How many times do we say: “Well, it would be better in the long term if we all did X but it would not make money?” Or, “there isn’t enough money?” Or “it would not be competitive?” Or even worse: “We all know that X is a destructive thing to do but we all have to make a living.” In a sense, we say that last line to ourselves every day because that is how our economy works; it is built on “growth”, which, as the world stands, is a code word for exponential extraction and destruction of natural and social resources.
How did it come to be that we are controlled by money? How is it that our creation is controlling us? It’s fashionable to worry about the advent of AI (artificial intelligence) – and with good reason. We have already created a technology, a relatively simple technology, that is out of control – money and the system of valuation that underlies it. It is for money that we are burning up the only world we have. We are already fooled by and the slaves of our own creation, and our financial system is nothing as sophisticated as what it will be when augmented by AI, blockchain, cloud-computing and big data.
Now would be a good time to get a handle on our creation. Now would be a good time to think about where we are going.
Money is our creation: each of us individually, and as a members of communities, societies, and this civilization. We have the responsibility to shape the values that we live by and the purpose we live for, and to understand and control the functioning of our creations and technologies. Money, a fundamental technology of civilization, is the expression of our will and the means of our working together. What we buy and sell, the jobs we do and don’t do for money are an exact expression of our will and vision.
We can shape money to support sustainability and life, rather than exploitation and destruction. We can shape money to foster cooperation and nurturing, rather than competition and exclusion. This is in all of our power, everyday. We can connect money to our best efforts to love each other and the world rather than fear it. It’s a choice.
To say that we can connect money to life may seem a naive point of view but it is, in fact, one of pragmatism. If we don’t change the way we use money to organize our collective efforts, we are on the path to a most unpleasant world. A world in which there is coral has ceased to exist and wide swathes of the planet are uninhabitable. A world none of us want.
Connecting money to life doesn’t mean our problems will go away. We will still be as imperfect and corruptible as ever. We will still fight amongst ourselves and do horrible things, intentionally and unintentionally. There will still be unpleasant necessities like military budgets and intractable problems like homelessness, but if we change how we think about money we will align one of most potent inventions with our actual interests, which is a living world, a healthy world, a functioning world.
Money is our creation and we can re-think and re-engineer it. We can change its meaning and how it is used. Every time we handle or manage money we have the choice of using it for better or for worse, by voting with our dollars, as they say, at the individual level.
But we can also change the meaning of money on a larger scale as well. We all play a part in larger systems. We can become creators and shapers of money and culture in our working lives as well. All of us have points of leverage and choices to make. The world that we live in has been shaped over centuries and millennia and re-shaping it will not happen overnight, but everyday we can move a little bit further down another road, everyday can bend the arc of history a little bit further toward a living future.
How do we shape money? By remembering that it is something we make together, our tool rather than our master. By having a vision of a living world in which life is nurtured rather than exploited, in which we understand the material limits of a finite world and finite natural resources, in which we respect the natural world as the ground of our being and the source of life.
By learning how our money works and engaging in and questioning the systems that money supports. By questioning the concept of “growth” – what is growing and what is being exploited to create that growth? By building alternative systems and economies that are respectful of life, both human and non-human.
Money is a symbolic means of exchange, and it is up to us what we exchange. Do we exchange poison and fear, or vitality and love? I know it’s not as simple as that, but it is, in the end, as simple as that.
In this week of giving thanks, let us give thanks to the living world and think about how we can use our money, our civilization and all of our technologies to respect and foster life on earth.