Bonus Episode – on the tenth Anniversary of Sacred Economics: Charles and Jimi Eisenstein with Della Duncan
It’s long been said that it’s easier to imagine the total extinction of humanity than it is to imagine an end to capitalism. But Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics blew that away. An updated version has been released on the tenth anniversary of publication. Here, Della Duncan talks to Charles and his son Jimi about life, capitalism and building the more beautiful future our hearts know is possible.
For over a decade, Charles Eisenstein has been a pillar of the movement to a regenerative future. His book is essential reading, his blogs and podcasts are always thoughtful interventions that offer insight at crucial junctures of our progress towards a more conscious evolution. He dares to go where others either fear to tread or just don’t have the insight, and he leads by example: his life is based on compassion and the gift economy. He’s one of the few people who lives as far as possible outside predatory capitalism.
His son, Jimi, is a transformative animator whose clear, clever art explains complex regenerative principles in ways that everyone can understand. He, too, explores the edges of our being and lives them into reality.
Here, these two remarkable people speak with Della Duncan of the Upstream podcast, celebrating the tenth anniversary edition of Charles’s book, but also exploring the delicate and transformative moment in which we live, shining lights on ways we can live the change we need to see.
As we head into the start of our new Thrutopia Masterclass, we are delighted to be able to bring you this as an introduction to thinking – and being – the transition.
Manda: Today’s podcast is a little different because I’m about to hand over to my friend, mentor and colleague Della Duncan, who’s been on the podcast a number of times and in this instance has offered her interview with Charles Eisenstein and his son Jimi on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the publication of Sacred Economics. This is a beautiful, moving, inspiring and highly educational podcast, and we wanted it to come out in time for those of you who are going to enter into Thrutopia, to give you a really solid grounding in the ways that we can think differently. So people of the podcast, please welcome Della Duncan interviewing Charles and Jimi Eisenstein.
Della: Welcome. Welcome Charles. Welcome Jimi to Upstream. I’m so grateful to have you both today in conversation.
Charles: Great to be here.
Jimi: Yeah, yeah. Thanks for having us.
Della: And we usually start with introductions, but I was thinking to mix things up, would you mind introducing the other person? So Jimi, would you mind introducing your dad and Charles, would you mind introducing Jimi just so we get a sense of who we’re talking to?
Jimi: Yeah, well, Charles Eisenstein is my dad, so you can call him Dad. No, he is a writer and he’s a speaker, and he writes about civilisation kind of from the perspective of the human sense of self and the shifts in that and kind of how our sense of self is reflected in civilisation. And he wrote Sacred Economics, which I believe will be a topic of this discussion, kind of about how our sense of self is reflected in our money systems and how that might change and how those changes might be reflected in a new money system.
Charles: All right, thanks, Jimi. So, Jimi Eisenstein is named after both my father, James, and also a friend in Taiwan, where he was born, who was also named Jimi, who’s an amazing musician and created a festival there. And so it seems like Jimi’s inherited some of both, actually. Inherited some of our family’s propensity for philosophical enquiry and also some of the creativity of his other namesake and his musical ability. Jimi is also a pretty talented artist, very creative, makes animated videos, has composed music, does landscaping. He’s good with with plants and stuff and is just like super creative in many, many different ways. I mean, he can write code. He’s just like created so many different things in different areas.
Della: Well, welcome to you both. And I thought by way of getting to know you both a little bit and kind of tap into what you’re thinking and feeling right now, I’m wondering if you could share what you’re grateful for right now in life right now, and also what is breaking your heart? So what are you grateful for and what’s breaking your heart? Whoever wants to go first?
Jimi: Well, lately I’ve been I’ve been really grateful for comedy, improv, theatre. It’s just been like a nice connecting community activity I’ve been involved in lately and just brings me a lot of joy and helps me feel connected with people. And one, it’s kind of a little thing that broke my heart yesterday. I was walking by the riverfront in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and like the river was kind of low and there was like a bunch of like debris on the side of it and like branches and stuff. And there was like trash, kind of like woven in between the branches, like all this plastic. And it was like down a really steep hill, so I couldn’t even get it. But like, it made me sad because, like, the river’s going to rise next rain and it’s going to carry that trash to the Chesapeake Bay. And like just kind of reminded me of everything that our civilisation does that trashes the planet.
Charles: Yeah, you can see I’ve poisoned his little mind here. Yeah. Trashing the planet. Yeah. I’ve been grateful for having a healthy and happy family, actually. And especially, my youngest son is eight years old. And the other day we were at the beach and he was just frolicking in the waves, pure joy. And I thought, yeah, I get to experience that. And it reminded me of my decades of being a father and going back to witnessing the birth of all four of my sons. And I was just feeling like, wow, like not everybody even gets to witness that. And I got to witness that four times. I felt just so grateful for having that experience that’s still ongoing. One thing that’s been breaking my heart is the breakdown in civil discourse, the exclusion and the name calling and the ostracism and the dehumanisation that’s happening in online dialogue and even offline. And the separation of society into mutually exclusive, hateful, polarised camps. You know, I write about that kind of thing, and sometimes it’s hard to convey in my writing how much it just hurts to see that. To see these beautiful, beloved human beings going at each other’s throats. And it hurts also because I know what we could accomplish as a species if we didn’t do that. Not that we wouldn’t have disagreements, but to channel the disagreement onto hatred, means that they never get resolved. So that’s my intellectual take on it, but it just hurts, you know, it’s like kind of watching, like when my children are fighting, it’s kind of the same feeling. So, yeah, thank you for the question.
