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Life Arts

Money - and why we must learn to do without

By       Message robert wolff     Permalink
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For thousands and thousands of years humans lived on what they grew or hunted, and bartered for what a neighbor or neighboring tribe had. Nothing wrong with barter. We have a neighbor less than a mile away who sells eggs from his own chickens for $3 a dozen (in the stores eggs are double that). I asked him whether he would take a bucket of passion fruit for a dozen eggs. Oh yes, for the bucket I showed him he would give me two dozen.

Let's start at home. How can I do without money, or at least with a lot less than I and everyone else used to spend? I grow much of my food and am learning to feed myself with what grows wild. Can I do without a phone? Oh yes. Water is already from my own rainwater tank; cold showers, I grew up with cold water, no showers, we threw water from a tank over our heads. How about my electric water pump. Well, I could get water directly from the tank: it is higher than the house. Doing without a refrigerator? I think about that often before going to sleep. Of course I could if I had to. People did, only a few generations ago. Solar Panels or a wind mill, both are available for a price. A high price here. No light in the dark. Hawaiians had oil lamps; floating wicks in kukui oil. I have many kukui trees, would have to learn how to make oil from the million seeds that are now rotting under the trees. How would I get around? Bicycle; some people already do. My grandsons go distances with a skate board. At the health food store, where I buy all the food I don't find around here on the land, the cheapest bread is now $6.15 and up. I counted, this bread has 18 or 19 slices including the end pieces. That is almost 35 cents a slice. Add a bit of cheese that is $20 and up a pound, and maybe a touch of butter (I prefer sunflower seed butter) -- that makes a simple slice of bread and cheese cost at least half a dollar. Some years ago I spent close to $80 a week for food; now it is a bit over $100 a month. And I keep omitting items I can do without. We who live on our few acres have at least a dozen breadfruit trees that have no particular seasons. Each tree has its own rhythm; haven't figured out why. Breadfruit (here called "ulu, which also means wild) is the staple starch for many Polynesians. It is sweeter than I like, but it is filling. Sweet potato (not sweet at all) grows virtually wild. The other day I pulled some plants up to harvest the bulbous potatoes; I put the plants in a bucket, wanted to wash the potatoes I was planning to cook. Forgot the plants. A week later noticed the plants were healthy looking without soil, their roots in rainwater.

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So, we have more than enough starches, green, and fruit. Much of it wild, needs no fancy gardening. Protein? I don't like, don't eat, meat. But there are at least a hundred wild chickens here. With my grandsons' help we sometimes find eggs. A dozen eggs, ours or bartered, lasts me a month: a two egg omelet once a week, and enough left over for two more omelets maybe on sundays.

Haven't bought any clothes for a long time. Wear one pair of shoes I can slide in and out of. Garden clogs that once were green now a dusty dark. As everywhere in the tropics we wear no shoes indoors. Most people wear slippers that do not last long but cost a dollar or two (made in China or the Philippines). Many years ago I tried to make slippers out of old car tires. The soles were easy. How to attach the straps was a problem, but I figured out a way.  I wore them for a while.

Living simpler we would learn again to have closer contact with the earth, life, people.  We would exchange words and feelings again, helping each other. Humans are social beings; we need the touch of others. Caring and sharing. When I moved here twelve years ago I made an effort to meet my neighbors. Now we wave hello to each other. Everybody works, goes to work every morning, comes back late afternoon. Weekends people mow their lawns. I don't have lawns. There is green, some of it wild grasses, most of it wild ground cover ("weeds'). Occasionally a son or a grandson mows that green.

The people I see on the internet remind me that the presidential election is 45 days away; 40, 30... Some smart people think the two candidates are totally different, the country will either thrive or collapse. Other smart people say that whatever the debates and a billion dollars worth of advertising tells us about the two candidates and regardless who is elected the country will be no different because presidents have little power to change things; it is Big Money that rules the world. I am not one of those smart people. I think that regardless of who wins we--and I mean we the 99%-- need to do some serious thinking and talking about doing without money. When many of us use as little money as we can, businesses are going out of business. Eventually--and this is already happening because people are getting poorer--money will lose its value. One day the 400 men who own more than the wealth of 180 million Americans will have a trillion dollars in their computers that is worth nothing because there are no consumers. They cannot buy us any more.

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There are other ways to make a society work without money. Ultimately I think we must recreate the old world that did not know the concept of owning and so did not need money. A neighborhood could generate its own energy from the sun, the ocean, the wind. No more centralized everything. Neighborhoods, small villages, each with their own food, their own markets, caring and sharing. We'll keep or recreate something like the internet, a way to communicate with others who have a different culture, customs, religion. But by then we will know we are all One with other humans, and also One with all Life; animals our brothers and sisters again, plants dear cousins. Life eats Life, but that includes gratitude and respect for the Life that makes us live.

Maybe a dream but I think the only way our species can survive.

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robert wolff lived on the Big Island, called Hawai'i

his website is He passed away in late 2015. He was born in 1925, was Dutch, spoke, Dutch, Malay, English and spent time living and getting to know Malaysian Aborigines. He authored numerous books including What it Is To Be Human, (more...)

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