When Money No Longer Gets Money   32 comments

An entry in the How To Be Poor series

Friday morning, I found myself sitting on the back patio of the town house my mother’s rented here in Sedona, Arizona, basking in a warm February sun with a good book and a hot cup of coffee. This proved quite the pleasure for me this time of year, being used to Oregon weather. Finding myself lucky enough to have access to that pleasure, I was taking full advantage, enjoying the easy comfort of a morning with nothing to do but read and think.

The good book in question was The Winter of Our Discontent, which is perhaps a subtle irony considering how contented I feel this winter. Early in the novel, the bank teller, Joey Morphy, tells the main character, Ethan Hawley, the one sentence that sums up everything he knows about business: “Money gets money.” The passage struck me as quite relevant to my discussion here of voluntary poverty and, I believe, gets at a deeper truth that helps to obstruct our responses to the future.

Money does get money in our society and I think most people understand this, consciously or not. Much of our economy these days is about money making money, using money to make investments which then return more money. This is a form of making money very removed from any actual physical goods or services. Think CDSs, derivatives, and the like.

Of course, this entire system of money getting money is dependent upon a growing economy. Money can’t get money in a steady state economy—it can only change hands or take different forms. The sharp observer will note that this correlates to the first law of thermodynamics. The sharp observer will further note the correlation between money and energy. The sharp observer will still further note that we’ve been mining and burning fossil fuels for the last few centuries, layering the energy from that on top of the sustainable flows of energy this planet has available to it, acting as though all that extra energy is permanent, and are right around now facing the peak and beginning of the decline of that extra energy. Due to the correlation between money (or economic activity) and available energy, that means we’re facing the end of economic growth and the beginning of economic contraction.

While that’s a simplistic summary of a complex reality, I do believe the general outline to be correct and that economic contraction is the near-term future we face. In such a future, money will no longer get money. This is true in a few different ways.

First, without economic growth as a widespread, standard reality, the system of credit and debt service we’ve come to think of as normal will no longer function. Debt won’t be able to be paid back with interest because people’s incomes won’t be growing. Rather, they’ll likely be shrinking. This presents an entirely new reality and is going to necessitate new forms of economic and financial activity.

Second is a deeper reality behind the idea that money gets money, and that’s rooted in the belief that money equals wealth, resources, and security. This is an assumption that most all of us in industrialized nations make. It’s the sense that you can always buy your survival so long as you have enough dollars in the bank. Money equals food, shelter, heat, clothing, water, everything. That’s the assumption, and it’s a fair one to make because it has tended, in recent and industrialized times, to be true.

Under this rubric, we could restate “money gets money” as “money gets security,” or “money gets comfort,” or “money gets your very life.” And this idea—so prevalent in our society—works very well to limit our response to the future. For those who can’t move past this idea and expect it to be permanently true, the goal continues to be to make a certain amount of money—and often, for that to be more money than they’re currently making. This is often done at the expense of building any kind of resiliency and alternate options into their lives. If they’re right about the future continuing on much as the present (or perhaps I should say the past, as the present isn’t a particularly good argument against economic chaos and a dysfunctional financial system) then their response is a sane and logical one. If they’re wrong, though, then their response is at best painful and at worse deadly, limiting their ability to respond to a dramatically different future.

My view, of course, is the one that says we face a future of economic chaos and a dysfunctional financial system. I feel comfortable in that view, based on the simple deductive reasoning that we are running our economic system on stores of energy that we’ll never get back; that we’ve hit the peak of those stores of energy; that those stores of energy will be declining in the future; that all the plans thus far conceived to replicate those stores of energy in a renewable fashion have had fatal flaws, with the most common one being a complete reliance on the stores of energy that are going away; and that economic contraction is, thus, almost certain to follow. How that plays out is not a prediction I’m willing to make. Economies are incredibly complex, and they often function in surprising manners. But in general, I imagine we’ll face a lot of chaos which all relates back to contraction and the end of growth. And that chaos is certain to make the money that we’ve come to think equals our very lives much less reliable and potentially worthless.

But because so many of us are locked into the idea that money gets money and that money gets security, even those of us who believe the future will be erratic and uncertain in economic terms still too often turn to ideas of how to lock in our money. So we look at buying gold, or investing in TreasuryDirect holdings, or buying ammo and freeze dried food, or buying farm land. But none of those things are guaranteed. We don’t know what’s going to happen to the value of gold and if we find ourselves going through a stretch in which economic chaos strips money of its value, gold may be considered largely useless, as well—at least in terms of our day-to-day survival. TreasuryDirect holdings could be seized by the government or the federal government could default. Ammo and freeze dried food only last a short while, and the future we face is not going to be about sticking out a couple bad months or finding your living through domination and violence. Even farm land is vulnerable, as valuable as it is. A floundering government could slip into authoritarian control or raise taxes to the point of being unpayable, and could then take your land. Alternately, your farm land is not particularly valuable if it isn’t surrounded by a coherent and resilient community. Now, granted, if I had money myself, I would happily look for some good land to buy, but I wouldn’t consider that any true guarantee for the future.

