Sacred Economics: Chapter 24, Conclusion: The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Tell Us Is Possible

The following chapter is from Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition, available from EVOLVER EDITIONS/North Atlantic Books. Return to the Sacred Economics content page here.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings —Wendell Berry

In the introduction, in dedicating my work to “the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible,” I spoke of the resistance of the mind to the possibility of a world much different from what we have always known. Many centuries and millennia have indeed accustomed us to a world of great and growing inequality, violence, ugliness, and struggle. So used to it are we that we forget that anything else ever existed. Sometimes, an excursion to unspoiled nature, to a traditional culture, or to the sensory richness veiled behind the impoverished modern world reminds us of what has been lost, and that reminder hurts, rubbing salt into the wound of Separation. Such experiences at least show us what is possible, what has existed and can exist, but they do not show us how to create such a world. Facing the enormous powers arrayed to maintain the status quo, our minds quail in anguish. The temporary glimpses of a more beautiful world that we might catch in nature, in special gatherings, at music festivals, in ceremony, in love, and in play are all the more disheartening when we believe that they can never be more than temporary respites from the soul-crushing, money-driven world we are used to.

A primary goal of this book has been to align the logic of the mind with the knowing of the heart: to illuminate not only what is possible but also how to get there. When I use the word possible, I don’t mean it in the sense of “maybe,” as in, “It could possibly happen if only we are very lucky.” I mean possible in the sense of self-determination: a more beautiful world as something we can create. I have given great evidence of its possibility: the inevitable demise of a money system dependent on exponential growth, a shift in consciousness toward a connected self in cocreative partnership with earth, and the many ways in which the necessary pieces of a sacred economy are already emerging. This is something we can create. We can, and we are. And given how much of the evil and ugliness of the present world can be traced to money, can you imagine what the world will be like when money has been transformed?

I can’t imagine it, not all of it, though I do sometimes get visions of it that take my breath away. Maybe it isn’t that I can’t imagine it; maybe it is that I dare not imagine it. A vision of a truly sacred world, a sacred economy, makes all the clearer the magnitude of our present suffering. But I will share what I have seen in my visions, even the most speculative parts, the most naive, impractical, dreamy parts. I hope my sharing won’t compromise the credibility, if any, that I’ve built by presenting the concepts of sacred economics in a coherent, logical fashion.

I have given many other examples in this book of ways in which the sacred economy I describe not only is possible but is in fact already starting to emerge. The old ways are still dominant, but they are unraveling at an accelerating rate. I wrote this book between the first stage of this Great Unraveling—the financial meltdown of 2008—and the second, which I imagine will begin within the next year or two. No one can predict how it will unfold. Depending on geopolitical events and even natural disasters, the old regime may be able to maintain a semblance of normalcy for a few more years. But the end of the Age of Usury is near, the end of the story of Ascent, the end of the Age of Separation. The birthing of a new era, the coming-of-age ordeal of the human race, may be a bit messy. It will probably involve the usual accompaniments to economic collapse—fascism, civil unrest, and war—but I think this dark age will be far shorter and mostly more mild than one might reasonably expect.

I think so because of all the enlightened people I keep meeting! We humans have learned a lot in the last half-century, and our consciousness has reached a critical point in its development. It will be the same as it is with transformation on a personal level. In transitioning into a new way of being, we might revisit the old once or twice and try to fit back into the womb; but when we do, we find that it can no longer accommodate us, and a state of being we once inhabited for years becomes intolerable in weeks or days. So it shall be for humanity generally—a few short years of darkness and upheaval. Perhaps this phase of accelerated transition will be what I speculated about earlier as the rapid succession of mini-ages completing the millions-of-years-long age of tools, hundreds-of-thousands-of-years-long age of fire, tens-of-thousands-of-years-long age of symbolic culture, millennia-long age of agriculture, centuries-long machine age, and decades-long information age. The singularity is nigh and then a transition qualitatively more profound than any before it.

