A few years ago I attended Michael Tellinger’s talk in Melbourne about our relationship with money. It quickly becomes apparent during the talk that our association with money is unhealthy and inherently creates inequality in our society. We can see similar observations made by various well-known figures in recent public debate, Noam Chomsky in his “Requiem for the American Dream”, for one.
So, I wanted to finish off 2017 with a post that’s a little bit different. Observing the lines of hundreds of cars waiting to enter shopping centre car parks over the past few weeks got me thinking about this issue more.
My motivation for starting this blog has a never been to express political opinions, but in many ways what is personal translates to what is political, and vice-verse. As I expressed in my work on “Hearts in Transcendence”, I firmly believe that even the smallest action by an individual impacts the broader structures and subtleties of broader societies. It is not religions, societal, or political ideologies that control our lives, but rather it is we who give rise to these broader structures in the first place. Without people, sociopolitical structure would not exist.
So, what sort of world are we contributing to on an active basis? It is our personal actions, not the actions of politicians, that often further the gap between those who have wealth and those who struggle to make it to their next wage payment. Part of this problem is our engagement with the monetary system in the first place, which places variable value on those things that we need just to survive.
Perhaps, short of reverting to a communist or socialist political structure, we have no better choice but to engage in a capitalistic economic worldview — despite that fact that our planet takes a toll in this process. However, I think that ever since the year 2000, we have not really had the luxury of using this excuse any longer.
The technology and communications we now have available in our world make our dependence on money almost senseless — well, at least for the core necessities of life. When I first heard about Tellinger’s views on this topic, I thought the notion of living without money was quite idealistic. However, since then I have seen various small organisations, as well as broader communities implement the concept. For instance, we can look to the increased presence of urban mini-farms that provide produce for their local community. More radically, we can consider the implementation of Tellinger’s political model in North Frontenac in Canada, which was rolled out by Mayor Ron Higgins over the last few months.
When faced with these ideas, most people ask the question of “how?”, but from my vantage point the more pressing question is “why not?”. What is it that keeps human beings dependent on a greed-driven model of acquisition of personal wealth at the expense of the well-being of others?
Our idea of what is valuable has been warped
At least in most first-world countries, we have the resources available to ensure that all people are fed, have housing, and have access to basic facilities such as water and power. Most recently, when our gas bill came to a cost $500, and I called the company to enquire about the cost, they advised that I should have “used less heating”, despite the near-zero temperatures during that month. Likewise, if we choose to avoid pathogen-ridden foods, we are forced to pay up to $10 for an organic mango or avacado, or a smoothie perhaps — almost double the cost of a hamburger meal from a fast-food outlet.
The question we should be asking, instead of “can I afford the mortgage and bills?”, is rather “are we creating a society in which we are looking after each other, and contributing to our collective health, well-being, and human potential?”. That perspective shifts the focus from self-centric needs to collective needs, which ensures that we create a world in which we look after each other. In turns, this creates a better future for us all.
The above question might have been considered somewhat ridiculous about 50 years ago, when not everyone could afford to have food for the day, to live in a safe environment, or the ability to afford utilities. However, in our present times, our current mechanism of living — or surviving — is based on flawed reasoning.
Let’s explore some of the common presumptions that serve as relics from an old worldview.
There’s not enough food
The cost of food is ever-increasing, despite the globalisation of markets. This is especially true of food that is nourishing and conducive, rather than detrimental, to our well-being. In first-world countries, there is not a lack of food and water, yet there is an ongoing demand for it.
This demand could be addressed through communal farming, shared contribution to meals — much like what is done in Thailand with communal preparation and sharing of food, and ensuring that more than enough is produced for all people to have access to food, despite their financial situation. According to Tellinger’s Ubuntu framework, the cost of producing food could be abolished altogether through communal efforts. Here I am at least suggesting that it could be reduced, to the point where our emphasis changes to ensure access to healthy food for all, rather than rewarding people for saving money when purchasing chemical-ridden meals.
There’s not enough land
Although in Australia this argument is laughable, land and shelter is another aspect of the human condition that all people should have access to, not at a cost of millions of dollars. Like with food, the demand will ever remain the same, despite the increasing costs.
With new three-dimensional printing technologies and smarter means of producing materials, the cost to construct a house is often a fraction of the price of the land itself. What is the reason for placing such a high value on land, when all people will — without doubt — need access to shelter and a place to live? The added stress of covering a rent/mortgage each month is not needed if land costs are abolished or minimised to their actual value (i.e., a patch of grass). Here, it is difficult to see a counter-argument that does not create inequality across social classes, rather than demonstrating care for the well-being of all. For example, the mere act of individuals pushing up prices by bidding higher in auctions and investing in properties increases this gap even more.
The bills are too high
I cannot recall a year that I haven’t received a letter from an electrical or gas company stating another planned increase in the costs of power supply — often one that is excessively high. Despite the countless practical technologies, now more available than ever, such as wind power and solar power, we continue to struggle with unreasonable costs to access basic utilities.
In Tellinger’s model, communities could develop their own localised power sources rather than depending on centralised companies. Proof of concept for this model has been demonstrated on numerous occasions around the world in the last decade alone, but in this instance we again tend to depend on old ways of doing things.
The material is valuable
Perhaps the biggest issue, despite the above examples, is that we value the material more than the human experience. People’s self-worth tends to be more reflective of their acquisition, status, and wealth rather than their compassion, and their emotional and spiritual development. All we have to do is look around our world to see this value misalignment in action.
Until that attitude changes, I don’t think the other issues will ever be addressed — as they reflect a deeper psychological misplacement of values rather than a societal structure. Hence, it is not so much a question of “how” we change our world to reflect one in which we place human value above material value, but rather a question of “why not?”.
Despite this, if you are interested in the “how” component of the question, I recommend looking at some of Michael Tellinger’s work on the topic. You can also brainstorm creative ideas of how you could contribute to the creation of a better world that is collective-centric rather than self-centric. As I mentioned earlier, most of the ideologies we have in our world are maintained by masses of people, rather than a handful of politicians, and it is ultimately in our capacity to instigate change.
A brief experiment
From a psychological perspective, our relationship with money has led many people to alter their thinking in profound ways. Rather than attributing value to what is truly valuable, we tend to instead think about value systems in terms of their monetary value, or wealth of an object. That object can be an item, a service, or even a salary. Our relational understanding is skewed when we perceive value in this way, rather than on its own merit.
With that point, I would like to finish with a rather radical hypothetical scenario.
Imagine that you lived in a world with no money at all, where core necessities such as food, water, transport, and shelter were guaranteed. Let’s for the sake of argument suggest that anything beyond this, such as owning a Lamborghini, or going on a vacation, would require money. In that sort of world, list the top ten things that you would value. How well do they line up with your current values?
I will leave the topic on that thought. I hope that you have a good break over the new year, and I look forward to speaking with some of you via the comments / social discussion in 2018.