It is no great revelation to claim that today’s society and our individual lives are shaped more by money than by any other factor. This fact is so all-pervasive and all-encompassing that it passes almost unnoticed. The convenience of money is never challenged at all, much in the same way that we never question whether it is a good idea to breathe the air or not.
But are there really no alternatives to our monetary system? It cannot be possible that such a mundane instrument as money has an unchallenged power over whether someone has enough to eat or works 5 hours per day or 12, whether someone can study or not, whether someone can sleep well at night or is unable to rest because of worries about their financial situation. Almost every detail of our lives depends on money. How we live, what we do, what we wear, what we eat, where we live, how healthy we are, what we think, how we feel, which life partner we have. Everything is determined, or at least influenced, by how much money we have. And the worst thing about this is that even our perceived self, ourselves, is indirectly dependent on money. We may have an inner vastness, perceive ourselves, or we may be hemmed in, feel alienated, far removed from ourselves, enslaved in a mechanism in which we handle the requirements that money places on us, wedged into a machinery in which we neither do nor are what our true self would actually like to do or be.
The shocking thing about the situation is the fact that practically no attempts are made at least to check out whether there could be other systems which would work just as well as the monetary social model. Pretty much everything is called into question these days. Whether there is a god, whether evolution actually took place, whether climate change exists, whether it is true that American astronauts set foot on the moon, whether the holocaust took place. Doubt is truly cast on everything. But nobody doubts the right of money to regulate our lives. There is certainly doubt as to whether the distribution of money is right. And pretty much everybody doubts whether they really have enough money and even whether they have been short-changed in the distribution of money. But no one doubts that the money itself is justified in its mechanism. Although those who are below average in monetary terms think that the state should take money from the rich and redistribute it to the poorer income brackets. And the rich think exactly the opposite. In their opinion, taxes should be lowered and those who demand more money should work a little harder, and then they would do well.
Whether the demand for state redistribution of wealth is actually sensible at all is not up for discussion here. The demand for absolute equality in terms of standard of living, prosperity, etc., is pointless in any case. The advantages and disadvantages of life are not evenly distributed. Nor is health, nor intelligence, nor luck, nor in fact any human ability. None is given to the same extent, and it is good that this is so. Just imagine how boring the world would be if everything were evenly distributed! The question is not whether we should, by force, regulate buying power within the monetary system differently. The question is whether the monetary system per se is the right system for mankind in his current stage of development.
To find this out, however, we don’t just need to deliberate about it theoretically. What we really need is a concerted attempt. There have been numerous attempts to change something within the money-related system. Alternative currencies such as Bitcoin, etc., have been tried. Many billions of euros are given to ensure that each individual receives free medical care when ill. We have set up systems to ensure that every worker receives a pension. But we would need none of this, perhaps, if we could abandon the monetary system.
There has only been one large-scale experiment to date which has seriously attempted to develop and test out a model of society without money. This is the Auroville project, the attempt in South India to create an international, multi-cultural city with 50,000 inhabitants with a view to jettisoning a whole series of long-established patterns of behaviour. UNESCO and the Indian government both support this project wholeheartedly. UNESCO regularly passes resolutions in which all nations are called to support the project, while the Indian government, in particular, freely issues residence permits to the inhabitants of this city and allows them to establish their own laws and rules and to live by them. Apart from this one attempt, there are currently no serious efforts on the horizon to test whether there could be an alternative to the monetary society.
It should be pointed out that political systems such as socialism, communism, etc., were and are not moneyless systems. Even communist Russia and socialist China always had money. They simply harmonised the majority of salaries, nationalised the major businesses and restricted or banned private business. But life was regulated through money just as much as in capitalism.
If we talk about the moneyless society to people who had previously never thought about the subject, we often meet with total incomprehension as to why anyone would want to try out such a form of society in the first place. We would like to throw four arguments into the balance:
1) Basically it is always appropriate to question any form of behaviour or society. Not to question a way of social coexistence such as financial individualisation is almost reprehensible. As long as we don’t question the monetary structuring of our society, we will never know if there is anything better, which parts of the system are good and which are bad, whether anything could perhaps be changed, replaced or omitted or whether new components should be added. No one could object to questioning the system that regulates all our lives, which is responsible for a massive economic boom and prosperity on the one hand and for shocking poverty and need on the other. There is no justification for discounting the attempt as a crazy idea. All the same, we are not attempting here to force anyone to live in a non-monetary system. There is merely an experiment being carried out to see whether the legitimacy and mechanism of money can be replaced by other mechanisms and what the effects of this will be.
