Monday, August 16, 2010

How Money Separates Us

by Mira Luna

I came to currency work out of a sense of hope for a new economy that builds relationships between people and with nature rather than breaking them. I also come from a place of trauma. I have watched through my activist work people being exploited in sweatshops, people being poisoned to death or disability, and the Earth that I love so much be carelessly destroyed. I have also experienced trauma of exploitation, abuse and alienation in personal relationships as a result of the money paradigm.

In my activist work, I see people destroying each other and the Earth in order to gain a profit or just make a living in poorly designed economy that doesn’t provide enough money for everyone to feel secure. They chase after pieces of paper or numbers in an account in cyberspace believing this is the only way to get their needs met. They obsessively and blindly funnel their energy into systems that doesn't care about their survival at all. Survival in that system requires insensitivity, callousness and often pure luck (being born white, male or with rich parents or simply a good gamble on the stock market). We turn a blind eye to abuse of the Earth and vulnerable people in order play the game and hope that we win. Winning doesn't require merit of good behavior and usually involves someone else losing.

In my personal relationships, I see my friends, family, coworkers and lovers try to maximize their share of the pie. They see me as separate from them, especially when I need help buying medicine, conveniently reconnecting when I seem more well or financially independent (which is really challenging when you have a life-threatening, disabling illness). In several relationships, I’ve had boyfriends reconsider our relationship because I didn’t make enough or they saw the hole of medical debt I’m in and run away scared. I’ve had friends and partners who have lots of money sit by and watch me get ill again as I couldn’t afford the right medicine. I’ve had family members stop contacting me for fear I’ll ask them for money, even if I never had. I’ve also had people close to me steal money from me or not pay me back even when they are able. In other people's relationships, I see separate bank accounts, prenuptial agreements, and bitter divorces, as well as organizations fighting over grants money, businesses firing vulnerable workers, and so on. I struggle all the time as I see my old fears manifest. On my side, I have enough love and compassion to want everyone to be provided for, but sometimes I feel have to protect myself and the little money I have in order to stay alive.

If you don’t trust others to take care of you and so you don’t take care of them, then they will feel the same way. On the other hand, when you take care of others and trust them to take care of you in return, the more they will feel able to trust you to do the same. It's a chain reaction, like the flap of a butterfly's wings or the fall of a domino. The trust I am speaking of requires you to jump out on a limb the same way you do in serious romantic relationship. Yet, I am asking you to do this with almost everyone you meet. There are people who are so far from ready to make the leap that making that leap yourself to meet them may only serve to crush your ability to trust anyone in the future. But I believe most people can, and the more people we can make that leap with together, the more we will have a community of trust that provides much more security than any bank account ever could.

And what if my happiness was bound up in yours? What if we recognized our connection to each other so strongly that we knew we need to trust in order to truly be happy and we knew we needed to take care of each other in order not to feel the others’ suffering so we could feel their joy. I see so many people separated from each other, by money, by fear, by their work and they feel there is no alternative. So they try to create happiness through buying things or going on fancy vacations, and a deep depression lingers just below the surface. Some of these people go to a potluck or the Really Really Free Market or Burning Man and I see them come alive because their needs are being met without worrying about the scarcity of money and therefore not holding a wall between beings that long for connection.

We’ve all had traumas around interpersonal money issues and around the destructive capacity of profit-maximization. Can we get over them? I am not asking you to jump off a cliff with me right now. I am asking you to start making small steps to take care of the people around you and the Earth without fear of money. We don’t need money at all to do work or to get most of things we need if we are creative and have community. I am also advocating that when you do this, you tell people you trust them to take care of you when you need it so that they know there is string attached to your help and you may need to use it some day. Strings are good, they weave together healthy, reciprocal community.

Even as we do this, we need to build measures for collective security, like healthcare and housing. Most healthcare could be provided through alternative and preventive care outside the mainstream healthcare system, but occasionally we need expensive medicines or hospital care. We should have universal, guaranteed healthcare so people can feel more able to let go and trust that they won’t die for lack of money. We also need to make sure everyone has a place to live and food. The fear of not being able to afford rent or mortgage, and therefore being homeless, also drives people to fight over money or take on unethical work. I believe if we can get government or form our own collectives to take care of these basic needs in a more formal and secure manner, we could meet almost all of other needs through more informal, relationship-based collective action and mutual aid, like barter, timebanks, and gifting circles. Collectivity and mutual aid would flourish as energy is freed up and fears about our most basic needs not being met disappear. It would also be helpful to have systematic ways of rewarding people for doing good rather than luck or bad behavior, such as timebanks and local currencies. Without formal measures, we are still all responsible for each others’ care.

We are all connected. As you realize and actualize this, you may notice that you feel happier as you feel walls built by money drop down. You may feel more loved and relaxed. You may feel like you can start planning to quit an unethical job and direct your energy in a better way. You may feel like you can move your investments to sustainable and equitable local projects since you see the value of community and a healthy Earth above money for care and security.

Separation is a painful illusion that nullifies love, love is the source of happiness, and your happiness is tied in a web of connection to the happiness of the world. Take the leap. I am ready to join you.


  1. The issuance of money as interest bearing credit means there is literally never enough money in circulation (enough to pay off the interest). This money was designed to fuel industrial revolution; its scarcity meant that producers had to compete with each other to become more efficient. I believe this feature of money worms its way deep into the human psyche. Oddly though, it is the rich who are most effected, as research constantly shows!

  2. Thanks for sharing Mira. Timely.

    What you wrote about healthcare is SO TRUE:
    "Most healthcare could be provided through alternative and preventive care outside the mainstream healthcare system".