“Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.” – Benjamin Franklin
In 2001, I set out to find a world beyond the Judeo/Christian/Capitalist/Consumerist structure that made up the society I was struggling to fit into, a world not so consumed with judgment, disorders, disconnection, and waste. Traveling the country, I imagined I would eventually find some sort of ecovillage or intentional community I might call home, a place that would offer me a life outside of the gnawing rat race of perpetual collection and consumption. However, deep down I knew my greater intention wasn’t merely to carve out a life I could scamper off to in order to escape from a world seemingly hell bent on destroying peace of mind by forever dangling the immaculate cheese just beyond the reach of my tiny rodent reach. My greatest hope was to blaze some sort of trail that may lead others toward a life that offered more than the work/produce/consume mentality keeping so many in the constant state of striving and insecurity our industrial mindset has produced.
My journey brought me back to my hometown of Sarasota, Florida where I published the account of my explorations in The Rucksack Letters. Still without all the answers I was looking for, I tried to acclimate myself back into “normal” society, but there was still something abnormal about the practices of my culture compelling me to keep searching. In both the religion that carved out my connection to the Divine and the government that swore to protect my securities, something seemed imbalanced, and it seemed largely due to an imbalanced preoccupation with money.
Just as the message of Christianity had been proliferated throughout the globe by those who fully believed it was the One True Way to secure an afterlife of bliss, the evangelism of capitalism through democracy had also seeped its way throughout the world as the One True Way of securing a life of abundance until we throw off this mortal coil to join the ranks of angels. However, as I noticed the message of Christianity doing just as much to breed intolerance, hatred, and insecurity as the peace, love, and hope promised in the sales pitch, I noticed the conduit of capitalism was failing the majority of those who were trying to implement it in search of the elusive “American Dream” it promised. Although there were still some who were able to use this mechanism of wealth creation for its intended purpose, the side effect of poverty proved to me it was still not a perfect system. And so I decided to continue seeking a better way.
In deciding to live without money for a year, I realized I was not the only one who had issues with the monetary system. Shortly after I made my decision in the summer of 2011, I started seeing how the Occupy movement was starting on Wall Street, giving me a boost of encouragement that I was not the only one seeking a better way. As the movement spread, so did my motivation for finding an alternate route to abundance.
Although my decision prodded me on toward a somewhat transient lifestyle, I still used money from time to time as work came and went. I wasn’t consumed by it, not that I ever really have been, but I still found myself grasping for it from time to time and relying it on like a man sitting in a chair made of matchsticks. However, finally, in November, I reignited my flame of independence, let the chair smolder and decided to stand on my own two feet by attempting to not use money for a year.
In all honesty, I didn’t really make it. Although I managed to carve out an incredibly abundant life outside of the direct current of capitalism, I did have one person give me a few gift cards for helping him with some labor on one of his properties, and during the last couple of weeks, I got a stipend to bring my art installation, The Labyrinth of the Unbroken Path, to the ArtSlam Festival in Bradenton, so I used it to get some incidentals. Since I didn’t fully reach my goal, I haven’t made as much noise about my year without money as I could have, and skeptics have been quick to point out that money was still used as an ancillary provision in order to pay for the electricity, food, and water I consumed and the infrastructure that I scurried around in.
Yet beyond my fallibilities and imperfections, I’ll be the first to admit that the world I live in is largely fueled by money. For the time being, there is no escaping that. I’m only one man and do not have any grand delusions about changing the world overnight.
Nevertheless, during my lifestyle experiment, and in the time since, life provided me with an excellent pair of wheels that helped strengthen my legs for conveyance, and by working with Transition Sarasota’s gleaning project, at times, the majority of my diet consisted of organic leafy greens offered to me as a gift for my service of harvesting vegetables for the hungry. I didn’t really even try dumpster diving until the 11th month into my experiment, but considering America throws away 40% of the food it grows for not being presentable for the market, it’s astounding how well one can eat from dumpsters. Housing was provided through bartering my services as either a handyman or pet sitter, and sometimes, I would stay with friends. Beyond that, life just provided the way it often does.
Just as the chasm between rich and poor continues to widen in this country, I feel that the use of money often serves to separate us from our fellow man. By not using it, I was much more inclined to develop stronger relationships with the people in my community, realizing these relationships to offer much more abundance than the proxy of US currency ever has. However, the greatest source of wealth I have found as of late is merely the gift of presence and realizing how much the world has to offer beyond what I can buy in the store.
As you’ll come to see, this book isn’t just about money. Obviously, we’re obsessed with money to a disastrous degree, so I felt it was a necessary place to start toward the healing of the world. However, as I began to look at the history of money, and saw how intertwined it has been in the development of our culture, I started to notice just how much influence it has had on how we have cultivated our relationships, governments, and religions. We also have an extremely unhealthy relationship with sex and sexuality, ranging from the extremes of denial to outright obsession, all of it infused with a largely imbalanced understanding of what sex even is. When you also consider the inordinate wealth gap and the recent realization by professors from Princeton and Northwestern Universities that our attempted democracy has become an oligarchy, it’s pretty apparent there are some imbalances in our power. And despite the shenanigans, thefts, betrayals, and deceptions which have squirmed their way through our religious institutions, we still have faith.
Years ago, when I set out to travel the country and write The Rucksack Letters, my goal was to discover some alternative to the way of life wreaking such havoc in the world around me. Money does play a key role in the propagation of that engine, and the imbalance it imparts upon the world, but it is not the entire problem, nor is it the only fuel. While it is true the history of our civilization is largely the history of our monetary system, the development of our culture is also inextricably linked to our relationships, and obsessions with, sex, power, and faith.
Be sure to keep coming back as I release the book through this blog. Your feedback is welcome and appreciated, even if you don’t like what I have to say.
If you are interested in life without money, these folks are starting a really interesting conversation on it.