About the economic side of our lifestyle I already wrote in the book “We are building a village.” You can read it, nothing has changed much since, maybe the prices have changed with the years. I keep writing books. I also sometimes work at construction of the domed houses and teach from time to time. Natasha teaches weaving and other female handicrafts. More and more of the aspects of our daily life are becoming moneyless: we have enough experience growing in our own garden, have saved up a variety of resources with multiple uses, which allow us to easily overcome any financial instabilities… I will not mention all of it here in detail, let us just talk about the “economy” in more detail and order…

Conscious reasonable simplicity

“Among the surrounding civilization it would be good to live a simple life, the kind that people live on less inhabited lands, at least to be able to learn which are the basic needs for survival and how people meet those needs; or to turn over pages of old trading books to see what people used to buy most of all, what they bought in stock, and which products are necessary for survival. After all, centuries of progress brought very little newness into the basic laws of human existence; same as our skeleton, probably, does not differ from the skeletons of our ancestors.”

G.D. Toro

“Economy should be economical – such is the requirement of time.” This quote from the XVII KPSS convention could be enough, because it leads our curious minds to the underlying meaning – simplifying… Yes, I believe that the basic premise of the sustainable way of life is simplicity. Not poverty. Not misery. But a conscious and reasonable ease and simplicity.

Immortal evangelist Luke said exactly the same thing, that the poor are blessed. And even if the man from television smiles all sugar and honey, trying to convince me that a person buying a certain product is the one that is blessed – I do not believe him. Because I have bought plenty of things and I know for sure, that the stated of bliss from buying a new thing lasts for a very short time, and that new craving for consumerism follows it, especially when a product you bought has a somewhat smaller screen than the product on the showcase or in the possession of your neighbor. And it is not that the rich (those that have wealth) cannot experience bliss, no. It is the danger of linking your inner state of happiness, love, and pleasure to products of someone’s business. And while covering your life with material trash, it is easy to forget what has the real value. What we live for and about what we ask ourselves before death. I worked in an emergency room and talked to the dying, and I can tell you for sure that none of them told me about the coolest phone they had a chance to use in their lifetime. Or did not have a chance to use. Before death people think about what is most important.

Why am I writing “simplicity” and not “poverty.” It is because when you are poor and you have a need for a lot of things, it is very difficult to free yourself of attachments: of course, your stomach grumbles in hunger – what philosophy is there to talk about! Even Gautama Buddha – he at first was a prince, and then a holy man. And count Tolstoy, who introduced into Russian language the word “simplifying” that I use here, was at first a count and only then a plowman. It is not even necessary to be rich, but it is important to be able to afford enough for one’s own basic needs and to bring about some of one’s dreams and fantasies. It is healthy. Without over involvement, just as a game. Just to know what it is like. And then you can honestly say that you are interested in a simply life, because you have tried a hard one!

Level of life is first of all the level of expenses. Not income, but expenses alone. And it is a big habit. Your usual level of expenses takes over everything else. A good example is some big old common sauna. The first level is a basic sauna, the cheapest; the second level is middle class, and the third level is for the rich and is expensive. Are there differences between them? Visually, they all look the same. The steam, the brooms, fat men, women with basins and sheets, wearing hats in the room with tiled floors. The main distinguishing feature: you choose people with the familiar level of expenses. If you are used to spending one ruble a day, you would seek every opportunity to preserve this level. And if your habit is to spend 1000 rubles a day, spending less than that would bring about thoughts that something in this world is not how it should be. And everything in our social environment would fit under this level. Caste, if you would like, estate. And these habits are so powerful that often any changes in them cause a huge amount of stress. It could go either way. Many poor people think that it would be great to win a lottery/receive inheritance/steal/find a suitcase/come about in some way/receive money as a gift. And then, if such misfortune happens, newfound rich man loses his mind, not knowing what to do with all this happiness. And then wastes through all the money and returns to the usual lifestyle.

A rich person who goes bankrupt is also a sad sight. And even if now they eat better than most people in this world, they still look like everything is terrible and there is no food at all. For example, I have a relative like that. He lives in a luxurious apartment that looks more like a museum and spends most of the time talking about how well he used to live and how poorly lives now.

