Sacred Economics: A Short Film Debut

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This past January 14th Br. Chris and I attended a daylong workshop with Charles Eisenstein here in Vancouver. I can't recall where I first came across Eisenstein's work (I think at the website Reality Sandwich), and I wasn't real familiar with it going in, but what I'd seen had intrigued me enough to take a deeper look. It was an interesting and at times powerful day, and I'm glad I went. I was impressed with Charles' calm lucid presence, and I resonated with a lot of what he had to say.

ian mackenzieAt some point during the day I struck up a conversation with the folks seated behind us, and came to meet the local Vancouver filmmaker Ian Mackenzie. It turns out that Ian is working with documentarian Velcrow Ripper on a new film called Occupy Love. Last week Ian contacted us at Beams and asked if we'd be interested in co-debuting his own new short film called Sacred Economics, based around the work of Eisenstein. After viewing the film we said we'd be happy to take part. Before we get to that screening, I asked Ian a couple of questions via email to set the context a little for the film, and that exchange is printed below. Following the video Chris will share a few reflections based on his reading of Eisenstein's two books. Enjoy the film.


sacred economicsTrevor- Can you tell me a little about this short and how it came into being, and how it fits (or doesn't) with the larger project of the Occupy Love film you are making with Velcrow Ripper? And lastly, what has moved you personally to take part in this project and make these films?

Ian- This short, Sacred Economics, is related but separate from Occupy Love. It started after I read Charles Eisenstein's book of the same name, where he talks about the idea of "destroying money."  What he means by that is if you have surplus wealth, you should "invest" it in projects that truly better your community and world. I had a bit of extra time, and enough money to buy a plane ticket, so I called up Charles and asked if I could fly out to make a short film about this book. He agreed.

I spent a week living with his family in late October 2011, the result of which is this short film. My ultimate goal was to help share Charles' key ideas in film, which is a medium that is spreadable around the "noosphere" - the human sphere of thought that envelopes our globe. By accelerating his ideas, my aim is to further catalyze the paradigm shift that calls us on to re-imagine all our institutions, including money.

Charles also speaks about the "return of the gift economy." His book was such a gift to me, that I had no choice but to gift back.


In that light, let's see the film. 

For more information, the website for the film is here


Editor's Note Chris: My contribution to this piece follows. 

charles eisensteinI've read both of Charles Eisenstein's books: The Ascent of Humanity and Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition. I've found them both deeply cogent texts. I hope this contextual introduction gives some bigger picture background to the beautiful film you just watched. 

The first, Ascent of Humanity, outlines two worlds: the world of separation and the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible. The book is a nuanced look at both worlds. On the side of separation Eisenstein describes how technology, language, culture, science, politics, and economics have brought humans to a place of deep separation--from our deepest selves, from one another, from the earth, even from The Divine. According to Eistenstein, the world of separation is built on the flawed notion of the separate self--a self based in fear and disconnected from its origins.

The book then goes on to describe a vision of the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible (what he calls The Age of Reunion). I've found this frame of the more beautiful world very powerful. By invoking the heart and its intuitive capacities, Eisenstein opens up a space for what we've discussed here at Beams as a spirituality of the future, and the creative impulse.

woman meditatingEisenstein describes how at first humanity had a relationship with "Mother Earth." The age of separation involves separating from the mother--the consequences of which are the ecological chaos all around us.
Yet while Eisenstein is very critical of the age of separation, he sees it as a necessary step in the process. Dialectically, he calls for our next step to relate to Lover Earth, rather than a return to Mother Earth. Our age of separation is like an adolescence. We humans, as a species, are arrogant; we don't think about future generations. The move in to Lover Earth is one of (young?) adulthood--falling in love, gifting, and forming committed bonds of mutual care.

This leads us to Eisenstein's most recent text, Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition, a deep and complex book. I'm glad to see this video beginning to open up its ideas to a wider audience. Sacred Economics takes as its starting point the notion that while money isn't the only problem we need to solve, it's involved in the all the problems we have. No solution set is going to come into existence that doesn't address money. I find this an extremely astute point. He seeks a way to "redeem" money (pun intended). Money serves whatever values and interests it's set to serve. The book asks us whether we can imagine a world in which a different set of values is cultivated to which money would then serve.

treesThe book lays out how money operates in the world of separation and how it might operate in the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible (aka The Gift). Eisenstein makes a very important point when discussing The Gift. Our spiritual traditions often suggest we should give in a completely selfless way. Eisenstein, quite wisely in my view, suggests this is a very limiting view and we should talk much more openly about the benefit to the giver as well as to the receiver, that this mutuality in gifting creates connection, even, dare we say it dependence (a notion that separated self loathes and fears).

