I’m fussy about the words I use. Words matter, after all. For example, anarchy is not chaos, though you’d never be able to distinguish the two based on anything presented by the mainstream media. As a further example, I’m averse to any form of the word “sustain” because we don’t and we can’t. I’ve distinguished between sustainability and durability in this space in essay form and also in a recent presentation. If the
Laws of Thermodynamics aren’t compelling enough for you, consider this: Wal-Mart allegedly has poured more money into “sustainability” than any other institution on Earth.
In this brief essay, I’d like to take issue with a couple other terms. As I’ve pointed out recently, I’m a fan of the gift economy (which is not based on barter). I explain below. In addition, I differentiate between building social capital and contributing to a decent human community.
My customary gifts include hosting visitors at the mud hut, delivery of presentations for no charge, and copies of my latest book at my cost (or, to those interested in an electronic version of the page proofs, no cost at all). Here at the mud hut, I strive to promote and expand the extant gift economy. This approach makes perfect sense, considering how we began this relationship more than four years ago, when my associates on these 2.7 acres offered my partner and me the gift of an acre (we declined, and we now share the property and the attendant responsibilities). In the name of comfort for our friends and neighbors, we barter, too, and sometimes work within the customary system of fiat currency.
But I prefer an economy of gifts, which has been the prevailing model for most of our existence as human animals. Gifting removes the pressure associated with placing monetary value on the exchange of goods and services in a barter system. And, to me at least, it seems more compassionate and personal than other alternatives.
Many people believe they are doing themselves a favor by building social capital. I hear this phrase often, and I bristle every time. Employing the root word of a heinous system that developed as the industrial revolution began is hardly a sure-fire strategy for winning friends and (positively) influencing people. The process of “building social capital” equates connivance with decency. Analogous to use of a barter system, the act of building social capital suggests a deposit is being made, and will be drawn upon later, perhaps with interest (i.e., usury).
In contrast to developing social capital, I believe we should work to contribute to a decent human community. As an aside, I’m often asked why I use the phrase, “human community” instead of “community.” This is exactly the type of question I have come to expect from individuals who wrongly believe we are the most important species on Earth.
We’re destroying virtually every aspect of the living planet, and yet we believe we’re the foundation on which robust ecosystems depend. Viewing your place in a human community, and your contribution to that human community, is analogous to development of a gift economy. By striving to contribute, instead of invest, I can focus on developing life-affirming ties instead of dreaming about the return on my investment. By serving my neighbors, rather than determining how my neighbors can serve me, I become an integral part of a valuable system. As such, the whole, holistic system becomes increasingly durable.
Sharing gifts to develop a durable set of living arrangements within a decent human community: If you can imagine a better goal, please let me know.
The Gift Economy By Mark Boyle on 1 November 2011 for Seismologik - (http://www.seismologik.com/journal/2011/11/1/the-gift-economy.html)
Everyone from politicians to journalists and economists like to conflate words relating with finance with words relating to economy. You thought the were the same thing, right? That's OK, so did I. But they're not the same thing. I wish I could say this conflation occured from utter stupidity, but my suspicion is that it has been a long and relentless campaign by the corporatocracy (read John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman) to ensure that people can't even think of an economic model that isn't money based.
This is most apparent when I hear businesspeople and political leaders telling us something isn't economically viable, such as leaving the rainforest as a rainforest or giving a living wage to the people who make the stuff we use within an economic system we forced them into. An economic system is really only a method of managing all that we have been gifted as wisely as possible, not just for humans but for all the family of life. If we destroy our ecologies, there are no economies.
The way people talk of The Economy, you'd swear it was life's Holy Grail. When did happiness, intergrity, fulfilment, fun, honour, respect, love, courage, craftsmanship and connection stop becoming the most important things for us in our lives?
The money based economy is only one form of economy. And it's a terrible one. There are other forms to choose from. My favourite, as you may know, is The Gift Economy.
Ideally, this would be 100% localised, with the gifts flowing from local Nature through local people. It would involve local permaculture, crafts, foraging, feasting, music, dance, storytelling all produced by the people of an area, for the people of an area. People participating in life, not just consuming life.
But we're a million miles from there, so for now we can start by at least restoring the spirit of The Gift Economy, even if it is not fully localised for now. That will happen as global crises converge - unfortunately it will, most likely, be forced on many rather than voluntarily chosen by them. Their loss.
So I propose a new economic and political system that can be used right now (without having to go to the polls to elect a different shade of the corporatocracy in): The Gift Economy.