Because of that, I use the phrase “conscious reasonable simplicity” for a reason. “Reasonable” means that we do not start sleeping in a dumpster, do not start eating leftovers, do not turn into bums. We do not go through trash in hopes to find food there. “Reasonable” means that we adequately evaluate our real needs and get rid of the extra. It means that we do not engage in sale, advertising, and similar shopping crazes. We buy (trade, earn, grow) simple food, wear simple but clean and comfortable clothes, and so forth. In modern westernized world it is called “refuse” – reduce the number of items bought. “Conscious,” because we realize our needs and do not get brainwashed by advertisements and smiles from the TV screen, asking a question: “The thing I am buying now, do I really need it?”

Reasonable, because we choose our own level of simplicity. And do not get pulled by the extremes. And do not follow someone else’s choices.

And the last thing. I remembered a comic book about a Pig which bought too much shampoo. “Why do you need so much shampoo, if you do not even have hair?!” The Pig’s friend Rat asked her. “I just have a huge passion for sales!” – She responded. But we are not pigs!

As a conclusion, a simple way of life and reduced consumerism are very sustainable in face of any economic changes.

And is tightly tied with protecting the plant: God forbid all people would have as many cars as people in the “developed” countries do. We would have exhaust instead of air and oxygen, and instead of space we would have one huge traffic. On the other hand, it would be good if people in the developed countries had as many cars as people in the “third world countries.” I really like looking at the pictures from the 50s of the past century… So much space. I do not believe that people lived badly without a huge number of cars… Is it possible to live a simple life in cities? Of course it is possible. In the past a lot of people lived that way. They chose repairs over buying, public transport instead of cars, common living instead of a big empty apartment, and local foods instead of imported ones.

Ecological communities is one of the forms of realized simplicity! Uncomplicated clothes, often old and patched. Food is simple and local. Houses are simple and built from natural resources. As my father-in-law called them, “Huts.”

Preservation community

“People should fully open their hearts and feelings to every little seed and sprout! As our grandfathers told us when I was still little, when you throw seed by seed, there will be a big pile, and when you harvest sprout by sprout and seed by seed, you will gather a pile twice as big.”

A.    I. Glinkina, “An unwilling childhood”

According to David Holmgren¹, one of the multiple signs of the industrial culture is consumerism, and a sign of the sustainable culture is preservation. A question arises then: what to preserve?

One of my comrades from Israel once said that any permacultural project in the beginning stages looks like a junk yard. It means that “permaculturalists” start dragging to their territory all kinds of resources, which most other people would have considered trash. They bring pieces of wood, cardboard, advertising banners, empty bottles, metal scraps, rocks… And all kinds of structures and crafts grow out of this “trash” as a result… Gardeners-“organics” bring organic trash from everywhere and then turn it into fertile soil… For example, the roof of our house (and not just the roof) is covered in old advertisement banners. Empty bottles are included in the airbrick. Some of the windows in the house are made from insulating glass, which was written off by the production factory (did not match their need for size!). Different pieces of wood are buried in the garden beds, according to Holzer. Plastic bottles are cut into pieces and turned into flower and plant pots, and some serve as thermal insulation for the soil in the “warm garden beds.” Old barrels can hold water. Free sawdust from sawmills is wonderful for insulation. A lot of old hand tools are found rusted in garages… an old samovar heated with firewood brings us tea. Polyester bags can be twisted into a ball and duct taped to make Christmas tree decorations. Old blankets collected from friends can allow you to take in many guests. We buy clothes very rarely and often use second-hand clothes. Scraps of siding panels from any modern construction site can be used as great tags for plants and sprouts.

 ¹One of the authors of the concept of permaculture. Read David Holmgren’s “Permaculture. Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability”

 Preserve. Preserve. Preserve. From each item, take as much use as your imagination allows, because trash is items we have not yet learned how to use. And then we would not need consumerism. No need for production. Quantity of trash will be reduced.

Resources need to be preserved. So does food. And everything else. As our good friend said, reducing excessive consumerism involves relearning how to wear patched clothes. Because it used to be that everything was repaired. And now the habit is to throw everything away. It is a strange idea.

During one of my travels I have received the worst psychological trauma related to this issue. I was hitchhiking from Murmansk to Moscow. I stopped a vehicle that was transporting 10 tons of expired beer to Petersburg. Transporting over 1500 kilometers. In order to crush this beer into the landfill with a bulldozer. I did not feel the personal need to preserve beer, it was just the kind of vehicle I found myself on. But together with alcohol, landfill is filled with products and electronics just the same.

