Nature Transmissions

Do You Need Money?

capitalism critical environmentalism Nov 22, 2023
nature is abundant so you don't need toxic money culture

(This post originally appeared on Our Uncertain Future.)

I can’t stop thinking about that meme.

A gorilla is talking to a man. The man rudely says to the gorilla, “You are such a dumb creature.” The gorilla replies, “You’re the only creature that pays to live on Earth.” Cut to man crying.

Why am I obsessed with this meme? Because it’s so true. Humans are the only creatures that pay to live here on this planet. The reason why other creatures don’t have to pay to live here is because the earth provides everything that we need. Food, water, shelter, community, love, beauty, purpose, happiness, sex, etc. In fact, for most of human existence, we lived solely off the earth. In some parts of the world, people still do.

Living off the utility grid means that I get my electricity from the sun and my water from the rain. Most people pay for these things. In fact, in some states you are not allowed to go off the grid or collect your own water. These states receive payment for these utilities that could be acquired freely by anyone. And most people are fine with this idea because that is what they are accustomed to, paying to live on the earth.

Most of us could not live like my neighbor. My neighbor has a house, but he does not use electricity. He cooks with wood. He drives his car maybe once a week as far as I can tell. He certainly doesn’t have television, internet or a smart phone. Basically, he is camping. Other than the $5 land tax each year, he does not pay to live on Earth. I don’t know all the details of his life, but I am absolutely amazed that someone like him exists in modern America and lives next door to me.

I started researching money. Although currency has existed for most of history, the complete reliance on currency in the western world has only been in action since the industrial revolution. Prior to this, the majority of trade happened via bartering.

Today we are completely dependent on cash in our modern world. Not only are we dependent on it, but we glorify it. Even though cash has no value in and of itself, there is no shortage of people publicly proclaiming their love of money. Money is just numbers. It used to be made of paper and metal coins and now it barely even exists in physical form. Money is digital numbers floating around in cyber space and accumulating in our digital bank account.

I have always had an interesting tension with money. I’ve never been a materialist. I value freedom and nature over money. I haven’t cared about the cachet that comes with a label since 6th grade when I wanted a Benetton sweatshirt. My job pursuits have never been driven by money; writers, artists, nature therapy guides, and yoga instructors are not career paths associated with monetary wealth. I drive an 18-year-old car that I bought 10 years ago for $10,000. I live in a 900 sq. ft. house made of strawbales that we bought for $37,000. Most of my clothes and furniture are from secondhand stores.

Though money in and of itself is benign, toxic consumerism is detrimental to our actual livelihood (not the livelihood we call a job, but the livelihood of our existence.) Money culture, like diet culture, thrives despite its obvious superficial and unhealthy results. I sometimes find myself thinking, if only I had more money (and if only I was thinner). Followed by being annoyed with myself for falling victim to this toxic programming yet again.

Of course, we need money! To revert to the barter system would only be possible for a select few. I wonder if my mechanic would be interested in trading for some private yoga sessions. How awesome would that be if I could buy my new driveshaft with a few hours of asana practice or forest bathing.

The modern world requires the exchange of money, but it does not require us to live beyond our means or to accumulate so many unnecessary things. So, so many things. Houses keep getting bigger thanks to readily available mortgage loans and things to fill them with have gotten cheaper thanks to child labor in distant lands that we can so easily ignore. Common terms such as retail therapy, hoarding, impulse buying, fast fashion, shopping sprees, free trade, keeping up with the Joneses, American Dream, status symbols, etc. are all indications of our toxic money culture.

We believe money provides freedom, but it really traps us in a job that we spend most of our life attending to just to make money to retire from our job or go on vacation from our job and buy things we don’t need. We believe it gives us security, but security is mostly an illusion. You can lose it all overnight from theft or a market crash or medical bills. You could die. We believe it will make us more worthy, successful, likable, attractive, but that’s an illusion too. All those things are free. We may believe we can create a legacy with our money, but we can also create a legacy with kindness, love and support for others who will remember us fondly long after we are gone. We can create a legacy with art, stories, education, and being of service to the greater good.

So, yeah, I need money. But I do not need to glorify money or make it any more important than it is. If I feel like I don’t have enough, then I will constantly feel like I am in scarcity and fail to recognize all the amazing things I have already created, achieved, acquired, and connected to. In the deepest level of my psyche, I must trust in the abundance that is all around us.

If I focus on the abundance and sustainability inherent in the natural world, it is easy to see that I have everything I need. I can balance contentment, acceptance, and gratitude for what I already have with the desire to grow and evolve as a human as I desire new things in the future. One season is prosperous with flowers and abundant growth and another season is thin and barren. But through it all, I still have everything I need. The sun keeps shining and the sky keeps precipitating. The only true livelihood is the earth. Without it, we cannot exist. When money culture supports the depletion, pollution, and dysregulation of natural resources in exchange for cheap plastic goods and maintaining the status quo, we know our priorities are screwed up.

As Black Friday rolls around, I invite you to deeply consider the purchases you make. Perhaps instead of getting that plastic thing from China on sale, you purchase perishable goods like your dad's favorite candy or a gift certificate for a massage for your spouse. Support local business and artisans too whenever you can. Perhaps you craft a special nature gift or wildcraft a tea.

I would love to hear from other people about ways in which you barter, things you want to barter with me for classes, your views on money or your struggles to demystify the money story from your own life. If this post triggered something in you and you’re mad at me, I’d love to hear about that too. Maybe you can change my mind! You know where to find me. I’ll be here promoting sales all week long! šŸ˜‰

Listen to this song on repeat as a mantra when the money culture gets its grip on you: 

Everything I Need by Trevor Hall on Spotify


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