Of course, I don’t have any real money, so I don’t speak from complete experience here, but I can understand why those who do have a decent chunk of money saved would like to keep it from disappearing. That feels like security, and you want even more to hold onto it in the face of bad times. But the bad times likely coming are exactly the sort of times during which money may lose much of its function and utility. Again, how that plays out is anyone’s guess. Inflation, deflation, a combination of the two, national default, cratered confidence—it’s all on the table. But likely it will be some chaotic mixture of all these potential outcomes and the end result is that the money economy probably won’t guarantee you much of anything.

In other words, future security isn’t about money—it’s more likely about skill, flexibility, adaptability, the ability and desire to do real work, and community. Future security is not guaranteed under any circumstance. We’re facing a time of instability—the sooner we all get used to and accept that reality, the better we’ll be able to deal with our future realities.

There’s also a dirty little secret here that few want to talk about, but that I think is critical to address. Money shouldn’t get money—at least, not when money has been so divorced from good work, and not when cruelty and bad work so readily makes us money, as is the case today. We’ve created a corrupt and diseased system in which money tends not to go to those who do good work or make the world a better place or simply earn an honest and nondestructive living, but toward those who exploit and dominate, deal in violence, and act ruthlessly. That’s a godawful system to hand our livings over to, and we can readily see the effects of it all around us. The environmental devastation, social injustice, enslavement, murder and desperate miasma that so many wade through every day is partly a byproduct of the money system we have today. Its collapse, therefore, opens up new avenues to make ourselves a better world, even though the transition is likely to be painful.

That doesn’t mean, I want to make clear, that the collapse of our current money system will make for a better world. It simply will help clear some of the decrepit social infrastructure and institutions that help maintain the system of destruction. To make this a better world is going to involve a lot of hard work, contemplation, consideration, awareness and probably a good bit of luck. It, much like our future well being, is in no way guaranteed.

This, however, is the hope in voluntary poverty. If money will no longer guarantee your future, then voluntary poverty is a fine way to begin eliminating your dependence on and belief in money. It opens up new avenues for a better way of life, before the outside happenings of society, politics and the economy impose those new avenues on you, whether you’re ready for them or not. It also allows you to begin to explore better ways to live, and they are abundant. Stripping yourself of the trappings of wealth while you reacquaint yourself with the natural world around you, the enrichment of honest community, the deep satisfaction of good and healthy work well done, the time to think and relax, and the pleasure of clear-eyed observation makes for a particularly good life—and one that, after what can admittedly be a rough transition, proves radically reaffirming in our very disturbed world. Learning new skills and beginning the long process of taking back the responsibility of your own living provides a meaning and purpose that the industrialized, exploitative economy almost never offers.

Learning, in fact, that you are an actual, unique and beautiful, joyful, caring and thoughtful, talented and living and vital human being—someone who enriches this world and can provide so much to so many—and that you are a part of a broader world containing billions upon billions of other creatures that are as unique, as beautiful, as heartening and mystical and compelling as you; learning that all of us have the capacity to be something more than identical pegs to be slotted into identical slots to keep the machinery of wealth-via-destruction functioning—and that, goddamn it, this world that constantly exists and functions and breathes and beats with a pulse more powerful than any of us can comprehend is so filling and engrossing and substantial and nurturing, providing so much happiness and connection; learning that this world—our world—is there, waiting, and will fill us up if only we go outside and confront it honestly and let it in and begin the process of understanding it, and our true relationship with it, and all the ways in which we can break and betray that relationship, and all the ways in which we can stop that betrayal; well, learning all that provides the actual life that we so desperately try to purchase with money every single day.

And so you know what? It’s time that money no longer gets money. Not money as we know it today. It’s time that we transition to something very different, to a life that is built on skill and good work, community and friendship and the constant, honest evaluation of our place within and behavior toward our world. That’s a transition that’s coming, by necessity if nothing else. It may go bad. It hopefully will go right. Either way, there are no guarantees other than that the transition will be harsh and painful at times. But this world as we know it today is harsh and painful and to be afraid of walking away from it is not only an abdication of responsibility, but it’s a cruelty to ourselves. It’s a condemnation. And at this point, I don’t think we can afford any more condemnations.

A society and economy built on the work of uniquely skilled people, on caring community, even on the travails of being human in a challenging but joyful world, is better than one built on ill-gotten money. A society and economy with dramatically less material goods and comfort but with the predominance of good and necessary work, and the honesty of getting by and making do, is better than one brimming with luxuries bought with ill-gotten money. A society and economy built on skills that provide the means of life, physical labor, and the ability to work within the planet’s natural flows of energy and resources is better than one in which ill-gotten pieces of paper determine who lives well, who lives poor, and who dies or is murdered.

Voluntary poverty offers a way for those of us living in the very distorted world of industrialization to begin moving toward that better world. It’s a way for us to learn a new sum of our business knowledge—a sum that doesn’t state that “money gets money,” but states something very different, something much more humane, something much more caring and honest, and something that provides a good life which can’t be casually purchased but instead must be gained through good work and community.

A life, in other words, that must be gained not through money, but through our humanity.