Della: Yeah, I hear you. I hear you both. And you know, the show, the theme of the show is Upstream. And it comes from a metaphor that I first heard from public health around kind of being with the challenges of our time, whether they’re social, as you mentioned, Charles, or ecological, as you mentioned Jimi. And then going upstream to figure out what are the root causes. So I’m wondering maybe, Charles, if you want to start? When you go upstream from the the conflict or the disrespectful discourse or however you want to name it, the division that you’re feeling into. What are the root causes of that when you go upstream?
Charles: Yeah, depends how far upstream you want to go! I think that this stream has many tributaries. So one of them is something I’ve been writing about a lot; the instinct for human beings to discharge their social tensions and their rivalries and their desire for vengeance onto a dehumanised subclass. Which was perhaps the greatest crisis that ancient societies faced; to be torn apart by internecine violence. And the solution was to unify in violence against a scapegoat. So that’s like one tributary. Systems are built on that. So that would be. Yeah. Another tributary. Maybe I’ll leave it at that.
Della: Yeah. Thank you. And, Jimi, what about you? If you go upstream from the debris on the river’s side or the pollution that we’re sensing into?
Jimi: Yeah, well, I’m assuming you’re speaking metaphorically here. Not like the literal trash I saw on the river. But yeah, I mean, similarly, there’s… I very much agree with the idea that we’re separate selves is behind a lot of it. The framing I kind of like is alienation. Where everyone is alienated from each other. They don’t make eye contact, they’re strangers, don’t seem to care about each other. And there’s this idea that their well-being isn’t actually tied to ours. When like, I think if you look at the whole picture, the well-being of anything is tied to the well-being of everything. And yeah, like if we embodied that collective knowledge, I think things would be a lot different.
Charles: That alienation from each other, like not looking each other in the eye, that’s kind of related to not looking nature in the eye and degrading nature into something less than the sacred being that it is. And once we do that to people, you know, it’s pretty easy to exploit them or even enslave them or even kill them. Dehumanisation is part of of war, war making. You have to dehumanise the enemy. And when we do that to nature, same thing. Not too hard to exploit, to extract or to destroy. And so this also gets back to the mythology of like, what is this world actually? And what are we and who are we and why?
Della: And Jimi, your first impulse to go upstream, literally. I mean, I love that you had a river story, so, I mean, feel free. I mean, I think even just taking a very concrete example as to like how did that trash get in the river? And how is that trash not biodegradable? And how is that trash not… Like I think that that very real upstream journey is also helpful as well. I don’t know if there’s anything more you want to add to that.
Jimi: Yeah, I mean, that’s a good point. You know, I mean, frankly, I don’t know exactly the story behind all that trash. But like, I know we have a paradigm that doesn’t value the well-being of nature and that leads to the manufacturing of things that aren’t useful to nature and don’t have ways to actually feed the earth. You know, plastic doesn’t break down for a long time.
Della: Yeah. Thank you. Okay. So one of the questions then, is what does the book Sacred Economics have to offer us by way of insight or invitation in terms of the upstream perspective? Because quite frankly, I find sacred economics to be one of the most upstream books I’ve ever read. It really is a journey upstream. And particularly I love, Charles, how you go from like one can go upstream and find greed, for example, but then that’s not the end, right? And then you go even further upstream and further upstream. So I’m curious, Charles, what insights or lessons does the book Sacred Economics have to offer us on this journey upstream from the social and ecological and political challenges?
Charles: I mean, I could talk for the whole next hour or next day on that. Maybe I’ll just pick up a little bit on the theme of alienation, which I mean, know, I’m not the first person by any means to talk about the alienation implicit in our current system of production and our current system of money. I mean, there was this guy, Karl Marx, for example, who had said a thing or two about that. And some of my book draws on that lineage. So this idea that we’re separate from Earth. That Earth is not a full and sacred being. It’s not just like some dumb idea that we all of a sudden made up, but it co-evolved along with our society becoming more and more complex with the division of labour, with technology and with money. All of these things co-evolved with our ideas about ourselves in the world. Just to take a really simple example: When you are no longer a hunter gatherer or no longer a farmer, but you’re dealing in an increasingly abstract realm or a realm separate from nature. Designing machines or designing microchips or something like that. Nature is no longer your intimate. No longer your intimate companion. The soil, the plants, the seasons, the weather even. The system that we are in alienates us. And what makes the system work and is both a product of that system and a prerequisite for that system, or has co-evolved with it, is money.
Charles: Money is the ultimate abstraction. It starts with nature, with minerals, with plants, with animals, and with people and the things that flow between all of these beings. It starts with that and it ends up as pieces of paper with numbers on them or bits and computers. So that in itself is an alienating process. And the more that we are in the world of money, the more alienated we are from other human beings and from nature. And the other piece of it that I would add in, is that the alienated realm, the abstract realm, grows and grows and grows. It’s not just that we’re like OK, We’re going to engage in abstractions in some part of life, but we’re going to keep the rest of life personal and earthed and embodied. Because the way that money works is that it always has to grow, the economy has to grow in order to work. And that is, I mean, I could… That would be a long detour into explaining what exactly it is about the design of money that makes that so. It has to do with what we understand capitalism to be, and this is kind of what the book is advocating: a change in what capitalism is; because we can change what capital is, because capital is agreements, at least in the form of money and property.