2) A moneyless society in which support for the individual is not structured in monetary terms, in which his motivation to work and the range of options open to him are not regulated by money, would result in a massive leap of efficiency. Just imagine if there were no Inland Revenue, no tax laws, no one has to keep accounts in order to prove something to some authority or another, if there were no crimes against property with the resulting punishment, if there were no advertising, no one would attempt to push a product which is actually pointless onto the market, if there were no efforts to encourage consumption. Consumption would no longer be a status symbol. Nobody would have to work towards a fancy car because it would not be any sort of proof of what a great person he is. The manufacturers of everyday objects would no longer incorporate wear points into their products so that they break of their own accord after a certain time, etc. If we closely examine everything that would be stripped away in a moneyless society, we will certainly see that much more than 50% of economic output could be freed up in order to overcome the real tasks of our time, such as looking after the environment.
3) The monetary system is actually the driving force in the destruction of our living environment. More and more money, more and more profit, more and more economic output, more and more property. Where is that taking us? Our lives will not be more worth living if we have three bathrooms rather than one, if our car has a 3-litre, rather than 1.5-litre engine, if we acquire a new iPhone every 6 months and if, at the same time, more and more animal species become extinct, we can no longer see the blue sky through the thick smog, our rivers are dead sewers, roads have replaced most of our green spaces and we try to listen to the birds singing, but can only hear aircraft engines droning in the sky. In our current system, both politics and economics are doing everything they can to increase global economic output. According to the world economic report from the World Bank, global economic output doubles every 11 to 20 years. If we double our global economic output every 15 years on average, then in 165 years, the economic output on this planet will be 4000 times the size. We will certainly never achieve this moment. Our environment will collapse much sooner than that. But it is astonishing that, in politics, not even the Green parties refrain from making mantra-like demands for investment to boost the economy. It should actually now be clear to every politician, even the Greens, that attempting to improve quality of life by increasing economic output and consumption will no longer work at the social level. Our global economic and social system based on money will, in any case, collapse within 100 years at the latest, when our environment is ruined, most resources are exhausted and there is simply no capacity to absorb “even more”. It would be sensible to reconsider before the predictable collapse but unfortunately it will most likely not occur until after the collapse.
4) In today’s society, social position, property or prosperity is the biggest goal to be achieved. But unfortunately at the individual level it is also true that the actual compulsion for self-experience is not played out via the direct path, i.e. via the actual experience of our self, but via indirect proofs of existence. We identify ourselves through our property, through what we have achieved, through our reputation. It is not until we feel that we are envied that we start to feel good because then we can infer with certainty that we actually exist. This general mechanism whereby we spend our entire lives running after money because we only actually “exist” through money and property means, in most cases, that we actually miss out on our own lives. Some people miss it because they are under the illusion that they are “something” because they have amounted to “something” and, in so doing, overlook themselves. Others miss out on their lives precisely because they have not managed to become “something” and are under the illusion that their lives are of lesser quality because their bank account balance is below average.
The monetary system with monetary life goals is therefore not only responsible for the destruction of our environment, but also for ensuring that we are simply passing our lives by because we are chasing after something that actually has no value.
Although we would have enough material to theoretically question and deplore the money-based system of our society, we must however naturally admit that the power of money also has many good sides. But rather than theoretically pondering whether our current system is good or bad, it is much more interesting simply to test whether there are alternatives and what these look like.
This is why the Niveau élevé brand is supporting the attempt to set up a moneyless micro-society of 50,000 people. There is no way of telling whether this attempt will have any success at all. But there is absolutely nothing to lose. The objection that the attempt has come much too early and that mankind is not mature enough for such an experiment is total nonsense. If we haven’t managed in several thousand years of cultural history to reach a position in which we can peacefully try out alternative social paths, when on earth will we be able to do so? When mankind has become extinct? When our environment has been destroyed? It is not too early for this experiment. Perhaps it is already too late! But certainly not too early.
If we examine the social structure of our human epochs, we see that they divide very roughly into two categories. Those epochs that were ruled by the power of the strongest, or simply the “power”, and the second epochs, which superseded the first, in which it was money that regulated most of what the society did. Let us take a look at the emergence of money or at the transition from one civilisation structure to the next.