32 responses to “When Money No Longer Gets Money

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  1. A life gained through our humanity! How simple does that sound? This is something that has perplexed me over the last year. How is it that wanting to live the life of voluntary poverty can be so hard to accomplish? It seems to me that society should assist you in that endeavor. You don’t want to participate in the money economy. There needs to be a way to do that for everybody. A way to use your labor to gain the wholesome things you need in life without requiring money. Why does money even need to be? I know these are all rhetorical statements and questions. I know the answers. It’s just the way things are, we use money to get what we need. This one fact seems to me to be what is wrong with our world. Acquisitive life, materialism…it’s so blind and ridiculous. We all want to be understood, to have community, to have our physical and emotional needs met. What part of that equates to the need for money, 3D plasma screen televisions, iphones, and ticky tacky houses built in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by concrete?

    So today was my last day at work. I’m officially “unemployed,” at this point. I knowingly and willfully became unemployed and with a wife and child. I’ve realized that Gandhi was right, we need to be the change that we want to see in the world because nobody else is going to do it. I intend on creating some type of community. I intend on routing out all those in my near physical locality who are not blind to the near future. There is nobody else around here that I have found doing such a thing. I have no idea how I’m going to do it, but that’s my intention. It’s time for those of us who know to quit procrastinating and floundering in fear and make a move to start filling the vacuum with leadership. I hope I never have to return to the machine. It’s getting to the point that I would rather die fighting it then to return to it.

    • Aaron, I think the part of our need for community that equates to all those trappings of wealth is that we’ve been raised in a society that devalues and fails to understand community, so all that crap is us trying to buy some kind of satisfaction that we’re not getting from our community because they’ve become so deficient. Or to put it more eloquently by simply quoting Wendell Berry: “This insatiable desire for more is the result of an overwhelming sense of incompleteness, which is the result of the insatiable desire for more.”

      I think it was you that JMG told in a comment that he finds that when you start to do the work you’re supposed to do, things begin to fall into place. I liked that comment, as I’ve found that happens in my own life. I don’t know if its truly the designs of the universe or if it’s more just that you can better see how you can make things fit into the life you want when you have a strong sense of what that life is, but it does seem to start to come together when you really focus and when you’re pursuing something good. So anyway, I imagine much will fall into place for you. Not that it won’t be challenging, of course, and not that it will go the way you hope or expect—but you’re intent on doing good work and I suspect that work will find you.

      Congratulations on being officially unemployed. Here’s to hoping it treats you well—and that it helps you to start leading. You’re right, after all, we desperately need to fill that vacuum or else watch it be filled by people with much darker intent.

  2. My first thought was of my dad. He was born during the depression so his parents, my grand parents, we deeply influenced by the idea of savings. He worked hard and saved hard. Now his plan of living on his investments has been shattered by the FED’s creating money out of thin air and keeping interest at close to zero. Inflation has hit food, gas, and medical hard. Inflation wasn’t across the board because housing and land values sunk like a stone. Thanks to the government his money did not get him money. Why would I have faith in a system that systematically stripped the wealth of its working class to prop up a handful of billionaires. Money is no longer money.
    My second thought was a piece of slang from my youth. “Bread” was money. We live at a time when 3 minutes of work at minimum wage would buy you enough wheat to feed you for a day. I can’t help but morn how we have wasted this gift. How can we live in such abundance yet be so emotionally and spiritually impoverished. I baked a loaf of three seed whole wheat bread the other day that was delicious. Money that nourishes.
    Reading Aarons reply, I see the real need for community. Trying to homestead on my own I’m humbled by the lack of skills and knowledge I lack. It is insane. I don’t have the skills, knowledge, or resources to feed myself. Oh how far we have strayed!

    • I think regularly about how much of the challenge in this way of life is that we weren’t raised in the right context. In a sane and coherent culture—one that actually lived by the land, rather than trampled it—we would have learned many of these skills from the beginning of life. We would’ve been experiencing them from day one, watching our parents do it, and we would have done the same as children. Now, instead, so many of us grow up not learning these skill—being taught, in fact, that they are unnecessary and a waste of time and effort and energy—and so we first have to spend years learning to disregard that frame of mind, and then we must begin the long process of learning these skills, and often without family members or close friends to turn to for quick and fun tutorials.

      That’s a terribly long and inefficient process. No wonder it’s so much work!

      Luckily, a few generations from now, the context should get better. No doubt there will be many other challenges to go along with that, but at least people will have a better idea of what the world is that they have to live in. In the meantime, we’re the lucky ones who have to struggle through the disconnect.

      So we bake bread, and we stop wasting the gift. It’s our small revolutionary act.

  3. Well, that’s quite a head of steam you got going there Joel, and we hear you!

    And therein lies the rub: the ‘we’ that hear you are already with you. We’ve already started down the same road (to greater or lesser degrees) and we see money for what it is: it’s really just a claim against real wealth. So we start to fight the current, the pull of the mighty river which everyone seems caught up in and slowly, bit by bit we fight our way out of the mainstream. And in those snatched moments of clarity, when we see the face of the moon above us and the cold of winter really bites our skin (and hot water is truly hot ;) ), YES! Damn it’s so obvious… isn’t it?