Charles: It’s agreements amongst human beings which can be changed. And the agreements that we have today embody the story of separation. We could and we want to change them, but we’re kind of stuck in the patterning and the the institutions and the habits of that old system. So we have this situation now where our consciousness has kind of moved on. We don’t want to be alienated from nature anymore. We don’t want to see garbage in the Susquehanna. We don’t want to profit off the death of life, even if we ourselves could be OK. It’s not just like, Oh my God, let’s save the Amazon, because otherwise we’re going to die. Let’s save the whales because otherwise we’re going to die. Let’s remedy the injustice, the racial injustice in this country otherwise they’re going to turn on us. It’s not that. That’s not the new consciousness. The new consciousness is love. I mean, I won’t call it new, but it is resurgent. It’s love. It’s: I care about the rainforest because it’s so beautiful. I care about these people because they’re my brothers. I care about the soil because it’s amazing, it’s sacred. So we need an economic system that gives value to those values.
Della: Sacred economics. Beautiful. Jimi, anything you’d add there?
Jimi: Yeah. The bit about when you were saying like the conversion of the earth into money, is like itself and alienating process. I think that’s interesting because I find that the least alienating moments I have are like almost never involve money. Like when I’m doing like comedy improv, for example, we’re all creating things that come from within. And rather than like going out with your friends to see a movie or something that’s spending money consuming something and isn’t actually that fulfilling. Then like last week I went to this open mic around a fire and everyone had their beautiful creative pieces to share. And it was like a really amazing time with great musicians. And like, no one was buying anything like that. That was probably actually bad for the economy, because, well, no goods and services are being produced. No money’s moving, no profits are being made. Yet it was such a wholesome and beautiful experience.
Charles: Yeah. That open mic night or that that improv theatre, it’s a reclamation of life from money. Because as Jimi was saying, you’re not consuming a good or a service. And that’s how most of human life used to be. The farther you go back in history, the less of life was in the money realm. You know, for example, growing food, building houses, making clothes. Most people didn’t pay for those things until actually quite recently. Now we pay for almost everything. So when you get together with friends, you’re actually reclaiming part of the commons in a way; the fun commons. The commons of fun. Producing your own fun instead of consuming fun. And. Yeah. It’s interesting like there’s something a little bit subversive about it. It’s interesting that totalitarian societies, they restrict anything that is organically produced from or by the people. And economics kind of does the same thing. It squeezes that kind of stuff out. Yeah.
Della: Yah and Charles, I want to know why the new edition? So why revise and release Sacred Economics and why now?
Charles: Well, I had to update some things. A lot of it was written in close reference to the 2008 financial crisis, and so I updated it a bit. It’s not that heavily rewritten. I added a section on crypto, but yeah, it’s like 80 or 90%, the same as the original edition.
Della: I want to take a parable or an example from the book. This question’s for Jimi. So in your videos, your animation videos, I know you have one about how our economic system is like a game of musical chairs. And as I was rereading Sacred Economics, I found that that example was also in there. So can you tell us, Jimi, how is our economic system like a game of musical chairs?
Jimi: Well, funny thing, the script of that video is actually written by my dad. It has a lot to do with how money is created, and this is a bit of a simplification, but the result is pretty much the same. So banks will lend money and charge interest on it and expect to have that paid back. And because that’s how all money is created, the result is that there’s always more debt in existence than there is money. So there’s kind of this pressure then for everyone who borrows money to produce profitable goods and services, to start a profitable business, to finance it. But then somebody has to lose out. So in order to finance that extra debt, more loans have to be created, more money has to be lent out. So that’s kind of this growth imperative. It kind of departs from musical chairs because musical chairs doesn’t have growth built into it. But generally the scarcity aspect, of like the fact that there’s always more debt than there is money is analogous to the fact that in musical chairs, there are always fewer chairs than there are people.
Della: Yeah, thank you. And I didn’t know that you wrote that, Charles. Anything you’d add as to how that relates to the book or the lessons there?
Charles: Yeah, like a lot of what we think of as human nature is a product of the rules of the game, of the game of money or of the game of musical chairs. Like, imagine if you were going to.. You want to understand what’s human nature? And the way that you researched that, was you set up a huge game of musical chairs and watched people’s behaviour. Like people are, you know… And you set it up so that they have to take it really seriously… Like the losers, you know, get dunked in ice water or actually, to make it more realistic, lose their homes and can no longer have food, medicine and shelter and their kids go hungry. So the stakes of this game of money, of musical chairs, I mean, are very high. So what kind of human behaviour do you see? You might see a lot of pushing and shoving. You might see the strongest and quickest people getting the chairs, you know, and the other and the less fortunate are getting elbowed, literally elbowed out. And you might see maybe some examples of selfless altruism where somebody could get a chair and they let somebody else have it. And it’s a sacrifice. But that’s the human nature you’re going to see. You’re going to see competitiveness, you’re going to see ruthlessness. And you’re not going to have a very good impression of human beings by watching that. Well, our intuitions about what human nature is are in large part based on that kind of a game. So we assume human beings are by nature competitive, and then we justify our economic system based on what is actually a consequence, at least to a large degree, of our economic system. The metaphor is very fruitful.