Money emerged at more or less the same time in many places around the world. This required a sufficient level of economic specialisation and diversification. One good example of the emergence of money is ancient Egypt between 2000 and 1500 years before the birth of Christ. At that time in Egypt, the temples performed both social and economic functions. One of these was that people could store their grain in them. They delivered a standard size crock and were given a small metal disc to signify that they owned this crock. When they wanted to collect their crock, they brought back the metal token and received a crock of grain in return. The size of the crocks was standardised, so it didn’t matter whether they received their own or a different crock.
As soon as a sufficient number of small metal discs were owned by the craftsmen and farmers, it was a great economic simplification to replace the barter trade with the money-based trade. Before then, a farmer who only had his harvest at a certain time of year was only able to exchange clothing, shoes or tools for his grain at this time of year. Weavers, shoemakers and craftsmen could also only exchange their products for grain at this time of year. With the metal discs, they were all at once no longer limited by time. Equally, it was previously only possible to directly exchange one commodity for another. A farmer could only exchange a horse for something that was owned by someone who actually needed a horse. And if their commodity wasn’t needed by the farmer, the exchange did not take place. Now that the farmer received metal discs for a horse, he could go to the market and receive any goods in exchange for the discs. Since the value of the metal token was clearly defined, i.e. one standard crock of grain, fixed prices immediately became established for every item and the value of the new currency was always stable. And so money was born. It filled a gap in trade which made it possible to exchange every commodity for an intermediate medium which then perfectly balanced out any time-related or goods-specific disparities. The economic benefit was enormous and it resulted in a massive economic upturn.
In Egypt, money disappeared again around 1100 BC, when the so-called “sea storm” started. This was a phase in which pirates ravaged the coasts of the Mediterranean and pillaged and burned everything that could be reached from the coast. The high level of economic diversification and the wealth of society collapsed and the economic system fell back to the stage in which individuals had to simply fight for their own survival. Bartering once more replaced money. However, the situation restabilised around 500 BC and money returned.
Contemporaneously, the son of the legendary and massively rich Persian king Croesus introduced money into Mesopotamia. And at exactly the same time, Solon (the great Greek reformer in Athens) “invented” money and created silver coinage for the city state. It is significant that Solon was also the person who introduced “timocracy” into Athens. This political system gave money the greatest scope to have an impact. In a democracy, everyone has the same political and social rights and so money rules without restriction because there are no privileges other than to have lots of money.
Money was introduced more or less contemporaneously in other regions too. In China, for example, a certain rare mussel was used as currency, while the Mayan civilisation of Central America used cocoa beans.
With the introduction of the money, the system of power was very slowly dismantled, step by step. While the position of power within a society structured entirely by power was initially the only element that determined an individual’s standard of living and his influence within society, there was now a second element. Anyone with lots of money could buy influence and power and was ultimately superior to those who had power only.
In a democracy in which the political power is equally distributed between the individual citizens, there are no longer any limits to the determining character of money. In a monarchy or aristocracy, position and money had to share their influence. But money finally gained the upper hand and displaced the political system of dictators (in whatever form they occurred). An anecdote from the English Garden in Munich is a good example of the competition between position and wealth. There was rutted track for riders and coaches; it represented a circular path around the huge park. There was a strict rule there that, when the coach of King Ludwig was using this track, his coach must not be overtaken. Xaver Krenkel, a master baker from Landshut, who had made a great deal of money in Munich by trading horses and had won the horse race at the Oktoberfest 14 times with his animals, had loaned King Ludwig large sums of money as the King was chronically strapped for cash because of his architectural ambitions. One day, Xaver Krenkel’s coach overtook the King’s coach at high speed. When the Master of the King’s Horses attempted to tackle Xaver about it, he shouted to the King, “Wer ko, der ko!” (He who can, can!).
Since it emerged, the monetary form of society has gradually superseded the social structuring through power. This has not always been a peaceful process. For example, the American Civil War was essentially a war between the old system of power, represented by the southern states, and the monetary economic and social system in the North. The southern states largely based their economic system on slaves, and so on the structure of power. The northern states relied on a paid workforce, and so on the monetary system. The latter proved to be much more efficient. When a worker fell sick or died, he could be replaced immediately without any losses. When a slave fell sick or died, this represented a serious loss for the owner. If the amount of work available fluctuated, the businessman with paid workers could reduce or increase his workforce more easily than a slave-owner. Finally the costs of the work done were lower with paid workers than with slaves. Forced to work by the whip, slaves were disproportionately less motivated to work compared to those with their perception of freedom and their desire for money. Innovation in terms of new technical inventions that people could sell was very much greater in the monetary system than in the old system. Thus the money-based structure of the North very soon became economically superior to the South of the United States, and military victory was a logical consequence.