    But no, I don’t think it is. The river still flows and pulsates away from us, it’s just that we’re not in it any more. It’s like JMG says: ‘there is no brighter future’ – and he’s right. We are not heading for a better world, though we might find more in it to like. All of the things that you say are true, but that doesn’t mean we are heading to a better place. I think you are straying into the realms of the spiritual, and if you take a close look at a lot of the spiritual narratives that have appeased people over time it seems obvious that people have wanted simple answers – and it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are going to get their simple answers from simple, direct experiences of this (still) achingly beautiful Earth on which we live. We are not heading to some golden age where everyone does good work – alas – because good work is as much a part of the way one chooses to bring spirit to your work, as about the work itself. That is, for one person it’s good work, for another it’s just a way to put food on the table – that distinction will always remain.

    That said, I also feel the same, and I’m walking the same path as you – we are brothers in this – there may well be no brighter future for humanity, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make a brighter future for ourselves — and by a sort of Gandhian, Brownian motion, we can carve out a brighter future for those around us. I have young children, and I know that my choices now will echo into the next generation, which is some burden. But the only thing that I need teach them, and teach them well is so beautifully encapsulated by what you say. I need to teach them what it is to be true, fearless, unselfconscious, unashamed human beings.

    • Well, if I gave the impression that we were heading to a golden age in which everyone does good work, I didn’t mean to do that. And you’re right in that the frame of mind, the spirit of the work, is critical—and that good work for one could be drudgery for another.

      Is the future brighter? Well, perhaps at some point. I really don’t know. Much of the optimism in this piece was directed toward a possible future that I think exists beyond my life. I don’t think it will come to pass in my life, at least not on a large scale. But certainly, it will come to pass in the lives of many, and during my life. It’s already come to pass in my life, and in many others, and will in many lives yet to come.

      I imagine your children will live better for your attitude and awareness, though they’ll of course have challenges, and they may find themselves in a harsh world. But that’s the hope that I was attempting to get at, I think. As harsh as the future world will be, it will be the world it is. I don’t think most of us go around now thinking this is the worst the world could possibly be, and that it has no redemption. I imagine it will be the same in the future, no matter what kind of future it ends up being in comparison to the world we have now. It will not be seen as the worst of possible worlds, and it will still hold many joys.

      My hope is that if the context and realities of the world forces people back to better, more authentic and honest work—which it may not, but it seems to me that the future promises a more grounded reality, with all the attendant pros and cons—then that will open up new avenues for joy. It will undoubtedly bring new avenues for misery, as well. But at some point far down the road, maybe the joy will be a bit easier than now. And in the mean time, in the rough transition, maybe the new joys that are opened up will help to mitigate the new challenges we face. Exploring that is much a part of the work of this blog.

      I think, perhaps, I just spoke in circles and did a poor job responding to your comment. I’ll leave by saying, simply, that I still think a brighter future is possible and I think some of the challenging elements of our future provide opportunities for that. But I also think a brighter future probably lies beyond my lifetime. I expect life to be more challenging for me and most others in the ensuing decades. I also believe, though, that there will still be plenty of joy to be had in that future. I suppose that could be seen as a contradiction, but I just think of it as the inherent messiness of life. It’s a complex game, after all.

  4. Matt, reality or pessimism? I’ve wallowed in pessimism for years fighting the insane under belly of our society. EMS shows you what is real out there, in the darkness, where the portable internet cyclones can’t even look away from their gizmo long enough to see that there is a sun. It’s blazing with heat and what the Earth needs for life. We just have to capture it and direct it into life rather than using the Earth’s blood to destroy everything.

    Follow your bliss and the authentic life will find you. Listen to Joseph Campell, he was a torch in the bright present lighting the dark future of humanity. JMG is pointing the way for the leaders to follow. To follow down the path that leads to the groove.

    • I’ve wallowed in pessimism myself. One of the things I find most inspiring about JMG’s writing is how much power there is in his suggestions. I actually think it’s a much more optimistic approach to live in voluntary poverty, say, and to homestead and reduce your energy usage, than it is to cling to the notion of solar pv and wind farms sprouting up all over the landscape, put in place by the perfect politician and saving our middle class lifestyles so that we can continue on blithely destroying the world. There’s nothing empowering about that. There’s something very hopeful and empowering about bettering the world through constraint and meaningful work.

  5. Oh I get that, I really do. My point wasn’t that it’s not possible to follow your bliss, more that not everyone will. And the idea that the other side of these difficulties lies a world of small harmonious communities where everybody does good work just strikes me as another form of Utopianism. But we are heading down the energy slope and that’s going to take us towards smaller, poorer, agrarian communities (eventually) and in many ways I welcome that – but I don’t see it as an answer to the human problems we face. The brief egalitarianism of our liberal middle class values will vanish and another social hierarchy will come to dominate as these things do. And not everyone will try and follow an authentic life, they will just grind on with their work – so what’s the difference between an authentic life and a life of drudgery? Well you are!