The good news about this system is that there are no leaders required, just tools and models that people can use to organise things themselves, from the bottom up. Like the current political and economic models, I'll break this down into departments.
The Department of Resources
Many of you seem to use Freeconomy for this now. Which is fine and I've no problem with that, but there are projects out there better set-up to deal with this.
The obvious are Freecycle and Freegle (the latter was set-up because of silly admin issues with Freecylce HQ). With both, find your local group, join it, and then post any items you want to give away, or ask members for stuff you need. For other ways, there is now the likes of LetsAllShare and Ecomodo.
For items such as books, use ReaditSwapit or better still set up a local book-swapping evening. For clothes, again, set up a local clothes swapping evening, I know many people who've done this very successfully by running clothes swapping parties at their house or a free venue.
The Department of Transport
In the ideal world, the Dept. of Transport would encourage people to work where they live, helping produce what little their communities need off the land they live on. Therefore walking would be the transport of choice. Rambling really is the best pace of life.
Again, everyone walking everywhere is not exactly going to happen this year. So next up the ladder of unsustainability is bicycles. Use the Sustrans network of cycle tracks, and use punctureless tyres. If for whatever reason you don't want to cycle (i.e. you're lazy, you're scared, you don't give a shit about fossil fuel use or wars in the Middle East or climate change, you have children who need to be protected from The Dangerous World) there are many other options. Before anyone gets all worked up, I'm joking. Actually I'm not. Stop making excuses and cycle.
Like hitching. But again, hitching is very dangerous, at least one person worldwide every 15-20 years has a nervy experience with it, and the media rightly blow it out of all proportion. So again, there are more options.
Set up a FreeBus like these wonderful people in Bristol. If that sounds like a little bit too much hassle to have to do (instead on being something incredibly inspiring, which it is), then use Blablacar, Liftshare, Mylifts, Freewheelers or National Car Share, depending on which one best meets your needs at this point in time.
Whichever you choose, you will save money, you will save resources, you will meet new friends, you will limit your negative impact, and you'll maximise your positive impact.
The Department of Skills, Labor & Knowledge
I'm not going to ramble on here - if for some reason you read this blog but still aren't a member of Freeconomy, then just join and stop being an ass. You get to meet like-minded people, get help with things for free, learn skills, and get access to a huge database of tools you can borrow. You can offer all of the above yourself too, if you want to be nice. There is also the forum if you want to tap into the knowledge of people outside your own local radius.
In Bristol the local group organises a free weekly skillsharing event called Freeskilling. The teachers teach for free, the venue hosts for free, the organisers organise for free, the people learn for free. Simple. Here is the programme for Freeskilling in Bristol this month, for example.
The reason I founded Freeconomy was because it didn't already exist. I'm not into reinventing the wheel. All other alternative economies were still based on the dogma of exchange, whereas I felt that unconditonal giving, doing things just-for-the-love-of-it with no formal exchange, was a much more loving and uplifting way to be on this earth.
But if you want to persist with exchange, there are other options. LETS and Timebanks just to name two. But really - just join Freeconomy. Its in over 160 countries now, with 25,000 members in the UK alone, so there is a large database of great people with useful skills, tools, knowledge and free spaces instantly at your fingertips, waiting to help you, get to know you, and be helped by you.
The Department of Housing & Accommodation
Because the land was robbed from us and given to the banks via a debt based money-creation process, this is difficult. You could live wild in the woods (which I must admit is my absolute ideal and hope to one day), and take your chances. You could build a simple dwelling from 100% local materials and become a Freeman on the land, but this again comes with risks (risks I believe need to be taken by those brave enough) and you do need to understand it all completely before even thinking about it.
For the slightly less courageous but equally adventurous, there is couchsurfing, where you can sleep on millions of couches around the world for free, and allow other members to sleep on yours too when your time comes around. Not only do you save lots of money, you get access to a kitchen and often internet, and get to find out all the really good places to see and experience when you are on the road.
If you want to live with little or no money, why not go wwoofing for a week/month/year. It really helps organic growers, you learn new skills and meet great people, and you could do it completely moneyless.
The Department of Education
If I had a penny for every parent who told me they couldn't live without money because they have to send their kids to school, I'd have bought up the land of all England and returned it to the Gift Economy by now. I do understand your woes and concerns.
But we talk about sending kids to school as if its some sort of positive thing to do to them. Normal school is hideous. They're factory farms for the economic slaves of the future.
We also talk about reading and writing as if it is some sort of thing that we should never question. They have to be good, unquestionably good, right? If you think language and numbers are so great, then read Charles Eisensteins The Ascent of Humanity to get a new (or old?) perspective.
