An Experiment, An Experiment!

December 10, 2008

In line with Monday’s post: I’ve been thinking a lot about money, and jobs, and things of that nature. Maybe (just maybe), it has to do with the state of my personal finances, and the woes of converting from dollars to pounds or euros. Maybe it has to do with the tutorial I spent reading about theories of property. Regardless, it’s got me thinking. The thing that I have been thinking is… what would life be like if it wasn’t governed by the Almighty Dollar? What’s wrong with barter, anyway? This thinking inspired an idea for a social experiment: What if I tried, for a month or so, to maintain myself, without either earning or spending any money? Let me clarify; what if, instead of getting a job with a wage, I exchanged labor for direct compensation – going to a restaurant and washing dishes for a while in exchange for a meal, perhaps. Or fixing someone’s shed in exchange for spending a night on their couch.

Now, at this point, my mother is screaming, or crying, or running for the telephone to warn me not to try this. I understand. It’s silly. With perfect strangers, it would never work. But that, in and of itself, is an interesting point. Money removes the necessity of trust. If I have money, then I can buy things – anywhere, at any time. If I barter for my daily meals, then I am in some sense forced to trust those with whom I am bartering – especially in the case of a place to sleep!

To that end, if I were actually to undertake this experiment, I think it would probably involve securing a trustworthy “starting point” – a family friend, perhaps, who could house me for a day or two, maybe even feed me, and who might be able to facilitate connections with others in the community in need of labor.

The question for me, now, is whether undertaking this in my home city, where I have a support network I can fall back on, is a legitimate undertaking of the experiment. It seems it would be far more interesting – and telling about human nature, and the current state of society – if it were undertaken in a wholly new or alien environment – as it would if I were to say, undertake the experiment in San Francisco.

I like to think that it would be possible to survive – at least for a short time – this way, and in fact I think it has the potential to be a mind-expanding and generally beneficial experience. In fact, it is reminiscent to me of an old protestant sense of charity native to the United States I believe, called “uplift.” This is the practice of giving not money or food to needy people, but opportunities. A wealthy family might take a poorer family under it’s wing; providing them with stable working opportunities, sponsoring their children to institutions of higher learning, and generally helping them improve their lot in life, through their own efforts rather than through simple “charity.” Teaching a man to fish, if you will. Sadly, this principle has gone from our world – in part because Political Correctness and fair treatment of laborers means that favoritism is severely frowned on and that those who might be “helped” disdain the uplift as “denigrating” or “demeaning.” I’m treading a very fine line here – I don’t mean to say that the state should not provide an absolute safety net to prevent the complete collapse of an individual’s life, but I AM saying that genuine human-to-human intervention – something lost in the institutionalization of charity – is a very special thing, and one whose loss drains a little more color from the vibrancy of our lives.

Random thought: As you have doubtless discovered, if you’ve gotten this far, wordpress.com – the website that hosts this blog – has a nifty feature where you can insert a “more” link that takes you to the full article. It means I get to include a nice little introductory snippet to let people know what’s going on, try to sell them on the article, and then dive into the main bulk of the thought. Henceforth, I’ll be trying to use these. What do you think?

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