Aug 4, 2011 - Podcast    8 Comments

Sacred Earthonomics

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.

Show Notes

  • Ascentofhumanity.com
  • 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:

  1. Burners Without Borders (Documentary: Burn on the Bayou)
  2. Black Rock Solar
  3. Xara Garden School and the Xara Learning Institute

Mindful Media

DanO – Riding the Banshee
19:30 – Carl Sagan – Pale Blue Dot Remix
42:30 – Undercover Hippie – Global Recession
59:30 – Seasunz and J Bliss – Sunnyside

8 Comments

  • >Humanity has retreated into the realm of the symbol and the result is the financialization of everything.

    Our society has degenerated into a system of the exchange of symbols, essentially trading one symbol such as money (limited edition art prints) for status (such as a Gucci watch). Karl Marx predicted this as being the fetishization of consumer products, where people will pay more for the symbol (such as a Nike ‘swoosh’) than for the product itself. (We are willing to pay $500 for a pair of shoes that cost $5.00 to make, because in our minds we associate those shoes with athletic ability.)

    >The virtual economy has taken precedence over the primary.

    This is a very strange situation. Essentially this is the source of all the money and debt problems that city and national governments claim to have, the ‘Fractional reserve banking system’. Basically, money as a fiat currency is simply willed into existence, it’s based on nothing, and simply created out of thin air. Nowadays money can even be created digitally, by typing a number into a keyboard. Yet, the elected governments of the world ‘owe’ that money to the people that just invent it. They decide when to will more money into existence, and when to withhold that money supply. By creating a scarcity of money, they can buy up properties for a fraction of their value, charge people less for their labour, take away some of the rights workers have fought for, etc.,

    >Current money system is a lubricant for growth-based economy for further monetization of the earth, not for doing beautiful work the earth needs.

    I”m not sure what this means. I will say that our current monetary system is deeply flawed. If a corporation is not growing, it’s somehow viewed as failure. It cannot be standing still, or shrinking. Yet the size of our planet and resources is finite, so constant growth is neither desirable nor possible.

    The problem with the monetization of the planet Earth is that if something cannot be monetized it is viewed as an ‘extranality’, something outside the system. So pollution, organisms, the ecosystem itself, are regarded as unimportant until they can be turned towards the purpose of profit somehow.

    Beautiful work? Not sure what this means. Certainly we need things such as artwork, homeless shelters, low-cost housing, and other things which are not directly related to profit. However other things are necessary, such as cleaning up the accumulation of plastic in the planet’s oceans. Currently, there is no way to make a profit doing this, even though the survival of our entire species is ultimately at risk. In the next twenty years, scientists are warning us that we will experience the largest mass extinction in the planet’s history. This is because the oceans are acidifying. Many if not most species of fish will die as a result. Four-fifths of the planet relies on fish as their primary source of protein. Yet, few people are interested in trying to solve the problem, because they don’t see how they can make any money doing it.

    In other words, the people who run the printing presses which make the limited edition art prints we call paper currency, or punch numbers into computers that end up being the numbers that end up in people’s bank accounts have no interest in saving the planet from dying, because it’s not a ‘fun game’ for them.

    >Money is meant to be a token of societies’ gratitude; to reward & encourage behaviour that contributes to the good of all.

    I disagree. I think that money is meant to be an agent of social control. It’s both the carrot and the stick. Rarely is it used to reward and encourage behaviour that contributes to the good of all, the exception being massive engineering projects such as city sewers. Most often, it is used to set people off against one another, such as social stratification, class warfare, conventional warfare, etc.

    >How can we eliminate / disincentivize planned obsolescence & externalization of costs so gift economics is on a level playing field?

    This will happen during the next dark ages, which is starting now and will start taking effect in the next 20-60 years.

    Is this a bold statement? We have been heading towards a dark ages ever since the United States started imploding shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed. Christian Fundamentalist ‘Re-constructionists’ have been attempting to dismantle the educational system, discredit science, and push forth their agenda, all with the full support of a right-wing government. At the same time, social services essential to a civilized existence have had their budgets slashed as a cost cutting measure, to reduce a debt which is largely imaginary/ contrived. This is part of a trickle-down economics rain dance that has been going on for the past twenty years…and is a crashing failure. Cutting taxes to multi-national corporations does not encourage them to invest more into the local economy, it only permits them to pack up and move to cheaper labour markets overseas.