    I agree that it’s easy to wallow in pessimism – there’s much to be pessimistic about – but it’s a choice like any other and I’m not pessimistic about my path or my children’s because I think I’m making reasonable choices. But it’s not so easy to follow that bliss when you still have children to feed and inhumane work to do to pay the rent. It’s a slog for sure, but then there are no prizes for being first!

    • All good points, Matt. I largely agree. I don’t expect the necessary return to small, poor, agrarian communities to rid us of human problems, much as the small, poor, agrarian communities of the past weren’t devoid of human problems. They’ll take some different forms, and they’ll also stay in many the same forms. But I am intrigued to see all those forms that arise in a smaller and more restricted world. My hope is that they’ll be a bit less horrific than the grand destructions we’ve wrought with the vast amount of power we’ve gained access to. Bringing down the ability to engage in that scale of devastation seems to me one of the hopeful elements of the future.

      But no, that doesn’t mean human problems will go away, or that we’ll stop engaging in destructive behavior, or that many small destructive behaviors can’t add up to a grand level of destruction somewhat similar to what we can do now with large machines and the like. But as fossil fuels wind down, it seems our dance with the earth, with our homes, with the landbases we live on will become a much more intimate and better-connected one, and in that I see some hope that I find very hard to see these days.

  6. Matt, I’m going to post a link to an article that I just had published on Michael Ruppert’s collapsenet.com…I’m sure Joel won’t mind. The reason I’m going to do that is because I have a wife and a toddler and I have recently told corporate America to pick whatever hole they want and shove it all up into said hole. It can be done with family, in fact it takes family to do it.

    http://www.collapsenet.com/free-resources/collapsenet-public-access/item/6270-my-resignation-from-the-matrix

    the same article can also be found on my blog at emtmusings.blogspot.com

    so now that I’ve shamelessly promoted my own writing on Joel’s site, I’m going to apologize, but I think you may find something worth reading there.

    • Don’t mind at all, Aaron. I enjoyed reading it, myself. And no need to apologize on the promotion—it’s not like I don’t do that on other blogs. It’s how you got here, after all.

    • Also, Aaron, are you a reader of Wendell Berry? I’m a big fan. He’s one of the biggest influences on the way I think. I’m currently reading his essay collection The Way of Ignorance and just recently read the essay “Quantity vs. Form.” It’s where the quote I used in response to your comment above came from, and he also questions the idea of prolonging life regardless of it’s quality as being a main objective of the health care industry. I just thought you might find that interesting, given your line of work and your concerns regarding it.

  7. haven’t read any Wendell Berry, but I’ll certainly look into it. What would you recommend as a starting point? I’m currently reading Morris Berman’s first trilogy “Reenchanting The World,” “Coming to our senses” and “wandering god”…I’ve finished Reenchanting and haven’t started the next cause of the move. That and I’m reading two other books as well “Along Together,” and “Why We Hate Us.” I don’t know how I got so mired in books but I need to sort it out cause it’s gettin’ ridiculous.

    • Oh, I can sympathize with the never-ending reading list. I just finished up The Winter of Our Discontent a few days ago, leaving me with just The Druidry Handbook, The Way of Ignorance, and Gardening When it Counts. I also plan to soon start Small is Beautiful and also really want to read Mumford’s Myth of the Machine—and still have Overshoot waiting in the wings, along with plenty of others.

      And now you have me interested in checking out Morris Berman. How did you like Reenchanting the World?

      Anyway, for Berry, The Unsettling of America is always a good starting point. That’s a collection of essays he wrote in the 70s about the industrialization of agriculture, the devastation of rural communities and economies, and the dispossession of Americans. It’s one of his more well known works and it’s quite fantastic. Personally, I also love Life is a Miracle, which is an essay collection that’s not as well known but that talks about science, the university system, and the need to believe in mystery and to recognize the limits of human knowledge. That one had a huge impact on my thinking. Citizenship Papers is also good, as is Home Economics and Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community. Those are all essay collections. He also writes poetry and fiction. He’s, as you might be noting, incredibly prolific. I published a poem of his here on the blog on Christmas Day, in case you didn’t see that. It’s one of my favorites, though I really have only read a bit of his poetry.

      Here’s a couple of his essays:
      In Distrust of Movements – One I particularly like, and which hits on many of the same themes JMG his written about.
      Faustian Economics: Hell Hath No Limits
      A Citizen’s Response to the National Security Strategy

      • Man I wish I hadn’t packed all of my books up already… I have read “The Druidry Handbook” (how do you do italics in this format? I suck with computer language) twice all the way through and studied many sections of it…JMG just has a way of prying my head open and pouring occult knowledge into it. I’m almost done with a book that I acquired through the “reading suggestion” portion of the Handbook titled “The Secret Tradition In Arthurian Legend” by Gareth Knight that has been very fascinating. I’ve been particularly interested in the study of Myth lately. I think, regardless of what ones spiritual or secular bent is, humans need myth.