If you want inspiration for education, then look no further than Bunker Roy's incredible project in India, the Barefoot College. Satish Kumar's small school and Schumacher College (both of which admittedly are expensive but shouldn't be and could be done for free if the will of the community was there) are other examples. But ideally, Homeschool with other parents in your local community. More and more parents are doing it, and the more that do the easier it becomes.
Whatever you choose, just don't teach them the usual crap that will no longer be relevant in twenty years - teach them foraging, food growing, communication skills, carpentry, art, music, dance, signing, how to make things from local materials and the like. Teach them how to be the fullness of their humanity.
The Department of Food
Grow in whatever space you have - the windowsill, the back garden, the allotment or some land. Use Permaculture and Forest Gardening approaches to make the most of your limited space. Grow what you like to eat. If you're busy, grow the crops that need least looking after. If you're skint, grow the food that you like but that's most expensive to buy.
If you want to go to an even more sustainable level, then forage. Take a course, read some books (Food for Free by Richard Mabey is a good starter), go out to the hedgerows, practice, research, practice, research, practice, research ad infinitum.
Are the wilds in your area been replaced by supermarkets and their carparks? If so, go skipping (dumpster diving for you American English speakers) - its not exactly The Gift Economy, but you can make the gift on their behalf, given that these corporations haven't the integrity and care to redistribute it themselves.
The Department of Technology
Everything is technology - language, numerical system, compost toilet or bicycle. I used to think a Blackberry and Apple were fruit, but apparently not (lets reclaim our language people!), apparently they're phones and gadgets.
Use Linux (Ubuntu). Use OpenOffice. Use open source technologies, or help create them. Use Hushmail (an encrypted email - you may as well cc in the authorities to your emails from hotmail, yahoo, gmail etc), use DuckDuckGo for searching without tracking by Big Brother, use TrueCrypt to encrypt any personal folders you wouldn't like The Man to read.
Most of all - stop buying crap you don't need, and work less because of it. Be free. Use the appropriate level of technology.
The Ministry of Defense (aka The Ministry of Offense)
Fuck that. Be nice. Life simply - if you don't have any wealth, you'll rarely be bothered. I left my caravan unlocked for three years. Everyone knew I had nothing of worth, save a laptop whose screen is sellotaped to the kepboard. Organise members of your community to learn ways of resolving conflict peacefully and learn NVC. Learn how to defend yourself if it comes to it. Get fit, might come in handy some day. And if someone is repeatedly raping your Mother (I had to get it in there, you'd have been disappointed) or abusing your brother, then take an appropriate level of action. Good, vague phrasing there I hope.
The Department for Culture, Media & Sport
Make your own song. Make your own dance. Make your own beer, wine and cider (let Andy Hamilton help). Organise your own street party. Learn an instrument. No excuses, just learn one. Play games. Run. Make love. Go skinny dipping. Put on free film nights in your house. Do anything. Just don't waste your life on the internet writing blogs telling people how to not waste their life on the internet.
Stop consuming. Participate in life. I'll say it again in case you didn't get it the first two times. Stop consuming. Participate in life.
For free music, use Grooveshark, the world's biggest free jukebox.
The Department of Health
Eat well - local, organic, fresh. Exercise lots. Love yourself. Lots.
Your physical health depends on your mental health, so do things that make you happy and fulfilled. Get to know your local alternative practitioners, you'll find many on Freeconomy. Learn whichever form best works for you. Learn your own body again, become aware of what it needs.
For deeper types of healing, there are other methods such as Ayahuasca.
When I first began living without money I made my chronic hayfever almost non-existent using a weed called Plantain, a natural anti-histamine. It cured it 90%. But do you want to hear something completely far out, man? Last year I decided it was stupid and that
a) being allergic to pollen was ridiculous, and
b) that I am in control of my own body,
and so for two months coming up to hayfever season I kept telling myself I don't have have fever any more. And you know what? Come June, not a sniffle. Not one.
Too hippy? Not scientific enough? Then go and pump various types of over-the-counter pills into yourself, and that'll sort out all your problems. Or take a steroid injection. That'll restore you to full health. Promise.
And this is all just the tip of the iceberg. I could write a book (you can get it from your library - or pass it forward once you've read it) about all the other ways to live in The Gift.
I wish you all the courage in the world to move away from the money economy, and into the Gift Economy. Freeconomy isn't the world's largest alternative economy. Nature is. Join Her.See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Moneyless Man - Mark Boyle 10/22/10 .