Imagine: a landfill. Beer is knee high. The smell as you would expect. Flies everywhere. Homeless people are having a fire nearby. “Drunk.” The drivers take a box or two of beer to drink with their friends on the weekend. They are sober now, still have to drive… and bring to this landfill all the beer to be crashed. Guards are checking to make sure the expired beer is really crushed. They also drink some. Someone stopped the car on its way to Moscow… His cabin was filled with all kinds of house scraps: from lightbulbs to tools to screws.

-  Can you imagine, - he says – there is no more space in the storage. Semi trucks are taking household items from the supermarket to a dump. They say it is cheaper to throw them away than to keep them.  Why did I buy all these door handles if they are just laying around here? And what are you transporting?

-  Beer. From Murmansk.

-  From Murmansk?

-  Yes, from Murmansk.

-  10 tons? From Murmansk, 1500 kilometers away? Oh my God. This world is losing its mind.

It is important to learn how to preserve, and there will be no need to buy. That way a culture of consumerism, so frequently discussed in “green” culture, will not be able to continue existing.

Preserve. If in the fall we mostly pay people who can grow vegetables, in the winter we pay the people who can preserve them well.

-          If you decide to build a cellar then ask me how, - our friend farmer told us. – We have a lot of experience in freezing vegetables!

Yes, for sure. The more we live in nature, the more we realize that a cellar in our conditions is a huge deal. Vegetables of long preserve are the base of Russian winter feeding supplies. A cellar is necessary for that. This year we built the first version of our storage; we were not able to complete it before winter time, but were able to stash it with jams and pickles. Let’s see how well they preserve.

It is also important to preserve knowledge and skills. For example, I have a sledge. “What kind of wood should I use for this part of the sledge?” Nobody even knows… I ask, “How do I make an arc for a harness?” And nobody has the skill. If someone does know or can-do, they have to be found with much effort. And it is not easy to find such people these times, I tell you.

“Go and buy, why make one?” They wonder. Skills and the practical knowledge of village life are getting lost. Sharpening a scythe? Too much trouble! Use a gas trimmer! Bending wooden runners? It is easier to weld some! An airbrick house? Well my grandmother lived in one… Now there is nobody to even ask how to build one! If we want sustainability, we need to learn how to preserve. And that is the end of it.

About money

-          What would you like to do right now, wealthy moles?

-          What if we count?

From the cartoon “Thumbelina”

Money-money-rubish. There are always so many questions. And not just now, when we are living in the mountains (and with what funds?) but earlier too. For example, during one of my travels I stayed in a boarding school in a village named Lower Pesha, in expectation of transportation, and told children about my travels, showed them pictures. After my stories I suggested they ask me any questions they may have. There was just one question: “How to find the money for travels?” Honestly, it was shocking to me, to hear how only one thing mattered to young individuals (all of the listeners were students of the 9th grade or younger). Everything in their child world was already sorted into adult ideas. There was no place for a dream. Only monetary conditionality.

Information provided below is a subjective worldview system, my own way of thinking and is given to you, as is everything else, in terms of food for thought, a call for a discussion, and a small amount of provocation. I am not an economist and do not know how “it really works.”

Well then…

1 Money is a religion

Most ancient, most powerful and most widespread religion in modern industrialized society. I looked into the dictionary by S. I. Ozhegov: “Religion – one of the forms of collective consciousness,

summary of mystical perceptions, which rest on a belief in supernatural forces and creatures, which are the object of idealization.” Does this match? Absolutely. The bills and the numbers on the bank statements are objects of idealization. And people do fully believe in their supernatural forces!

It is a sect, and it is often destructive (think about how many crimes happen because of money!), very totalitarian (since you cannot print your own money, there are specific institutions which regulate printing activities), and the sect followers rarely realize how deeply they have sunk (people keep saying that their faith is in something completely different, or that they “believe in nothing at all”).

When I think about money as a religion, personally for me this attitude allows to realize what I truly believe and what I choose as my God.

Money is an agreement

In actuality, bills and numbers in documents do not have any value in themselves, except for the value we agree upon. All of us simply believe that THIS is an important resource and that in this collective faith money can be “Money”.

