Home Page

Nonprofit founded in 1988


Culture Change Letter
FREE via email

Past essays and reports:

95 94 93 92 91 90 89 88 87 86 85 84 83 82 81 80 79 78 77 76 75 74 73 72 71 70 69 68 67 66 65 64 63 62 61 60 59 58 57 56 55 54 53 52 51 50 49 48 47 46 45 44 43 42 41 40 39 38 37 36 35 34 33 32 31 30 29 28 27 26 25 24 23 22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2 1  Subscribe for free 
Index (archive)
feedback (letters to the editor)

Culture Change print magazine issues: 20  19  18  17  16  15  14  13  12  11  10  9  8  index

Pedal Power solutions to petroleum dependence and polluting vehicles: Arcata Library Bikes, Pedal Power Produce, and more!

CAOE - Committee Against Oil Exploration - stop offshore oil drilling to protect sensitive habitats and cut petroleum dependence.

Culture Change through music! The Depavers eco-rock!

Take our Pledge for Climate Protection and learn about the Global Warming Crisis Council.

SEI hometown action!
Arcata city council's proclamation against war on Iraq and Kyoto Protocol proclamation.

Overpopulation has become a reality.  Overpopulation Resources and News Tidbits

Sail Transport Network

Fact Sheets
Press Releases

Long Distance


Culture Change e-Letter #22

Why money and materialism aren't the answer

by Jan Lundberg

Having extra cash and being able to live on  property that one owns outright is assumed to be the ultimate in successful, comfortable existence.  Such a state is the ideal, according to the constant messages hitting us from mainstream media and institutions.

But some facts intrude even upon a simplified "American dream:"  

(1) When one lacks love or experiences the pain of loss, it often becomes clear that money and property don't mean much.  

(2) When a life is led according to material success, what happens when one is dying?  The money and property don't help then, especially if control slips away and loved ones who are to inherit turn out to lose their right to the inheritance, due to some clever scams.  

(3) Assuming one gets to keep one's property and is to "die with his boots on," there is at least the ongoing requirement of paying the property tax.  Just when are we too infirm or out of touch to deal with intrusive entities, that's when entanglements and society close in.  People just want to be left alone, but no matter how many decades one has worked, there are no guarantees.  We become more vulnerable, so our cash, weapons and empire lose their power to make us feel secure.  When one bequeaths property to an heir, the tax must still be paid in perpetuity, and insurance may be equally obligatory.

(4) When one goes through times of having money and not having it (or having too little), one may notice that the daily outlook on life is not all that different between the state of having wealth and lacking it.  

This last circumstance (4) is not quite as easy for many to relate to, if one is leading an unexamined life.  A constant paycheck is often achieved by selling one's soul to work in a bureaucracy.  If one is so focused on having money or getting rich, it is hard to meditatively grasp the state-of-being beyond the materialist world of making purchases. 

There is no substitute for a supportive, extended family.  That is the basis of community, although almost all U.S. towns refer to themselves as communities—even when the institution of the family has been decimated and relegated to a few isolated relationships.  With truly sustainable living as safeguarded by a strong community, one's wealth would be safe—provided it is not excessive and that it is shared.  Strength and individuality are protected by a strong community if it is based on respect and continuity instead of economic growth and self-aggrandizement.

A new study from Claremont Graduate University, California, has found that statistically trust works better than competition and individualism.  Our brains have evolved to cope with group living.  Along with our so-called Machiavellian intelligence—which allows us to outwit rivals for mates, food and status—our social brain is adapted to be cooperative.  Individuals can benefit by working together.  That requires trust, which is why, according to the study, we have a biological urge to trust one another.

One man's way of freedom

Some people come to realize that reducing stress, and achieving simplicity are their real goal in today's world.  Others even more "saintly" are only happy if they can be giving to others all the time.  This is where activists and charity workers have found their calling, even if they have little material security.  Some of these "selfless" people do enjoy or require a modicum of physical comfort and beauty in their environment, but this can only be lauded as sensible and of good taste.  We will assume that these people do not include people evading their responsibilities elsewhere—although it is debatable what those responsibilities might be these days.

Wes Roe "works for the community, not for a wage."  He lives near Santa Barbara, California, and involves himself primarily in Permaculture, a refined form of sustainable agriculture that involves living close to the land over generations.  In letting go of materialistic security which he deems false, Wes finds he has greater peace and support.  He has lived in intentional communities, or communes, that try to provide for the basic needs of resident members.  Such groups of people pool their human resources and strive to get along without hierarchy, patriarchy, matriarchy, or subservience to the government.  (Some such groups may be cults, but most intentional communities and communes appear to have the main goal of living together in mutual support and adopting or developing sustainable, ecological practices.