Della: Yeah. And this brings us to the concept of scarcity, right. And one thing I really appreciate in Sacred Economics is that you kind of challenge the new age perspective of folks who want wealth in their life, whether it’s financial or otherwise, to just embrace abundance, embrace the natural state of abundance, and then they’ll have financial wealth. And kind of just that if only we make that shift in our perception or consciousness, we will then live in abundance. So I appreciate your making that kind of distinction there. So if either of you want to talk about scarcity and how that shows up in our economy and also in our minds and what we can do about that view being so unhelpful for ourselves and for our social relations.
Charles: Let me just quickly clarify that and then maybe hand it over to Jimi. I do think that this kind of inner work of examining habits of scarcity can be very useful. A lot of people sabotage themselves out of a feeling of not deserving. They don’t allow themselves to receive. They don’t act on opportunities to create things because they think they’re not good enough. There’s actually a lot to look at there. But in general, like you can’t go to an impoverished village in Ecuador and say, wow, look at all those people wallowing in scarcity mentality. If only they recited abundance mantras, they would all be better off. Like if you say that, then you’re blinding yourself to the systemic causes ultimately that originate in the debt based money system. That it requires some people to be in poverty. I think this psychological aspect has to coexist with a systemic understanding. And really where it leads to, ultimately, is a convergence where we say: Yeah, because I see the world abundantly, I no longer need to have a system that allows me to dominate others and to be one of the privileged few and to guard against everybody else taking some of mine, because otherwise I won’t have enough. So actually the scarcity mentality enforces systems of exploitation. So there is a convergence there. And I do think that the New Age teachings actually have some value in them.
Jimi: Yeah, I find the issue I have with the New Age teachings are a kind of under-emphasis on letting the mindset of abundance inform your actions. Like for me, if I really want to invite a reality where there’s enough for everyone and a reality that’s abundant. And I see scarcity and I see people suffering. That drive is going to motivate me to want to do something about it. I feel like that’s a key part of it too. Where like you’re not just doing it in your mind, but like the mental shift motivates further action and maybe like acts of generosity.
Charles: Jimi tell the story about handing out sandwiches. I think that’s a good illustration of…
Jimi: Oh yeah, that was… It was actually salads. So my uncle, Charles’s brother, has a farm and I was working there for a bit and he had this big surplus of lettuce and cucumbers that he couldn’t sell. So I took them to Harrisburg and I made a bunch of salads and put them in a cooler and and decided to go out into Harrisburg City and hand them out to people. I put on my black shirt with a red hammer and sickle printed on it and went out and I made a sign that said ‘Free salads, local, organic, revolutionary’ or something like that. And it was kind of like a joke experiment, but also like I really wanted people to eat this food. Like it was really good food. And yeah, you know, some people just took the salads and didn’t really say much. Some people were like really grateful and, like, surprised that someone was just like giving away free salads. Like, almost, like, bewildered. Like, why would someone be spending their time and energy doing this? Another person, like, I offered him a salad and I talked about how good the salad is.
Jimi: And he said, Oh, cool. Yeah, how much? I’m like, Oh, no, it’s free. You just take it. He’s like, what, you’re not charging money? Why aren’t you selling them? I don’t remember what I said, but I know I should have said ‘these salads are too good to sell’ or something like that. But yeah, I think it’s interesting how like, there’s an assumption that if someone’s giving you free stuff, you’ll have an agenda behind it. Or if someone’s giving you something, they’re probably wanting you to give them money. Yeah. And I think that like relating it back to the topic, I think people having experienced this, like, receiving a salad just completely unconditionally, I think was helpful in bringing them into a reality of abundance. Like the Law of Attraction stuff I think needs to consider that we are not separate minds, but that influencing our collective consciousness is just as important as influencing our own. And that’s where, like, action comes in; to really help people shift into mindsets of abundance and thus generosity, which then reinforce each other.
Charles: Yeah, because like when you see some guy handing out salads, free organic salads, that’s a glaring exception to what seems like one of the laws of human nature in the game of musical chairs. Why would somebody do that? You know, it’s incomprehensible. It’s like a puncture in the the balloon of the story of separation. It disrupts it, unravels the whole fabric. Which, OK, maybe this isn’t like the best example, but just in general, generosity opens our hearts. Even if we witness it and are not even receiving ourselves, but we witness generosity. Like, for me, it’s like it reminds me of something. I’m like, Oh, yeah, I could do that too. Oh, yeah. All this fear and great fear and grasping and controlling aren’t necessary because that guy is not doing it. So do I really need to do it? It introduces a question and it reminds me of a different human nature from outside the money game, from outside the musical chairs game. A different… It’s like a memory of the deep past and I would also say the beautiful future.