Probably everyone knows that in ancient times people agreed upon the value of some shells, gems, pieces of metal. I had many interesting encounters, which reduced by faith in value of money: for example, once we were trying to purchase fish from a fisherman in a tundra, but he refused and asked for vodka as a substitution for “money,” because money itself does not hold value for him. While traveling in a desert, the true value was found in water, nobody even thought about money. Recently someone told me a story about how once money were offered to pay for fish, but in that context the only money that had value was candy…

I like to observe children who are playing a store. They easily and consciously show the process of how we agree upon the value of something: easily papers from a notebook become money. Then instead of papers imaginary money is being used; another moment and here you are being told that the value of a ruble has changed and we have to work more in order to receive necessary resources; another moment and money stopped existing in the bank…

It is also interesting to come to our own agreements about what we find valuable: for example, we could turn human skills into currency – and receive a barter exchange. We can turn people’s connections into a currency. And can collect good connections with people instead of virtual digits on bank statements. “Do not have a hundred rubles, but have a hundred friends.” For me, the most important part of this issue is not fully refusing the concept of money, but a conscious realization of its true value and a development of personal ability to value things other than colorful bills. But I will talk about that a little later.

3. Money is a mutual connection and means of voting

The world is a wonderfully rationally organized system. It is riddled with a complex system of connections, which may be impossible for us to understand. Money is just a small bolt in this wonderful machine. Allow me to suggest a metaphor of “elections,” in order to illustrate another monetary aspect.

We all live in the conditions of constant choices: every second we choose (consciously or not), where to go, what to say, how to act. We choose whom to talk to and whom to avoid, what we have and what we do not. We choose items in a store, and at the same time someone else is picking us as an employee from a list of candidates. It seems like conditions of constant elections in politics or somewhere else. Everyone is voting and is being voted in at the same time.  Do not vote for yourself! So here. In conditions of monetary relationships money is our “vote” that we constantly give and receive. If we do something well and people like what we do, they start voting for us and will give us money. If we like something, we “vote” for it with money. People, who gain the most votes, become wealthier. People who are less popular in this voting race have less money.

Of course, as in any elections, this process is filled with dishonesty and manipulation. People, who dream to receive more money, try to make as many people as possible vote for them. Any methods can be used to achieve this purpose, as you may imagine. But I realize that all this is “an election,” so I am much more attentive to how I use my “vote.” Here, a fur coat… But I do not want to vote for murder of a larger number of furry animals. Ew, so many plastic bags flying around, I try to vote less for the people who offer them to me. Some animals are being held in terrible conditions and someone is quite literally trying to milk income from them… I will not vote for them. Here! An elderly lady is taking care of her cow with love and care, let me vote for her and buy milk from her. Here is a supermarket – tons of trash, mountains of plastic, and crazy-eyed people running around seeking the best sales for items they do not need… My vote does not go there. There is a small shop with local products – exactly what I need. I will not vote for beautiful tangerines filled with chemicals. But will say “yes” to natural and average-looking ones. And so forth.

Let’s say I myself did something good and people liked it. I am happy to receive their votes! It means that I am on the right path and earned my buyers honestly. If you do not support something, do not give it your vote by giving them money. If you find something good – bravely vote for it!

Sustainable economic connections

“The most important idea in need of understanding is the following: for the money to enter circulation, someone has to first loan the money from a bank. If there was no debt, there would be no money – that is how it goes. Since banks take interest from all debts and because money for paying the interest can come only from an even bigger debt, it grows similarly to a cancerous swelling on the “body” of the world economy. The imperative of debt creates an imperative of growth, forcing us to destroy the systems of planet’s resources and sustainability.”

Thomas Greco, “The End of Money and the Future of Civilization”

There is no point in denying money (whatever the currency) and the existing economic system. At the very least it would be stupid. But it is also stupid to believe in the unchanging nature and universality of the monetary system. So, let’s continue.

Money has long ago become a usual way of measuring luxury, time, and work. And it has become a strong habit: entering new situations and conditions, and losing resources of income (monetary), we first and foremost try to rebuild those systems. And there, as people say, everything depends on person’s abilities. Someone finds it easier to find a new job, to ask about salary, to start working that job, and to receive agreed upon salary, if they like it. This is the most common way. There is also another way: start creating some kind of a “business,” a small enterprise, which would also provide resources. And this way is a good one, only somewhat risky, plus there would have to be more work and more thinking involved!

