Oct 24, 2020

Heart and Soil: True Wealth

In the last months, the vehicle leaves the ecovillage early in the morning, driven by a volunteer to a far-away purok hall where a village leader stands astride a mountain of sacks stuffed with organic material awaiting to be picked up.

Before, our multicab’s main function was to take guests to Nagtabon beach on Friday nature trips during the detox programs held in our retreat center in Puerto Princesa City. In the last months, the vehicle leaves the ecovillage early in the morning, driven by a volunteer to a far-away purok hall where a village leader stands astride a mountain of sacks stuffed with organic material awaiting to be picked up.

Normally used to transport people, the COVID-19 lockdown suddenly transformed the red cab’s function to a means for conscious exchanges.

A Barter Economy is based on direct transactions between people. For offering kilos of rice, we receive sacks of manure, seaweed, chopped banana trunks and carbonated coconut husks face to face, without money used in the agreement.

As these materials are eventually processed into compost and delivered to the city to be sold for raising funds for future sustainability measures in Barangay Bacungan, we deeply considered the role barter systems play in contrast with the dole out programs officiated by the national government.

Two indigenous economic systems juxtapose with their more modern counterpart, bringing into light, the different ways we give and receive wealth.

The Gift Economy is a system of exchange where something is given to a receiver, without any explicit reciprocity returned to the giver.

The Barter Economy is a direct system of exchange where one trades an object or service for something else of value.

The Money Economy takes off from the barter system whereby a representative object, normally one which has no intrinsic value by itself, allows exchanges to happen indirectly. The trade between rice and manure lose their direct connection, and instead, are mediated by colored pieces of paper printed by the Philippine Central Bank.

When governments offer cash and food aid to individuals and companies paralyzed by the COVD-19 pandemic, social amelioration can be perceived initially as a gift. Yet in gift economies, offerings are traditionally exchanged for hidden returns that benefit the giver.

In some tribal and feudal Gift Cultures, objects, land, or titles are gifted to people to sustain obligatory relationships. Anthropologists learned how status and power were maintained in ancient cultures through gift-giving. What seems altruistically “free” in the money economy, is implicitly not, in some traditional systems.

Similarly, paper money bears what’s called interest-bearing debt. When money is created, debt and interest are calculated into the currency. People who receive something now, will have to pay it off at a later date.

Debt does not have to be monetary. When we purchase a product that takes days for a factory to produce, the plastic packaging takes decades to fully decompose. The non-renewable resources called coal or oil used for transportation and production of goods are stored for hundreds of millions of years, suddenly extracted in enormous amounts.

Ten years ago, I invited some colleagues to a meeting in La Terrasse restaurant to dialogue about the Transition Town Network. Founded by permaculture educator Rob Hoskins, cities and towns around the world are striving to reduce the effects of human impact on our environment through the creation of Energy Descent Action Plans, sometimes through the propagation of local money systems.

When the Kapitana, councilors and purok presidents of Bacungan held various meetings in the last months to make the commitment to undergo a barangay-wide barter system, a Transition Village initiative emerged.

Transition connotes transformation. People transition from old habits and beliefs to new ones, so that what is actually being bartered are values themselves.

In a valuation process, we ask ourselves, “what is most valuable?”

Since the last months, negotiations are taking place. With shops and restaurants closed, families meditate on how to spend their valuable time as money becomes difficult. Consumptive activities previously habituated by the money economy are bartered with new ones we were previously too busy to consider.

In late 2019, I was asked to help conduct a 24-hour global gathering alongside Charles Eisenstein who wrote the book, Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition.

Heralded for its powerful articulation on how the money system has contributed towards the illusion of endless growth, Sacred Economics traces the history of money and how modern economics has brought about scarcity, competition, alienation, and the destruction of community.

In his book, Eisenstein foreshadows the current moment when he writes, “contemporaneous with the financial crisis we have an ecological crisis and a health crisis. They are intimately interlinked. We cannot convert much of the earth into money, or much more of our health into the money before the basis for life itself is threatened.

When we are made to once again experience direct barter with each other, we establish transparent exchanges, releasing the hidden cultural obligations that disable our capacities to unconditionally offer our genuine gifts.

In Filipino, indebtedness also connotes the concept of duty, which in Tagalog translates to “utang na loob.”

Authentic wealth begins with giving only what one can freely give, and receiving only what is being freely given.

In a documentary film, Eisenstein shares, “‘we haven’t earned anything that keeps us alive. We didn’t earn air, we didn’t earn being born, we didn’t earn having a planet that can provide us with food, we didn’t earn being able to breathe, we didn’t earn the sun.

On some level, we have an in-born gratitude, because, on some level, we knew we didn’t earn any of this. Life is a gift and our natural response to this is gratitude.

In a gift economy, when we have more than we need, we give it to someone who needs it. This is where status and security comes from. If you build up this gratitude, this is where people take care of you too and if there are no gifts, there is no community.

Overall sufficiency comes to those who do not require much. Simplicity is itself, a type of income. When we have what is truly valuable, we can give freely what overflows naturally from our hearts.

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