Recently, author and "de-growth activist" Charles Eisenstein stopped by the Martenson homestead while traveling on business. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Chris sat him down to record an impromptu discussion on the nature of wealth.
As should come as little surprise to Peak Prosperity readers, financial wealth ("money") is just one component — and given society’s current over-fixation with it, its pursuit oftentimes limits our ability to be truly wealthy:
For a lot of people with money, they have wrapped their identity up in it. That is their narrative. They are running around with this narrative that identifies themselves with their wealth. They know on some level that this is fantasy wealth because all you have to do is read any one of a hundred books now on the subject that says money is printed out of thin air, which means it is an idea. An idea that one segment of society, a very small one, gets to just literally make out of thin air. It is like your whole identity depends on what the magician is going to do next. You know deep down you cannot control that.
For a period of time, financial wealth and real wealth,have been the same concept. But then there are all of these other periods of history, again, easy to find, where humans behave like humans. They decide to take the easy road out. To print money out of thin air. To debase the coinage if you were in Roman times. To print the physical currency on paper stock if you were in Weimar times. Or today, the electronic equivalent — which is harder to track and feel, so it creates that little undercurrent of dread. It is not like you can see the bank notes piling up in the street, right? So where do you get your clues? They are a little bit harder to track.
That is part of the devious nature of our current monetary system. It is just one-step too complex for the vast majority of people to follow. For the people who can follow it, and I interact with these people all the time. People who are up to their eyeballs, 30 years deep trading, 24 hours a day in their hedge fund. They are the most nervous people I know. They are the ones who are buying retreat compounds with bunkers and beans and all of that stuff, right, because they can imagine a binary outcome. It either works or it does not. That gives them a lot of dread.
The other dread for all the other people just sitting around with wealth is this. Their identity is wrapped up in it and so they have that narrative. What happens if your money goes away? Well, then who are you?
Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Charles Eisenstein (61m:41s)
Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity Podcast. I am your host, of course, Chris Martenson and a very special venue and guest today. Today I get to actually sit across the table, one of my favorite ways of doing this. As you know, I usually am on the phone with people I am talking with. It is so much more lively and who could be livelier than Charles Eisenstein? We are going to be discussing whatever comes up. This is really a conversation that you get to listen in on and I am really excited to have this conversation. I hope you get as much out of it as I am sure I will.
Charles Eisenstein: All right.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, so you are here at the Martenson homestead.
Charles Eisenstein: That is right.
Chris Martenson: You know and we have been working on this for a long time. This is a part of my life that I do not think people get to see a lot because I am writing about economics. We are recording this. We are just hours away from the Fed’s most important rate decision. The whole world is waiting. It is just all this fantasy stuff. Then this, what you are here seeing, this is my life. This is my reality side of the equation.
Charles Eisenstein: Yeah, which is a bit reassuring to me because if somebody is radical and thinking on the edge and pushing the edge in some way and then I go visit them and their life is totally orthodox in every other way, than I start to wonder. Well, what good is it really going to do if it is not going to be incorporated in the rest of life, because our society is not wrong along just one axis. The whole thing has got to change, not just economics or not just medicine, or not just education. At some point, I think this happens to a lot of people, when you start questioning orthodoxy, then your whole life changes.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, we have I guess an unorthodox lifestyle here, but you know, we live in a suburban area. There is like everybody is on a couple of acres. There is—
Charles Eisenstein: It is not like you have a free love commune here. It is still like you have got your house and you have got your daughters and your community and gardens and chickens and grapevines.
Chris Martenson: Yes, my favorites. I love the grapevines. They are like, those are my surrogate girls. Grapevines are the feminine to me. They are just untamed, wild, and amazingly abundant, which is unbelievable.
Charles Eisenstein: I think one thing that I was thinking since we are maybe going to talk about wealth or economics or who knows if we go there, but there is a kind of wealth here. To be able to walk out, barefoot into the grass, and pick your own grapes, that is a kind of wealth that I do not think any amount of money could substitute for. You could have the most magnificent Park Avenue apartment and you would not get that. You could have a 70-foot yacht and it would not give you that. I think a lot of the pursuit of monetary wealth and a lot of the insecurity around that kind of reflects a deep insecurity and sense of not belonging in the world and not being nourished by the world, not having intimate connections with nature, with community. You miss all that and then you are hungry for something. Wealth kind of fills that void, but as we are seeing with the whole financial merry-go-round now how much—sometimes I will read Zero Hedge or one of the insider financial websites. People are so paranoid, and I guess anxious is the word for it. These are the people with money. Most of them are in the top one percent or close to it. It is just so obvious that it almost seems like wealth is causing them anxiety.
Chris Martenson: Well, it is and it should be because for a lot of these people, they have wrapped their identity up in it. That is their narrative. They are running around with this narrative that identifies themselves with their wealth. They know on some level that this is fantasy wealth because all you have to do is read any one of a hundred books now on the subject that says money is printed out of thin air, which means it is an idea. An idea that one segment of society, a very small one, gets to just literally make out of thin air. It is like your whole identity depends on what the magician is going to do next. That is not something—you know deep down you cannot control that.
For a period of time, financial wealth and real wealth are the same thing. They are the same concept, but then there are all of these other periods of history, again, easy to find, where humans behave like humans. Decided to take the easy road out. Print money out of thin air. Debase the coinage if you were in Roman times. Print the physical currency on paper stock if you were in Weimar times. Or today, the electronic equivalent which is harder to track and feel, so it creates that little undercurrent of dread. It is not like you can see the bank notes piling up in the street, right? Where do you get your clues? They are a little bit harder to track.