Once I got to read a journal article about a German woman Heidemarie Schwermer, and since then I regularly think about that elderly lady and tell everyone about her, and now I will tell you. While I was writing this book she, unfortunately, passed away, but I cannot not mention her. She was a successful psychotherapist, lived like an average human, earned money and spent the money earned. And then she opened something like a club for exchanging services in her town. “Barter Club.” And people started exchanging all kinds of services and items through this club in the most convenient ways. And it happened to grow very popular. And the old lady put so much faith in the non-monetary relationships that she left her job, gave away all her possessions, and started her non-monetary cruising, exchanging services for what she needed. For example, she went to a restaurant and said: so and so, I do not use money, let me wash the dishes for the food you give me. Then she found people going on a vacation but who did not know whom to ask to housesit and take care of their plants while they are away – and then she lived in their houses and watered the plants… And so forth. At first everyone laughed at this old lady, and then when a crisis happened in Europe and many people lost their money, others started to pay more attention to her words and lifestyle.

This, so to say, is an extreme case. But the old lady Heidemarie lived like this for over 15 years, wrote books, helped people and had a lot of followers. So then, what can she (and similar non-monetary bartering people) teach us? That the alternative economic systems exist, and they can be sustainable and can allow a person to live a more or less fulfilling life, more so than the lifestyle of the home-work-home-work-home-work-store-bank-home-work-home format.

Moving to a virgin land is a good time for rethinking and constructing a more sustainable lifestyle.

So then, how to make your economic life more sustainable?

1.      Do not work for the money alone, do what you truly love. It is frustrating to spend the time from your life doing something you do not love. Always check the backward connection: if your job does not bring money, then you are doing something people do not need, or are doing it poorly, or doing it in a wrong place and time. Reevaluate and decide what is wrong. Maybe everything is okay and you just have to give it more time. If you are honest with yourself, you will not be able to quit what is truly “yours.”

 2.  Social capital is more important than the material capital

You know how they say “Do not have a hundred rubles, but have a hundred friends.” This saying applies here, and I would even add: have 500 friends of different professions, all kinds of skills, and in all domains. That is a big deal! Do you remember how in the movie “Mimino” the main character was moving into a hotel? Watch it, if you have not. Do you know the concept of the six handshakes? If you do not, let me tell you about it. The gist of the theory is that at this moment on this planet any two people across the world are connected by no more than six “handshakes.” Only a link of five connections between me and a president of Zimbabwe. Cool, right? Not a planet but a village!

It is necessary to develop non-monetary connections with people.

Good connections are more useful than any money. For example, going to help an old neighbor settle potatoes in garden beds, if she asked for it in exchange for an agreed upon cup of milk, is much more profitable than getting paid 500 rubles. Because a cup of milk is long-term, personal and pleasant, and more than likely will have a lasting connection, as a result of which the social sustainability will increase exponentially. Five hundred rubles is a one-time deal, impersonal, and unemotional. And may not lead to any further mutual exchanges.

It is important to develop local small businesses, and not corporations. You may have heard these words way too many times, but they are truly important. So I will repeat them once more: it is better to buy (exchange) local and seasonal products and to support small enterprises, artisans, and crews. And overall – it is better to create and support small and local manufacturers. For example, an artisan’s workshop is good for local economic climate. It provides occupation. It gives confidence. Especially if manufacturing is connected to some vitally necessary domain (remember, how I wrote about responsibility). For example, growing produce. Honey. Or medicinal herbs. Clothes. Tools. Dishes. Everything that is possible to make, that one likes to make, and that others can find useful. 

Education is one of the best investments.

As they say, you cannot drink away your experience, or, in other words, skill cannot be lost in extreme situations. Because if you know how to build a home, for example, you will always be able to build yourself something. If you can obtain firewood, it will be harder for you to freeze. It is important to seek in your life domains that are not well developed and develop them. Especially those on which our well-being depends. Make yourself an all-round craftsman - a person who can do everything. In this way I support practical education, which allows for skills to develop (for example, asking questions, thinking, communicating and setting goals is a skill in itself). Formal education, only meant for a checkmark and a diploma, I believe to be a waste of time. Study what you want to do, and what is practical for real life. All-round craftsmanship is sustainable.

6.     If you have a profession, continue developing it as well (along with craftsmanship), but it is twice as great to have at least two professions for different organizations of society.

For example, a doctor is a profession for all times, but a psychiatrist is for a rich society. Manager is good for non-crisis times, and when there is a war, a manager would have a harder time finding a job than, let’s say, an electrician.

It is a good idea to exchange money (part of it) into sustainable material resources.