Wes got married a few years ago to a professional woman, and told her at the outset, "I don't work for a wage, I work for the community."  Their marriage works, and it is not a matter of his being supported by his wife, although she brings in more money.  However, he told me "Sometimes over the years my wife and I have struggled over my working and getting no money."  Wes obtains material (albeit usually less tangible) support through his ceaseless organizing for community agriculture and other causes.  An example is the free lodging he obtains in his and his wife's travels to communities where like-minded people appreciate his input and energy.  A more basic form of ongoing "payment" to Wes for his "labors" is food coming to him and his wife from the many gardens and farms that he has aided.  Food is indeed expensive, especially the most nutritious organic fare.  

Trading and bartering is something that has vast potential, especially the more people get to know one another.  The U.S. Treasury Department wants a piece of transactions, but barter deals are usually untraceable and informal.

Freedom envied
It is confusing and irritating to many a conventional, mainstream worker that someone like Wes can exercise liberty that people have forgotten exists.  Wes is fairly low-profile. But when a group of forest defenders, who are usually anarchistic, is confronted by loggers and law enforcement people, jealousy and confusion often crop up starkly.  It is amusing to see again and again the lack of comprehension toward a leaderless group of free individuals.  Typically, a representative of the authorities asks or demands to speak and negotiate with "the leader."  "There is no leader," the activists reply, and it is almost always true, and always disbelieved.  Voluntarily participating in a group executing something for the public good is increasingly rare today.

The conventional worker on duty (chopping down ancient trees or arresting people trying to nonviolently oppose greedy and/or illegal "forestry") often regards the presence of the protesters as suspect:  How can these people, most of them young, be there in the woods instead of being in school or at a job?  Are they paid to live outside and protest?  Are they rich kids, "trustafarians?"  Are they pagans and hedonists, having as much sex as they want, flaunting morals?  The empty, repressed daily life of many a worker aspiring to a bigger SUV results in difficulty for his or her relating to free people who think for themselves and who pride themselves on having no boss or big bills to pay. 

Will non-materialism get you sex?
In response to our last column on Food Not Lawns, a reader requested,
"Could you please speak to the flaunting of material possessions to compete for the more desirable of the opposite sex?  I ask this because I think it is a major prop of the materialism in our society."  The writer's email subject was But, blondes prefer lawns.

This column will go further into sex and materialism in future.  For now, to hell with attracting a materialist!  Few people can or want to heed that advice, but many more will suffer from obtaining that lover or spouse whose priority turns out to be material security.  Love is what people really want and need, and in its absence the vain attempt is made to, in effect, buy it.  

The young are said to be idealistic in rejecting that value system, but the raging sex hormones of youth cancel out much of the non-materialism: one wants that car and nice apartment in order to improve chances for obtaining sex..  But when one matures and loses much of the horniness of youth, the desire for material security increases even though simple living and spiritual values may have ascended.  For most citizens who say they've grown up, dreams and adventure gave way to conservatism and conformity.  Liberation from materialism and money-based values is not a matter of age or even education: it is a matter a culture or awakened person needing to surmount (1) the rampant reliance on material possessions and (2) the commodification of basic needs.  

We need not money per se, but whatever basics money is supposed to obtain.  It is more socially just, efficient, and rewarding when we obtain directly what money often buys, and we cut out the money aspect.  When petroleum is no longer available to ship things long distance—things we usually don't need—then we will recreate local economies that rely on everyone's participation and cooperation.  That time is getting very near, due to history's global peak in oil production and the reaction that the market will instantly have to the intensifying constriction of oil supply.


See our webpage on the Fall of Petroleum Civilization.

For more on peak oil and related topics, see Colin Campbell's foreword to The Party's Over (2003) and various Culture Change Letters.


Back to Home Page

Jan Lundberg's columns are protected by copyright; however, non-commercial use of the material is permitted as long as full attribution is given with a link to this website, and he is informed of the re-publishing: info@culturechange.org

Culture Change mailing address: P.O. Box 3387 , Santa Cruz , California 95063 USA
  Telephone 1-215-243-3144 (and fax)
Web: http://www.culturechange.org
E-Mail info@culturechange.org

Culture Change was founded by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit organization.