        Joseph Campell pointed out that one need just look around to view what happens to a civilization with no myth. He says that our technology changes to rapidly for us to develop even a true technology myth. Our society would have a technology myth if it were possible (I suppose the “myth of the machine” is a myth, but not in the spiritual sense that myths function toward). This means that we have to write or adopt our own myths but not everybody can do that. Damn…I’m startin’ to think I should have turned this into a blog…that happens a lot when I’m posting here ;0)

        So “Re-enchanting the World” fits right into everything I wrote above really. It’s mainly about how the Newtonian/cartesian paradigm has dictated everything that “we” know over the last 300 years or so. It looks at alchemy a lot and seeks to find a more academic/intellectual way to “re-enchant” our way of knowing the world. He really walks the razor edge between serious academic study and the occult and always pushing towards the occult without actually saying it. Morris Berman is rapidly becoming one of the most influential thinkers in my life because he is so intellectual. He also LOVES history and so his intellect is easily cited by pointing at the past which adds a lot of credibility to what he says IMO. I’d highly recommend reading it (it blew my mind that he was talking like he was about society a year after I was born…it was published in 1981). Berman is also PO aware although he never talks about it. I just remember him bringing up Dimitri Orlov’s “Reenvinting Collapse” in “Why America Failed.” Before I read that passage I wondered whether he was PO informed or not. Here is a talk he did recently at a book club in Seattle about “Why America Failed.”

        http://morrisberman.blogspot.com/2011/11/seattle-lecture.html (also a link to his blog) I highly recommend that you watch this.

        Yeah, I’m reading “The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend,” “Alone Together,” “why we hate us,” as well as trying to read one of William Hunter Duncan’s books http://offthegridmpls.blogspot.com/ right now, and I have the second in Berman’s first trilogy “Coming to Our Senses” burning a hole in my “que shelf” right now (well actually it’s in a box now)…just look at the cover and you will figure out why…I’m scared that I’m going to start a fifth book…

        I’m gonna look into Wendell Berry, and yes I loved that poem, I saw it when I first happened upon this blog. I’m gonna acquire some Berry first chance I get. I also have “overshoot” in my amazon que. Seems we are on the some page my friend.

        Lastly I’m going to have a blog on Collapsenet now under the regional section for SC (it will be the only collapsenet SC blog)…waiting on a reply to my latest blog which is up on my site http://emtmusings.blogspot.com/2012/02/nutritious-imperial-garbage.html You should take the time to read it…I promise you will relate…probably too well. Sorry for such a long reply man…if you’re like me you try to minimize your “internet reading” time. I hate starring at a screen…but it’s so damn addictive. I find it supremely ironic that I resigned from the Matrix, and now I’m being offered opportunities for writing which require me to spend more time on the computer. I’ll be blogging about that irony soon I’m sure.

        • That cover’s brilliant. I love it.

          I agree that we need some new myths, but we seem incapable of creating them at the moment on a cultural level. I watched the Super Bowl at a bar in Flagstaff while waiting for my train to come in, and the opening of it left me feeling like I was having a seizure. The pure amount of stimulus and feedback we have been programmed to need constantly these days seems to make it largely impossible to stop and reflect and engage in some honest meditations on the lives we lead. We never have the spare moments, and we’re never free of distraction. Even without the distractions, we are often an overworked people and we’ve severed ourselves from the natural rhythm of the seasons, so few of us have that winter time of rest and relaxation.

          And writing that, I just realized the post I need to write for tonight. It’s one I’ve been meaning to. So . . . there’ll be more coming later this evening on that subject.

          Re-enchanting the World sounds great, and in a similar vein to Life is a Miracle. I’m going to have to check that out. And I love historical references, I think largely because I’m so lacking in historical knowledge. That’s one of my favorite things about JMG, actually, is that he uses history so much as a guide for theorizing about the future.

          (For italics, by the way, just use basic HTML code. So whatever you want to italicize bracketed by the HTML tags <i> and </i>)

          Thanks for the reminder on William Hunter Duncan’s blog. I had checked it out a bit ago and hadn’t gotten back to it. So many blogs, so little time! I’m also going to catch up on your post, as well. That’s awesome that you’re writing for Collapsenet now. Do write a post on myth! I think that would be great to read. While I certainly know Campbell, I haven’t studied him all that much, so I need to do a bit more reading if I’m going to try to tackle the subject with any sort of thought and coherency. But yes, I think that’s a subject that needs to be considered much more in our society.

        • Oh, and thanks for the link to the Berman lecture. Will definitely watch that when I get a little time that’s not being used productively or wasted gratuitously. Possibly later tonight. :)

  8. With relevance to the title of the post, I have to say that back in the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s, I too bought (literally) into the ‘you too can be a millionaire’ ethic and began investing, swing-trading and day-trading so as to ‘put my money to work’. I did pretty well, now and then, but mostly I just broke even and then, finally, lost most of it in “one swell foop”, as Pogo used to say. Anyhow, the upshot of all that is I now live on my social Security income, which isn’t much, so I guess I qualify as being one who elected voluntary poverty, albeit in an involuntary way.

    However, I have to say that my version of ‘poverty’ is not as dire as it may seem. I have enough to pay for comfortable living quarters and to cover my other necessary expenses and while I don’t have enough for much in the way of luxuries, I do own a car (a ’99 Subaru Forester, which I seldom drive), I have a TV and satellite service and, of course, I have access to the internet. I am unable to purchase the books I want (I own far too many already anyway) but the library system where I live is pretty good with respect to the titles I like – mostly non-fiction (they even have most of JMG’s works!).

