Sacred Economics – Money and the Mind

If we don’t begin to understand the place money has in our minds, how it is interwoven with the current story of humanity then we will not be able to changeimgres the way we think about it and therefore how we use it. Christine Laguarde (head of the IMF) recently said that ‘there is no alternative to the current measures being taken around he world by governments and banks in dealing with the financial crisis we find ourselves in.’ Surely this de facto statement isn’t actually true!

Some economists argue that money has been around for about 5000 years and define it according to its functions as a unit of exchange or unit of account or a store of value. But Charles defines money as something quite different – something which only came into being in the 7th imagescentury BCE in Greece. It was in Greece that coins first started having a stamp on them to indicate their value. This stamp or sign or symbol then gave the   power. The marks became tokens of social agreements. It is this power of agreement that is the real essence of money. CE goes on to argue that those who want to return to the ‘good old days’ of the gold standard are longing for something that never really existed, except for brief moments in history as an ideal but not a reality. The transformation of money does not involve us going back to a certain standard but from an unconscious to an intentional embodiment of our agreements.

Now that everything has become commodified, we believe that things are equal to the money that can replace them – “you can always buy another one”. This immaterialism has depersonalised the world and removed the sacred. It is no wonder that we live as though if we wrecked the world we could simply buy another.

Money has become an agent of separation. We cannot mix business and friendship. We have tried to put a price on everything even our creativity. We have come to believe that we cannot accomplish our dreams without money and for some of us we believe that if only we had enough money then…….

So much of the way we view the world, and therefore money is underpinned by the philosophy of Ancient Greece, especially Plato. Such thought splits our world into a sacred/secular divide. But Charles challenges the idea that says “Sure, economic reform is a worthy cause, but what is more important is  transformation of the human consciousness”. We try to separate out that which is utterly interwoven. Just as we cannot separate out spirit and matter, so we cannot separate out the psyche or our paradigms from how we think about and use money.

Money does not need abolishing, it needs restoring to its proper role. It has become a means of homogeneity/commodification and depersonalisation, a god that is not only our universal aim, but also our universal means. But money can change. We are not its slave. We can separate it out from the story of limitless growth and domination. It can become an agent of reconnection, redistribution and reconciliation. It just needs a bit of reimagining!

Sacred Economics – The Illusion of Scarcity

“If money, in its simplest form, is about connecting human gifts with human needs, what perversion has turned it into an agent of scarcity?” A great opening question from Charles for this next chapter.

He sets out the following argument: We live in a world of abundance, but we waste and abuse it. Half the world starves, while the other half wastes enough to feed the first half. Vast numbers of people cannot afford food, suitable housing or clothing, yet we pour an unbelievable amount of resources into: war and theimages armaments industry ($2trillion a year), plastic junk we don’t use, McMansions serving no real human need, ridiculously sprawling suburbia requiring more and more cars (worsened by poor public transport), huge farm to retail wastage, bottled water (what’s that about?!), child care (gone are the days when we would watch our kids for each other), various goods we never recycle or fix (like lawnmowers or blenders – just how many do we need per street, exactly?!) – the list goes on!

There is so much poverty, but it is not due to a lack of productive capacity. Nor is imagesit due to a lack of willingness to help. So many people would love to feed the poor, restore nature and do loads of other things, but there is simply no money in it. Yet we are in a situation in which many people have jobs which contribute perhaps to more growth, but not at all to well-being. What if people were not employed to make more and more cars, or lawnmowers or blenders or plastic nonsense, but instead could devote themselves to permaculture, caring for the sick and elderly, restoring ecosystems and other tragically unmet needs?

How are we living like this? Surely the answer is greed?

But Eisenstein argues that blaming greed is an easy ‘get-out clause’, because greed only makes sense in the context of scarcity. The story of our time assumes it – the story of the separate self with competition and therefore greed written into the basic axioms of our biology and economics. But what if this assumption is false? What if greed is only manifest because we perceive that resources are scarce? He quotes some interesting studies which show that people earning less than $25k give 4.2% of their money to charity, but those earning over $100k give 2.7% to charity. But this is crazy. Greed makes no sense in the context of abundance. Perhaps money itself causes the illusion of scarcity?

For something to become an object of commerce, it must become ‘scarce’. As the economy grows, so more and more of human activity enters the realm of money – the realm of goods and services. We pay for things we would never dream of paying for. And most of us have an underlying anxiety that we simply don’t have enough money.

The biggest indication of our slavery to this way of thinking is the monetization of time. He tells the story of a mexican woman who visits her sister in the big city.images “She has all kinds of amazing time-saving devices, yet when I visit, she is always so busy, she barely has time to talk.” When did time become money? How have we become unable to afford the time?