That is part of the devious nature of our current monetary system. It is just one-step too complex for the vast majority of people to follow. But for the people who can follow it, and I interact with these people all the time, people who are up to their eyeballs, 30 years deep trading, 24 hours a day in their hedge fund. They are the most nervous people I know. They are the ones who are buying retreat compounds with bunkers and beans and all of that stuff, right, because they can imagine a binary outcomes. It either works or it does not. That gives them a lot of dread.
The other dread for all the other people just sitting around with wealth is this: their identity is wrapped up in it and so they have that narrative. What happens if your money goes away? Well, then who are you? Am I a nice person? Do I have other marketable skills? Have I ever been vulnerable so people can find out who I truly am so I know how the world really acts to me, not my shell, not my money, not my face that I put out there? This becomes, I think, the existential dread. There is a quote that goes way back that says, “There are none so poor as those who only have money.” Right and it is speaking to that same idea because your wealth becomes you and if it goes away, you go away.
Our money is fantasy. It is just, it literally—we saw it in 2008. We are going to see it again. There has to be a financial reckoning. We know this because the world has amassed over 200 trillion dollars of debt. It could only do that if it had this one narrative running, which is the future is going to be bigger so that we can pay all that back, plus all the new debt that we are going to accumulate as we go there. The whole thing works as long as everything is expanding. What do you do? You open the paper yesterday. What do you find out? Well, World Wildlife Foundation is like oh, 70 percent of the world’s fish are gone. Oh, wildfires are burning out of control all over the place. Oh, we are having a lot of difficulty. Our aquifers are disappearing. Oh, you know it is just one body blow after another to the narrative of, "we can just keep doing this forever."
Charles Eisenstein: Yeah and part of that narrative is kind of this faith in technology that whatever resource we deplete, we will come up with a technological substitute and market forces will actually stimulate the creation of that technological substitute. Because when the aquifers are all gone, there will be so much money in artificial water that some brilliant person will engineer a substitute for aquifers and for fish and for pollinators and for the air, for the planet. So part of the whole narrative is this Masters of Universe narrative, which is interesting that Wall Street has been also associated with the phrase Masters of the Universe. I think that like you were saying money is an idea. I like to call it a story.
Because it goes along with wall of these narratives and agreements that people have. People have to agree to the idea. But it is also—and you were kind of referring to this, too— magic. By the time people listen to this, this will be past history, but the Federal Reserve is going to decide if they are going to raise interest rates. The way that they do that is basically through incantations. Their words have this kind of magical power. They proclaim something. It is not like they have a gun to somebody’s head and say, "you had better start buying more securities on the open market." They simply proclaim it. As if they had some voodoo power, people begin to act accordingly. I got the sense in the 2008 crisis that the power of these incantations was wearing thin. Ben Bernanke, he would say, “Prosperity is just around the corner.” Maybe that was actually Hoover, but you know he would say that and it would not work.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, there have been multiple bubbles running. It is a distinction that is important because a lot of people say, “Oh, remember in 2008, that was the housing crisis” as if that was a housing bubble that blew up and that was the proximate cause of everything. The truth is, that was a side bubble. The main bubble started in the late 1980s when we got on this crazy idea that we could create debt in the United States at twice the rate our income was growing. We did that for 45 years, faithfully. For 45 years running in the data series, debt was compounding at eight percent per year, which may not sound like a lot, but we are using the magic rule of 72. We can ask this question: How long before something that is growing at eight percent, how long will that take before it doubles in size?
Charles Eisenstein: Eight point six years.
Chris Martenson: Right. It is just, bing, right. So every eight years-ish, our country said we need twice as much debt, twice as much debt, twice as much did. We did that reliably for 45 years. That is what broke in 2008. The housing bubble was a side component of that phenomenon. Think that through. Every 8.6 years we need things to double twice as big.
Charles Eisenstein: Really, I even see the whole debt bubble as a symptom of something deeper, which is the end of growth. The system does not work. Like you were actually saying this before. If money is created through debt, then there is always more debt than there is money. To prevent bankruptcies and deflation, you have to keep printing even more money, which comes along with even more debt to pay off the existing debt. That has to go on forever. That can only happen as long as the real economy is growing, sustainably. If the real economy stops growing, than the debt grows faster than the ability to repay it. That is why all of the political elites and economic elites say "well the solution is to stimulate growth again. If we could only return to the days of high growth, then everything would be fine." They are right. If we could return to 1870s rates of growth, we could grow our way out of the debt. But for one thing, the ecosystem cannot sustain that. There are other arguments, too, for the end of growth that basically talk about kind of a saturation of demand. Like how much does a human being really need that is measurable in money? How many appliances? One time I asked when I was teaching at a university somehow, I asked the class, "how many TVs do you own?" It ranged from the lowest number was three in your family, in your household. The highest was 11.
Chris Martenson: Eleven?
Charles Eisenstein: Somebody had 11 TVs in their house. Like how many more? We have this idea that the more stuff we have, the wealthier we are, but how many refrigerators can you have? How many TVs? There is this kind of saturation. Then what about services? Maybe we can grow services. But what is a service, actually? It is the replacement of a relationship with a monetized relationship. Say your family member gets bit by a dog. In the old days he’d have a lot of folk knowledge about how to take care of that bite. You have maybe the village grandmother next door who knew how to do it with herbs. None of that would be paid for. You would be living in a house that you built yourself with the help of neighbors. If your house burned down, then everybody would help rebuild it. So these have been converted into services called "medicine," called "homebuilding," and called "insurance." Insurance is basically a substitute for a community helping each other out, taking care of each other.
How many of these services, how many of these relationships can be converted into paid services until there is nothing left? I am speaking at a coaching conference in a couple of weeks. I am going to ask that question, too. Like, is this the monetization of friendship? Of wise advice? Of something an uncle used to do? Something that a village elder used to do? We are so depleted, no more community and no more nature. Can we keep doing this? Do we want to keep doing this? Do we even want sustainable growth? What about some other kind of wealth?
