New Zealand Idealist - Peter Wilson's weblog

Life in the Deep South of New Zealand

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Who Am I / Musings on the world

Above all else, it's ideas that drive me. New ideas, old ideas rediscovered, ideas on culture, national identity and humanity. The science of ideas - philosophy, and politics, the battle of ideas. So many different ideas, with all the resultant paradoxes, conflicts and no certainty of outcome. But ultimately it's just one idea that remains at the core of my thinking - the idea that we're all going to need to engage in some pretty radical change if we humans are to continue living on this planet into the next century. Extinctions, climate change, oil running out, disease, war, global income inequality, rising racism, falling health and education standards, access to drinkable water - we hear it every day. For most people, including myself, it's all too much. In the face of a mountain of negative reports, we retreat into smaller and smaller circles, protecting and nurturing what we know most and love. Families, communities, nations - small things comparatively but by no means less worthy. Citizens of nation-states have little power at the global level. Decisions are made at the global level that affect the lives of millions of people, but these decisions and the decision-makers themselves remain unaccountable and unanswerable. As Guardian columnist George Monbiot puts it "everything has been globalised except our consent".

Some would say the current world state of affairs is simply the best we can achieve, given humanity's penchant for violence, corruption, tyranny and selfish behaviour. Some apportion the blame on others, like the US government, multi-national corporations, minority groups, or even the Jewish people (60 years after the liberation of the Nazi death camps, anti-semitism is alive and well). Some misanthropists even blame the human species itself - claiming we are simply destined to cause our own destruction. Sadly (some) of the very people who should be leading us out of our current mess - the Green movement - have such a negative personal view of humanity that they'll never achieve their laudable aims. But humanity is neither all good or all bad, as this wonderful quote from Soviet dissident author Aleksander Solzhenitsyn illustrates:

“the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but through all human hearts.”

In our desire to apportion blame for the world's problems, few look inside their own hearts to see the cause. Few understand themselves enough to see the same forces that play out on a global scale playing themselves out personally in ourselves. But important as that understanding is, self-realisation is only part of the answer. It doesn't take much to see that the world's governing systems make a habit of rewarding the worst human behaviour and ignoring (or even punishing) the best. The most powerful of these is the global monetary system, or the loose network of a thousand financial markets that governs most of the world's trade. Designed over two hundred years ago for entirely different reasons but not rethought since, this system pits poor against rich, nation against nation, and our species against the planet in a seemingly endless battle to earn a scarce dollar. It's not governed by any one person, yet it still leads us around as if we have a ring through our noses. Despite what most economists - the "dismal scientists" - tell us, this scarcity does not actually represent reality. The world produces more than enough food to feed its inhabitants, but yet people still go hungry for want of a dollar. Money is just an agreement amongst people - an accepted means of exchange, like a measurement system. But a builder doesn't stop building because she's run out of inches, so why should someone go hungry for lack of money? Of course it's not quite that simple, but more and more communities are looking hard at the enigmatic nature of money, and designing monetary systems that provide sufficient money for the necessities of life, enhance communities instead of destroying them, and above all else, foster ecological sustainability. In essence, it's reprogramming one of the most powerful forces - the invisible hand of the market - reprogramming it to meet our total needs, instead of constantly working against our long-term aims (more on this in another post). And who would argue against such ideas, except out of fear that one's power base might crumble. Without ecological sustainability, we all die.

The day is not far off when the economic problem [scarcity] will take the back seat where it belongs, and the arena of the heart and the head will be occupied or reoccupied, by our real problems - the problems of life and of human relations, of creation and behavior and religion.
John Maynard Keynes

Keynes predicted so much - the rise of Hitler, the nature of the Great Depression and how to solve it, the third world debt crisis. More often than not we chose not to listen. Monetary system reform may be the catalyst towards us thinking about our bigger problems - how to live sustainably on a planet with scarce resources, or it may just buy our species some time. Either way it's an idea well worth discussing and implementing, and I'll elaborate on it in more detail in a later post, along with my practical proposals for the Dunedin area. Then perhaps some more rather radical ideas to get the keyboards banging. Not my idea, but they sorely need publishing.

Useful links relevant to this post:
http://www.le.org.nz/ - The Stable Money Trust / Community Currencies in New Zealand
http://www.transaction.net/ - Bernard Lietaer's site on monetary system reform
http://www.terratrc.org/ - The Terra, a global complementary currency designed with stability and ecological sustainability in mind.

Books:
The Age of Consent - George Monbiot
The Future of Money - Bernard Lietaer.

Any comments most welcome
Peter Wilson
Dunedin, New Zealand
wilsong@es.co.nz