The money-based society gradually gained the upper hand over all societies that were structured according to power. With a single exception: North Korea. Here the society is still structured according to power. But the system is clearly in no way able to compete with its neighbouring states.
It is therefore merely a question time before the monetary system conquers the country, bringing democracy in its wake.
The fact that we are able to recognise two clearly definable social systems in human civilisation which establish themselves “automatically”, as it were, according to the level of economic development, raises the question of whether there are really only these two social systems or whether a third system might emerge with further economic development. The blueprint probably already exists, with all the details worked out, just as the blueprint for the monetary structure of a society with sufficient economic diversification always existed long before there was money. And the “third” system will probably become established just as automatically as the “second” social system, provided that there is still a society at this time.
However there is a big difference between the timing of civilisation’s first paradigm shift and the timing of the second paradigm shift that probably will occur at some point. In the course of evolution, Man as a species is becoming increasingly conscious, increasingly free-thinking. We cannot really say that Man is becoming more reasonable, but he is certainly more intelligent. Or perhaps we can say that more intelligence is becoming established on this planet and it remains anyone’s guess as to whether the credit belongs to people or whether intelligence is increasing due to technical achievements, particularly the computer. The exponential increase in “knowledge” can also be observed. The total amount of knowledge is growing faster and faster. It is almost like a chain reaction which, as in nuclear fusion, could suddenly achieve a totally new dimension in the rate of increase when a critical mass is reached.
Against the background of this development it may be that the “third social system” will not manifest itself automatically and unconsciously as was the case with the first two. It may be a conscious step. In the change from power system to monetary system man merely played a walk-on part. He was nothing more than a spectator and beneficiary of an economic structure that balanced itself out. It is conceivable, however, that with the next system, man might actively participate in determining the alignment of that new system. Perhaps in the enormous economic diversification and massive wealth of knowledge that we have achieved today there are indeed multiple possible systems which could all replace the “second system” in the same way. In this case, it would be enormously important to consciously follow and control the process of finding and establishing a new system. Once one alternative to the second system of civilisation becomes established and replaces it, primarily because it is much more practical and efficient, then perhaps it will not be so easy to establish a different system that would be equally efficient, but at the same time perhaps much more friendly, sublime and wise.
It is therefore high time to get to grips with the subject of the moneyless society. If we bear in mind the vast and unforeseeable consequences of an unconscious change of system and the simply infinite possibilities and improvements of an intentional transition to a new form of society, then we have no time to lose. We need to get to grips with this topic now.
When it was established back in 1968, Auroville defined and proclaimed the moneyless society as one of the facets of the new form of society. Although this aspect was not and has not yet been fully developed in its tangible structuring, it is still clearly envisaged as a goal. In the course of a 50-year struggle for a better form of society, there has not been a great deal achieved in this respect. The land on which the project is taking place was purchased centrally, and is available to every Auroville inhabitant and project in a moneyless form. Nobody pays anything for Auroville land; it cannot be bought or sold, let or leased. Land was therefore the “first moneyless commodity” in the Auroville society. A second commodity was added around 5 years ago: electricity. The team and group of companies associated with Niveau élevé purchased 6 wind turbines and started to produce electricity for Auroville. This electricity is not only “green”, it is also provided free of charge in Auroville. Every private household, every social establishment such as schools, communal kitchens, cultural institutes, etc. and every commercial establishment such as workshops, factories and offices no longer has to pay for the electricity it uses.
The big worry was naturally that a hidden demand could very quickly bring the experiment to an end. There are just over 2000 people living in Auroville, and only 10 to 15% of these have an air-conditioning system – and summers in South India are not exactly pleasant without air-conditioning. The sceptics in Auroville therefore argued that free electricity would first lead to a massive rise in consumption because of newly installed air-conditioning systems and second that it would result in the unconscious and wasteful use of the commodity energy. To be able to assess the precise effect of the change to free electricity, hundreds of in-line meters were installed in Auroville and sophisticated monitoring was introduced using software developed by us. The significant question was whether the natural increase in annual consumption would be accelerated by elimination of the monetary aspect of electricity. Of the some 1000 connections that have been supplied with free electricity for a couple of years now, we now have clear data for around 400 of these for the last few years; the conditions for each connection have not changed during the experiment. The result of our evaluation of the consumption from these connections was sensational. Before the introduction of moneyless electricity, there had been an annual growth in consumption of 12% for the recorded connections. This was explained by the installation of new air-conditioning systems, washing machines and so on. However, after introduction of the moneyless delivery of electricity, the annual growth in consumption did not suddenly rise as expected. In fact it dropped to 7%.
