As children we are socialised into connecting money with physical survival. This is culturally specific – other cultures connect physical survival with the community and/or the land or spiritual beings. But in Western cultures (and many other cultures too) having no money brings up deep fears about not being able to survive.
In the West money is a key index to the distribution of physical resources. In many cultures, people live within networks of gift and obligation, where physical resources are distributed according to the web of obligation relationships which ensure the whole community’s wellbeing. In contrast, Western culture sees people as “individuals”: atomised entities which have no necessary connections with each other, and whose interactions with each other are arranged as contracts between two “parties”. Fulfilling the contract i.e. supplying the goods and receiving the money, finalises the relationship – it “cleans out” any obligations between the two parties.
Money is also something you can “have”, can accumulate and store. Physical resources and social participation are accessed by “having” money – money is a gateway or entry condition for these things. So in the West access to basic physical resources and social participation are highly conditional – they are not seen as a birthright by virtue of being alive.
Even though this is horrifically harsh at one level, at another level this commercial or “contractarian” approach was historically a massive step forward. The benefit of inserting money into the community web is that it allows radical freedom i.e. it allows people to pursue life paths outside of the community’s norms. It means that individuals are not obligated to participate in the tightly woven kinship networks which are “traditional” i.e. they work by maintaining large areas of shared values and perspectives deriving from what’s worked in the past.
So in the West we have the freedom to do anything we want, as long as we are prepared to “govern ourselves” i.e. as long as we are prepared to comply with the basic game of generating money for ourselves (and some other things). The 19th and 20th centuries saw this ethos gradually become established as the Western cultural norm.
Two quite unrelated developments in the last 30-40 years are now prompting some new directions. Firstly, the dawning of “aquarian consciousness” or the “New Age” has seen the development of a wholly new set of technologies of selfhood and relationship. Building on the prevailing emphasis on individualism, these new technologies support us to become increasingly anchored in a self which is more internal and less reliant on external anchors such as marriage, job, money, and family.
Secondly, the rise of neoliberalism and globalisation has stripped away the last remaining vestiges of the pre-modern fabric of community, and thrown us in to the fully contractarian neoliberal “free market” in which “choices” proliferate as long as they are economic choices, and we must engage with these “choices” because there is less and less social security.
Increasingly people who are working with the first (i.e. a more internally anchored self) are questioning the amoral and impersonal basis of the second, and are asking “how can we do things differently?”
The opportunity is clear: it is possible to reduce our need for money if we involve ourselves more in community relationships. This is not to say we can do away with money entirely. Rather, we can reduce how much money we need each week by sharing more, co-operating more, and being involved in more community activities.
But this goes against our Western heritage as individuals with radical freedom – and as a result increased co-operation and sharing challenges us at a very deep level. We can meet these challenges and go through a profound transformation of self by becoming adept with the New Age technologies of self which enable us to successfully engage in relationships by being even more “selfish” or self-anchored than is customary in the modern West.
The change specifically around money which is enabled by this transformative self-work is to gradually loosen our socialised deep emotional connection between money and physical survival, and to harness some physical survival needs to relationships and community.
An example of how this can work is in house sharing. Many people share housing because they can’t afford to have a place on their own. In other words, what most people really want is their own place, their own home. Sharing is largely seen as a necessary evil or a step on the path to something “real” i.e. their own home.
This view is based in the belief that it’s not possible to really feel “at home” with people who are not “family” (or perhaps not with people at all). Most people in house shares “put up a front” when dealing with housemates, and of course this takes effort. But what if we could be “really ourselves” with our housemates? What if our housemates also wanted to do that? What if we used these new technologies of self to build relationships with housemates which are not “family” in the conventional sense but are nevertheless intimate enough that we come to feel deeply “at home” i.e. safe to be our real self in their company?
This transforms a house-share situation from a burdensome or awkward arrangement which must therefore be only temporary into something which is deeply nourishing and therefore sustainable indefinitely. “Home” is neither “family” nor an onerous necessity through economic lack. “Home” segues into “intimate community”.
What makes this possible is technologies of self which enable us to expose our vulnerabilities to a far greater extent because we are also able to set boundaries when we need to. For most of us most of the time, personal boundaries and ours sense of safety are maintained by a collection of common social arrangements which are part of the structure of our lives. We live in spaces defined by physical walls which cut off interaction; we move between episodes of social interaction which have clear endings; we engage in contractarian exchanges which are completed; etc.
Rather than relying on structural aspects of situations to maintain our personal boundaries, a deeper connection with our inner world enables us to detect our safety needs “on the fly” and to communicate those to our companions in ways which enable us to stay safe AND stay in connection. This means that the episodic nature of interactions which is currently largely organised for us by the structures in our environment no longer need to occur for reasons of psychic wellbeing or personal integrity. Episodes of interaction end for purely physical reasons – you want to go to place X while I go to place Y. Or I want to spend 1-2-1 time with you, then you, then you. Even though we are physically separated the sense of connection can continue, the openness to that person or people continues internally, and thus psychically we stay in relationship.
In this context, sharing physical resources becomes simply a matter of practical organising rather than coded negotiations around personal boundaries. Financially this is an enormous benefit since in our affluent society there are vast quantities of physical resources available around us all the time which are inaccessible to us simply because of relational difficulties. But in practice the vast majority of those physical resources lie idle most of the time or are used for only a short time before being discarded.
There is a huge world here to explore. House sharing is only one example – obviously it can be applied in many areas of life. Of course there’s many reasons to explore what’s possible in relationships – not just to do with money! And there are many doorways into it. Our relationship with money is just one doorway in, and the questions I ask in relation to money are: how do you organise your physical survival? And how do you arrange your social participation? Making shifts in either of these areas brings up our “stuff” about money and about relationships and, ultimately, our “stuff” about self. And that’s where the work begins!