Now that I have entered the realm of speculation, I would like to describe a few more aspects of sacred economy that I believe will unfold over the next two centuries. This book has described developments that we can create in the next twenty years, and in some cases the next five. What about the next two hundred years? (I am being cautious—maybe I should think big!)

A corollary to the nonhoarding of gifts and to the social nature of their giving is that wealth in gift cultures tends to be publicly transparent. Everyone knows who has given what to whom, who has how much, who is hoarding, and who is generous. Translated into modern money dynamics, this suggests that all monetary holdings and transactions should be publicly transparent. With the advent of money, a new secrecy came to infect wealth that had been impossible before. When wealth was lands, sheep, and cattle, there was no hiding one’s wealth, and therefore no shirking the social expectations incumbent upon it. But money can be hoarded in the basement, buried in the ground, stashed away in numbered bank accounts, kept secret, kept private. To undo the negative effects of money, eventually this characteristic of money must pass.

The transition from physical cash to electronic currency makes this feasible but of course raises the specter of totalitarian control. Do we want the government to be able to survey every transaction, as part of Total Information Awareness? Probably not—unless every expenditure of the government is also available for public view. It will not do for the financial doings of some people and institutions to be public, and others secret. Money must be universally transparent.

Obviously, a system in which every transaction and every account balance is available for public view would radically change business practice. If you have ever been in business, imagine if you will that every customer, supplier, and competitor knew your true costs! However, monetary transparency fits in naturally to the gift-inspired business models I explored in Chapter 21, which require that you honestly reveal your costs and invite gifts on top of that. No longer would one be able to lie about one’s costs in order to profit from the other party’s lack of knowledge.

Many people would find the idea of no financial privacy very threatening. Since money today is so bound up with self, we would feel exposed, vulnerable—as indeed, in today’s society, we would be: exposed to envy and judgment and vulnerable to criminal extortion and demands from importunate relatives. In a different context, though, financial transparency is part of a way of being that is open, trusting, unguarded, and generous—being a person who has nothing to fear, who is comfortable in society. Moreover, financial transparency would make many kinds of criminal activity more difficult.

As with the other developments of sacred economy, there are signs we are already moving in this direction, not only with the digitization of currency, but with the new “social currencies” of various online ratings systems that are, by their very nature, public. Ultimately, money is a token of society’s gratitude for one’s gifts, so it is fitting that the tokens themselves be public as well.

Another basic feature of money as we have known it is its homogeneity: any dollar is the same as any other dollar. Thus money has no history, no story attached to it. In addition to homogenizing all it touches, this feature of money also disconnects it from the material and social world. In former times, though, gifts were unique objects that carried stories. In gift-giving ceremonies, often the entire history of a gift would be recounted (we still do this today, acting on a primal urge; we want to tell about where we bought it, or how Grandma received it as a wedding present). Money’s homogeneity and anonymity (my dollars are the same as yours) therefore make it incompatible with gift principles and with the two features of sacredness I described in the introduction: uniqueness and connectedness.

Therefore, I foresee money eventually losing its homogeneity and gaining the capacity to bear with it its history. With electronic, transparent money, every transaction that a given dollar has ever been used for could be attached to it in an electronic database. In making a purchase, then, you could decide whether to use the money from your salary or the money you were given by a friend, and even if it were in the same bank account, it would be different money. The child’s intuition that the bank keeps “your money” and returns those same physical bills when you make a withdrawal would become true. (This system does not conflict with credit creation—money could still be born, circulate for a while, and die.)

The history of civilization, of growing separation and its imminent transcendence in a long age of growing reunion, is also a journey from an original abundance, to the extreme of scarcity, and then back toward abundance at a higher level of complexity. I have written herein about the abundance economy emerging via digital media, thanks to disintermediation and the dropping to near zero of marginal production costs for “content.” In the long term, this abundance economy, limited in scope today, will become the template for new realms of abundance. One of these will be energy, fulfilling the dreams of atomic-age visionaries who foresaw energy “too cheap to meter.”