Chris Martenson: Well, think about this idea. Adam Taggart and I have just written another book. It is coming out in a month or so. What we have done is we have been talking about all of these different forms of wealth for a while. Then we came across this work by Ethan Roland and Gregory Landua out of the permaculture side called it The Eight Forms of Capital.
Charles Eisenstein: Yeah, I have come across that, yeah.
Chris Martenson: You need all these different eight forms. We said this is a good organizing framework. We had slightly different forms, but the idea there is to make it that explicit, that these are forms of capital. We talked about is as wealth, but people seem to like this capital idea.
Charles Eisenstein: It makes you sound smarter if you call it that. [Laughs]
Chris Martenson: Yes, "it’s capital." Right, but what you are talking about there is this idea that when the local healer and the neighbors rebuild those things, that is—what happened there was those threads of social connection got woven more deeply into strings and strings become ropes, right. The thing about a financial transaction is once you exchange the money, it is over. It is done.
Charles Eisenstein: No obligation remains.
Chris Martenson: Yes, and that is both its brilliance—it is cost effective. It is efficient. It is a lot of things. Those are things we elevate in our current narrative. It is like we want to sell more stuff to more people and as cheaply and possible. That is our mantra. When we do that, we do it really well. But when you do sell stuff like childcare services, like entertainment, like the things that you were talking about that we used to do for ourselves, when you do that transaction, when I shell out 300 bucks to go see a rock star, that is it. I get that one experience and it is over. So this idea then is that it is efficient, but what are we missing? That is the part I feel like is the conversation we never have. "Oh, god, look how much better your smart phone is?" Well, what did it take away by being so much better? Because it is better. What is missing on the other side of that? Maybe social interaction. Maybe I am losing the ability to exercise the parts of my brain that can calculate 8 into 72. Maybe I am losing whatever these pieces are, right. There is always something lost with a new thing gained. I think elder cultures used to have a more careful process for saying, “Wait a minute. Here is a new thing. That is fine, but what does it really mean?"
Charles Eisenstein: I was really enjoying last night. You had people over and it was a potluck. People were singing. That is a good example. If the economy crashes, you can all still sing together. You have that social capital. You will not be impoverished in the way that someone would be who does not have access to people who can create fun together. It makes you more resilient.
We were talking about—this isn’t a kind of wealth that is hard to get. It is kind of readily available and everybody is hungry for it. But we have social structures and even kind of the infrastructure of suburbia keeps us separate from it.
We were talking this morning before we were recording about how a totally different world is really, really close. You were talking about this medical cannabis thing where people who are on opiate drugs for years, terrible pain that just is getting worse and worse and they are on more and more drugs. Then they take this herbal remedy and the pain is gone. It is a miracle.
Chris Martenson: Oh, it is astonishing.
Charles Eisenstein: That is not going to contribute to GDP. There is no big research apparatus, clinical trials.
Chris Martenson: You could not patent it and sell it for $1,000 a pill for $100,000 for the course of treatment like this company did that figured out how to cure hep C. Right, hepatitis C, terrible, it ruins your liver. They discover this drug and they are selling it to us here in America for $1,000 a pill just about. It will cost you $100,000 to get through. India has already gone off patent on the whole thing. They are producing it for about eight bucks a pill, right? Here is this idea that a company—and that is what we support. Like, "Gilead Biociences, good job. You discovered this life saving remedy." But now they are going to gouge for as much as they think the market could possibly bear and a little further. The cannabinoids, there is no market like that because you cannot patent it. It is a plant. It grows for free. I am sure Monsanto is working on figuring out how to create a strain that is theirs through the magic of GMO.
I first came across the cannabinoid story when I watched this TED Talk by this guy who was one of the first pioneers. They are called CBDs, cannabinoids. The CBDs have been known to have these properties. They had really been investigating and they grew these astonishingly high CBD ratio plants that looks like marijuana but the reaction between THC, which is the psychoactive one that people smoke, the hippies smoke in the Grateful Dead parking lots to get high, versus the CBD. They grow strains that have so little THC, you can smoke it all day long and never experience a buzz. It is just a plant with no psychoactive properties, but has these other things. Our bodies are loaded with cannabinoid receptors. We are still trying to figure out what they do. They are in our central nervous system. They are out in our peripheral nervous system. They are there.
He was talking about this case of a girl named Charlotte. By the time he had seen her first, she was five years old. She had been born as a twin. Her twin was fine, but she had a certain type of epilepsy, one of the most severe forms. By the time she was three, she was having upwards of 20 to 30 grand mal seizures a day. By the time she is four, she has got the little blue helmet, totally socially and intellectually retarded in development. The doctors had basically gotten to the point where they said there is nothing we can do. Her mother had already had to revive her through CPR twice. They said that is it. Just get ready. They had a "do not resuscitate." The DNR was on this little girl for the next big episode in the hospital. That is where they were. They were at their wit’s end. They said, “What can we do?”
They heard about this cannabinoid oil. They went and they tried it. She gets a teaspoon in a syringe under the tongue. She swallows it. Two days later, she is down to one petit mal seizure and that is how she has been ever since. Now, she has caught back up. They have her in the audience. You can see pictures. She is a dancing, smiling, totally cured little girl. She has to continue taking this medicine, right? Which is an oil that comes from a plant and it is a cure. Here is the heartbreaking part. There are about 1,100 other families with children with the same type of epilepsy, a rare form. They are not allowed to have this substance shipped to them. They have had to make a hard family decision. They had to move to Colorado where it is legal to produce and distribute this stuff because the federal government has decided that anything that says "marijuana," even if it can’t get you high, is still a schedule one drug. If they ship this stuff across state lines, they would be in federal prison.
