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Culture Change e-Letter #19

The tragedy of money relations
 — and the alternative

by Jan Lundberg

Humans evolved to what they are with the wealth of nature, not the wealth of money.  But in the last several thousand years, the trend of wealth accumulation took over and accelerates today at a high fever pitch.  Such that, a relationship between close family members in modern society is increasingly money based.  In this essay wry observations about the effects of money pertain to the survival of our species.

Money relations have been little explored or questioned as a force in our culture. The power of money for influence and manipulation is well known, and many question it—especially when done by someone else.  However, as the dominant value in materialistic culture is money, this affects every level of society down through the family.  The undermining of the family spells the undoing of U.S. civilization, as we explored in a prior column (Culture Change Letter #15).

Parents protect and nurture their children, and children are taught to love their brothers, sisters, and other relatives, here and in Borneo or Brazil.  However, in today’s advanced Western global culture, one’s daily living and dreams of a better life become identified with how much money a family or individual has.  With the weakness of family bonds, as evidenced by divorce and theft of property within families (e.g., inheritance fraud), the individual in today’s modern nuclear family structure usually sees material security as the only answer to his or her need for comfort, freedom, respect, power and sex. 

Thus, a would-be close family is often torn apart by the weakest link: a son may steal the family wealth from his dying parent, at the expense of his sibling(s).  Even if this all too common temptation is not perpetrated, relations between family members are colored by money relations.  A family member may be judged unworthy and a disgrace just for not achieving material success and prestige, regardless of how fulfilled and ethical the family member may be, or how conscious in a low-consumptive or artistic lifestyle.  When money is the issue—as it is in most family conflicts today—a host of putative character issues arise as consequences of bowing down to society's values regarding material wealth. 

When conflict over money arises between people who have a close relationship, the conflict is a microcosm of the haves-versus-have-nots.  There exists a war between the person with money and the one without, as long as they function in this society's value system.  The culture is rotten to the core if the institution of family is vulnerable to schism and fighting over money.  Not only are all the combatants losers in the fight over money, but the whole culture is failing—with the most disastrous results conceivable.  We are witnessing this with military and energy "policies" destroying the biosphere to enhance profits.

Today, money is needed for survival, and a child may demand money from his or her parents or older brother or sister as guardian.  Or, instead of demanding, a loan is voluntarily made. If it is not paid, relations can suffer tremendously.  Nephews and nieces may thus never get to know aunts and uncles—let alone learn from them or rely on them—when relations have been spoiled.  Other conflicts than money can spoil relations, but rarely so.

Outside of families, one’s relationship with everyone may be based on money or on belonging in a certain economic group defined by the ability to pay, such as in higher-education institutions.  Lovers may couple their lives together as a single economic unit, but the glue of money is weak and filthy compared to nature and community. Healthy, biodiverse nature and true community are the two most vital elements for living, anywhere, that are practically absent in almost all U.S. citizens’ lives.  Having a child heightens the money pressure, and the child’s best upbringing in the commercial culture does not immunize the child to materialism and alienation.  With each generation, people are more alienated and accustomed to artificial environments that will crumble when society fails to maintain “growth.”

Today, with so much stress in society and in families over money, blessed be the childless couple, or blessed be the only child.  These may seem like solutions to materialistic bickering and fallings out, and may assist when scarcity of food strikes, but they only hide the inherent potential for conflict. If adopted by too many, our species would die out, as childlessness or one-child-only policies dominated.  Because of overpopulation, such policies are a good idea for a while. When human numbers may regain a healthy relationship with nature someday, a replacement fertility rate could be resumed safely and willingly.  At that time in history, money relations would be back to prehistoric levels perhaps.

Even for the childless couple and the only child, money relations can and usually do dominate. At first, with youthful innocence, there is much more to life than money, and living in denial of money’s role and dominance is attempted, even successfully for a time.  But in the absence of non-materialist communities so rare in the U.S. and Europe, people are forced to choose between going along with the mainstream value system, or joining a religion or anarchistic group operating on the fringe of society.

Such alternatives to a way of life based on money are urgently needed and may soon be more widely recognized as increasingly attractive.  The opposite of competition is mutual aid. Solidarity of masses of people is kept at a minimum by a society ruled by the richest, who wish to keep apart the population that would seriously covet the wealth or wish to redistribute or destroy it.  Thus, class struggle emerges and continues.

Amongst well-to-do activists and radicals who wish to feel they are above money, many of them are unconsciously taken over by concern over money, or cannot tolerate poor people in their lives.  Thus, money relations dominate many of the best of us, and sometimes separates the posers from “spiritual” people who live their values despite the pervasive surrounding towers—great and small—of money power.

Even people who have a radical critique of economics, so as to call for socioeconomic justice, may suddenly demand that poverty is not permissible of anyone around them.  Poverty is usually associated with laziness or incompetence, or obstinacy when a person lacks money but seems to have the ability to make money.

The money standard: judging a human being based on factors that may be beyond the person’s control, in order to maintain the judger’s privilege.

It is the money-masters who are the major killers. It is not the poor.  The masters of war depend on money—theirs or their close allies and conspirators—to put into motion the schemes to kill large groups of people, both “enemies” and their own kind.

Money masters get control of other people’s wealth, one by one or en masse.  In America this has gone on in its present form, without let up, and growing in intensity, since the natives’ lands were stolen.  Today’s money masters—mainly white—are happy to steal other whites’ money, preferably in the most legalistic fashion possible.  This is enshrined as free enterprise and the heart of the market economy.  Perhaps it is the market economy that should be illegal, but so should other forms of rule and systems that anthropocentrically cheat nature and treat people almost as badly as factory-farm beasts.  (see Culture Change Letter #16, “Is the market The Enemy?”, at webpage

How much do people express love to each other in modern U.S. society?  Because of love of money and twisted values, they commonly treat their dogs and cats better.  People want others, even “loved ones,” to harm their health in order to make money.  The persons wanting this may not admit it. But their lack of concern for the health of others may be abundantly clear, if we lift the veil of materialistic illusion and if we question the need to obey.  The conformity of being normal, e.g., commuting on a highway and breathing toxic fumes and ruining one’s muscles and spine, makes health concerns “impractical” or “selfish.”  It is no wonder that men, who have historically worked longer hours than women, do not live as long as women in general.

A family member may devote himself or herself to the care of another family member, so as to extend the life of an elder, for example. But this may be viewed as economically invalid, even if the elder is an invalid, in the brutal U.S.A. market society.

Oil seems to guarantee money for the masters of the economy and state, as world events increasingly reveal. What isn’t commonly appreciated is that petroleum is involved in almost all aspects of the economy.  A collapse of the economy, perhaps in tandem with or caused by the upcoming discontinuity of “unlimited” oil supplies, may suddenly usher in cooperative living based on subsistence instead of separate economic household units hitching their wagons to industrial growth.

The biggest lie from academics and industry leaders may be that growth can be infinite, as in never running out of petroleum and not having to engage in conservation.  As soon as the discontinuity hits, it will be common knowledge that the “emperor wore no clothes.”  The new reality seen by all will be that local environments’ natural wealth must again sustain life for all the interrelated creatures.  Modern humans will have to suddenly learn how to live together without a system of generating surpluses for the few who rule and accumulate wealth and uncontrolled power.

Until people return to or discover ways of living more fairly and peacefully— sharing rather than seizing— and as long as the market system dominates, people will be judged by their bank balances primarily.  The few who do not relate well to this tendency will be more and more marginalized, poor, and despised—until a new phase of history begins with the collapse of petroleum civilization.  Love is the best long-term investment today.

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