Wealth is not wealth
Wealth is not what we are taught. Wealth is a verb, not a noun. Wealth is not stuff; it is a fiercely protected system of concentration. It is the act of the hoarding, and is a pillar of our culture.
The Agricultural Revolution, The “Dominion Revolution”
This system was invented by one tribe in the fertile crescent 10,000 years ago during an event called the Agricultural Revolution.
This historical event has been grossly misnamed. It should be called the Dominion Revolution. The change had nothing to do with farming. People were farming and eating way before then. It had everything to do with a complete reversal of the story we live by from, "we belong to the earth," to "the world belongs to man."
This is the point where our modern Taker culture was born. Until the Agricultural Revolution all of humanity were indigenous Leaver peoples. We were just one of thirty million species -- we were simply part of the fire of life. One universal shared animist spirituality shared across thousands of cultures.
Once we saw the world as our own, and that we can take from and apart regardless of the consequences, a whole new set of possibilities opened up. It started with denying our competitors access to food and privatizing the land. If the world belonged to man, not only things but all life including people can be possessed or at least exploited. Every social justice problem directly stems the dominion story that perpetuates our modern mono-culture or civilization.
War, Privatization, and Fear—The End of Nature’s Peace Keeping Law of Limited Competition
Once you extended the logic of dominion all the way out, you were now allowed to wage war. A lion only takes one gazelle, and the rest of the gazelles go back to grazing because they know the lion follows the peace keeping law of nature or law of limited competition: only take what you need to survive, no more. However, since the world belongs to man, he may take all of the gazelles, or trees; he may wage war on the forest or even his fellow man. He may start to accumulate beyond his needs.
Since it is too disruptive to wage war all of the time to get what you want, a lower level system of violence needed to be invented to get what you wanted. The solution was privatization and locking up the food so everyone had to work within the hierarchical, consumptive, Taker system to survive. If you did not work or at least behave within the system you did not get fed.
Forcing everyone to work within the system and enabling concentration of wealth yields a system of incentives to create a desired social behavior that self-perpetuates the system itself. From top to bottom, everyone has the incentive to work to merely survive or accumulate wealth. Once you crawl your way to the top, you ignore all of the people, places, and species that you stepped on the way, and actually believe you deserve to be there and then start fiercely defending your position.
The incentives are the chance that you will get security and even promoted in our culture if you play by the rules. The other incentive is fear; fear is the fuel of our culture or civilization. This includes the obvious fear of not being fed or given a place to live, and down to the fear of enforcement upon you of rules we have written called laws.
Economics is the science of rationalizing the wrong moves for the wrong reasons. Fear is the universal enforcer of narrow vision and blind momentum. — Tom Ward
These incentives are ingrained in us since the moment we are born by almost everyone, every process, story, and cultural item we see. We become attached to things and also become fearful that we could lose our things. By living in this culture, we live in a constant state of subliminal fear and are motivated almost solely by it.
We live in a world without limits. Not limits of what we can achieve, progress is actually not necessarily good. We live in a world without limits of what we will do to keep our place, and our things. Our Taker culture has suspended nature’s peace keeping law of limited competition.
Culture is not our food, clothing, or language. Culture is what system we use to make a living. In our culture you do not need a conspiracy theory planning how to maintain the hierarchy. You just need a uniform set of incentives motivating everyone’s behavior to self perpetuate the system of consumption, accumulation, or wealth.
Hierarchies Accentuate Concentration
By having everyone living within the hierarchy, you can have dozens or -- with technology -- thousands of people doing the concentrating for you. The way to get rich is to direct your way part of the concentrating flow from as large a network as possible.
That is why our system embraces large corporations -- they enable the largest concentration network possible. We don't need a transnational corporation to flip hamburgers, but with 31,000 restaurants, you can concentrate $23.5 billion a year. Wealth is not the $23.5 billion, it is the system that allows something that does not really exist, a corporation, to operate a chain of 31,000 restaurants exploiting 1.5 million employees world wide.
Protection of Hierarchies
Our modern Taker system is fiercely protected. You can't end private property by taking the property of the wealthy. Hierarchies maintain great defenses from attacks from below. McDonald’s grows where McDonald-Douglas goes, now Boeing.
Government especially exists to enforce the system of private property and wealth, along with the infrastructure and markets that enable concentration. Make no mistake about it: government is not here to feed you, as most naively believe. The regulations, laws, zoning, finances, markets, inspectors, police, and military are here to make sure no one messes with private property or the market.
Markets are especially important to keep running because they are the levers used to extract and concentrate resources as fast as possible. Markets and money also useful to filter out externalities such as pollution or social injustices. Money and markets are blind.
Further, if we want another country's natural resources, first we send in the corporations, then the jackals if necessary, and, if they didn't succeed, the military. No ifs, ands, or buts. They system will try to continue and expand at any cost. This meme is taught to us since childhood by "father culture" that civilization is the end of history and must progress at any cost.