When you say: Are there things right in front of us that we can change this story? Right there, right? If we were a wise, intelligent country, we would go "oh my gosh, not only is the CBD stuff great for epilepsy in certain forms, but it shows huge pain management. It has got exceptional characteristics for certain types of cancers—like stops it in its tracks, like kills it kind of a thing." If we were a wise country, we would say let us put several billion U.S. federal taxpayer dollars into this to really study it so we know the best doses for the right things. We can get this treatment out to people who need it. We can make it all free. I think that would be a useful, wise response. What is happening? Eric Holder’s Justice Department under Obama has been fighting this every step of the way including raiding these dispensaries and trying to shut it down and pretending as if the people voting for themselves that they want to have either recreational or medical marijuana in their state, pretending as if that was somehow a horrible thing for people to vote on something that went against the wishes of the federal government because they have a DEA who has a budget that they would love to protect and taking big bad marijuana out of their budget would be a horrible thing for thousands of bureaucrats.
Charles Eisenstein: It is hard to know what to say.
Chris Martenson: Well, it is just an example. It is just one of those little—that is just a little story, but we can frame that story 1,000 ways.
Charles Eisenstein: Yeah and in every field. You can talk about the educational industrial complex and come up with the same stories of kids who, at enormous expense, are being shunted through the school to prison pipeline and fed psychoactive drugs to make them pay attention and kept them behind barbed wire. Schools are a lot like prisons in a lot of ways. Or we can talk about agriculture—the same kind of chemical treadmill that happens to people pharmacologically also happens in agriculture. Where you apply one herbicide and that does something and you have to apply a second one, then an insecticide, and a fungicide. It is just this kind of addictive pattern where the solution to the problems caused by technology is even more technology. "I get drunk. I feel good. The next morning I feel shitty. My life starts to fall apart. To make myself feel better, I drink even more. That works again." Again, it is the same pattern as technological a fix.
The debt crisis is the same. How are we going to keep this system running a little longer? How are we going to enable the debtors to make their payments? Well, you can lend them even more. It is the same pattern.
I think it fits in with the guiding ideology of civilization, which is a growth ideology. The ideology essentially says there is no limit to our ability to engineer ourselves out of whatever situation we are in. Kind of like the Holy Grail in physics is the theory of everything. In technology it is maybe nanotechnology and genetic engineering. It says someday we will have perfect understanding and perfect control over physical reality and social reality, too. Using the methods that were developed in the 16th, 17th, 18th century and scientific approach to solving problems, using these methods, we will be able to engineer all problems out of existence.
It is a reductionistic ideology, too. What is the cause of suffering? Well, you know it is certain brain chemicals. It is brain chemistry. If we can have complete enough control over that, we will be able to eliminate suffering. What is the cause of crime? What is the cause of poverty? If we can only gather enough data and exert enough force in the right places and according to the right equations—and that is why it is called the Social Sciences. That is why economics pretends to be a science. It says you can reduce reality to something measurable, to something quantifiable. Economics, as it is known today, is purely the study of the quantifiable. Usually, it is the study of money. Some economists try to expand it and use some other metrics. You hear about alternative metrics, but it is still about metrics. It is still part of the ideology that only what is measurable is real. That is an ideology that goes back to Hume and Galileo even. I think the transition that we are in—and this involves money and economic thinking, too—the transition that we are in is back toward the unquantifiable, toward the qualitative, the things that actually make life rich.
Even if cannabinoids—you were saying it differently, something like that. I have always said "cannabinoids," but it is probably wrong. Even with that, to make it into a drug, whether or not it is patented, you have to extract. You have to extract the active ingredient. The ideology says that there is an active ingredient. That its efficacy is based on a certain something inside of it and not on the holistic interaction of all of its ingredients. Many people find that with herbs, that the raw herb is more effective. The same thing, you know we were talking about permaculture, too. Like you were talking about these guys. I would like to hear about that again, these guys out in California. They are getting incredible yields. It is not because they have isolated the factors behind incredible yields. That is called the chemical fertilizer.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, this is—so we have done a podcast with Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser of Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastopol, California. I had an opportunity to go for a farm tour. I was pretty excited. Now, I would actually drive hundreds of miles out of my way if I was anywhere near to go take one of their farm tours because it was the seeing, it was the being in what they created. They are incredibly intelligent. They did not start out saying, “We are going to demonstrate that permaculture works.” They did not even know the word. They were two ecologists. They were saying, “How can we grow in a way that is ecologically right?”
One example: they understood predator-prey relationships. If you understand how coyotes and rabbits come along, you understand that rabbits breed very quickly. They tend to get out of control. The coyotes breed much more slowly, but eventually they catch up. There is this whole dynamic relationship of predator and prey. They said, “Well, insects are the same. Insects are your problem on any farm. What do we need to do?” Well, simple things like interspersing rows of crops, but then they planted these hedgerows with very, very diverse species in them. The ones I saw had these giant lavender and rosemary, all of the things they can grow in their Zone 8 awesomeness out there in California.
So they built these hedgerows every so often under the theory, the idea that your crops when you take them down, you remove basically the substrate that insects live on. You would take your pests out, but you would take the predator out as well. So the hedgerows are for the predators. They are longer living, they are slower reproducing, and so they need a place to hang out. So they created all of these hedgerows.
When I was there—I’m a gardener. I love gardening. I did not see any pest pressure. They had huge rows of brassicas, all different kinds, not one cabbage looper flying around, not one little moth eaten thing. I am like, “Do your have trouble with these little green worms in your broccoli?” I mean people hate that, right? They were like, “No, we do not have those.” I’m like, how can you not have those? While I was standing there, I counted—that is one thing that I do—over 30 species of birds in the local area. They have these catchment ponds that they tested fully for nitrogen. They have no nitrogen runoff; their soil just will not let it out. I saw night herons, a killdeer, what I consider to be very sensitive apex species that honestly I have not seen in a while. They had them all. I am just watching this go on. It was just nature. It looked a little unruly, but these people measured everything.