Scarcity, he argues, is actually an illusion created by the way we handle money. Money (that embodies our cultural story) has turned abundance into scarcity and caused greed. No one can deny we’re in a mess – Peak Oil, overpopulation, global warming, the raping of the world’s resources. Real problems, but the solutions currently on the table to tackle them are too little, too late. How did money in it’s current come to afflict our minds so severely?

Sacred Economics – Gift 2

Eisenstein uses his opening chapter on Gift to set a contrast for the rest of Part 1 of his book. He is introducing us to the notion that economics and the use of our money, in particular, is a sacred thing.

Charles paints a picture using the natural world around us to challenge the perception that evolutionary biology is a cut throat, competitive business , which is all about survival of the fittest, driven by our “selfish genes”. He argues that in nature, “headlong growth and all out-competition  are features of immature ecosystems, followed by complex interdependency, symbiosis, cooperation and the cycling of resources.”

The violent, competitive, growth-driven, accumulative, oppressive, marginalising and hoarding economic of today is an aberration. It is time for humanity to enter a new phase of life. It’s grow up time! “Money may not disappear anytime soon, but it will serve a diminished role even as it takes on more of the properties of the gift. The economy will shrink (do not fear this!) and our lives will grow!”

It is crazy that money was originally a means of connecting gift with need. Yet now we often find ourselves in deadening jobs out of economic necessity, with crazy phrases like “I can’t afford to do that,” or “the cost of living is so high.” But CE goes to town on this! “Our purpose for being, the development and full expression of our gifts, is mortgaged to the demands of money, to making a living, to surviving. Yet no one, no matter how wealthy, secure, or comfortable, can ever feel fulfilled in a life where those gifts remain latent. Even the best paid job, if it does not engage our gifts, soon feels deadening, and we think, “I was not put here on earth to do this.”

The day of falsely separating our world out is over. There is no sacred/secular divide, everything we do and touch is sacred, because life is sacred and we need to start viewing both work and economics as truly sacred things. In the next blogs I will explore what Charles calles the ‘Economics of Separation’, its main components and how it has landed us in the mess we find ourselves in.

When we stare the beast in the face, we will see that we are tired of its ugliness and want to be part of a movement that is far more creative and beautiful. Surely, we do not want to align our lives with something which causes devastation and destruction but rather that which perpetuates life in all its fullness. We are tired of being commodities, we want to be gifts. The way we use money will form a part of this story, as we recover together a new economics for a reimagined future of reconciliation and peace. If we begin to choose to enter the economy of gift then surely every mountain can made low and every valley raised up – an economic level playing field, where lambs can play with lions!

Sacred Economics – Gift

As a preface, let me just say that, in these short blogs I cannot do justice to Charles Eisenstein. I’m going to keep the posts to around 500 words to make them readble in small chunks. But, read his book! It’s even free on line and you can give a gift afterwards to him or someone else! Also, this is my own take on what he says and he may not agree with all my points!

His first chapter begins with these beautiful and profound words:

“In the beginning was the Gift”

Life itself is given. Ancient religions tell the stories of God making the world and giving the world to us, not to dominate over, but to steward. And if life is given, then our default state is one of gratitude. Gratitude knows that we honour or dishonour a gift by how we use it. Charles argues that having received a gift, it is a natural response or desire of gratitude to  want to give in turn. And this is the basis of sacred economics.

“Even after all this time 
The sun never says to the earth
“You owe me”
Look what happens
with a love like that,

It lights the whole sky” – Hafiz

Today’s economic system rewards selfishness and greed and has the appalling undergirding message that “more for you is less for me”. But this does not have to be true. Charles asks us what an economic system might look like that rewards generosity? What if “more for you is more for me”?! In community, gifts circulate and all lives are enriched as a result.

If human beings are made in the image of God, we have either greatly misunderstood divinity or taken a long journey away from it. In fact, we are so far away from it that we live in a world where “ruthless sociopaths rise to wealth and power and disempower the multitude”. We have to be realistic about our current state and that such tendencies can exist in everyone somewhere within us. We have until now been journeying with an economics of separation, of usury and scarcity (maybe controversial for some!). It is time to discover together an economics of reunion, of reconciliation, of gift, of hope and resource.

Economy is so much more than money, and money at its core can be a beautiful thing. It is, in its simplest form, a token of gratitude. It has been allowed to become something far more terrible, but it is not beyond us to reimagine its future.

As earlier posts on this blog to do with the subject of ‘Kenarchy’ show, I believe that gift is the very nature of God. God has always been one who gives of himself, who pours himself out in love for humanity and the world and calls us to become like Him in that. And as we pour ourselves out in love, we recover what it means to be truly human. There are dreadful theologies that paint God as some kind of far off Imperial dictator, who gave us the world to master it and dominate its resources. Domination and stewardship have nothing to do with one another. If we are to find a new future, we must recover our humanity, to become like God, and be those who become gifts to the world around us and use our money in that vain – to bring life and as much beauty as possible!