Today we seem to face the opposite, as petroleum supplies dwindle along with the earth’s capacity to absorb fossil fuel emissions. In the short term, energy abundance might arise from recognized eco-friendly sources such as solar, wind, and conservation technologies, but I think that when humanity enters a true spirit of abundance, vast new energy sources will become available that are beyond the purview of conventional science today. These will be the product not of the onward march of technology but of a shift in perception. In fact, “free energy” technologies have been in existence for at least a century, going back to the work of Nikola Tesla. (1) Today there are at least five or ten different energy technologies that seem to violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics. If you research the field, you will find a sordid history of confiscated research, destroyed careers, and even mysterious deaths of researchers. Whether or not there ever was, or still is, an active conspiracy to maintain energy scarcity, on some level humanity has not been ready for the gift of energy abundance, and probably won’t be ready for some decades to come, until we have entered deeply and thoroughly the spirit of the gift. When J. P. Morgan destroyed Tesla’s career, it may have been, like the record and film industry more recently, an attempt to maintain artificial scarcity and profit from it. But perhaps larger forces were at work; perhaps Morgan was even on some level cognizant that humanity was not ready for Tesla’s gift. In any event, our governing paradigms, rooted in separation and scarcity, are constitutionally unable to encompass free-energy technologies, which are dismissed as impossible, fraudulent, or fantastical.

If our outer experience in some ways mirrors our psychology, perhaps the advent of energy abundance for humanity awaits an inventor who lets go of all hope of patenting and profiting from his invention and instead releases it into the public domain. That would short-circuit the usual accusations of charlatanism and the seizure of patents by the Department of Defense. Can a person hope to corral and own what is fundamentally a free gift of the universe?

I do not believe that technology will save humanity. Reading my work, many people have asked me if I know about the Venus Project, a movement that draws from the same basic understanding of the problem with today’s money system. While I resonate with its spirit, I find that the Venus Project indulges in the same technological utopianism that has filled us with starry-eyed hope since the age of coal. But in fact, as I described in Chapter 2, abundance has always been available to us. It is our perceptions, and not our means, that engender scarcity.

Let me put it poetically. At the end of Chapter 11 I wrote,

A vein runs through spiritual tradition that says that we, too, give back to the sun; indeed that the sun only continues to shine through our gratitude. Ancient sun rituals weren’t only to thank the sun—they were to keep it shining. Solar energy is the light of earthly love reflected back at us. Here, too, the circle of the gift operates.

Could it be, then, that as we step into the abundance mentality and the generosity of the connected self, the self that connects I and thou through love, the sun will shine more brightly? That new “suns”—new sources of the infinite generosity of the universe—will become available to us, reflecting back our love? We are born into gratitude; it is our primal response to the gift of life itself. As we live from that gratitude, which means to live in the spirit of the gift, and as we open the channels of generosity wider, it is inevitable that the inward flow of gifts should grow as well.

After energy, who knows in what other realms we will express the fundamental abundance of the universe? Matter? Time? Consciousness? All I know is that we humans have only begun to discover our gifts and to turn them toward beautiful purposes. We are capable of miracles—which is good, considering that the state of the planet today requires them.

I cannot predict how the Age of Reunion will unfold in linear time. I do know, however, that by the end of our lifetimes, my generation will live in a world unimaginably more beautiful than the one we were born into. And it will be a world that is palpably improving year after year. We will reforest the Greek isles, denuded over two thousand years ago. We will restore the Sahara Desert to the rich grassland it once was. Prisons will no longer exist, and violence will be a rarity. Work will be about, “How may I best give of my gifts?” instead of, “How can I make a living?” Crossing a national border will be an experience of being welcomed, not examined. Mines and quarries will barely exist, as we reuse the vast accumulation of materials from the industrial age. We will live in dwellings that are extensions of ourselves, eat food grown by people who know us, and use articles that are the best that people in the full flow of their talents could make them. We will live in a richness of intimacy and community that hardly exists today, that we know, because of a longing in the heart, must exist. And most of the time, the loudest noises we hear will be the sounds of nature and the laughter of children.

