By Marie Peffenköver
If you just open your news app on your smartphone, look up the top 10 news of your country or open a newspaper and you just pick a random article – what will you see? Of course, the answer to this question depends on from which country you are and what type of newspaper you are looking at but you will certainly find something about the refugee crisis, the EU deal with Turkey, the nuclear summit in the USA right now or maybe even the Greek financial crisis (although the latter has silently disappeared from the popular awareness during the last months). And all of these news, no matter from which topic, they have one thing in common – it’s all about the money.
How to pay the accommodation and integration of the refugees? Will Greece need more support from the ESM (European Stability Mechanism)? “The US government spends about $500 million per year to fight terrorism” (The Guardian, 2016) and “Erdogan gets another 3 billion to stop refugees” (Spiegel, 2016) – the world’s most important commodity is once again the key issue of action and reaction. “What I would like to change about today’s society? That’s clear to me: no money that hampers social interaction”, says Tobi Rosswog, an activist of the German social movement “living utopia”. The project and action network which describes itself as “money free”, vegan, ecological and which stresses an attitude of solidarity tries to spread its core idea by offering workshops, giving lectures and creating spaces of participation where everyone who is interested in joining can do so.
A world without money? Where you do not weigh whether you buy the expensive or the cheap chocolate bar? Without the “Big Business” standing behind the politicians telling them what to vote for and what not? How shall this be realized? “Of course, this is a huge contradiction with our capitalist society”, explains Tobi, “but we already made positive experiences with living utopia. People are keen to dare experiments. And if you don’t gauge everything and everyone using the monetary measure, but you share and you offer what you don’t need to someone who is in need, a society can develop a completely new dynamism.”
Building upon the idea that the overall abundance of goods enables such a “gift society”, the movement too stresses this socio-economic interaction as a way to improve the societal living-together. According to Tobi, “the capitalistic doctrine of constant growth is also in conflict with one of our most limited resources – time. We always want to get better, build higher, be faster and more modern. But this obstructs our view on the fact that we already have everything we need to live a comfortable life. We are just taught to never be satisfied.”
Fact check: Since quite some time, scientists have tried to determine the happiest country by using various criteria which suggest states such as Norway, Costa Rica or Puerto Rico as the world’s most happy country. Surprisingly, many studies and indices (e.g. Business Week) have ranked the small Asian state Bhutan to be the place where people are the happiest although it lingers on rank 126 out of 194 by states’ GDP per capita. Moreover, psychologists nowadays claim that money only satisfies you if you were already contended before while bills can just amplify who you already are.
Yet, there are many impediments to be overcome to realize such a utopia. The biggest of them is human nature. I bet we all know these people who ask “Can I quickly borrow your pen?” and who give it back almost empty, people who free ride when writing group papers or people who looked at your lunch in primary school and just wanted to “try a little bit” – briefly, those who take the mile when offered an inch. How would a “gift society” make sure that such companions don’t exploit the entire group?
For Tobi, this problem is home-cooked as well: “We need to wonder ‘why are these people doing that?’ Apparently, they are not a 100 percent motivated as the costs exceed the benefits – a rational calculation. And this is exactly the way we are taught to think: ‘What’s in it for me?’ But if people help because they want to help – that is, because they like to get a smile or ‘thank you’ back without being offered something themselves – we can unleash an incredible efficacy.”
Central to the project living utopia is the decision to non-consumption; hence, to say “I already have enough; I don’t need this right now.” This is also related to the project’s emphasis on veganism and sustainability. The message: consumption and sustainability can be united – “but only if this happens radically sufficient”. “Excessive consumption is socially suggested”, Tobi points out. “Of course, we have basic needs but everything beyond has been created by society. If we do not keep this surplus for ourselves but if we share it and give it to someone, then something interesting happens: our goods become personalized. Thus, we establish a very close and personal relationship with everything we possess. This has a much greater value than things that we only bought to compensate for our sadness or frustration. Additionally, we become much more open to our fellows and mistrust and greed get significantly reduced. This is also a positive observation that we could make.”
Does money rule the world? Right now, it does. For some, it is desirable to keep it like this, whereas others envision a different world. Whether we believe this to be true one time or not is for everyone himself to decide. But for Tobi it is important that we abandon phrases such as “I can’t imagine!” or “This has never worked!”. “We have to dare the experiment”, he elaborates, “otherwise, nothing will ever change.”