This system of protection of the hierarchy is far more than overt force. It includes deep stratification of education, social cliques, and access to capital. Before my awakening I had all three and played within the system. I interned for President Reagan and had seen the inside of several Fortune 100 companies all by the time I was 35. With a little luck, it worked.
Now I am trying to give it all back through one of the country's few really sustainable models and education. Restoration Farm builds topsoil, biodiversity, community, and offers permaculture education. Show me a list of companies that do that.
The Consumption of Population
The ultimate expression of dominion is expansion of your population. The story that Adam chose Eve is misunderstood because the word Eve is mistranslated. Eve means life, it does not mean a person or a woman. Adam, choosing unrestrained life, means he is choosing abandoning Nature’s peacekeeping law of limited competition, and accepting unlimited procreating supported by totalitarian agriculture.
Taker peoples have always been able to overwhelm Leaver peoples because they had more people from a greater food supply. Again, we return to the misunderstanding of the Agricultural Revolution: Because the Takers decided to take all of the land for human food production and uses, they simultaneously denied their fellow species' access to food, and so built their human population. They made the choice to consume the world, start the food-population race, and literally convert the natural world to human flesh.
This all stems from the choice of dominion or taking, which birthed our system of concentration and wealth. When you see wealth of any level, see it for what it is, our culture’s fiercely protected system of concentration through domination.
We Need a New Story
After being on the inside, and through traveling, I know how it works for the very few, and does not work for everyone else -- human and our non-human relations. I also know now that you cannot reverse the system from within the system. You have to get far enough from it to develop a new story. There in lies the solution.
More and more of us want a new story, a new way to live. We want to make a living that does not end in insecurity, a life of bad food, not thinking for oneself, poor health, wage slavery, no retirement, and a death detached from your family. What are those things but civilization?
Tribal Solution to Making a Living
A tribe or a smaller band is a group of people who want to make a living together. A "community" today may be no more than a grouping of Yuppies in close proximity. These are two very different things. More tribe-like or band-like is a circus -- literally. In a small circus, everyone has decided to throw in their lot, and make a living together. No one is higher or lower. Being the "boss" is still just a job that someone may have to do, but comes with no privileges. Decisions are made by consensus.
A tribe is group of people who are land locked and combine what they have, be it land, tools, or skills, and then make a living together. A tribe also has a sense of place in their watershed or bioregion. That is important, but is not the focus of this discussion.
The trick is to carve out enough space to be able to detach ourselves from the modern Taker world. The Amish call this avoiding entanglements with our culture. That is why the old order of Amish drive wagons with wood-steel wheels that they can build and maintain instead of rubber wheels they can't. The point of creating some level of autonomy as a group is to gain the freedom to live your own culture and stories such as, "humanity belongs to the earth." If you are married to modern culture you can’t live a new story or imagine a new vision.
Now, the Amish do and do not live tribally. They live in a grey area in between. Each family still owns its own land, but work together cooperatively in another sense.
We have to end private property and hierarchical government, and replace the failed story of dominion. Concentration, wealth, poverty, every global crisis, and social injustice are the end result of the story we tell ourselves about the nature of the world we live in, “the world belongs to man.”
We will lose a lot of cool stuff in this new world or “earth culture” as I call it, but peak oil is going to do that for us anyway.
Natural Wealth and Permaculture
Real wealth is the resilience of nature and her ecosystems measured by biodiversity, topsoil, and cooperative connections. Ecosystems cooperate and have synergies that are not about competition.
Going back to the lion, the lion is most secure when the ecosystem is most healthy, diverse, and intact allowing for the most food to eat. This can only happen when the lion’s population and rate of consumption follow nature’s peace keeping law of limited competition.
Real human wealth is your community, education, and the cradle-to-grave security that results. Real wealth results from giving security to get security; it does not come from making things to get things.
If you are not taught to think outside the box, it’s hard to think outside of our culture. At Restoration Farm we teach people in my local community, students, and interns from around he world to see with whole-system eyes. I am finding a huge divide in the education level between lay people and those who have studied permaculture. Permaculture helps you see holistically, something we are not taught in school. In in our educational system, each department is separated, very little is taught as a whole system. Your typical economics course does not tell you that for every dollar made, the planet is trashed somewhere, and people and species are exploited along the way. It is far more important to learn how a whole ecosystem works, than it is to split atoms.
The point is, recognize wealth, and our Taker culture for what it really is.
Visit www.culturequake.org to read the most updated version of this essay and to read the blog as a whole work, visit the Culturequake amazon.com book store, and learn more about the book Culturequake: The Fall of Modern Culture and the Rise of Earth Culture. Visit www.restorationfarm.org to learn what we are doing to grow new stories and cultures. ©2009 Chuck Burr LLC.