In the modern world we have structured our way of life around a market economy that relies on an abstract exchange value (money) to allow for easy trading of goods and services. Previously incommensurable items such as apples and books can now be magically compared and their fates determined by their comparative price. Consequently it is seen as completely justifiable to mercilessly rip apart a forest community in efforts to access the more “valuable” rocks contained in its soils. This decidedly one dimensional approach to decision making ignores many important aspects of life such as emotional attachments and the effects on the non-human lives that share the earth with us.
So much of what was once available for free we now have to purchase. It was safe to drink water from rivers. Now they are too polluted with chemicals from industries, agriculture and even sewage. Food was harvested from the environment or grown on communal land. Now we need to purchase land to grow our food or purchase the food. These are just two examples of how we have created a reality where money is a necessity. Yet it is so unequally distributed that it serves to reinforce a deeply unjust and immoral social hierarchy. A reality where millions starve while concomitantly thousands suffer from diseases related to overeating.
While money or the lack of money is not the only cause of these horrific inequalities, it certainly contributes to it. Particularly when combined with the current political systems where monetary donations to political parties have the ability to significantly influence Government policy and the laws that are enacted.
Certainly money gives us the power to purchase many wonderful gadgets, glorious luxuries and amusing baubles that can improve our life. The problem is that having large sums of money has become equated with the good life. Many people spend their entire life focusing on the accumulation of money to the detriment of every other consideration. Cheaper options are prioritised over aesthetically pleasing, environmentally sound and community enriching options. In this way money is accumulated by a small section of the population while the beauty and diversity of our communities (human and nonhuman) is diminished.
This preoccupation with the pursuit of money blinds us to all the precious things that cannot be bought and never will be, despite the best efforts of people wanting to profit from the commodification of every last bit of this universe. The glorious colours dancing across the horizon as the sun sets, the warm embrace from a loved one and the shared laughter of friends at play are just a few of the freely given gifts of life.
There are other ways of structuring a society so that everything is not mediated by monetary transactions. In the not too distant past in Western society, and to this day in many non-Western societies, activities such as building homes, child minding, growing food and recreation were/are shared among community members.
Recently there has been a blossoming of sharing and gifting networks that freely share, exchange or give away goods and services. They are based on a spirit of trust that an individuals needs will be met with the same degree of support and co-operation as it is given. In addition to diminishing the importance of money, these networks build community ties and contribute to meeting our basic needs to connect with others and participate in meaningful ways. A much needed step towards a reality where we embrace all the aspects of what it is to be human and a member of the wider Earth community.
photo © Jasmine Sathiagnanan