Money rehab

Hi, my name is Sarah and I’m a moneyoholic.

Yes!  I’ll say it loud and proud.  Because it’s more than likely that if you’re reading this online, then you are too.  I’ve been trying to kick the habit for 62 weeks now, and it’s always comforting to talk to fellow addicts.

Of course, I might be wrong and you’re not addicted to money, in which case I’m afraid you’ll have to leave this post.  Or tell me your secret.

Let me be clear, here.  As a medium of exchange, money can save everyone a lot of inconvenience.  But money addiction has some obvious, and not-so-obvious, unfortunate consequences.

Here are the diagnostic criteria for money addiction so you can see if they apply to you, or if I’m simply a judgemental arse.  (NB: two or more applicable criteria = positive diagnosis)

  1. You can’t go more than a day without consuming something for which you have traded (or will trade) money.  That includes things that someone else bought in order to give to you.  It also includes food, accommodation, clothes etc.
  2. You spend large amounts of your waking life on activities related to obtaining or spending money.  Let’s call these activities “scoring hits”.  Such activities often encroach on the time you would otherwise spend experiencing and creating meaning in your life, eg connecting with family and friends, connecting with nature, personal growth, pursuing your passions etc.  I’m not saying that activities related to money can’t ever involve all those things.  I’m saying that often they don’t.  The more “life” lost to the dependency on money, the more serious the addiction.

There’s one more diagnostic symptom, so bear with me.  But if you identify with the above two criteria, welcome to the club already.  We’re an inclusive bunch, us moneyoholics.  And diverse: we have many members in denial; many have embraced their condition and built a life on it; some are having a go at freeing themselves (that’s us!  and this guy); and some are just exploring their dependency, trying to make up their minds whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

I can’t answer for anyone else whether our mutual habit is good or bad, or both.  In any addiction there comes a point when the harm done outweighs the draw of dependency, and that point is different for everybody.  I think it’s called “rock bottom” when applied to alcoholism.  Some addicts never reach it, and are perfectly happy living with dependency until they die (perhaps of the effects of their addiction?).  Since both Felice and I are trying to kick the money habit, we must have touched our personal rock bottoms (so to speak) along the way somewhere.  So what harm does money addiction actually do?

Well. There’s the obvious harm done, when you lose “life” to the pursuit of money.  I think of it as the “Deathbeds and Offices” harm, as in the old chestnut, “on their deathbed, no-one ever wished they spent more time at the office”.  I intend to bang on further about deathbeds and offices, but not here.  Perhaps at next month’s meeting.

Because for Felice and I, there’s a more significant source of harm, that people don’t often talk about.  Why not?  Your guess is as good as mine.  I know that for a long time I didn’t talk about it because it was embedded in what I thought of as normal (and consequently not worthy of examination).  But I’m going to examine it now, because it’s why I’ve fronted up to this moneyaholics meeting tonight.

Or perhaps no one talks about it because it’s just difficult to conceptualise.  It’s difficult because it’s “diffuse”, by which I mean pooled and shared by everyone.  The harm I experience as an individual money addict comes not directly through my own addiction, but instead is my share of the “pooled harm” created by everyone’s addiction.  But what possible harm, I hear you ask, comes from everyone’s addiction?

The answer to that came to us slowly, in stages.

The first glimmer of understanding came when we realised that by buying stuff from an organisation, we were supporting (and implicitly condoning) all its activities.  This isn’t a new idea.  It just took us a while to get it.  All the people who boycotted, say, Nike’s sweatshopped sneakers, got there way ahead of us.  But for a long time, we had no idea how the stuff we were buying was made.  We didn’t really want to know, because we had a sneaking suspicion we might not like what we saw.  When we finally started asking some questions, we found we were right.  We didn’t like what we saw.

And here we were paying people to do all this stuff we didn’t like.  Which brings me to what Felice and I experienced as symptom 3:

  1. We lost sufficient self-respect that we continued to “score” even when we discovered that by doing so we were contributing to the “pooled harm”.  Just like a heroin junkie continues to score, even if it means nicking poor old Gran’s purse on pension day.  Our addiction made us act against our own best interests (remember we get a share of the pooled harm) and also in opposition to our own values (which include a fairly strong inclination to avoid causing harm if we can help it).