Della: Yeah. And also a memory of, as Genevieve Vaughn would say, about when we’re born, we’re born into the gift economy through our parenting, right. And so we come into that and you talk about this in the book as well. So a memory of even just our childhood, right. And the gift giving of the community and family around us. And Jimi, your story of the salads reminds me of a quote from Sacred Economics, where, Charles, you bring up a hunter gatherer culture in Brazil and you say somebody asked the hunter, where do you store your meat? And they said, I store my meat in the belly of my brother. And I can just see that, yeah, around not wanting the salad to go to waste and so storing the salad in the mouths of the community around them. And the theme of the gift economy is very, very powerful in the book. And I love what you say, Charles. In the book you say the best investment we can make is in community. Right. And how powerful it is that you say that right now we don’t we don’t need each other anymore. How financialized and commodified everything has been and how our needs can be met completely on the financialized market. I remember seeing something that said, you know, rent a friend, right? You could like buy time with someone. And as terms of friendship, so really a lot of things being commodified. So this gift economy and investing in community as being an alternative. So I’m wondering if either of you want to share any other stories or insights from the gift economies that you’re in or that you know of around the world?
Jimi: Not really that much of a story, but one thing I kind of find interesting is that… So I grew up kind of in suburbs and then now I’m living in kind of inner city uptown Harrisburg, which is like a lot less wealthy, pretty poor area. And I noticed neighbours are friendlier and there’s more mutual aid in the poor neighbourhoods. Like one of our neighbours knocked on our door like a month ago and asked us to help move some furniture in her house. That kind of stuff happens all the time. Neighbours aren’t afraid to ask each other for help and to just willingly do it. And I don’t know, I’ve found in suburbs when we try to reach out to our neighbours in wealthier areas, they’re much more standoffish. Kind of it’s like you’ve got to be a pretty big weirdo to ask your neighbour to help you move furniture. So like, I find it interesting where people who have less access to meeting their needs with money, tend to have more access to the kind of innate cultural mutual aid. It’s like that hasn’t been replaced for the people who don’t rely too much on money.
Charles: Yeah. When you have money, you don’t need the people around you, because you can just pay somebody to move your furniture. You’re independent.
Della: And it can be vulnerable, right, to ask for help, but it can also bring all these additional positive qualities and really create that mutual indebtedness that brings that…
Charles: Yeah, part of the vulnerability is that, you know, when you asked your neighbours to help you move the furniture, then you know that they will feel entitled to ask you for something in the future. So you’re going into debt.
Della: Yes. So one of the things in the book is you offer very real practical macroeconomic insights or changes. And some of them are shifting the tax burden from labour to property. Internalising social and environmental costs. Localising economies. Creating a social dividend or offering a social dividend. But one of them that I’d really love for you to unpick or talk to us about, is the one about interest. Because I think that’s related to what we’ve been talking about with the musical chairs and with debt. And I think it’s something that maybe can be a little bit difficult to understand. How does interest work? And so how is the current system set up in terms of interest and why is that problematic? And then what is negative interest and why might that be a positive thing and how plausible is it? I know this is another big question, but I just found it to be a very powerful offering.
Charles: How far upstream should I go with this one? So a lot of the evils that we associate with money are a product of the way money is created, as Jimi was describing, through interest bearing debt. So like, for example, because money is created with interest, there’s always more debt than there is money. So we’re always in competition with each other and we’re always having to find new things to monetise in order to grow the economy, in order to keep pace with the necessity of growing the money supply and so forth. So what happens if money is created in a different way? One of the ways that it could be created is as negative interest currency. Could be of lent into existence. Central banks could purchase government securities that bear negative interest rates. Could be created by fiat as a universal basic income, whatever. However it’s done, if money is created with negative interest, then economic growth is no longer necessary in order to distribute money equitably in the society. And corporations and individuals no longer discount the future in favour of the present. And you can no longer automatically become wealthier and wealthier just by holding money. You have to actually use it for a good purpose. You have to find something that will meet other people’s needs. Whereas today, if you have enough money, especially, you can grow it essentially risk free.
Jimi: Just wanted to real quick, I sure wouldn’t have given away those salads if the lettuce didn’t go bad.
Jimi: Like if it wasn’t about to go bad, we could have just kept it.
Charles: And so money doesn’t go bad. What if money did go bad? That’s what negative interest is. Essentially, if you hold on to it, it starts to wilt. You know, imagine if money were still dollar bills? You know, after a time they started to get all yellow, you know, and they started to wilt. And people would be like, ‘I don’t want that dollar bill. Well, maybe I’ll give you $0.50 for it’ like they decay. Everything in the world decays except for money. So when we connect a world that decays, that transforms, that goes through cycles of decay and growth. If we connect that cyclic world with money that only grows and doesn’t decay. We have a problem. We have to convert more and more of that world into money. So the basic idea is let’s make money like everything else in the world. Let’s make it adhere to the law of return. So, like, if we use salads for money, no one’s going to hoard salads. And it will be like, suppose you have more salad? Like, how do you store your salad? You store it in the belly of your brother. You give everybody a salad, and maybe then in a month when they have extra salads, they give one to you. That’s the principle behind negative interest. And the details of the of the implementation and stuff are really… It’s not that complicated, but there’s a lot of objections and arguments that need to be had. But that’s the basic principle of it.
