This is ultimately going to be a reflection on money. But to get there, we’re going to look at Propaganda’s Terraform, particularly the difference between empire and community, by way of Middle-earth. Trust me. It’s all going to fit together.
If you’ve read any of my entries up ‘til now, you probably know that I’m rarely reading one thing at a time. And I’m often reading a variety things that make me think new thoughts and engage with the world in different ways. And I almost always see connections between them.
So, in Terraform, Propaganda got me thinking about empire vs. community. One is the way this world typically works and the other is based on ideas of “institutional neighborliness.” No surprise here; they’re radically different.
Empire sees the world with eyes of personal gain. Instead of seeing diversity, it sees otherness and wants to squash it. Instead of seeing the land as sacred, it sees it as a resource to be bought, sold, and exploited. It doesn’t see people as sacred, it sees them as pieces that can either be used or that need to be removed.
Community has a totally different set of lenses.
It’s kind of like the difference between Saruman and Gandalf.
Saruman has, in Treebeard’s famous words, “A mind of metal and wheels.” He doesn’t care for growing things beyond how they can serve his purposes. He plunders the land to feed the fires of his industry and turns this good, good earth to his advantage. He hasn’t yet reached Morgoth or Sauron’s nihilistic desire to destroy simply for destruction’s sake, but he’s well on his way. He functions with the mentality of scarcity. The resources are limited so I better get mine. If I don’t, they’ll get it instead and that means less for me.
Gandalf, on the other hand, is so willing to see the beauty in the mundane that he spends the bulk of his time with hobbits! Not the elves of Rivendell or Lothlorien (though he’s not unheard of in those parts) or with the mighty in Rohan or Gondor. No. He frequents the Shire – a place many in Middle-earth had probably never heard of before Bilbo’s famous exploits. Even hobbits, the smallest and least of those born of the earth, are not beneath his notice because they are not without their own inherent dignity that demands respect. They are not pieces to be sacrificed in anyone’s chess game. Just as the trees of Fangorn are more than just potential fuel.
Gandalf sees this because he sees with the eyes of community. He sees that no one truly thrives and flourishes unless we all do. He sees that unless everyone works against Sauron, all will be lost. He sees that if Sauron regained the Ring, even Tom Bombadil (upon whom the Ring has no power) would fall. And rather than seeking his own safety or to enhance his own reputation and standing among the great and powerful in the world, he seeks the joys and pleasures of true friendship among the least and lowest. He doesn’t make value judgments about who is more or less worthy because he sees and knows that all are worthy.
And we all know how things work out for Saruman and Sauron, don’t we.
You see, money as we know it was birthed out of empire. I mean, whose face is on the cash? Whether Ceasar or Washington or Queen Elizabeth, the money bears the stamp of empire. That’s why, rather than creating common good and benefitting the many, it accumulates in the hands of the few. That’s why the ground that none of us made and none of us can live without is bought and sold and exploited. And that’s why people who are sacred, each and every one of us, are bought and sold and exploited. Because money was born of empire. It was birthed from a colonialist mindset of scarcity that cannot recognize the good in difference, only the opportunity to exploit that difference.
But let’s follow Prop’s example and imagine a better world. Let’s imagine the now that could have been and the tomorrow that still might be. Let’s tell a better story than the one we’ve been saddled with.
What if money was born of community instead of empire?
What if money, by its very nature, lifted people out of extreme poverty and worked for equity rather than exclusion? What if money couldn’t help but contribute to the flourishing of the neglected and marginalized? And what if money didn’t function from zero sum economics (i.e. what if the poorest of the poor got paid while the balance in my account stayed the same)?
Whose image would this money bear? Would we choose to use it, or would we opt for empire’s status quo instead?
If it’s in my power, I’ll choose community over empire every time. I’ll choose to flourish with you, rather than at your expense.
And you want to know something? Some folks are building this dream, this better tomorrow, as we speak. A small team of people is working to create something radical, something they’re calling Glo. It’s the “anti-poverty dollar” and it looks an awful lot like money born of community rather than empire. Check it out for yourself.