What exactly do I mean by “contributing to the pooled harm”?  I’m glad you asked…

Warning: I know this next bit might sound ho-hummingly like an anti-corporate tirade.  It is. Ho-hum, and anti-corporate, that is.  It’s also a vast simplification of the issues involved.  But since the issues are vastly unsimple, I can’t think of a way around the simplification, short of writing an encyclopaedia.  If this is all old hat to you, and it is to a lot of people, here’s a summary so you can skip down to here:

Summary: Big business corporations are particular kinds of organisations that are structured so as to give management both incentive and means to stuff up anything that can’t be measured in (their) money.  That includes, among many others, things that everyone benefits by, like clean air and water.  Stuffing up beneficial commons (like air and water) is an example of “contributing to the pooled harm”.  Supporting organisations that do this, is also contributing to the pooled harm.  We began to believe that supporting corporations by buying their products was undesirable.

So here’s the tirade (skip to the end):  increasingly, the entities that profit from people who buy stuff (including food and other essentials) are big business corporations.  A big business corporation’s main goal is to create value for their shareholders (or in some cases, to enrich their executives).  If they can get away with outsourcing costs then they will.  “Outsourcing costs” means not paying for the damage they’ve incurred through their own money addiction: damage such as deforestation, pollution, the disappearance of indigenous cultures, loss of biodiversity, the effects of industrial agriculture, the exploitation of developing countries, long-term health problems caused by their products and so on.  Most of these things are quite legal, or at least, can be done in ways that are not enforceable.

I’m sure that there are some big business corporations who engage only in socially and environmentally responsible behaviour, despite the in-built incentive and opportunity to do otherwise.  But the problem is, when you buy anything from a large business, it’s very difficult to know who exactly profits by your purchase.  Businesses get bought, sold and consolidated by corporations all the time, and evidence of anti-social corporate behaviour often only emerges long after the fact.  So how do you know what activities you’re supporting when you “score”?  You can’t.

So what to do?  Acquiesce?  That’s one way to go, and both of us did for a while.  You can always defend your acquiescence with the thought that the particular corporation you’re patronising might be one of the good guys.

But then it became increasingly clear that many corporations and industry groups (who represent, mostly, big business corporations) had significant power over our government.  The entanglement of government and big business is well-documented in the USA, but for a while I swanned along in the naïve belief that Australians wouldn’t stand for such a thing.  Until I became aware of (among others):

  • “Public-private partnerships” that greatly benefited the private part at the expense of the public.
  • Genetically modified food that doesn’t have to be labelled as such
  • The RTA’s treatment of the Great Western Highway
  • The ability of mining companies to mine private land, without the consent of the owner
  • The enormous amount of public effort it took to stop Gunns building a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley, which should have been a no-brainer
  • Australia’s intermeshing with the USA (eg through NAFTA and Codex Alimentarius) in the name of international trade
  • and so on…

By buying from big business (ie funding them) we realised we were empowering them to persuade our government to act in their interests, not our interests, or even in the interests of natural justice.  Patently, this is a less-than-ideal state of affairs.  We both wanted to find a way around it, but here’s the thing: without having to kick our dependency on money.  What to do?  Well, obviously, we could try to counter the influence of big business on our government by writing to our MP.

Well.  Have you ever written to your MP explaining why they should do something differently?  Did you get a form letter back (every time), thanking you for your input and explaining why they will be continuing to do the same as they’ve always done?  Exactly.  So we joined and contributed to GetUp, and tried to buy our stuff from small businesses only (ie, sole traders and partnerships etc, not corporate entities).  But the odd email signature didn’t seem very much with which to counter the financial influence of Corporate Australia, and especially not Corporate Earth.  And when you buy from small businesses, who do you think they pay to supply the electricity they use?  the products they retail?  their phone line?  insurance?  business loans?  Big sodding business, of course.

And on top of that, the power of big business corporations lies in their enormous financial resources.  Buying stuff directly from them increases the quantity of those resources (ie the number of say, dollars) but even simply wanting to earn and spend money increases the demand for, and hence the power of, whatever quantity they already have.  So we discovered that we were supporting big business corporate entities (who we felt had way too much power and were often using it in ways that we found unacceptable) to the extent that we were dependent on money.

Phew.  So far, we understood the “harm done” of our money dependency to include “life lost”, as well as a contribution to the pooled harm through the compulsory support of big business corporations, which are entities created with fundamental aims that conflict with the notion of “truth and justice for all”, and the empowerment of same to persuade our government to act in ways that benefit them instead of us.  In short, we understood that our dependency on money was enslaving us in a very real sense.  But that wasn’t rock bottom for us.  It hardly ever is, for anyone.

