Archive for January 26th, 2004

Working Together

Monday, January 26th, 2004

More dialogue from the Energy Resources Yahoo Group.

Trapped in Illusions

Arthur Noll

Money and markets are not the only illusionary way of looking at the world that has destroyed civilizations, the more basic cause of the trouble is human nature, which grabs hold of these illusionary ways of thought because it feels good to them.  There are many ways to see the world wrong, money and markets is one of the most insidious, because it looks rational on the surface.  No one on the surface of things is expecting mystical beliefs to come true to satisfy the sustainable working of markets, what is mystical about trading this bit of paper for that product?  It is tangible, involves real things.  But when you look a little deeper, magical expectations are exactly what you find.  Markets inherently drive towards infinite growth, infinite substitutions, the expectation of this coming true requires magic.

Is there no better system than money?  I thought about this for years and came up with nothing.  All the advantages you talk about, yes, I’ve gone over them repeatedly and came up with nothing better, yet the flaws of the system drove me back to keep looking.  And I found it, found it right in front of my eyes and yet had not seen it. I’ve written of it before, I’ll repeat it again.  We can organize and work as a single body works. Does your stomach demand payment before it sends it’s work to the small intestine?  Does the small intestine hold out for cash or credit before nutrients go into the bloodstream? No, a thousand times no.  Stuff is simply freely passed around.  The brain must make calculations of Energy Returned On Energy Invested (EROEI), considering the problems of the whole body, coodinating it’s movements, to get the stuff in the first place. If the brain is smart, it may also consider whether that EROEI is sustainable.  Society can operate the same way.  We figure the EROEI of the actions of that society, and the sustainability of that EROEI, and within those limits, resources are as freely passed around within the group as they are passed around in the body.  If a part of your body doesn’t work right anymore, has a negative EROEI, you may consider very seriously cutting it off.  The same can happen to people in this society.

Done in this way, the disadvantages of barter are gone, and the advantages of money are also gone. You do not worry about getting what you need for what you have made on a specific exchange, the problem with barter. You simply take what you need from where it is made, and give what you made to whoever wants it. Even without considering the long term problems of the market, money is a far more cumbersome system compared to this, think again of my example of the various organs demanding payment. Your body would work like a herky jerk puppet if it worked at all, on such a system. And I think current society has that same herky jerky quality to it.  There has not been a better system in human consciousness before, but now I give you one. The “body society” should be able to grow to be much smoother in it’s immediate actions as well as having advantages for making plans for the long term. Evaluation of resources and the actions of people making up the body of society can be done without the distortions of and problems of barter, money or mysticism, they can be done on the basis of EROEI for the whole group and the sustainability of that EROEI.

I see no problem to having such a system grow to many higher levels of complexity, just as living organisms have many layers of complexity, yet this basic principle applies across the board.

Problems of cheating are much like the problems a body has with fighting cancer.  A body either snuffs cancer or it dies.  Many researchers now feel that in the trillions of dividing cells in a body, potential cancers happen fairly frequently but are usually snuffed immediately by the immune system.  We can have such an “immune system”.

While I believe it works on paper, there is an obvious problem in changing over to it.  It is outside the sense of reality most people have about how things are.  Born into such a system, I think most would adapt to it very easily, but changing as adults simply is not going to happen.  They don’t understand it, don’t understand the problems with money, are in denial that the problems with it are serious enough to change.  People fell under the sway of monetary systems because it feels good to the people on top, and people on the bottom often live in hopes of someday becoming richer and sharing some of that good feeling.  Those on top do not want to give up that good feeling, they are not going to give up their money and the power it gives them, regardless of abstract arguments of how bad this system is for society and nature. Those on the bottom do not want to give up their dreams, and people in both positions may simply be too lacking in brain power to understand the whole thing.

So I am back to evolution.  If something really is flawed, and there really is a better way, that better way should win the struggle in the end.  However, if a better organized system that is very tiny takes on a huge and poorly organized system, there are obvious dangers.  The small, efficient system had better not challenge too directly. Best to let the big system crunch itself first as much as possible.  And right now, this better organized system exists only in my mind and my writing about it.  Very small indeed.  So it is with all ideas. Yet I believe the system stands very well on paper, stands up to intellectual criticism.  I think it would stand very well in reality.  It could take over, and controlled growth would rule cancer, instead of the other way around.  Will getting there be hard? Yes. Very hard. Lots of blood, sweat and tears. But I think the effort would be worth it.  It is a goal that stands in my mind, that endlessly beckons me on to keep writing, keep trying.


Comment by ECO

Our monetary system really arose out of trade using cattle as the marker; and the dividend/interest was the calf that the cow carried. As this system evolved into what we know today as the Global Monetocracy System, usury based in the above scenario came into play and skewed the system so as to create the huge imbalance in power between the developed world and the developing world that we see today.

While I have been hearing a lot about the gifting economy that you mention here, Arthur, like you I seriously doubt that in its present state of consciousness that the human family can make the leap from the present system to a new system such as this. Although I do believe that as humanity progresses into more ‘organic’ systems, e.g., bio-mimicry, as you suggest, this kind of system will be possible. But the old system is certainly failing us and we appear to need a transitional system that will bridge the gap.

I really do not believe that we can attribute our attitude toward money as simply ‘human nature’ as you suggest, but must go back in history to see how the present system evolved from a few who saw it as a means to improve their own personal power and brought the rest of the world into their game.


A couple years ago, someone introduced me to the work of J.W. Smith, whom I mentioned previously, but failed to provide an online hyperlink that would give more detail. I was particularly interested in Smith’s work because he suggested in his second book “The World’s Wasted Wealth” that a 2% administrative or transaction fee placed on the use of money, rather than an interest fee, would result in money again being used as a transactional marker and get it out of the category of a “commodity”.

Society might be able to more readily adjust to this type of monetary system whereas it is doubtful that it could make the leap to a gifting economy.

Those interested can explore Smith’s work in greater detail at The Institute for Cooperative Capitalisms.

What I think is becoming more and more obvious is that the system we use today is not appropriate to support an energy system based on renewables, even if that system is mixed with fossil fuels for some time to come.

So the search is on to determine what is the best of all alternatives, and Smith’s work among others must be considered.


Read Arthur Noll’s Harmony.


Search the SynEARTH network  for more by Arthur Noll.

ECO is a pseudonym of Marguerite Hampton, an activist and writer with the Turtle Island Institute.

Read about Gift Economy,  GIFTegrity, Read the Scientific Basis for the GIFTegrity, and the Specifications for a GIFTegrity.