There are various reasons for this development. First the subject of “moneyless electricity” was naturally extensively discussed in Auroville and so a high degree of awareness was achieved with respect to power consumption. A person who, before the changeover perhaps felt he was perfectly entitled to run an air conditioning unit while, at the same time, opening a window to ensure sufficient fresh air because he was paying for that electricity, now found himself on the horns of a moral dilemma. Because he was now no longer paying for that electricity. The justification for excessive consumption had thus disappeared and he is directly faced with his conscience. Another reason for the clear drop in consumption growth is certainly the fact that the “electricity producer” (Varuna from the Niveau élevé group of companies) does not have a great interest in ensuring maximum possible consumption, unlike a normal producer. The interests have been turned on their head. The producer who provides his goods for nothing has an interest in ensuring that as little as possible is consumed. Thus Varuna has strategically examined all the possible loss points, urged people to replace old and inefficient devices, repaired damaged cables and has carried out several hundred energy audits over the last few years. An energy audit means a visit from the electricity generator’s electrical engineer, who examines and advises a home or company on what they can do to increase the efficiency of their electricity consumption.
There may even be other reasons for the changed rise in consumption. In short, the reversal in the producer’s interests has naturally resulted in lower consumption. The big risk cited by those who are sceptical about the moneyless society, i.e. the excessive private and commercial consumption, thus appears not to be the significant problem, or at least not in this case.
There is probably a much bigger problem lurking in a different corner, however. The power of money incorporates a natural mechanism for limitation and regulation. Everything within the money circuit that does not lead to an accumulation of money is immediately punished so that the money withdraws from the process or from the people who handle the process. A natural selection is thus made. Anyone who is able to use money “sensibly” in the sense of increasing that money will be rewarded; he will accrue lots of money and will have access to many opportunities. Anyone who does not have this ability and does not accumulate more money from his actions will be punished because the money will avoid him. Money uses this mechanism to ensure that it is constantly accumulated and extends its power. This mechanism will no longer be effective in a moneyless society. The natural limitation resulting from the withdrawal of buying power will not affect a behaviour that does not cause money to accumulate. The available resources are thus available even to people who have no experience or skill in handling such resources. The inevitable consequence will be inefficient handling and frittering away of the available resources.
In the early days of Auroville, an experiment was carried out in Switzerland which centred on the attempt to establish non-monetary interaction within a small group of Auroville supporters. A team was established consisting of a handful of people who together had been very successful in various projects in making money for construction of the Matrimandir. They resolved to revoke the normal rules of attachment to money and to allow everyone, entirely freely and for themselves, to decide how the shared resources should be used. At this point, their work was determined by the “proprietor” of the small company in which the team earned money for Auroville with various activities. With immediate effect, the assets of the company were available to each individual, without limit and without accountability. The result was a disaster. The company went bust within two months.
Two of the employees joyfully attempted to drive a Mercedes from Munich to Teheran and to sell it there. This was a very lucrative business at that time. An endless caravan of new and used vehicles, filled with televisions and other consumer goods, made the pilgrimage through the Balkans to Persia, where they could immediately flog both car and contents at twice the purchase price. Thousands of vehicles were taken to Persia in this way every year. The two enthusiastic drivers had the best of intentions, but their enthusiasm got the better of them. They drove day and night, one sleeping while the other drove. In Greece, they drove the second-hand Mercedes, which they had bought expensively in Germany, over a cliff and down a precipice. Thankfully the two were uninjured, but the Mercedes was scrap. And if that was not bad enough, the car had been imported into the Mediterranean country with a carnet and, as it was not exported again, they were threatened with customs duty amounting to 300% of the estimated value. So they had import a used engine into Greece, repair the damaged car and transport it back to Munich. In the end, the losses amounted to roughly twice the cost of purchasing the car.