Fantastical? The mind is afraid to hope for anything too good. If this description evokes anger, despair, or grief, then it has touched our common wound, the wound of separation. Yet the knowledge of what is possible lives on inside each of us, inextinguishable. Let us trust this knowing, hold each other in it, and organize our lives around it. Do we really have any choice, as the old world falls apart? Shall we settle for anything less than a sacred world?

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Notes

1. Significantly, when J. P. Morgan cut off financing for Tesla’s wireless energy transmission project (which, according to Tesla, would have provided virtually unlimited energy), he did not question the science. He did not evince the slightest doubt that the invention would work. He rejected it because he saw that it would be impossible to make money from it, saying, “If I can’t meter it, I can’t sell it.” Tesla’s earlier inventions, such as AC power, fit into an economy of scarcity and a mentality of control, so they were enthusiastically adopted by the financial powers.

15 Comments

  1. Lynn Walker

    While you appear to be somewhat intelligent, your knowledge is inadequate and gross omissions have led you down a useless path of mental speculation.

    What is the spirit-matter divide you mention? I assert that you don’t have a clear understanding of “spirit”.

    One of the primary faults of your thinking is that the human knowledge base is expanding. I would recommend that you educate yourself on the Vedas. Vedic culture has existed on this planet since the appearance of man, and provides knowledge unattainable by any other means. Vedic culture explains quite fully how humans can live in peace and prosperity, and have done so, will do so again.

    In your attempt to reinvent the wheel you have ignored the existence of a wheel superior to anything you can create.

    Your idea of the gift is laudable, though unattainable, as nothing in your plan corrects the defects of human character that led us to our present situation.

    Humans following Vedic culture gain the perspective necessary to attain to the ideal you suggest, with a true motivating principle.

    Before one teaches, one should know. Before one proposes a plan for the benefit of others, one should be fully cognizant of all existing plans. You have not educated yourself on the nature of spirit, nor in the knowledge of the Vedas, therefore your own learning is incomplete, and your opinion irrelevant.

    That you propose another materialistic course of action is of no practical use, although it may be tolerated as a intellectual nuisance. The fact that you use the word “Sacred” in the title is less tolerable, for the fact that you misinform others with the insinuation that your idea is somehow spiritual or related to God, when it is not.

  2. Charles, thank you for your generosity of spirit and the gift of this book and visions of a more beautiful world. Your articulation of these ideas does indeed give many of us hope in this transition time.

    For Mr. Lynn Walker, all I can say is, your heart seems to be closed. Sad to see someone would respond with such vitriol to a garden of many new possibilities.

  3. Don Salmon

    Well, I’d like to offer praise for Charles and hesitant positive comments for Mr (Ms?) Walker as well. (since I’m not sure of the gender, I’ll just say LW)

    I actually had some of the same thoughts reading Charles’ book that LW did. However, I love Charles’ writing, think it’s deeply spiritual, and agree with David Korten’s assessment. So how to put these together?

    It feels to me, with each year of Charles’ spiritual opening becoming increasingly obvious, that he (you – I’ll use the first person – that you have a deep, truly heart felt aspiration for birthing the most integral, beautiful (the natural, organic beauty of which you write so – beautifully:>)) vision of a sacred economy possible.

    Now, to LW – I think perhaps what he/she was getting it – and I imagine you would actually quite fully agree – is that there are traditions (he refers to the Vedic, but of course there are others; the Chinese, for example, which you appear to be familiar with) that you might draw on, sacred writings that see all as manifestations of the One Divine Reality.

    Now again to LW – I think Charles has done this. He has said so in his biography. So rather than berating him for what you see lacking, perhaps we (you – LW, and I) could make some suggestions.

