There are more than a few people today who believe that the world would be a better place without money and, well, capitalism altogether. I am one of those people.
And, just to nip any false impressions in the bud, ‘non-capitalism’ doesn’t automatically equate to communism. In fact, given current technical capability, it means a much freer, fairer and more sustainable world where everyone can enjoy their lives to their full potential without the traditional constraints of ‘earning’ a living. That’s the theory anyway.
There are many groups proposing this kind of vision. The Venus Project and the work of Jacque Fresco offer a tantalising glimpse of what a post-money world might look like. The Zeitgeist Movement offers a comprehensive critique of capitalism through a series of movies and has a large network of activists, Ubuntu Planet propose municipal-level social efforts to escape the limitations of economy and connect communities. The Money Free Party wants to engage the political process in many different countries in the world.
For around eight years, I have been involved with promoting The Free World Charter which proposes the main fundamentals and social values for building such a post-money, post-market society. In that time, I’ve seen many good ideas and initiatives come and go. Protest groups that flare up then fizzle out, activists who get burn-out, witch-hunts against truly well-meaning people.
From all this and from the discussions and observations I’ve had, two things are very clear to me:
How do we transition from a monetary, capitalist society to this money-free, post-capitalist Nirvana?
It’s the most hotly debated topic in the activist community, bar none. Everyone has a slightly different take on it. Everything from sending ‘good vibes’ out into the world, to starting political parties, building prototype cities, creating think-tanks, building web applications, even calling for violent attacks of the so-called ‘1%’.
Of course, as an activist myself, I have my own pet theory on this which I want to share with you here.
As I’ve said many times, the answer is absurdly simple – but not necessarily easy or fast. There’s no doubt that many different things will happen to precipitate this change, but only one of them – to my mind – is the quintessential ingredient that will irreversibly force it, and that is our collective behaviour as individuals.
While many people continually finger the 1% elite as the ‘evil’ overlords of our social system, I find this a useless, inaccurate distraction and, frankly, an abdication of our own responsibility to creating a culture that we are happy with. It is in fact our habits that create our society – and the conditions for elite opportunists to prey on us for their own benefit.
To understand this and to explain how I think transition will come about, it’s necessary to look at our own history. (I’m focusing on English history here, but I think by and large it translates across all cultures or has done at some point)
As medieval English society became more sophisticated, the monarchs of the day usually divvied out large chunks of their kingdoms to the care of their peers – the lords, barons and dukes of the day, or whatever noble stock was appropriate for helping them organise local areas to keep the food supply and taxes flowing. It was called feudalism, and if you were a lowly serf at this time, your life would likely never amount to much. You were a subject of your lord, you lived on his land and your labour was pretty much owned.
Naturally, over time, more and more people became dissatisfied with their lot and aggrieved at the oppression and excesses of their masters. So, they began to convene secretly in the forests and outlying lands to trade with other serfs. Suddenly, their lives gained interesting new opportunities, private enterprise germinated and the free market was born.
This was the birth of free market capitalism as we know it today: A new system gradually replacing the old one because it was superior. In other words, people’s collective habits moved from one modus operandi to another because it was more beneficial. And that is precisely how we will transition from a capitalist society to a post-capitalist one: when a parallel system emerges that is superior, people will naturally migrate to it. No consent or mass murder of the elite required – just a basic change in people’s behaviour.
And this is precisely the intent of Freeworlder – the free-sharing network – to facilitate the free-sharing of goods and services in a way that might some day become superior to the conventional way.
A house, for most people, is their highest valued possession and the thing that they work hardest to own. So, a house is a good example of what would be a highly attractive item to receive freely in a post-money world.
A hairpin, on the other hand, is something that most people would scarcely bend down to pick up off the floor. Both items have practical value. One obviously far greater than the other. So, what’s my point?
Well, consider this: would you give away your house today to a complete stranger? Likely not. But now imagine that you were offering your free house to strangers on a network where free houses were commonplace? Imagine there were hundreds of free houses available similar to your own. Suddenly you’re not really losing out so much anymore because you could easily get another similar one of your own.
Sound far-fetched? Yet if I painted the same scenario with a hairpin, you probably wouldn’t flinch. The only difference is the value we place on these items and, crucially, our confidence in the system that enshrines that value.
By sharing the items that we would give easily, we are creating confidence in a new way of operating and this increased confidence will allow higher value items to become viable propositions too.
We live in a world in the grip of a particular way of doing things that is causing a myriad of environmental and social problems – and the source is our collective habits. Too often we blame society or the system, but we are society. We are the system. It doesn’t define us, we define it.
If we wish to move beyond capitalism, money, trade and all its toxic baggage, we have to start acting differently. Engage with a money-free system in anyway possible. Freeworlder is a good start, but there are many others too. (full list below)
Small acts, multiplied in their millions shape society, and, like every long journey, it starts with a single step.