Another small group associated with a musician from the team wanted to promote a relatively good, but unknown Swiss jazz group and thus earn money. Wolfgang Dauner, a German jazz musician who was very famous in Switzerland had, at his last appearance in Zürich, played to a sell-out audience at the Volkshaus and was broadcast live on Swiss television. The still enthusiastic participants in our experiment had the glorious idea of organising an “improv” session between Wolfgang Dauner and the unknown Swiss group at the Volkshaus. But what was missing from this venture was simply experience. The result was even more disastrous than the Mercedes adventure. Wolfgang Dauner was booked for lots of money and the Volkshaus was hired for the concert evening. Just 4 people turned up. The concert was announced in the Zürich newspapers on the day after the concert. To make it worse, the committed organisers then also lost the rolls with the entry tickets. At that time, the entertainment tax for concerts was calculated from the issue and return of tickets. Since the unused tickets could not be handed in, the organisers had to pay as much entertainment tax as if the event had been a sell-out. The team also had to pay for any number of advertising posters for the concert that had been pasted on trams, etc., etc.
To summarise, the experiment with the “responsibility-free handling of money” showed that the small company, which was previously doing very well, went bust very quickly, the owner had lost all his money and the team had scattered to the four winds. The decisive mistake in this unregulated handling of money was not the excessive private consumption; it was the lack of commercial skills and experience of the individuals who had access to resources that exceeded their capacity to handle them. In a moneyless society, therefore, the biggest risk probably will not come from the corner of egoism and lack of responsibility. Citizens who idle away their time and enjoy all the amenities of the common assets are probably not the main problem. It is the fact that the natural power to regulate activities through the automatic limiting process of money ceases to exist, leading to economic pointlessness and chaos, if this mechanism cannot be replaced with a new force.
But what force could it be that can incorporate an economic order and meaningfulness into the actions of an entire society without having to apply new restrictions, such as a bureaucracy with strict rules? Nothing is achieved by the introduction of a bureaucracy to ensure meaningful handling of common resources. Indeed, the achievement of the moneyless society is actually the freedom from restriction and from the individualised allocation of buying power. Nothing will be achieved if regulation is taken over by a bureaucracy. Conversely, the reduction or elimination of bureaucracy would be one of the most important steps forward in the new form of society.
Ultimately the key question concerning the success or failure of the moneyless experiment will be which higher-level and regulatory force can replace the regulatory mechanism of money. This force certainly exists already. The legitimacy of money existed in its beginnings and concept, long before there was economic diversification and money. But the concept of money could not emerge without a diversified economy. Equally it is probable that the new force or principle will not be able to emerge until the principle, the fertile soil for it exists. It is not easy to conjecture what the details of this new principle will look like. But it would have been just as impossible to imagine the mechanism of money before money was introduced in the Neolithic period. And even when money was introduced, it certainly would not have been possible to imagine all the forms that money would eventually assume: hedge funds, ETFs, derivatives and much more. Nevertheless it can clearly be seen that the principle of money, the simple economic diversification, is changing considerably and that, on this basis, money, its force and effect are changing too. Globalisation, for example, introduces new elements into the game. Thus a quantum leap in the structuring of the economy and society can certainly be expected if the economic situation moves far enough away from the original constellation which actually resulted in the introduction of money. In view of the changed ways in which money is used, it is doubtful whether an analysis of the changes in the economy over the last two and a half thousand years will really give any perspective on where the train is going. Indeed, the aim is not to refine the mechanism of money, but rather to replace money entirely with something completely new.
Let us go back to one of the most important spiritual giants from history: Lao Tzu. Around 600 BC, and so exactly at the time when money started to appear everywhere in the world, he outlined his ideal form of society in just a few words. In the verses of the 31th chapter of the Tao Te Ching he described a social order that was based on recognition of the underlying force of the Tao:
The Tao is infinite and so cannot be defined.
Unimpressive though it is in its undefined state,
the whole world cannot grasp it. There is nothing higher.
If great leaders could harness it,
all life on this earth would follow.
Heaven and earth would be reunited,
harmony would pervade everything like sweet dew.
Man would no longer have to be ruled by laws.
Shortly before the monetary form of society emerged, Lao Tzu described a society that was based on acceptance of the force that underlies everything – the Tao. Clearly, civilisation at that time was not ready for such organisation. Faced with starvation and the fight for existence, the emphasis was firmly on economic efficiency or survival. Today we have an affluent society in large parts of our civilisation. But it didn’t start like this.