Della: Yeah. And one, one new idea that I learnt about through the book was the velocity of money. I hadn’t thought of that and just how how fast money spreads. And you shared that more recently the velocity of money has been slowing down. And I was thinking about the ecological metaphor of water and currency current and how ideally we want money to continue to flow, just as we’d want water to continue to flow. And how stagnation or siphoning off of a river into stagnant pools of wealth hoarding, is not something that we would want. So. Related, but a little different: the demurrage currency idea. I was holding a Bristol pound yesterday and on it I found that it had an expiration date. So just that idea of like ‘must spend by’. So that’s a related idea I think.
Charles: Yeah. One thing that’s been happening for the last ten years, the central banks have been creating enormous amounts of money. But we haven’t all gotten a lot richer, have we? And it’s exactly because the money is not reaching the people who need it. Well not much of it is anyway. So in what sense is it actually money if it’s not reaching the people who are going to spend it? Just sitting there. Money only is money when it’s being used as money. And instead, I mean, it’s being used in a certain sense as money, to increase the power of those who do have more and more and more of it. But I mean, you’ve seen the graphs. You know, like how much of the new wealth created has gone to the 1% or the 10th of 1% or the billionaires. It’s an inordinate amount of money. And that negative interest kind of forces money to flow, because it’s like you’ve got to get rid of it. You know, you can’t keep all those salads. So you’ll have an incentive to lend at zero interest. Therefore, you’re not going to get richer and richer by merely having it.
Della: Another example that I appreciated from the book was you said if somebody had some money and they wanted to preserve a forest or an ecosystem and they were to go to a banker and say, Look, I just want to buy this land and just preserve it. You know, the ecosystem or the forest; just preserve it in its beauty and its richness, its diversity. I won’t be able, obviously, to give you any interest on the loan because I won’t be making any profit from it. They would likely say no. They might be moved by the story, but they would say no. But if somebody went to them and said, Can I have a loan to buy this forest, to then mill it, to then sell that, I will be able to pay you x percent on interest of it. They’re more likely to give them that loan. So that that relates to the interest issue as well.
Charles: There are two things going on there. One is simply like, what does our society value? What counts as a good and service? How can you, how do we make money? So yeah, if you cut down the forest and pave it over and build a strip mall, you make a lot of money. If you preserve it to maximise biodiversity, no one pays you for that. So one thing that we could do, is we could pay people to build soil and enhance biodiversity. We could make that, through social agreement, we could make that into a service and direct money toward people who are doing that. The other point is about interest. Which today, if you say own a forest and you log it sustainably and make, say, 10,000 a year doing that; if you have the choice to do that or to sell the whole forest off for $1,000,000 and cut it down and destroy it, you’re better off doing that: destroying it for $1,000,000, than you are logging it in perpetuity for 10,000 a year. Because the interest on $1,000,000 is more than 10,000 a year. So that’s another. So there’s two things going into that.
Della: Well, I want to just ask one more question then to you each, because this theme of right livelihood feels really important and alive. I personally love the theme of right livelihood in my own life. I also appreciate that it was in the book and also a lot of people who are around me really ask this question of How can I have right livelihood in this current economic system? How can I use my contribution, my labour, my gifts to be in service to, as you say, the more beautiful world our hearts know as possible. So I just want to close with each of you sharing maybe some invitations or insights about right livelihood, either how you’re navigating that theme or what you’ve learnt through your studies or learning. But just anything by way of how the listeners can pursue right livelihood and make sense of the topic of sacred economics in their own lives and their work.
Jimi: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know how much I have to say about it in general, I can speak from my own experience. This year I’ve been working for my friend’s ecological landscaping business and that’s been really cool. We’ve been like doing lawn conversions and like putting native pollinator plants in the ground. Like we did a water management system that fed into a pond and now that pond has frogs in it. Like we dug the pond from scratch. Like really cool things and we made good money off of it. And I think that’s like one example of how it could work. And that seems to point to… Because like most of the clients we had were, I mean, wealthier than we are. And so it seems like there are people who have wealth who want to use it for good, and finding those people and connecting them with people who have the gifts that are really needed for the world, I think is one good step that can be made.
Charles: Yeah, that’s a really beautiful and simple illustration. Because when we try to deal with this on a systemic level, it can be really daunting. But the new consciousness or the new and ancient consciousness that I spoke of at the beginning, it’s always seeking out opportunities. I come into contact with so many wealthy people who want nothing more than to use their wealth for something beautiful. Something that’s beautiful to them. Often with an idea of ecological or social healing. So it’s an interesting counterpoint to the despair that I feel, when I look at the whole system. You know, when I’m actually like, okay, how can I live in a beautiful way and serve what is beautiful to me? There’s so many opportunities to do that. Yeah, I don’t know. See, the thing is, the nature of the path that I’ve chosen and the particular set of gifts I have seems to lend itself more to the systemic level, where it’s not always so obvious. You know, like if I write something, I’m not seeing as much evidence as Jimi is of, like, frogs coming, you know, frogs appearing. Yeah. I mean, sometimes I think that I’m engaging in right livelihood and sometimes I’m not.
