Charles Eisenstein wrote Ascent of Humanity in 2007 about the history and future of civilization from the unique perspective of the evolution of the human sense of self. As we pass through what he describes as the convergence of crises that is birthing the societal transition into the Age of Reunion, his latest book Sacred Economics seeks to change the story of money and gift.
We don’t want to force people through a survival linked money system to abandon their gifts and do something else; that is what is happening today and the ecosystem and society are suffering greatly because of it. He believes that money is like a signaling molecule in the body that should direct resources or gifts towards needs in a positive direction. The philosophical tide of the times is indeed to understand nature as part of ourselves and the internalization of costs then is one dimension of this growing philosophical or spiritual reunion with nature.
- Sacred Economics (Reality Sandwich)
- Sacred Economics (North Atlantic Books)
- The converging crises identified in Ascent of Humanity (environmental, financial, political, energy, water, soil, medical, etc) have intensified since it was written in 2007. Charles presents the converging crises as a birth crisis propelling humanity into a new kind of civilization.
- How to avoid, as Douglas Rushkoff put it, confusing the map for the terrain?
- Humanity has retreated into the realm of the symbol and the result is the financialization of everything
- The virtual economy has taken precedence over the primary
- Current money system is a lubricant for growth-based economy for further monetization of the earth, not for doing beautiful work the earth needs
- Money is meant to be a token of societies’ gratitude; to reward & encourage behaviour that contributes to the good of all.
- How can we eliminate / disincentivize planned obsolescence & externalization of costs so gift economics is on a level playing field?
- Finding ways to align profit and the public good
- Scarcity is an illusion or an artifact of our perceptions?
- Subsistence or organic agriculture is 2 – 3 more productive PER ACRE than hi-tech chemical agriculture, but it is the unit of labour that is the financial interpretation that has become the standard by which we measure food delivery capability.
- Suburban sprawl & per capita energy: Most of the energy we consume doesn’t even really serve a fundamental human need
- Don’t seek answers within the existing solution space; change the questions as to what the right way to create an answer might be.
- Digital economies and artificial scarcity where there need be none
- Helping humanity thrive in community through the sharing of gifts (digital example: Contributing to WordPress)
- Social Wage / Dividend – Philip Jose Farmer and equality of contribution in hunter/gatherer societies
- The societal peril of adopting a debt-based education system that forces people to contribute solely to economic growth because that is where the jobs are rather than how they can apply the skills they learn in a meaningful way for society.
- Discussions of various methods of stepping away from dependance on the money economy towards a gift economy
- “I do think that for many centuries hence there will still be something recognized money, globally, but it will have pretty much the opposite effect of money today. It will encourage generosity, conservation, restoration of the commons, of the ecology, it will encourage caring for future generations, it will have the negative of interest”
Towards the end of the interview, I asked Charles about how we can get to the point of existing in a gift economy without relying on the monetary economy to get there using the gift-oriented environment of Burning Man as an example. The unfortunate fact that in order to get to such an environment which has no commerce or transactions and is all about the immediate experience, people have to cover their food, shelter and travel costs to get there.
Skeptics or critics will say that gift economy is just being subsidized from the outside. It’s kind of piggy-backing on and it wouldn’t work if people weren’t bringing things in that they had purchased. But on the other-hand you could also look at it as kind of a laboratory for the future. Where yes, you are creating special conditions but part of whats happening is these new forms of human dynamic and new psychology that goes along with it are being tried out. An energetic template is being tried out that will become relevant and dominant perhaps even when the current system falls apart.
Burning Man as a laboratory of the future? I like the sound of that. Since laboratories are generally measured by the results that they produce, following the interview I went in search of unique large-scale gift-oriented efforts that have grown out of the Burning Man community. I was looking for projects that take a different approach to solving an existing challenge and bring some of the passion that Burners have for living on the playa to solving that problem. After getting happily lost in Black Rock City Year Round, I found three tremendous examples which have bold visions and are trying to live Burning Man’s ten principles 24/7/365 and summarize some of their initial successes to wrap-up this episode:
- Burners Without Borders (Documentary: Burn on the Bayou)
- Black Rock Solar
- Xara Garden School and the Xara Learning Institute