What finally sent us scurrying to “rehab” was seeing how our addiction was feeding the “lunatic framework”.  Yes, I know.  The term is shamelessly pilfered from Noam Chomsky (I think), who uses it to describe his view of US foreign policy.  He thinks the US administration makes decisions that seem insane (make up your own mind – see “Hegemony or Survival”), but in fact it’s acting in quite logical accordance with its beliefs.  It’s just the actual beliefs that are nuts.  He calls it “acting rationally within a lunatic framework”.

The particular lunatic framework I’m talking about here is the one that most “globalised” cultures (including Australia) seem to have bought into.  It’s the framework that results in the following, seemingly insane, behaviour:

  • Putting poison on food and then eating it.
  • Introducing GM food without reliable safety assessment, and then preventing people from being able to find out whether what they’re buying is GM or not.  If you still think GM products have been cleared of any health risks, see for example this book.
  • Allowing large-scale clearing of rainforests, when we know that it causes desertification, siltation, loss of soil fertility, loss of biodiversity, and exacerbates climate change.
  • Causing mass animal suffering through the practice of factory farming, when better quality, more nutritious meat can be raised, with fewer pharmaceutical inputs (eg antibiotics) in a free-range setting.
  • Treating indigenous cultures with brutality and contempt, when we could be learning from them: they’re the ones who’ve managed to live sustainably for thousands of years.
  • Allowing mining on agricultural land, when food security is becoming an issue
  • Simultaneously a) believing that carbon emissions are changing the earth’s climate in a way that is likely to kill or displace millions of people (not to mention plants and wildlife), and b) continuing to emit lots of carbon.
  • People willingly relinquishing skills related to their own health and survival (eg producing food, saving seeds), in order to “spend more time at the office”.
  • In the face of peak oil, allowing oil companies to buy up patents on good alternative energy ideas, and then sit on them
  • Making “stuff” that is designed (actually designed) to be useless not that far into the future.
  • etc…

To us, the insanity of the above list is self-evident.  But in case it isn’t for you, one of the main reasons we think those behaviours are crazy is that they damage things that are incredibly valuable to us.  If you had a priceless treasure, you would be crazy to break it.  And the above behaviours destroy things that are priceless treasures to us: health, clean air and water, robust forests, rivers and other ecosystems (not just for their own sake but also for their moderating influence on weather and climate change), nutritious food, respect for sentience wherever it’s found, our own sovereignty and so on.

But despite appearances, I don’t really believe that people and cultures that behave like this are actually insane.  Perhaps they are (?), but I prefer to think that instead, they simply hold a loony set of beliefs, ie they’ve bought into a lunatic framework (let’s call it “THE lunatic framework”, because it’s so very widespread).

But what kind of crazy-arsed beliefs would make anyone act like that?  We don’t know, because they’re not our beliefs.  But here are some guesses:

  • “Money is more important than – or can bring people – health, fulfilment and happiness.”   This is only true if you’re addicted to money, and consequently, not thinking clearly.
  • “Nature must be hammered into submission and exploited.”  This is only true etc…(see above).
  • The behaviours listed (and others in the same vein) are often sold to us as “necessary” for modern life: perhaps unpleasant, but without them the economy would suffer, and with it our quality of life.  Of course, again, this is only true if you’re addicted to money because obviously, it’s the behaviours themselves that decrease our quality of life.  The sales pitch is drip-fed to us through TV and other media, to the point where we internalise it, and it becomes part of what is often called the “conventional wisdom”.

Who really knows what people are thinking?  But these beliefs are consistent with the loony behaviours listed above (and other loony behaviours, which I intend to write about one day), and represent our best guess (and we’ve tossed around a lot of guesses) as to what might induce such insanities.

And here’s the thing: holding, or acting on, these beliefs depends on people being addicted to money.

It’s easy to see that holding these particular beliefs depends on money addiction. That is, if you’re not addicted to money, they don’t make any sense.  But there’s more – the insidiousness of the lunatic framework is that for the large number of people who don’t hold these beliefs, but who are still addicted to money, it is difficult to score unless they behave in ways consistent with the beliefs.

For example, if you’re addicted to money, you can’t stop “spending time at the office”.  And if you spend most of your waking life working, then it’s very convenient to stop in at the supermarket on the way home and swap money for some fruit-and-veg-with-pesticide-residue and some GM-soy-in-a-jar.