Here is one measurement: They are getting 100,000 dollars per acre in gross revenue off of their farm. The average organic farm in the region gets 14,000 dollars an acre. They get seven crops a year because they can go right through the winter. They said, “Oh, by the way, we have a crappy microclimate here. We are eight degrees colder than the average farmer out here because of this little nestle that we are in.” They have a harsher January or February, but their plants are so healthy they can weather a pretty good nip. They are growing all year round. They said, “Well, here is how this plays out. We are not like a normal CSA where we have to sign people up every June and then we lose them every October because we are out of stuff. We keep our CSA members supplied all year round so we do not have to go through that regular boom-bust thing. We are selling tomatoes in May. Nobody else is. We are out there at 5.50, six bucks a pound. By the time everybody is hitting the markets with tomatoes in August, we are not. We are on to some other crops that nobody else has.” They have been smart about every way they have stacked and layered, when/how they produce, and the relationship they are in. The real measure is—and they said, “Everything is about your soil health.” That is the one thing they optimize for is soil health.
When they harvest now—this changed how I have been gardening for 30 years. They just come through, like, let us say you have a row of broccoli—they clip them at the base with clippers and they leave the roots in the soil. They said as soon as you disturb the soil, there is a three to four month recovery process for it every time. When we do that, we leave the roots in. By the way, the roots are full of tasty stuff. Bacteria live on them. They just put compost right on top of it after they clip and there are plants in the ground within three hours, from the starts that they have. They are just like never disturbing the soil. There is always crop cover. That is it. That is their magic.
Charles Eisenstein: I read an article about it, because another thing that is happening when you are doing that is you are sequestering carbon in the soil. For one thing, this is coming from—it is not just—this is very different than kind of an intensification of the engineering mindset because you are no longer seeing the soil as a resource from which you are trying to extract something. You are actually—I will phrase it in terms of a gift. You are in a mutual gift relationship to the soil. You are saying, "how can we enhance the health of the soil?" We know that if the soil is healthy, we are going to be healthy, too, in every way, physically, financially, whatever. That mindset, if you generalize it, it says "my health, my wellbeing, depends on your wellbeing," which is the opposite from classical economic thinking, which puts us all in competition with each other and says that we are all driven to maximize rational self-interest defined as an interest in the separate self.
In a competitive economy, in fact, and especially an interest bearing debt-based economy, your wellbeing is not my wellbeing because we are all in competition with each other for not enough money to pay the debts that create the money. I see the transition to permaculture to—or I would even say regenerative agriculture because we are serving the health of the story. It is part of a larger trend of the soil. It is part of a larger transition in our economic thinking, too, and our political thinking, too, that says the same thing. How do I make the soil of society healthier? How do I contribute to the wellbeing of the people in my community—my social and my ecological community? I know that if I do that, I will be healthier, too. I will be better off, too, because we are fundamentally not separate from the soil and not separate from each other. That is a big shift.
The alternative—I wrote an article comparing regenerative agriculture that sequesters carbon with geoengineering, which is an intensification of the same thing. It is reductionistic. The problem? Too much carbon. The solution? Well, you remove the carbon. The problem? You know, too many whatever, moths. You have too many moths. The solution, you kill the moths. The problem, not enough phosphates in the soil. The solution, you add some. It is reductionistic. As I was saying before, more of the same gets you more of the same.
This is not just a shift in strategy, but it is coming from a different conception of ourselves in relation to the world that is no longer separate. When we move to that, the problems that were impossible to solve before become easy. They disappear, just like the medical cannabis can cure conditions that required enormously expensive chemical management that was not even as effective before.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, so with the reductionist approach, we are usually treating symptoms. Sometimes you can treat symptoms all day long and not ever do anything except find yourself in a loop of treating those symptoms over and over and over again. I think what we are really talking about here is that what needs to happen is to swing back towards relational. If we were isolationist and reductionist, relational is the answer. These people at Singing Frogs Farm are in a relationship with their soil. And that relationship will be complex. There will be a year that you got ten inches of rain in 24 hours. There will be the year it did not rain. There will be different things. If you are intelligent, you just understand the aspect of that, right? Like in my garden, I am in a relationship with my plants. I can look at plants and tell you whether it is stressed or not. It takes me some time to figure out why it is stressed. Is it too little nitrogen? Is it too much water? Is it fungus? I do not know, but they tell you really quickly when they are stressed. The answer is usually to figure out what that thing is that is stressing them. Water is the only thing I know that is a one and done fix. If they are stressed for water, you fix that water. Everything else requires a thought process.
I want to get back to this point though, this idea that we have all of these things that are—"solutions" might be too strong a word. But we have intelligent responses to pretty much everything that is vexing us at this point that we could do. We would have to decide that is what we want to do. The great news is we can all wake up tomorrow and do those things as a culture. But there are a lot of people who are wholly addicted to business as usual. It is astonishing to me to see just how cartoonish we are as cultures.
I am looking at this refugee crisis in Europe. It is this cartoonish that the media is saying, “Oh, here is another boatload of Syrians.” They are clearly Somalians. They are not even the right color to by Syrians. They are getting this whole migration and refugee pattern coming out of places that NATO bombed and that are otherwise being depleted of the resources they need through climate change and other things, and overpopulation.