Charles: And I guess what I would maybe also add, you can’t actually understand what is right livelihood through an ethical calculus. Adding up your carbon footprint and am I causing harm to these beings and is the benefit outweighing the harm? And like that, that mindset, is a financial mindset, actually. An accounting mindset. I think that the organ of perception that can orient us toward right livelihood is the heart. You know, you feel good about what you’re doing. You see the results, they make you feel alive. And you look forward to going to work that day. And if you’re not looking forward to going to work that day, then maybe there’s something to look at. Even if you’ve convinced yourself that you’re doing good in the world. Because right…. I mean, I don’t think we actually understand very well how this world works. And what in 500 years is going to bring the most healing to the world. I don’t think we can add and subtract and find the answer to that.
Della: Yeah. Thank you. And I’m going to close with a quote. So, yeah, I want to really thank you both and I want to encourage folks to follow your work. Obviously, Jimi, the animations that we mentioned. He has a new one coming out soon, I hear. Really beautiful work on regenerative agriculture and economics. That’s just wonderful. And so Jimi Soul, look that up on YouTube so you can find out more. So happy to plug that. And then, Charles, of course, your books and your essays and your… Would you call it an email listserv that I’m on? That we get to hear the insights .
Charles: On Substack, publishing on Substack.
Della: Yes. And one of the most recent ones that I read, was about speaking with one of your other sons around this concept of hope and the future. And so I just wanted to close with a quote that I found related to that and see if either of you have any last words. So this is a quote from the book ‘We’ve had 100 years of psychotherapy and the world is getting worse’. And it’s by Michael Ventura. And he said, he’s in conversation with his teenage son who comes home and just says, Dad, everything’s messed up. It’s just so messed up. And this is what Michael Ventura turns and tells to his son. He says, “We are living in a dark age and we’re not going to see the end of it, nor are our children, nor probably our children’s children. And our job, every single one of us is to cherish whatever in the human heritage we love and to feed it and to keep it going and to pass it on. Because this dark age isn’t going to go on forever. And when it stops, those people are going to need the pieces we pass on. They’re not going to be able to build a new world without us passing on whatever we can: ideas, art, knowledge, skills, or just plain old, fragile love. How we treat people, how we help people. That’s something to be passed on”.
Della: So thank you for reminding me of that quote and for all of your inspiration. Any closing thoughts, Charles or Jimi?
Charles: That’s a beautiful, beautiful reading. Thank you for that. It’s always been true that the.. I call it the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. It’s always been true that it’s many, many, many generations in the future. And I don’t know, maybe we are at the turnaround.
Jimi: Yeah. Even if it seems like we’re not going to see it in our lifetimes, like, I can still feel it, even if it’s way far in the future. And yeah, the kind of vision of that can be a guiding compass in a way.
Della: Wonderful. Well, thank you both. And thank you for your contribution of Sacred Economics. Such a beautiful text, both philosophically and practically. So thank you so much for your work in the world. Deep bow to you.
Manda: So Della, welcome back to Accidental Gods and thank you for giving us this podcast with Charles and Jimi Eisenstein. It’s been beautiful and really moving to listen to father and son who both get it to such a degree. Given that we have a few minutes left at the end before we hit our hour, I wanted to explore one particular topic that came up towards the end, where Charles seemed to me to be saying that the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible, which is a phrase that we have definitely internalised on this podcast, is many generations away. And my feeling is that it can’t be. We have to have versions of that that are accessible to us now, if we make the good choices that we know how to make, or we’re probably not going to make those good choices. And I wondered if you had heard it the same as me, and if so, what you’re feeling is on that?
Della: Yes, it’s a great question, and I did interpret it a little bit differently. I interpreted what he was saying more as we have a hard time really knowing the impact or the results of our actions. And I love that he says that Jimi is doing work like ecosystem restoration work or landscape work, where he created a pond and now there’s frogs in that pond. Whereas Charles is doing more work, such as writing or the kind of shift in consciousness work, I would say, as one of the areas of the great turning. And so his work, he was saying, is harder to measure the impacts of that. It’s like, how are we measuring our impact, our success and the fruits of our actions? And it is helpful to kind of release a little bit of the expectation that we may know the impact. As Joanna Macey would say, she says, you know, any act with good intention ripples out in the web of life and may have ramifications or impacts that we may never be able to measure or even see. And so it’s the intention of the doing what feels most life supportive or life thriving right now that is the the ultimate focus, rather on what the potential impacts may be. So that’s how I interpreted it.
Della: And, to your point as well, though; what are the ways that we can already see the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible? And kind of water those things that already exist and kind of uplift and amplify them. I love thinking about that. I love thinking about what are the ways that diverse alternative economic systems already exist? Such as the share shops, the cooperatives, the land trusts, the free library on your corner. You know, all the ways that we give gifts to one another and share with one another and and have systems of mutual aid and solidarity and support. So I love thinking about those things already existing. Those more beautiful world our hearts know is possible, already here, and how do we water, uplift and make them even more inclusive? And grow them in a way. So I love your question too, though.
Manda: It’s good and really thank you. Because that helps put everything in perspective, as you always do and clearly and make sense of it. Because it did seem a little bit unlikely that Charles would be saying, sorry, guys, basically life’s going to be hell for the next five generations, but by the sixth generation it will be really cool. Which broadly was the invitation of the Industrial Revolution. You and your children and your grandchildren are all going to live in ghastly circumstances in cities and probably die of cholera. But your great, great, great, great, great grandchildren will have hot and cold running water and and their own car. And look how that turned out. So, yes, you’re right. And this then speaks much more to the Fritjof Capra work that you’re also involved in, of really understanding that we’re all part of a hyper complex system. And what emerges from that cannot be known from here. And yet if we hold clear, clean, generative intentions, then they will hopefully, we hope, ripple out. Was there anything else from that conversation that struck you as something that takes you forward in a new way?