The Indian mythology of the same era also contains ideas that recommend a similar code of conduct. This was related to each individual, however, and not to an entire society. The ancient sages spoke of an “inner leader” who was no bigger than a thumb, inhabited our chest and was worth following. Modern philosophers like Sri Aurobindo speak of the same phenomenon. We all have in us a very fine intuition which infallibly tells us what the “right thing” is at any given moment. This requires us to completely switch off our own ideas and preferences and actually open ourselves up, entirely sincerely and without adornment, to what intuition recommends.
If we bring the viewpoint of Lao Tzu and the Indian mystics into a modern context, we could perhaps say that there is an underlying, all-encompassing “reason”. If we were be able to open ourselves up to this reason, give it the opportunity to manifest itself in our society, live out our individual abilities and aspirations within this reason and not within a home-made logic, mental acrobatics or even egoistic recklessness, then it would be conceivable for a regulatory mechanism to develop on the basis of this intuitive reason – an automatism which could possibly replace the regulatory force of money. We have no idea what the details of this mechanism would look like. But it is likely that there would be tangible forms and mechanisms, or even automatisms of the reason that underlies everything. Of course, money is also the tangible manifestation of an abstract principle. Perhaps there are many such abstract principles of which only one – the monetary principle – has been manifested to us. A considerate reason which underlies everything is another abstract principle which probably has the potential to be an entirely tangible manifestation. This manifestation of the intuitive, gnostic reason could perhaps be the basis for a new form of society; it would be much more efficient, gentle and considerate but, at the same time, would be much more powerful than the one we have known to date. The force described above is not mental logic. Marx and Lenin, along with many other political thinkers, have already failed with mental logical concepts. Mental logic has not once prevailed against the force of money, i.e. capitalism.
The interesting aspect of a new form of society based on an intuitive knowledge and intuitive reason is not simply elimination of the negative side effects of the monetary structure. The aim is not to achieve a hippy culture in which we all wear flowers in our hair and love, rather than hurt one another. No, elimination of the negative effects of the monetary structure is the less important part of the revolution. The more important aspect is what could manifest itself on the positive side. The introduction of money also brought many great achievements in its wake. We truly cannot imagine the fantastic forms in which an intuitive knowledge underlying everything could manifest itself around the “right thing”. Simply turning inwards and asking “Right” or “Wrong”, if generally successful, would result in unimaginable developments and manifestations at the collective level. And these would not only be visible and important in the material world. The incorporation of mystical areas, unknown levels of consciousness and possibly entirely new psychological structures would be the much more important fruits of such a society.
It is still uncertain where our civilisation is taking us. It is clear that our economy, technology and the structures of money (which currently control all of our lives) are changing. It is equally clear that the change is accelerating at an exponential rate. A leap into an entirely new system therefore becomes more probable with every day that passes. We have already lost control over money. The “markets” regulate themselves, money is evolving its own structures without our conscious assistance. The question is now whether we should passively wait until a new form of society manifests itself and supersedes the current, monetary form, or whether we should start trying to find forms to replace a society structured by money. Perhaps there are indeed many opportunities for developing a more efficient form of society and we could select for ourselves the form of post-monetary society that we would like to implement.
The only large-scale experiment to develop alternatives to the society structured around money that is currently taking place in Auroville is aiming for a micro-society with 50,000 inhabitants. Moneyless electricity is just one tiny step; it was supported by the group of companies associated with the Niveau élevé brand by the provision of six wind turbines. The next planned step is free water for every Auroville inhabitant. Given the serious water shortage in South India, this step is linked to construction of the environmentally-friendly seawater desalination plant which is also supported by Niveau élevé. Another logical step would be a fully ecological, electricity-based transport system in Auroville.
This would also be free. Living costs, particularly electricity, are already free in Auroville at any rate. These three areas (electricity, water and transport) are relatively easy to implement. They are difficult to sell to third parties, use to become excessively rich or squander on a large scale. It will be more difficult with other areas, such as food. However these are also under consideration and experiments are in progress. Ultimately each area of the moneyless economy makes the next one easier. With free electricity, water and transport, it will be easier to produce food at Auroville’s own farms and distribute it without money than if the food were the first part of the experiment.
Where this journey will take us and how long it will take before tangible results can be seen is entirely open. But one thing is clear. The very worst option would be not to test the moneyless society at all. So we hope that something good will emerge and are happy to be taking part in this exciting voyage of discovery.