Examine, if you will, an ancient, fundamental idea, the idea of community. The essence of community, its very heart and soul, is the non-monetary exchange of value. The things we do and things we share because we care for others and for the good of the place. Not just physical things, but things for which we keep no record and ask no recompense. Things that can be given without stint, yet are never a loss to the giver. Such things as respect, tolerance, love, trust, generosity and empathy, the supply of which is unbounded and unlimited.
The non-monetary exchange of value is the most effective, constructive, system ever devised. Evolution and nature have been perfecting it for thousands of millennia. It requires no currency, contracts, government, laws, courts, police, economists, lawyers, or accountants. It does not require certified experts of any kind. It requires only ordinary, caring people.
The non-monetary exchange of value does not arise solely from altruistic motives. It also arises from deep, intuitive understanding that self-interest is inseparably connected with community interest; that individual good is inseparable from the good of the whole. It arises from intuitive understanding that all people and things are simultaneously independent, interdependent, and intradependent; that the singular me is distinguishable yet inseparable from the plural we.
In a true community, unity of the singular me and the plural we applies as well to beliefs, purposes and principles. Some we hold in common with all others in the community. Some we hold with some and not with others. Some we hold independently. In true community, the values of others we do not hold are nonetheless respected and tolerated, either because we realize that some of our beliefs will require respect and tolerance in return, or because we know those with different beliefs and values well enough to understand and respect the common humanity that transcends such differences.
True community also requires proximity---continual, direct interaction between people, place and things. Scale is thus extremely important. Proximity declines as scale increases. When direct, continual interaction is no longer possible the essence of community is lost. To call large agglomerations of people, place and things a community where proximity is impossible is to rob the word of all meaning.
Throughout history, the quintessential community, the fundamental building block of society. has been the family. It is there that the greatest non-monetary exchange of value takes place. It is there that the most powerful, non-material values can be created and exchanged. It is from family as community that all other societal entities are formed, whether for better or for worse
Without the three essentials, proximity, non-material value, and non-monetary exchange of value, no true community ever existed or ever will. If any of the three weaken, community begins to decline. If we were to set out to deliberately design an efficient system for the methodical destruction of community, we could not do better than our present efforts to monetize all value, mechanize all societal organizations and reduce life to the tyranny of mathematical measurement, markets and the ever increasing centralization of power and wealth that result. Money, mechanism, measurement and markets have their place. They are useful tools indeed. We should use them carefully for beneficent ends. But useful tools are all they are. They do not deserve the deification the apostles of unrestrained acquisition insist that we give them. Only fools worship their tools.
There can be no civil society worthy of the name without true community. In fact, there can be no life without it. All life and all earthly systems ore closed cycles of giving and receiving, of the non-monetary exchange of value, save only that gift of energy that comes from the sun.
When we monetize value, we have a means of measurement however misleading that allows us to calculate the relative efficiency of each part of the system. It doesn't occur to us that efficiency is often ineffective; that we may be destroying an extremely effective system whose values we cannot measure in order to calculate the efficiency of ineffective systems. It doesn't occur to us that attempting to engineer mechanistic societies and institutions based on mathematical measurement may be fundamentally flawed. As the popular dictum declares, "What gets measured is what gets done." That is precisely the problem, for it requires that much more important values be ignored.
Giving and receiving can't be measured in any meaningful sense. A gift with expectation of return is no gift at all. It is a bargain. In a non-monetary exchange of value, giving and receiving is not a bargain, it is an offer and an acceptance. In nature, when cycles of giving and receiving are out of balance, equilibrium is lost and disability and devastation soon arise. It is no different in society.
When money's rant is on, we come to believe that life is a right which comes bearing a right which is the right of getting. Life is not a right. Life is a gift that comes bearing a gift which is the art of giving. Community is the place were we give our gifts and receive the gifts of others. When our individual and collective consciousness becomes receptive to new, chaordic concepts of organization, societal organizations may yet come into harmony with the human spirit and the biosphere. When those concepts resonate in the minds and hearts of enough people, beneficent institutional change is not only possible, it is inevitable.