Charles Eisenstein: It is like you are trying to make what is happening is that the economic system makes these places unlivable. We make it unlivable, then when people do not want to live there, we try to keep them out. The symptom, of course, is the emigration. What if we address the cause, which is that we made it unlivable, and stop doing that? Do people actually want to leave their ancestral homelands behind and go on a dangerous journey into the unknown? Is it because they want to come and get us? That question is never asked. I have been looking at the news. No one is asking that. It is the economic system. It is the debt. It is again like they are—
Chris Martenson: Well, here is the thing, so here is my prediction. Europe, are you listening? Here is it: The 500,000 that you are struggling with is not even the tip of the iceberg. I bet you there is 100 million people who are going to get ready to migrate in the next two decades for reasons like desertification, aquifer depletion, final soil erosion, crustification, 1,000 year rebuild process, whatever the story is. The larger systems are broken. We have this warfare extractive system that just keeps applying its muscle and might. The IMF will continue to loan bad loans and to allow people to advance desertification faster, convincing themselves they are doing God’s work and doing good work, right? They are, "Let us help them build dams and plow more fields—"
Charles Eisenstein: Although there actually is a lot of—some of the best regenerative agricultural practices are being developed now in the Sahel. So there is—the new world is actually gaining momentum.
Chris Martenson: It is and those efforts are wonderful. Those are not the ones being pushed by the big banking systems.
Charles Eisenstein: No, no.
Chris Martenson: No, those are happening despite—
Charles Eisenstein: Because you cannot get a financial return for those.
Chris Martenson: Right.
Charles Eisenstein: In fact, those, when you reenter relationships like we are talking about, then you are actually reducing economic growth. When you get together with your neighbors and sing songs together instead of going to a concert or a theater, then that is a few thousand dollars in services that are no longer in the economy. When you make your own grape juice and your own herbal medicines and your own fermentations or whatever the things you do and share it with neighbors, that is one less thing people buy. It is one less business opportunity that a bank can lend into and generate new money. It is one less job for somebody somewhere. You are actually—so no wonder the banks do not support it. You look at “sustainable development” in quotes here, and the only things that get let in to the paradigm are the ones that are going to somehow generate foreign exchange. They are going to generate some kinds of goods and services. Otherwise, it does not fit into our financial system.
Chris Martenson: Right. As a quick side point, I get this asked this a lot: “Chris, what do you think about socially responsible investing?” It sounds so good. It sounds so heartwarming. Many of the stories are heartwarming, but what is happening with socially responsible investing is they are still trying to get an eight percent per year return. They are trying to at least meet or hopefully exceed the S&P, which means they themselves are still wedded to the growth paradigm. Whether it is socially responsible or not, I think of that as like fluffing the pillows on a bus that it heading over a cliff. You feel better about it. It is a more comfortable ride. But if you are still saying "what we need is a return that can accrete passively to people that just have—" air quotes here, "capital," right? Financial capital. That model is still predicated on this idea that the world will always be able to give us more of stuff that we can extract. That is where we are in this story to me. We are at that uncomfortable part where the engineers are looking at it like, "I do not know if the Saturn V rocket is going to clear the launch pad anymore." Right? The thrust is going as hard as it can, but it is not really gaining like it should. They are worried the nose is about to tip over and it is an awkward moment. That is the pit in the stomach people have, like all engineers watching the Saturn V rocket go, "I do not know."
The hard part for me is—I, too, sometimes get to speak at colleges. I was at Berkeley a few weeks back. There is the usual stunned—I am giving a dose of reality to the students. I always get this. One or two will come up and go, “I want to work with you. You are talking about real stuff. My college is still filing me full of crap.” I am paraphrasing. But that is the thing. It is like there is this new reality that younger people can just detect. They can feel it that the narrative is wrong. When somebody comes along and says "hey, the narrative is wrong and here is why," it just has that ring of truth.
I feel like—I was talking with this woman who was an elder in this Art of Mentoring community that everybody came back from. She was big in the Civil Rights movement at the time—was living in Alabama with this black woman and she said, “You know for the longest time I felt like wow I was just really—I was so important and I helped really push something.” She said, “I had all this ego about how I did something.” She said, “Now that I am older, I realize that only happened because the time was right. I was one of the people who was there when the time was right. It was ready for that to happen. Yes, I was a motive force within it, but I could have been even ten times better than I was and if the time was wrong, it would not have happened.” I have that growing sense that the time is right. Or ripening.
Charles Eisenstein: We are in service to something much larger than ourselves that wants to be born.
Chris Martenson: Yes.
Charles Eisenstein: I was speaking to Julio Elijah who is one of the founders of the Coaching Movement. He has been doing it for decades and decades. He was saying 30 years ago, 20-30 years ago, you would ask people, “Okay, what are your goals? Your organization’s goals, your personal goals?” for his coaching relationship. They would say, “I want to make more money. I want to be successful. I want to be more effective.” Today, he says no one is saying that. No one. They want to contribute more. They want to align with their passion. I heard John Perkins saying the same thing. He goes to business schools and speaks. People are no longer saying, “Tell me how to make money.” It really is changing.
At the beginning you were talking about some of the wealthy people who were trying to set up their armed compound with their food supplies and stuff. I would ask them—I would question that on two levels. One is: Is that really what your heart wants to do as the world burns, to hold out a little longer? There are people to help out there and I know there is something in you that wants to take in refugees—that wants to help your fellows. The second thing is: It is not even going to work. Because we are all interconnected. Unless you are going to become a professional warlord, then this is a dead end, because if things get really bad, people are going to come. Here is your fortress where you have gold and supplies. They are going to come with guns and they are going to take it unless you have bigger guns. If you are not going to become a warlord, than by far the best security that you could have right now, the best investment you can make is to give it away, to be generous, to strengthen your community, to generate good will, to be somebody who has given so much over the years that people will take care of you, too.