Or if you’re in a position to decide major policy issues, and you know that the non-loony decision you’d like to make could cost you your job (because there are powerful money-addicted and/or lunatic framework believers involved), what decision do you think you’d end up making?  I’m not saying everyone bows to the pressure, but as a man called Upton Sinclair is reputed to have said, “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”  Examples of this are a whole post in themselves, which I really do intend to write sometime.  But think of how Peter Garrett, once committed environmental activist and president of the Australian Conservation Foundation, found himself, as Environment Minister, approving a major expansion of the Beverley uranium mine.  Or think of what happened to Kevin Rudd after he pursued the mining super tax.

The results of this effect are of course amplified when applied to our decision-makers.  By decision-makers I mean people in government, who legislate; and corporate/industry lobbyists, who influence (although voters, who can vote in the government they trust with the economy, and consumers, who influence corporate behaviour through their buying choices, also help mould the decisions we make as a culture).  When a decision-maker is in a position to affect, say, GM labelling laws, or the opening of a new mine, money addiction and/or lunatic framework beliefs can do a lot more damage to priceless treasures than little old me eating pesticide residues.

But – and this is the crucial point – that doesn’t mean I’m shifting responsibility to our decision-makers.  In fact, little old me eating pesticide residues (by which I mean, really, being addicted to money) is the very thing that empowers and validates the lunatic framework beliefs that hold decision-makers hostage.  How?  Well, for example, by needing to earn money in order to have access to the essentials of life (shelter etc as well as food), I validate the idea that money brings at least health, if not happiness.  By buying industrial agriculture food, I validate the idea that a good way to interact with Nature is to exploit it, and/or that the lunacy that is industrial agriculture is an unpleasant but necessary part of modern life.

Additionally, by buying pesticide-residue food, I give money to the money-addicted corporation that produced it.  The more money a corporation has, the more power it has: it can pay employees to further its aims, it can lobby governments, and it can indoctrinate its customers through advertising.  And if it’s addicted to money then it will likely act in accordance with the lunatic framework, and end up damaging our priceless treasures in some way.

And also, by earning money, I find myself in a position where I must pay tax for (ie fund) lunatic framework government policies (like, oh, I don’t know… there’s heaps of them:  war in Iraq, tax breaks for industrial forestry, internet censorship, draconian “anti-terror” measures).  I don’t mind paying for things that everyone benefits by, like public transport or environmental protection.  But I have a problem paying for policies that empower or enrich those who act in accordance with the lunatic framework.

So to revisit the original question: what possible harm comes from everyone’s addiction?  This is the kind of harm that comes from everyone’s addiction.  Insane behaviour on the part of powerful decision-makers in our culture, which damages our collective priceless treasures.  And that little epiphany was our rock bottom.

So.  Here we are.

Of course, our isolated escape attempt is unlikely to make a great difference to the almost universal lunatic framework.  And despite being in rehab, we’re still in line for our share of the pooled harm.  This whole thing would be a lot more effective if everyone came with us.  (Or if, even better, there were some way to unlink money addiction from lunatic framework behaviour.)  But the decision to free oneself from money dependency is a very personal one – it’s not for everyone, and them’s the breaks.

Everyone tells us that the road to recovery from money addiction is not easy.  And it’s true that we don’t have all the skills we need – they’re not the sort of thing that’s taught at school.  But we’re learning, and finding it’s much easier than we thought.  If we eventually shake the habit entirely, and I have every naive hope that we do, we will celebrate it with pawpaw and homemade ginger beer as we watch the last sprays of the sun on our priceless treasures.

So ..er… that’s it for our moneyoholics meeting today.  Thanks for coming along.  Could everyone please stack the chairs back against the wall and put 20c in the kitty if you had a cup of tea.  Cheers.

Stuff to watch:

Stuff to read:

  • “Hegemony or Survival” by Noam Chomsky
  • “Genetic Roulette”  by Jeffrey Smith.  (NB there is a website called “academics’ review” or similar that purports to debunk this book.  However, look closer: a website called “academicsreview.org”, that contains only 1 review, that of Genetic Roulette? And why would the founders, described as “independent professors”, stoop to poke fun at the man (see the personal profile) if they had anything solid which which to debunk his book? I mean honestly. I had a quick look at the articles, and the ones I read were misleading, often choosing a phrasing that is technically correct, but which doesn’t debunk the material it says it does. Is this deliberate? Obviously, you should make up your own mind. Here’s the site. I was already convinced this was a smear job, so haven’t really checked out the rest of the site, but did have a quick look at the “non-profit” links – they include International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), which appears to be a website devoted to extolling the virtues of the green revolution and biotech/GM products. “Independent”? Hmmm…
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