 

For example, a good knife (an axe, a handsaw) will last a long time without issues, but a saw that runs on gasoline (even though it very much improves the quality of life) always will have some part broken. And then a possibility that a shop may be closed or someone will riot at a gas station, and that is it, you are freezing in the winder. If there are no money for gas, no worries, we will hand sawed firewood. Same with food. Well, if you do not have money for food, no worries, we will eat some grains or potatoes we have saved up until money returns. You can always read a paper book with help of both electricity and a candle. Books we have here come both from modern times and the beginning of XX century. Equally interesting. What about an electronic book? You either do not have enough charge or something in it breaks. Even though it is comfortable.

8.   It is better to seek local sources of income.

Even if they are not as profitable as far-away occupations, but they are here, at this place, we can control them, and that is sustainable. Yes, for sure, many local inhabitants commute to work, go to nearby towns for jobs. It may seem to be a good idea for a while, but sooner or later workers get tired of it, because the trips take a lot of energy (it is totally different if you travel with the goal of sightseeing, but in this situation you drive every day (week, month) routinely!). Same for citizens of let’s say Uzbekistan, who live and work away from their homeland, worrying about children growing without them. However, these workers regularly send money home and feel themselves wealthy (because their income is more than of all people back home!). But it is not possible to call their life wealthy, and their families grow up orphans.

Refuse debt. Especially bank credit. Usury (lending money with interest) is considered sinful in many cultures, but remains a quite popular activity. It is a good idea to have some cash saved up in case of some immediately necessary expenses. And if you truly do not have enough money, borrow from friends without interest, clearly discussing length of time and the amount of money. And then return everything on time and in full, in order to avoid ruining a connection.

10.  And overall, minimize regular expenses.

 

Here is the basic consistent pattern: the less money you have to pay every month, the better you sleep, the less you have to work for money, and overall the level of anxiety decreases. Regular expenses first and foremost include living expenses. Then debt is in the second place. And if the issue with debt is a simple one (do not take credit), it is necessary to try to decrease payments for your home. How? By manipulating and lying? Of course not! Pay by rates! If you are renting an apartment, start with a smaller apartment, or in a neighborhood farther away, or find friends who could cheaply rent it out to you. Move to a village, “rent” there is even less. Build your own home. A small one (even if it looks like a hut), but your own. And nobody would be able to call you a loser (and you will not feel that way yourself), or say that you cannot earn enough for a living. Nobody will say that, because you will have your own home, and will not owe anybody for it. And that is very important.

The myth that mortgage is the same as renting an apartment, with the one difference that you are paying not just to rent, but that you are “paying for your own (!) apartment,” is a dangerous myth. Even though is sounds nice. You live in a bank’s apartment, not your own. And for a long-long-long time you will have to be a very good employee at your job. Or the bank will evict you. And being evicted from “your own” apartment is much less pleasant that from a rented one. Because it already feels like your own!

Reduce payments for housing and communal services. If rent feels like too much, have someone else move in with you, or move in with a friend/friends and split the expenses, put in energy saving lightbulbs, conserve water, be careful with all the resources, try to reduce your expenses with all kinds of legal methods, and experiment.

There you go. Repeating once more: reduce your monthly expenses, refuse credits, and find ways to reduce your cost of living. Then you would not have to worry about late paychecks, no matter what day of the month it is. You would not have the popular illness of fear-of-the-end-of-the-month. 

11.  There is also sensibility in attempting to keep and circulate resources within a community.

 

What does that mean? If I need honey and I am ready to buy it, I will not go to a supermarket. I will go to my friendly neighbor and buy honey from him. This has the benefit of keeping both money and honey within our community. And our community wins from it. Same with employment. If I found some job, some project, it is good to share that project, or if I am not able to work on it for some reason, I could give the project (job) to someone from my friends or family, who is qualified for it. I would not give the project to someone outside the circle. I am interested in developing my community. An example is various diaspora (Armenian, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan). There it is always about son-in-law/brother/uncle/friend/neighbor… all together, and no end to those connections. Such diasporas develop (and have already developed) very quickly, and their participants tightly hold on to one another. From a handful of illegal immigrants, prepared to do any sort of work for cents, they turn into strong national work monopolies. Who sells fruits here? Good job, they can work together well.

Multidimensionality of barter, or What exactly are we exchanging?