    So it is possible to live in ‘poverty’ and do pretty well – one just has to adjust one’s worldview to a more realistic (in a global sense) way of living, let go of desire and be thankful – everyday – for what one has. Not too easy for 21st-century Americans in general, but necessity is a very good (and sometimes harsh) teacher)

    • Sounds like we’re in similar forms of poverty, Martin, though I suspect yours is a bit tighter and I have access to credit. (Which I plan to be rid of soon. That’s a dangerous thing to have.) I also have the family fallback, which eases much of the fear and strain that could come with poverty, I suspect.

      Many of the future HTBP blog posts are going to be about finding that frame of mind you write about in your last paragraph. That seems absolutely what it’s about.

      I remember back in the early dot-com days, being very intrigued and obsessed with internet stocks. Amazon, AOL, Yahoo, down to the ridiculous things like Pets.com, drugstore.com, incrediblyheavythingswecouldnevershipprofitably.com. If I had money to spare at that time (which I certainly didn’t, being in my late teens) I probably would have dumped a good amount of it into such stocks, possibly would have made an initial killing, then would’ve likely lost it all. Looking back, I’m really glad I didn’t have the money.

      Of course, that’s another huge piece of all this. Constraints. We’re severely lacking in those these days, but they’re about to reassert themselves with a vengeance.

      • I guess I left out the ‘access to credit part’. I do have a credit card with a fantastically high credit limit (go figure), but I restrict my use of it pretty much to emergencies only – like new glasses, etc.) and I have set a personal debt limit of $1,000.00 since I am unable to service much more than that.

        Also, back in the day, I was ‘blessed’ with a small inheritance (thanks to being one of only two survivors in my immediate family) which I spent mostly on trading and on retraining for a new career path I never really pursued – so there’s all sorts of ways to ‘burn through’ money.

        • Well, you’re doing better than me in terms of amount of debt, so congratulations there.

          And yes, there are definitely lots of ways to burn through money. Sometimes I think about what would happen if I were to win millions of dollars in the lottery, which is still a fun fantasy for me despite my various views on life. I often think that the best approach would be to get rid of it as fast as possible, intentionally, before I ended up rid of it unintentionally, possibly with very bad consequences.

  9. Hi Joel,

    Enjoyed your post. It was not far from a “call to arms”. The skills that you are personally acquiring working on the land for others are a valuable asset, almost as valuable as land itself. The events of today have given me a bit of pause to consider how much has been lost in relation to small scale agriculture in Industrial countries since the big uptake of fertilisers after WWII. A lot of what I do is gather information from all sorts of sources, give it a bash and see how it goes, like some sort of 19th century scientist. I got this flash of insight that people in general no longer understand how to build top soils, farm locally etc. etc. The systems for this are broken and I can see that people trying to undertake organic agriculture on a commercial basis (which is not me) are struggling with all sorts of problems. I only hope that a viable community arises from the ashes, but as you say luck is certainly involved as nothing is certain. Keep up the good work. Have you actually considered buying your own plot of land? Would you try and farm in Oregon?

    Chris

    • No, Chris, people mostly don’t know how to build topsoil or farm locally. I’m still figuring all that out. I just, earlier this morning, was voraciously reading the Compost chapter in Steve Solomon’s Gardening When it Counts, suddenly feeling very unprepared for this gardening season. There’s so much to learn, it starts to feel very overwhelming. How I wish I had actually been raised immersed in this knowledge—this would all come so much easier! But then, I would no doubt have other problems to take my current problems’ places. So it goes.

      But that is a very concerning aspect of the future. The good thing, I think, is there are still a good number of people out there who do have this knowledge, there are a number of good books, and there are more and more young people interested in taking up this way of life and learning it. On the other hand, it’s still far too few a number, a good amount of those young people love their first taste of the life but then get sucked back into the dominant culture, and we’re facing a serious crash course on teaching millions of people this knowledge in probably a short time frame. That will be stressful, to say the least.

      Even in the small scale, organic farming world, it’s interesting to see the reliance on industrial inputs for fertilizer. Solomon’s Complete Organic Fertilizer (COF) recipe has been used at every veggie farm I’ve worked for, and it’s always made with a mix of purchased ingredients that are mostly the byproducts of the industrialized economy. So even those places have a good deal of dependence on the broader economy they’re trying to get away from. Creating a closed-loop farm seems a complex and intensive process, indeed.

      Anyway, I would love to have some land of my own, and I would probably end up here in Oregon, as it feels very much my home. But I have no economic way to make that happen at the moment. So for now, I’m integrating into community. I think I may stumble onto some place to call home long term that way, or perhaps I’ll figure out a way to purchase land sometime in the future. We’ll see. I’m rolling with it and hoping for some of that aforementioned luck. If not, whatever knowledge I’m able to build will hopefully find me a place no matter what happens. And if not that, well . . . sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you hope or expect. No getting around that.