The book then lays out a number of prescriptions and policy recommendations for helping us in our contemporary Age of Transition.

I mention all this because the logic of the flow of the two texts is very important and powerful. I think the big picture is very crucial. For me the more most powerful pieces are: the deep explorations of the Separated World and The More Beautiful World; the practice of tuning into our hearts to listen to the call of the future; the articulation of the society of The Gift. There's plenty of points to potentially critique I'm sure--certain reads on history, specific economic policy prescriptions, and the like. I'd just hate for the conversation to get immediately bogged down in those us versus them, nitpicking discussions, while missing the value of sitting in the wisdom of what is being offered.


All images (except cover of Sacred Economics book) courtesy of Ian MacKenzie

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  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Thursday, 01 March 2012 18:24 posted by Matthew Lewis

    This looks like great stuff! But how economic growth and value is defined in the film clip is not complete in my opinion. Limiting the definition of growth to extraction of resources or monetizing services ignores ingenuity and new ideas. Economic value can be created in an idea and this is important. If books didn't exist, and then someone invented the book, how much would you be willing to pay for that book? More than the value of the sum of the paper, binding, and ink that's for sure. If you came up with the idea of the assembly line in manufacturing, what would that be worth? It's not measurable, but the assembly line has had a massive impact on the planet and to our material well being.

    I look forward to hearing more about sacred economics.

  • Comment Link Brian McConnell Friday, 02 March 2012 16:37 posted by Brian McConnell

    Excellent, excellent work across the board. Thanks especially to Trevor, Charles, and Ian for their collaboration in birthing such a inspired garden bed for enriched development.

  • Comment Link Joe Corbett Sunday, 04 March 2012 12:48 posted by Joe Corbett

    sacred economics is great, but we cant forget that we are currently in the hegemonic grips of the profane economics of neoliberal conservatives and their class war on humanity and nature.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Sunday, 04 March 2012 18:09 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Joe, I couldn't agree more. I think we need a hybrid of many things (including gift economies and the like) to make a transition, but if we en masse don't start to understand the regime of accumulation that is neoliberal economic policy and its elite purveyors, the world will just simply deteriorate around us, no matter what we're doing. I would say that understanding and beating back the neoliberal worldview is priority number one. We're currently finding out the hard way here in Canada about what a neoliberal state looks like under Harper and the 'Conservatives', and it ain't pretty (a disdain for democracy and the law; authoritarianism; total disregard for environmental devastation; an attempt at dismantling the social welfare state; policies that take wealth from the common and put it in the hands of private interests; fear mongering; smear campaigns against dissidents of any flavor. and so on).

    All of which I know you're familiar with, but just voicing my deep agreement (and pain at what's happening in my country). For others less familiar, these lectures by David Harvey (that Joe linked to in his article- are a great place to start to get a good primer on neoliberalism.

    I'd love to hear future writings from you on this topic Joe if you have the inclination or the time. I'll also be writing a lot more about this; I've been researching around it for awhile and it's time to get some of that out there. Perhaps we could even write something together or do a podcast interview. Either way, I appreciate you presencing the importance of understanding and resisting neoliberalism.

    @Brian, thanks. the bulk of the efforts here go to Ian and Charles of course, but I'm glad you got something out of the film.

  • Comment Link Joe Corbett Tuesday, 06 March 2012 04:19 posted by Joe Corbett

    thanks trevor, harvey has a good little book on the history of neoliberalism that i would recommend. i like your list of the political characteristics of ugly conservatives. habermas would characterize them as ruthless strategic-instrumentalists who put winning by any means necessary ahead of modern enlightenment principles, making them traditionalists by default from their rejection of modern values and principles for machiavellian strategy.

    this is definitely something progressives who have the delusion of negotiating constructive compromises and reforms with the corporate-capitalist-far-right must understand about them. obama has done nothing but brought the country further to the corporate-right by thinking he can reason with the business-conservative alliance.

    perhaps the only solution is full-blown revolution, or, as in sacred economics, to completely disengage from corporate capitalism and create a radical alternative in a separate space free from its corrupting influences. but then again, how realistic is that given the hegemonic military-police grip of neoliberalism over every breath we take in the world today.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Tuesday, 06 March 2012 07:21 posted by Chris Dierkes

    thanks for the great comments everyone. I want to circle back to Matt's original comment and question. From my reading of Eisenstein he places a great deal of emphasis on new ideas, new ventures, creativity and so on. In fact he really wants to see a world in which all of us are paid (legitimately and justly) on doing preciously those things. He's talking about the possibility of an economic world in which money is put to (what he argues is) true value.