    Consider what ‘Dark ages’ means. It’s a time when there is no news and information is supressed. How much news do you think there is nowadays, even in this age of the internet, media saturation and instant communication? We hear more about Paris Hilton’s latest drinking and driving fiasco than we do about the Iraq war. It’s mis-information.

    >Finding ways to align profit and the public good.

    Tricky. Remember though that the state is a beast that bites with borrowed teeth. It was your tax dollars that paid the salary of those Police that turned the city of Toronto into an armed prison camp during the G20. It was your tax dollars that Prime Minister Stephan Harper thought would be better spent on a billion dollar ‘fake lake’, rather than say housing the homeless. It’s also your tax dollars that are funding the salaries of Rob Ford and his cronies, who are now deciding how to cut and slash publicly funded programs such as swimming pools and libraries, Fire and Police services, etc. Not to mention ripping up existing bicycle lanes and replacing them with car lanes. How do you think this saves money?

    >Scarcity is an illusion or an artifact of our perceptions?

    Well as M.K. Ghandi said, “There is enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” Social darwinists and the like compare humanity to a lifeboat which can only hold 20 people, when there are hundreds of people floating in the ocean. It wouldn’t help anyone to let everyone into the lifeboat, since that only means everyone will drown.

    Yes, it is true that if everyone on the planet Earth was allowed to have the same resources that we enjoy in the first world, we would need at least five more planet Earths to sustain everyone. That’s considering such things as automobiles and refrigerators.

    However, I think that the lifeboat analogy is a false one. There are other untapped resources, even on our limited and finite planet Earth. The oceans are one. I have been reading your article on Seasteading with great interest. Really, if we are to survive as a species, this is the next logical step in our evolution. The oceans have provided us with a great deal of resources in our past, and can continue to provide. In any case though, it means we will all have to make a radical change in our economic system, especially when it comes to distribution networks.

    >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.

    In the near future, we are all going to have to return to urban farming, which is again more productive than our petroleum based monoculture agriculture methods. (Monoculture = raising one crop). If you read ‘Square foot gardener’, you will learn that each person can easily grow enough organic food for themselves through the year in about 48 square feet of space with very little effort. This is not taking into account such things as an arduino controlled watering system, etc. For those who aren’t vegan, protein needs can be met by raising catfish, trout, tipalia, etc. in barrels or ponds.

    >Suburban sprawl & per capita energy: Most of the energy we consume doesn’t even really serve a fundamental human need.

    One interesting thing to look at is Paolo Soleri’s concept of the Arcology, a kind of super-city structure which eliminates the wasteful suburban sprawl. Living, working, playing spaces are close to each other, and so is the food which we are dependent on We may in fact have to start dwelling in structures such as this, since they can be environmentally controlled like an Earth-dome. Of course, one of the stumbling blocks along the way is that we would have to move to a socialist economy before this becomes feasible. Everyone’s dwelling space within the arcology would be roughly the same size, and the same is true of their consumption of resources.

    >Don’t seek answers within the existing solution space; change the questions as to what the right way to create an answer might be.

    I don’t understand what this means.

    >Digital economies and artificial scarcity where there need be none.’

    Yes, because only a small amount of people are ‘allowed’ to decide how much artificially created data is allowed to exist inside the economy. It’s not based on anything, any more than points in a video game are.

    >Helping humanity thrive in community through the sharing of gifts (digital example: Contributing to WordPress)

    Well, I think that this happens naturally, but sure. I think there is some distinction to be made between a gift economy and bartering, but they have both ‘worked’ since pre-historical times.

    >Social Wage / Dividend – Philip Jose Farmer and equality of contribution in hunter/gatherer societies.

    When Karl Marx was envisioning a Communist future, what he was picturing was the ‘Primitive communism’ of hunter/gatherer societies, such as those of the aboriginal people of North America. When Europeans first arrived in North America, the inhabitants had no concept of private property. The idea of someone ‘owning’ land seemed ludicrous to them. The system worked quite well for hundreds of thousands of years, with no one working more than a few hours a day, and even that work being self-directed and purposeful. Everyone in the hunter-gatherer society gets as much as they need, and those with the ability produce as much as is necessary to make sure the needs everyone in that small community is taken care of.