    Personally, I find Sri Aurobindo’s writings most inspiring (and for LW – they are very much inspired by the Vedas). Charles, I think if you haven’t seen it, you would be truly astonished at Sri Aurobindo’s “The Human Cycle”, written around the end of World War I. It’s one of the few books of his that can be read without reference to his other spiritual writings.

    You can read it for free on line, at http://www.sriaurobindoashram.org. Go to “writings” and you should not have any trouble accessing the text. The chapter on the coming of the subjective age, and the chapters that follow are, I have found, the most inspiring thing I’ve ever read on spiritual politics and a generally spiritual society.

    I love your work, Charles, and look forward to more. Thank you.

  4. Sarah

    Hi Charles, I’m part of a growing movement of agroecologists that is restoring the underground forests that have become the Sahara and the Sahel deserts. We are also collaborating with forest communities in Latin America in ecosystem restoration projects to create sustainable food and livelihoods, restore biodiversity and mitigate climate change. Your Sacred Economics is a wonderful framework and mirrors our vision beautifully…Thank you.

    • charles

      I’d love to know more. Reversing desertification is one of the things I have an antenna tuned toward.

  5. D

    “When I use the word possible, I don’t mean it in the sense of “maybe,” as in, “It could possibly happen if only we are very lucky.” I mean possible in the sense of self-determination: a more beautiful world as something we can create.”

    And if humanity doesn’t change, then I guess everything would have been for nothing. But why come this far only to end in the termination of life on earth? I sense a certain inevitability for it, for a more beautiful world. At the same time, I feel a profound despair about it.

    It’s been a good story – filled with drama, well developed characters, an epic plot, and a moral. It’s just hard for me to imagine that the story isn’t for something, you know? I cannot through any knowledge or personal revelation say that I think it is destiny, fate, or divine guidance. I wish I did know one way or the other.

    But if it does, then I think religion and an afterlife somehow fit into it because if those things are true, then they are not separate from this more beautiful world either. Say if it was something like reincarnation (just consciousness renewing itself like nature does with everything) then it would fit beautifully.

    Well, Charles, I think it would be great if you wrote more books drawing off of what you started with Ascent of Humanity. Say, books about Sacred Government, Sacred politics, Sacred Family, Sacred Education. I hope those don’t sound too corny or anything like that (and I know it probably wouldn’t be good to stretch things out too much or speculate across every area of human existence) because I think they could be great ways to continue fleshing out the possibilities of a more beautiful world.

  6. Don

    What an inspiring book!

    I disagree with Lynn, many of us have read and practiced the ancient traditions, still the world remains the same. Affecting our deepest assumptions seems the best course now, and those assumptions are based on primal needs like survival, love, and universal interdependence.

    It’s much too easy to follow the rules of some ancient text; that’s the same old game the Evangelicals play.

    On to what we need now, spiritual teachings that validate the collective reality. An understanding of what physical markers, real world innovations, and tools have been developed and under what spiritual assumptions. It’s not enough to wish the machine apart. You have to get a screwdriver and dismantle it physically.

    Charles, your book affirms that realistic, yet inspired, attitude.

    Instead of ignoring our problems hoping the machine will change of its own accord, we need to create new tools and perhaps let go of the rusty ones that are tearing our hands to shreds.

    To put it another way, you can’t play holy and pretend to meditate when your still unconsciously on the treadmill yourself. And as the. Bodhisattva vow maintains, your can’t really expect to attain nirvana until everyone else does too. Or at least has a chance to. Open the door, don’t close it!

  7. Tyler Whitney

    Thx so much for this gem of a book! Here in portland oregon we have a lot of this quasi-gift economy rolling along, with things like community supported everything (cse), a new psu what you restaurant and more.

  8. Charles, I Love You!
    your work helps me increase my vibrational frequency.
    Hug Hug Hug!!!

  9. Rob

    Dear Charles,

    Thank you so much for writing this book. I finally understand why I haven’t felt a part of this system since I can remember. Your book makes me feel less scared of what is to come. And enthusiastic about being a part of the new age.