I am finding that sometimes I do also speak to people who are in SRI or impact investing. I say, “Yeah, the paradigm is shifting.” In the past, it was: Given the unchallenged parameter of an eight percent return, how do I do the least harm and the most good?” The return came first like, you were saying. Now it is changing or wants to change, where you put the result first and you let the return take care of itself and you let go. It has be a real letting go. That is the principle of the gift. If I give you something, I am not going—if I am calculating or make you sign a contract that you are going to give me even more in return… Even if I am psychologically manipulating you, then we can both sense it is not really a gift. But if it is a real gift, Lewis Hyde says it is like you give it around the corner. You give it into the mystery. That is the new—and that fits into the regenerative agriculture paradigm, too. You give to the soil and you trust that if the soil is healthy, I will be healthy. You trust that if I give into the mystery, if I make a sacrifice—I mean religious texts talk about this—if I make a sacrifice, a sacred gift, (that is what a sacrifice is)—if I do that, then I know I will be okay because I am not separate fundamentally from that which I am going to. That is why I even thought of starting a radical investment newsletter that is about this, about the gift, totally turning it on its head.
Chris Martenson: It is such an important concept buried in there. There is one I got a transmission on. Every so often, like I am aware of these moments now where somebody says something and all of a sudden, I am changed. I was at one of these Art of Mentoring things last year. They had this Native American, very interesting guy, super bubbly, bright, young. He had resisted the call of his culture for a long time. He did the whole, like, went fully urban. He was in that world, but slowly it was not working for him. He kind of hit bottom. He got drawn back into his own culture. He really picked up a lot of it. He held this sort of shamanistic space during the whole time, but really lightly. He was just cracking jokes the whole time. Then he said, “Oh, I have a few things to give away.” There were all these people he wanted to honor, people who had just done something that had caught his eye. He just brought a bunch of stuff with him. He did not—no "I am bringing this for you." He said, “I do not know. I just assembled things that are important to me. Then if it is right, I give it.” He gave away some really important stuff. He is like, “Oh, I did not plan to give this away, but this is the only necklace I have from my grandmother and here it is. I am honoring you at this moment for doing that.” It was really heavy, you know. So after giving everything away, he broke the tension. He said, “Oh, by the way, I will not even remotely be offended if I see that necklace at a tag sale next week. I am not kidding.” He said, “It is yours. I do not know what happens to it next. The fact that it was important to me in my culture, the minute I give that away, that is gone. It is now yours and you do something with it.” That was a transmission to me because in my culture, I think giving comes with strings. It has a little thread to me. I like that idea that when you give, that moment is what happened, boom. You are giving it to the mystery.
Charles Eisenstein: Yeah, and it does not have to be—that is kind of a pure example. Like realistically, there might be expectations and things. As long as there is at least some element of letting go, then it is a gift. Like for example, I am staying at your house now. It probably means that if you come through Ashville, that you will stay at my house. There is kind of an expectation, but you are not doing it so that that will happen. But it is creating kind of a social tie between us.
Chris Martenson: Right, it does, but the tie is on another level. It is not about the thing anymore.
Charles Eisenstein: Yeah.
Chris Martenson: Because when you give the thing away, man it is gone. But the other aspects of this can certainly be resident.
Charles Eisenstein: Yes.
Chris Martenson: I am sure that if you found yourself in a situation where one person was just taking, taking, taking, that would—over time, that would just impact the whole thing because it is about… The older I get, the more I realize that life is about flows. I feel like a lot of our culture, particularly around masculine, feminine, male and female, we bottle up stuff. We have asked men to bottle up their emotions. We have asked women not to be women but to be more like men. That is what we honor. "Hillary Clinton, what a woman!" You know, like, "whoo!"
Charles Eisenstein: Even in movies, we get these kick ass women now.
Chris Martenson: Yeah.
Charles Eisenstein: I cannot remember that one where they keep living the same day over and over. It is not Groundhog Day. It is a more recent one. They are fighting aliens and there is like this kick ass woman who does not show emotion.
Chris Martenson: Yeah and the flows that are built into us are bottled up. It makes us unhealthy in a lot of ways. So that whole idea that giving is important, but so is receiving. For me, that is hard. That is something I wrote about in this book is really that for me, giving is easy, way easier, because I am burdened with my sense of debt. I do not like to receive because it looks like I need help, which maybe exposes me as weak. I do not like that vulnerability. Giving feels good.
Charles Eisenstein: Then you also owe something, too.
Chris Martenson: I owe something.
Charles Eisenstein: To the person or to the universe because you have received so much.
Chris Martenson: Right. But in this concept of flow, what is giving if nobody is there to receive? So the act of giving generously is one side of the equation. But if you want that social capital to really rev up, the other side has to be there. The person has to graciously receive, right? I learned a little about this watching my wife at Christmas. Any present she gets, you cannot detect was it really wanted or not. They are all so graciously received. I just watch that. Oh, that makes the giver—like that makes the whole thing just flow. It keeps the energy going. For me, my battle is to learn how to receive. Not even just receive—if somebody gives me something, I will be very gracious, but I will not ask for anything still. That is hard for me. Like to come to you and say, "Charles, I need help. I need your advice." That is still a hard moment for me.
Charles Eisenstein: Yeah. I resonate with that. For me sometimes even to receive a compliment is difficult. I will brush it off. People might say, “Yeah, your book really changed my life.” I will be like, “well, it was just a catalyst. You were having a change anyway so you invited that book into your life.” That might be metaphysically true. It is not like I am the life changer, but energetically, I am kind of pushing away the gratitude.
Chris Martenson: Right.
Charles Eisenstein: I am learning to take it in now without kind of minimizing it with some self-deprecating joke or denying their experience of it, because it is really damaging to refuse a gift.
Chris Martenson: Yeah.
Charles Eisenstein: It keeps us separate.