      • One of the principal things about topsoil, compost, gardening/farming and ‘owning’ land:

        —— PATIENCE!! —–

        Also, unless one is going to stay put for 30+ years, one never really ‘owns’ land. A possibility is to find a few (or many) like-minded people you trust who have some $$ and put together an intentional community of sorts – used to be called communes back when I participated in an urban one – even if all you can do is lease the place.

        • A fine reminder, Martin. I sometimes have problems with patience, though other times I’m quite good at it. The whole garden thing, though . . . it’s hard to be patient, and it’s hard for me to start a bit slow and build, which is probably the best way to go about it. I want to grow tons of food in my first real go at it.

          I’m definitely open to the idea of an intentional community. I’m also open to the idea—kind of hope, in fact—to find someone already with land with whom I can throw in, so to speak. If I can work hard, help out, and commit myself to that situation, perhaps I would earn a place there. That would be nice.

          I do wonder if land ownership as we know it now might go through some changes in the future. Perhaps not—I’m not trying to make any predictions here—but I do wonder.

  10. I ate out of a dumpster in Sedona once, back in the 90’s. speaking of voluntary poverty. Just a couple of bagels. Glad to hear about the good work you are doing. I recommend the work of Charles Eisenstein, his Sacred Economics, as it regards legitimate currency and gift culture.

    http://www.offthegridmpls.blogspot.com

    • Thanks, William. And sorry for the delay on your comment appearing. It slipped into my spam folder for some reason and I often go a couple days without glancing out those because they almost always actually are spam. Not sure what happened here.

      Anyway, thanks for the recommendation on Eisenstein’s book. I’ve heard that title mentioned a few times and have been curious about it, but haven’t gotten around to taking a closer look. I’ll do that. Certainly sounds like a subject I’d be interested in. And actually, one of the posts I’ve been mulling is along the same lines—on work as covenantal.

  11. Hi Joel. Nah, I wasn’t raised immersed in this knowledge either. You kind of pick it up through trial and error + reading + questioning others which is OK when you have the time and resources to make mistakes, but if it was a Cuba type situation…

    It would be nice to transport yourself back in time to see how they did it all for a season or three. Anyway, that’s not to be.

    It’s interesting that you talk about creating a closed loop farm as that’s where I’m headed. The problem is, there’s no point having food if your neighbours are hungry! I try, but it is very difficult to get them interested in agriculture, despite them having the land to do it on. There is a meme in our society that sees labouring and agricultural pursuits as low status. A kind of admission of poverty? I don’t share their opinion because I really enjoy labouring and growing food, but I can see that others feel that way.

    I’m reading about small holders in Northern Italy back in the early 1980’s at the moment and am particularly interested in how they set up their trading mechanisms. It is not possible to produce all of the food you require without the co-operation of your neighbours.

    I reckon you are on the money getting hands on experience in agriculture, especially if you see a few different farms. Luck is important, but knowledge and skills are far more important. Don’t stress about the land, if there is a black swan of any sort, then the land will be there for those with the knowledge. The majority of the population are so far removed from food production…

    Regards

    Chris

    • I feel immensely lucky that I currently have the time and resources to learn slow—especially since that’s my standard pace of learning (or preferred, I suppose is a more accurate descriptor.) That’s one of my concerns about the possible future, that at some point we’ll find ourselves without that time and that we’ll be forced into a crash course on sustainable agriculture. That would be a bumpy course indeed.

      The larger societal context seems to play a huge role in this way of life. It’s something about which, in many ways, I’ve been lucky. I have a great community here that totally gets it. On the other hand, it’s something I’ve struggled with, too. I have a community, as well, that doesn’t get it and plenty of family and friends who either don’t get it or only partly do. Maintaining those relationships while changing my world view significantly and living in a way that does not conform to society’s expectations can be tough, indeed. At some point, I’ll likely be writing about that.

      I don’t know how it is down there, but I think here it’s absolutely that admission of poverty aspect that puts many people off. It’s seen as eminently good to not have to grow your own food. That you might do it willingly, voluntarily, is confounding to many people. Like you, I find that odd. I like growing food. I like labor. Hell, I like mucking out animal stalls. I’d much rather do that than work a retail job, as I did for a good chunk of my life.

      Boy, feel free to report on whatever you find out about the trading mechanisms of those small holders. Sounds like it would be fascinating. Are you reading a specific book or doing more general research? One of the things I like about being connected to a variety of different farms out here is the ability to do trading amongst different farmers growing and raising different sorts of food. I love having a regular supply of raw cow milk, for instance, but I don’t particularly love the idea of early morning milkings. If I can trade or barter for milk from people who do enjoy it, that sounds pretty perfect to me. (And that’s indeed what I do out here.)

      Finally, agreed on the black swan situation. I’ve figured the same—if it gets to the point that I should desperately need land, the land will be available to me, either because of new rules on land ownership or the value of my knowledge and experience. There’s a comfort in that.

  12. BRAVO!!!
    I wish I had written this I love it so much. I wrote about a similar idea, “Why we don’t have to be sheep”. This is right up that alley and I think you nailed it. Great job. Keep up the good writing.

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