  10. Your vision is a gift of great magnitude! I have been looking for this vision for decades and you have articulated it for me with excellent clarity! As a professional artist the most I can do for this world is the hard, hard work of imagining a future that we can then step into. With your help I’ve taken the plunge and am now living in the sacred economy. Others will follow, making the transition easier each time.

    Archbishop Desmond Tutu visited us in the darkest years of the South African apartheid regime. Cheerful to the degree of naiveté, he said, “we are not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful.” Turns out his foolish hope was right as he helped his nation transform overnight into a new kind of community, and he voted for the first time in his life. It can be done, it will be done and each of us will be agents of its arrival.

    Thank you for inspiring Bluebills.us !

  11. I like your prediction, written in early 2011 I presume, that something epic was going to happen in the next year or two. It was epic beyond our imaginations, wasn’t it?

    I’m in Utah now, but I’d really like to come and visit you sometime. I’ll bet I really could, too.

  12. Thanks for the thoughtful analysis, we are indeed making the change, and I hope with greater peacefulness and care as we go on.

    Lynn W made the observation “… nothing in your plan corrects the defects of human character that led us to our present situation” and gave the Vedic point of view.

    As Don Salmon said there are many traditions but one that unifies them all into a coherent whole is the ancient wisdom system of Theosophy, as outlined in “The Secret Doctrine” and other works by Mme Blavatsky.

    To return to LW’s criticism and Don’s encouragement, before we can correct the outer we must indeed reform the inner, reform our personal selves through spiritual practice, whether it’s thru the Vedas, the Raja Yoga of Theosophy or other genuine occult discipline.

    Thank you again for the inspiration and analysis – both are needed, the intellectual head and the heart of devotion, then humanity can unite as a single family and co-exist in peace with all that lives.

  13. Mike Bonner

    Charles! I find your work profoundly inspiring. Your words resonate deeply with my own thoughts and feelings. I sure hope that your beautiful vision of the future is as inevitable as you imagine it to be. The financial & military elites are immensely powerful, psychotically vicious, and seemingly willing to destroy everything in their paths even if it means that they end up destroying themselves in the process. Is there possibly a danger in underestimating the forces that oppose us?

    For example, look at what’s happening in Greece. The optimism regarding Syriza turned out to be somewhat delusional. The central bankers are now mercilessly torturing the Greek people. Yet, as you pointed out in your “Don’t Owe, Won’t Pay” article, “complimentary currencies, time banks, direct-to-consumer farm cooperatives, legal aid cooperatives, gift economy networks, tool libraries, medical cooperatives, child care cooperatives, and other forms of economic cooperation are proliferating in Greece and Spain…” . Though the suffering of the Greek people is now immense, it is encouraging to see how a crisis can sometimes bring out the best in people!

    It is exactly at this point in such a country’s evolution when people are probably most receptive to the brilliant vision of future possiblities that people such as yourself so eloquently express. Actually, if everybody in Greece had a chance to read books like “Sacred Economics”, the educational impact of this experience might very well take on truly magical proportions.

    Do you know how widely read your work is in Greece ( & in other countries facing crises induced by imperialism)? Are there any popular Greek magazines or websites that might (or already did) interview you and include links to your books? Do you know of any Greek politicians who are familiar with your writing (or the writing of other people with similar perspectives)? Do you know any of those Syriza (or other politically influential) people personally?

    It is precisely in cutting edge places such as Greece where your courageous vision is now most compelling, most urgently needed, and most miraculously contagious. You already know that, of course. Maybe you’re in Greece right now.

  14. Thomas

    Thank you very much for writing and releasing this book Charles. This has inspired me deeply and made me think in radical new and open ways. Sometimes, while reading, i had to stop and reflect to let it sink in, just because how beautiful i thought it was written 🙂

    I have seen you on your presentation in Ubud, Bali in 2015 and i remembered your book, i knew i had to read it 🙂 i’m thankfull today i have read it, it has inspired me deeply

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