption oriented (going out to a movie or dinner).

Relationships based on helping each other or doing things for each other fall away because most services are now bought and people have what they need. Except of course those who don’t have what they need. But they tend to be marginalized and sometimes called lazy.  When relationships are based on creating something together or helping each other, it often strengthens the relationship bonds and give a sense of meaning and connection. This often happens in catastrophes and wars or sometimes in difficult work challenges. Also when communities trying to work together to solve some common issue. But generally speaking, the tendency to work together to take care of common grounds for example in an apartment complex seems to be fading away – people don’t have time – can’t see the point and this service is outsourced.  It is interesting that alienation, mistrust, bullying and other anti-social common problems are so prevalent in our societies today. Could their roots lie somewhere in this toxic mix created by our current monetary system.

Of course not everyone falls for this money trap or experiences the consequences. And there are already many seeds of alternative systems emerging. But most of us just buy into the way things are and generally speaking we try to change people and their habits instead of the system that is creating and supporting the continuation of these unwanted consequences.  This is because societal “symptoms” don’t seem to have anything to do with how our money system works.

Eisenstein does not suggest going back to the past or giving up technology but rather to change our concept of self as a separate individual, to see how interwoven and connected we are with each other and the everything.  His compelling arguments make our current thinking look childish and silly.  His vision postulates our coming of age, moving out of adolescence into a creative, collaborative adulthood. We are all interested in averting the threats to humans and our planet.  We won’t be able to change anything if we don’t recognize how everything is interrelated and connected.

My husband and I just had an interesting dinner conversation about how an alternative monetary system could work.  It was difficult because we hold so deeply many assumptions that are based on the current system.  But we did discover surprising ideas when we focused on what could happen if those who hoard money were forced to spend it!

To explain such intricate material in a relatively short blog feels overwhelming.  I hope I have at least stirred your imagination a bit and that you feel compelled to go to the “source” for more details. You can read the original online, for free. Go to Table of Contents and read the full text by clicking on a topic. The ideas here are compiled from Chapter 4: “Money and Property” and Chapter 7: “The Age of Reunion”.  Even just looking at the titles of the topics can be inspiring.

This video will give you a flavor of what I have been trying to say here.  If you have found this important please SHARE.!!  It is only by sharing that ideas can spread!  Keeping things to ourselves is part of the old paradigm.  Enjoy!


2 thoughts on “Sacred Economics”

  1. Per-Christian

    Dear Mara,

    Thank you for your thoughtful article. It contains lots of frustration which many share with you. As a simplistic mind and an economist, I think the way to attack the problem is a gradual one.

    You point out that we tend to hoard wealth in the term of money. But it is not easy to fight the human egocentric mind – something happened when we were thrown out of the garden of paradise. If we were to hoard something like gold it would be worse. Gold cannot be recirculated through financial institutions for increased activity and employment.

    Today we measure a society´s success in lots of economic terms. The most common is GDP per capita. But we also have a number of other indicators that we can use and which we should demand being equally prominent displayed. I have in mind the measure for income disparities. If the income distribution is so that an increasing proportion of wealth ends up among a small segment of the population it is bound to create a less stable and happy society.

    Over the last decade Brazil has had a good economic growth rate and at the same time achieved an improved income distribution. Whereas in the US the new wealth has ended up among those with most in the first place. We know from many sociological studies that it is less the absolute level of economic wealth that gives a feeling of well being than the relative income distribution.

    We ought to hold our politicians accountable for not only managing a well functioning economy, but also a society were income distribution is improved, where infant mortality, life expectancy, participation in the civil society and other indicators are developing in the right direction.

    I feel we can contribute in a small way to alleviating your frustrating observations by being active as demanding members of our society.

    Best regards and keep up your good work. Per-Christian

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