“Kinds of animals, for which individual survival is narrowed as much as possible, and the practice of mutual exchange reached the highest level of development, end up being much more populous, most flowering, and most capable of continued progress. Mutual protection is a result of such situations, and its consequences are the ability to reach old age and to preserve knowledge, the highest development of the mind, and continued growth of communal habits, - all of these allow for preservation of the kind, its spreading out to wider areas and its further progressive evolution. On the other hand, the kinds of animals that are not social, for the most part, are destined to go extinct.”

P. A. Kropotkin. “Mutual Aid as a Factor in Evolution.”

Let’s start from afar. From travels, if you will. I hitchhike for more than 16 years now, and at one time I started wondering: what am I personally offering the people who agree to give me rides? Imagine, you are standing on the road, some well-meaning person picks you up, gives you a ride a 1000 kilometers away, feeds you, gives you water, and then says: “Here is some money for your travels, traveling student!” This has happened many-many times. And it does not matter if I needed the money or not, it was still given. Or I was fed, or allowed to stay the night… Always whenever I needed help, someone helped me. Overall, in my life there was a lot of evidence that the world is a good and abundant place.

There were also people who asked: “Here you got a ride, a meal, a bed, and what do you do to return the favor?” And of course I responded that I am “a good travel companion,” and people find in enjoyable to ride with me, and the trip feels shorter. And it is true. But then I also had people who helped me, but were very uncommunicative during the trip, and I felt like I did not make their trip any more pleasant with my presence.

Then I started traveling overseas, and there was barely any opportunity to have a full enough conversation for me to be considered “a good travel companion.” And then I gave a lot of deep thought to “what am I really doing to repay these people?” The answer came to me later, at first with R. Kipling’s book “Kim.” The book described a situation where a monastery superior and his pupil travel together and do not need anything: they had money, they were fed, but people still gave them donations (they were monks after all!). And the superior took those donations. And the boy asked him: “Why are we accepting them, we do not even need anything!” And the old man responded to him: “It is true that we do not need anything, but we cannot take away from these people the opportunity to do a good deed and get credit for it.”

There was also the movie “Pay It Forward.” The movie portrayed a boy who was spreading around the idea of trying to change the world: you do a favor for someone, not asking for anything in return, but hoping that the person you helped will do a favor for someone else in need. In this way he will continue furthering the good.

Very often our brain works in a linear fashion. We want to take action and to receive a consequence for it. Here is an action – here is a consequence. I give you, you give me. This linear thinking greatly simplifies the multidimensional world of complex relationships, in which you and I live. It makes the world less wonderful and amazing. By thinking in a straight line, we take away from ourselves the possibility of a miracle. The world is very complex. And even if we think in a linear fashion, it is still more complicated than that. Even if we are thinking, as we believe, in a multidimensional way – the world is still exponentially more difficult.

For an ego that is linearly directed, we can come up with the following explanation: we do a favor for someone, then that person does a favor for the third person, third – for the fourth, and then the link will extend to the fifth, the sixth, the seventh, and then let’s say the tenth person in this link will do a favor for us. In that way, the circle will close, and we are not only doing something but are also seeing the consequence of our actions, even if far in the future.  In reality, this is just a deception for our inner linear thinking. There is a chance we will receive nothing in return. Or receive something after many-many years. Or will receive something we would not be able to recognize as a favor. Doing someone a favor, we may get absolutely nothing from it. But that does not make goodness any less profitable. It is the most valuable thing you and I can do.

So that is a barter. Sometimes it may happen that we will start exchanging things that are very different in value. Sometimes you will have the thought: this person has everything. What can I give him to return a favor? This person has a tractor and he is helping me by moving a heavy log. And I do not have anything as big and strong as a tractor. What can I give in return? It may so happen that sometimes a small jar of jelly, or a bowl of soup can be just as powerful as a loud vehicle. Or a smile and a deep soul-to-soul conversation – can be more valuable than a flight on an airplane. Paradox. Or on the other hand, we have something very valuable and give it to that person, who may not have something to exchange with, or we receive something that looks less valuable. Value is a strong illusion, created by market relationships. What is a glass of water? It is free. What about after a hot day? Or in a desert?

Linear monetary relationships are very easy. And sometimes they really simplify our thinking, which should also have space for non-linear and multidimensional exchange. With invisible and unplanned profit. Or without one at all. This is the foundation for sustainable non-financial connections. And for “natural exchange,” and for “economy of giving.”