Chris Martenson: Instead to just come up with "thank you so much for telling me that. That is important for me to know." Because it is. Same thing. That is such a clear way to build that social capital, that capital term. This idea that it is time to reengage. I think of the larger world. I think that by the numbers, the culture we built for ourselves, we would not rebuild it if we just sat down clinically with the numbers. Like well, let us look at things. Where are we on obesity and psychoactive drug use and workplace violence and prison population, children with psychological issues based on the way that we are reigning and training and putting them into the school-to-prison pipeline, as you put it. All of that, we might say gosh there are some things here we would not recreate intentionally.
Charles Eisenstein: I often think of like going back a few thousand years and interviewing people and saying okay, here is where this road leads to a world where you never see stars. You never see the Milky Way. You never hear silence. Every single second of your life, you can hear an engine if you listen carefully. You cannot drink from any of the streams anymore without fear. Do you want to sign up for that? We take it as normal.
Yeah. I interrupted you.
Chris Martenson: Well, that sparks where I wanted to go with all of this which is—so one of the things I have learned in more of my spiritual questing side is that—and this is as close—I have this as my faith. Here is my faith. My faith is that the universe will always provide exactly what I need when I need it. I am using the word "need" carefully. It is not what I want.
Charles Eisenstein: Nor what your ego thinks it needs.
Chris Martenson: No, not what my ego thinks it needs and it is certainly not what I want, because sometimes what I need is a hard life lesson. People have other expressions of this. "God works in mysterious ways." "Why did he take my son?" "Why did this thing happen to me?" As long as you think there is some entity out there that personally levied that upon you as punishment, that is one way to look at it. The way I look at it now is that really everything I need will be delivered to me, but our culture has got this story that nothing bad should ever happen to us. We should live in a risk free society. We will not have playgrounds outside because kids might fall and break an arm so let us not do that. We will put big rubber mats under everything. We have to live in a completely safe society, which from a psychological standpoint is a little odd because we are raining death on the world outside of our borders. Inside, we are demanding complete safety in all moments from everything that might happen. That violates this tenet, which is to say that we can control outcome or that we should, or that when—air quotes—“bad things” happen, that those should not happen. I am of the view now that when things happen, they happen for a reason. I have known people who got injured and that was exactly the thing that they needed to kick them out of where they were, which was not a great place for them, into a greater expression of who they are in their gifts.
Charles Eisenstein: Yeah. Some people say cancer is the best thing that ever happened to them.
Chris Martenson: Right.
Charles Eisenstein: Or the heart attack. This big real estate developer that we knew back where I came from, he was a hard-assed businessman. He gets this heart attack and turns into the jolly old elf. This happens a lot.
What you are saying is actually tapping into a new mythology. I call it a new and ancient mythology that essentially denies that reality consists of a bunch of randomly interacting protons, neutrons, and electrons and a few hundred other particles, each one of them is just generic masses that have no intelligence or purpose or conscious—that the only intelligence, purpose, and consciousness in the universe resides in human beings. Therefore, that progress is the imposing of human intelligence onto nature. That is the engineering mindset—to order everything, to organize everything and to imprint our intelligence and our image onto everything. That is the old story. The new story, which is the ancient story, says, no. These qualities of intelligence and consciousness and purpose and all of the qualities of the self—those exist outside of ourselves, too. Even in the events of our lives, these have an intelligence. Even in the soil, the plants, animals.
It is kind of—I look at it as the third stage of the Copernican revolution where we no longer put ourselves at the center even psychologically. We acknowledge that we live in a living, intelligent, conscious universe. When acknowledge that, then no longer do we seek to dominate it, but we seek to listen to it. That is what I think brings together a lot of the kind of alternative and holistic practices, from agriculture to medicine, and you could even probably extend it to finance. They are all different kinds of service to something larger than ourselves.
Chris Martenson: I agree and I think that is such a great point. I think of this as an “and” not an “or.” It is not either we use our intelligence or we go back to some more archetypal indigenous way. To me, if you have the “and” in this story, the “and” is: We are really intelligent—capable of shaping our experience sort of as a species. And, if we were really intelligent, we would understand—we would have a greater amount of humility around that. Because the more we learn—so as a scientist I learned this: The more you dig in, the more you realize how much you do not know. You can go down that reductionist thing, but it is just like… even how a single cell functions, really functions, totally eludes us. It is so magnificently complex.
We are finding things out now—we are just discovering that the hundred trillion cells in our gut biome that have the first pass at processing the things that come in your body actually have an impact on all kinds of things about your experience of health and wellbeing, neurological, psychological, nutrition, health, all that.
A study that just came out in the New York Times, they discovered that children of Holocaust survivors, they had noted for a long time statistically were way more prone to anxiety and depression and all kinds of things. Now we have done the studies to prove that epigenetically we can look at what is going on, that the people who had that experience passed that experience onto their children. Cultural wounding, and trauma. We now are starting to understand the mechanism which means our DNA is talking to the world. It is not: You are Charles, this box, you were born with a genetic component. It is a string. We can read and decipher it and know you. No, no, no. It is way more complicated than that. We are in constant relationship and are more porous as entities than we understood. With that should come this humility that says okay we are smart, but there is a lot going on here that we do not get yet. We should reserve space for that
Charles Eisenstein: Yeah, I am not trying to deny our human gifts, but to put them in service rather than domination, but in service. I guess we should probably wrap this up. I will just say one short thing. We were talking about causes and symptoms and really addressing the root cause. I think it is this experience of separation that keeps us afraid, makes us want to dominate. The antidote to that is really to spread love, generosity, kindness, compassion. I think we are at a key moment to do that. Everybody listening to this can recognize that as their real work. Whatever work you are doing in the world is the vehicle for that. We are really in crunch time and it is time to act from that story.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, it is time to bring out your greatness.
Charles Eisenstein: All right.
Chris Martenson: Well, very good. Thank you for this conversation. It has been wonderful.
Charles Eisenstein: Yeah, likewise.
Some people are so poor teaser image via shutterstock. Reproduced on Resilience.org with permission.