Della: Well, what I guess before going to that, what you’re bringing up within me is maybe an invitation for folks listening, around feedback loops. Because I’ve worked with a lot of folks who say, okay, I just want to contribute right now. I care so much about what’s happening in the world; climate change, ecological system collapse and social unrest, all of it. How do I contribute? And if we think about feedback loops to take a term from systems thinking, then the local feedback loops are the ones that are shorter and more visible. Like if we pick up trash in our neighbourhood or start a renewable energy cooperative in our neighbourhood. Whereas if we’re contributing to a universal basic income plan or some sort of larger political movement, the impact and the feedback loop may be much longer and much more difficult to measure, or even see how that’s impacting things, or when in time and space that will have fruits that we can actually see. So I guess I’m just saying like, how can our work be both the seeable and the knowable, if that’s helpful for folks, but also to trust that these larger forces and larger actions are rippling out and having effects in the web of life.
Manda: Thank you. Because positive feedback helps to reinforce our actions. It is good to have some kind of positive feedback in just basic behavioural terms, because the things that work are the behaviours that become reinforced, so the behaviours we repeat. But at a cognitive level, knowing that there’s stuff happening that we will almost certainly never know, has got to also be important. I’ve got a little anecdote that really cheered me the other day, of a friend in East Anglia, the east of England, who went to a local farming meeting. And it wasn’t set up as regenerative farming, it was just a farming meeting. But there were a couple of quite well known regenerative farmers there. The rest were men in their seventies or eighties, because that’s what our farming demographic is. The average age of farmers in this country is 70. And she said she’d never heard the words ‘total systemic change’ uttered so often in any meeting, including Extinction Rebellion. And most of it was by these old men, saying what we need now is total systemic change. And I thought a year ago, even in local meetings of regenerative farmers, I was struggling to get the idea of total systemic change across.
Manda: And now people who have been industrial farmers, most of their farming lives are understanding that that system is over and that we need something different. And I suspect strongly that their concept of total systemic change and ours are probably not exactly the same, but they’re prepared to listen to new ideas and and the ripple effect of that. I think this feels like the Berlin Wall really beginning to crack. It’s not just people drilling the occasional hole. This is you know, there is now a mosaic of cracks across the wall. Which cheers me up every morning when I wake up and remember that. So thank you. Thank you for the interview. Thank you for giving it to us. And thank you for sharing all of your ideas in your podcast and on ours. And you asked at the end to Charles and Jimi if there was anything else they wanted to add. Is there anything else you would like to add to Accidental Gods?
Della: I am wondering about… If there are so many folks like you’re describing, these older gentleman who really do want systemic change and we really tap into how many folks are really aware of the challenges of our time and really want to contribute. Then what is the barrier? And I guess I’m left feeling a little concerned with how our systems have kind of taken a life of their own and are running themselves in a way. And so I guess I’m wondering, you know, where is it that we in all areas of our life do have choice and agency and can change the operating principles of the system that we’re in? And where we don’t, how can we build movements to affect or change them? So I guess I’m just, in light of your point, it’s not goodwill or effort or desire that is holding us back. There is awareness and there is definitely care and an effort. So what is that barrier? And so yeah, I’m just wondering. And do you have anything else that you’d add? Either in relation to that, or anything that you want to reflect on about the conversation with Jimi and Charles as we close.
Manda: I think the conversation was self contained. My only question was that one that we asked and answered about the generations between now and the beautiful world our hearts know is possible. But I think in answer to your question just now. That was a brilliant opening for Thrutopia. I don’t know if you intended it as that, but because if we don’t have the visions of how the world could be, then we’re not taking agency for something. I think for me, this idea of agency is much more powerful. If it’s got some kind of a vision of where we’re heading and what it feels like in how it works, and the pathway to get there. And very likely the actual pathway won’t resemble at all any of the pathways that we might design. But we’re going to design ideas of what could be, that give people the sense of impetus and momentum so that when they want to do something, they have an idea not only of what to do, but how and why. And once we’ve got that, we can go forward and the world then opens up. So I’m hoping that this is what’s going to happen. And you’re going to join us in Thrutopia. So I’m really looking forward to sharing that work with you. Thank you.
Della: Same here. Thank you so much, Manda, for the work that you’re doing and for hosting this conversation on Accidental Gods.
Manda: And there we go. I hope that was useful. Once again, my deepest thanks to Della Duncan and to Charles and Jimi Eisenstein for a truly beautiful and inspiring journey into the ways that we can think differently. We will be back next week with another conversation. And in the meantime, thanks also to Cara C, our producer for the sound at the Head and Foot and for the sound production. Thanks to Faith Tillery for the website and for the conversations that make this and Thrutopia happen. Thanks to Anne Thomas and Gill Coombes for the transcripts. And as ever, enormous thanks to you for listening. And if you know of anybody else who would like to experience the more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible, then please do send them this link. And that’s it for now. See you next week. Thank you and good bye.
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