    The area where Communism (at least the primitive version) fails in comparison to Capitalism is in the mass production of things. However, do we really have a need for this any more? How much more plastic dollar-store crap do we need to sit on the shelves in the store, unsold? How much more plastic do we need in landfill sites, or choking fish in the oceans?

    >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.

    Debt is slavery. This is why there are so many incentives to get into debt. One hundred and fifty years ago, a healthy adult with a grade school education could build themselves a house, a barn, and have a small farm to take care of all their food needs. They made everything they might have needed on that farm, such as nails, rope, tools, etc.

    Now today, we are forced to go into debt to get a post secondary education, now worth as much as a high school diploma was thirty years ago. We are forced to go into debt to have a place to live, such as house, we are forced into debt to have a means of transportation to get to work. Also as you pointed out, we are forced to consider our future lives from a purely economic standpoint, how much MONEY will we make when we graduate?

    If we described our situation to our ancestors, they would think we were slaves and ask who our masters were. After all, if we are truly free then why don’t we own the houses we live in? The cars we drive?

    In all seriousness, some slaves had skills such as blacksmith, carpenter, etc. and it was impractical to chain these people up or keep them in work houses. The only thing that kept them indentured to their owners was the money they ‘owed’ for their purchase price.

    >Discussions of various methods of stepping away from dependance on the money economy towards a gift economy.

    I don’t understand the ‘methods’ you are referring to here. A gift economy has always been with us. It will always be with us. Prehistoric humans used a gift economy, especially when meeting with people outside of their own settlement.

    The economy mentioned in ‘The Odyssey’ was a gift economy, albeit in a slave-owning dark ages of conquer and pillage.

    The gift economy, as well as the barter economy will return when our present economic system of fiat currency completely collapses and we return to another dark ages, about 20-60 years from now. Maybe sooner.

    • That is a very thorough response – thank you deeply for the time and effort you put into writing it.

      A little clarification on a few items you mentioned having confusion about plus comments in response to some of your other statements…

      “Money and the conflict with doing beautiful work the earth needs.”: Consider the example of a “beautiful worker” building a new residence. They might chose to create a straw bale shared living space with materials harvested from the local area and incorporate passive heating, geothermal and permaculture concepts. They would want to live in harmony with their habitat and develop facilities that will last for many generations and have a goal of minimizing their impact on the environment while improving their quality of life by investing their time and effort in sustainable systems.
      “Tricky. Remember though that the state is a beast that bites with borrowed teeth.”: Yeah – I don’t believe the political systems which exist today allow us to truly identify what is in the best interest of society. Too few have too much power over too many. Compared to the technological capacity we have developed in the principles of wikinomics, open source, crowdsourcing, etc it should be much easier to make sensible decisions which you highlight a number of idiotic ones that our policy makers continue to make. The episodes on the Black Box of Democracy and Backcasting to the Future highlight a number of issues in this area and some potential starting points for meaningful ways to improve the system.
      “Don’t seek answers within the existing solution space…”: Does “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” help? Charles is trying to change the narrative (story) that we use. Perhaps there are ideas out there which could be truly valuable possibilities, but today they are considered impossible or impractical based on the frame of reference from which we consider them. I can’t recall where I read it, but someone wrote / said that there are 4 stages of idea acceptance: crazy, crazy, crazy, obvious. If we don’t change the way we think about problems, we’ll continue to get the same types of solutions.
      “Discussions of various methods of stepping away from dependance on the money economy towards a gift economy.”: This was a teaser bullet point towards a set of examples that Charles goes into in the podcast – time banks, re-selling used items, sharing communal resources and a few others. Anything which reduces GDP but allows you to maintain the same quality of life shrinks the money economy and can be seen as a positive thing that allows you to build stronger relationships and grow the infrastructure of a gift economy.

  • [...] An interview for the podcast “Steppin’ off the Edge.” [...]

  • These podcasts have been keeping me company while I work. Thanks for finding such interesting guest to talk with.

    • Glad you enjoy them and they have been pretty fun to create thus far.

      If you know or think of anyone who you feel would be a good future guest for the podcast, I’m always happy to hear such suggestions.

  • [...] Thoughts: This book and the interview with Charles was the focus of my latest podcast episode (Sacred Earthonomics) so it is great to see it getting promoted by people who recognize the importance of the idea of [...]

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