    As I understand him, the problem he sees is that now even the most creative, innovative folks, ideas, and products are subsumed by the world of separation--which money is serving. This is the I would say spiritual heart of the destructive neoliberal tendencies Joe and Trev mention.

    One way Eisenstein suggests to do this is to create a solid legal footing for the commons and to have various individuals (corporate or otherwise) pay for the right to access the commons.

    Another model he discusses are purposefully devaluating currencies. He has this line that struck me deeply in the book where he says that money is the only thing that is unlike nature in that it never grows old or dies. It never recycles. This to me is the heart of the economic madness. The noosphere of human economics has completely negated/transcended the biosphere and yet has never included or preserved it. It is a belief that (in Eisenstein's language), humanity can keep ascending without entering into a species-wise mortal peril.

    So Matt I think you are totally right about the value of the creation of innovation but the question I think is what context is that innovation coming to be within? And the current context, I believe, corrupts any forms of such innovation.

  • Comment Link Turil Tuesday, 06 March 2012 15:08 posted by Turil

    The core rule of healthy natural systems (economies) is: Take only what you need to be your best from what has been freely offered, and freely offer what you have in excess to anyone who wants it.

    Think of a fruit tree, it doesn't expect or demand something in direct exchange for it's fruit, or exclude any particular group from taking it's fruit, it simply offers it to anyone who wants to take it. And it benefits from this because the fruit is of no use to the tree! The fruit is only useful for carrying the seeds elsewhere, and so allowing anyone and everyone who wants to take the fruit to take it helps the tree get rid of something it has in excess, and allows the tree's genes/information to be spread out into the world, which is the ultimate goal of all living things.

    This means that rather than wasting our time producing stuff that doesn't benefit us to share with the world freely (like junk food, or sports cars), we save our resources for producing only the things that improve our lives to have freely moving around in the world, like books, and music, and delicious superfood salads!

  • Comment Link Brian McConnell Tuesday, 06 March 2012 15:30 posted by Brian McConnell

    Also in reference to Matt's comment, but in the context of AQAL's left-hand quadrants pertaining to 'values', Arthur Brock's "Living Systems Model" is one of the better I've seen:

    Similarly, his expanded presentation using Prezi ("New Economy, New Wealth) is especially interesting:

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Tuesday, 06 March 2012 19:15 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    I just came across an hour long interview that Ian and Charles did right after the premiere of this film. I haven't had the chance to listen to it yet, but thought I'd put it out there for others while this is still fresh. I look forward to hearing what comes up in the discussion...

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Sunday, 11 March 2012 03:19 posted by Matthew Lewis

    @ Chris
    I'd be curious to further explore Eisenstein's ideas. I have twice now looked for the book but have struck out both times. Time to go through Amazon.

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Sunday, 11 March 2012 16:50 posted by David MacLeod

    You can read Sacred Economics online at the Reality Sandwich website.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Monday, 12 March 2012 21:24 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    I just wanted to add a couple of links here for future readers of this post, as Scott and I both wrote companion pieces for this article.

    Scott wrote a post called 'From Me-First to We First', looking at the work of Simon Mainwaring:

    And I wrote a post about some overlap with Eisenstein in the work of the philosopher Martin Heidegger:

    Didn't want the connection between these three pieces to get lost in archives.

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Tuesday, 13 March 2012 16:59 posted by Matthew Lewis


    Thanks for that, I have been browsing the chapters. I have lots to quibble about! The title is fantastic and no doubt an attention grabber, but he misrepresents economics in at least one fundamental way.

    I think he does this to advance his thesis. Also, I often get the sense from reading the early chapters that the monetary system is some sort of zero sum doomsday device that cannot be stopped. Interesting stuff, and I will continue reading.

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