Charles Eisenstein: Inspiring Occupy, Integral, and Transition Communities

Where do the worlds of Occupy, the Transition Towns movement, and the Integral community meet?  Perhaps in the work of Charles Eisenstein.

“I consider Charles Eisenstein one of the up-and-coming great minds of our time. Rarely have I met a person who combines such philosophical and spiritual depth with such practical insights into the cultural and institutional origins of the potentially terminal dysfunctions of modern society – and the potential solutions.”
David Korten, author of The Great Turning

Today’s post is inspired by Rob Hopkins’ latest at Transition Culture, which is An interview with Charles Eisenstein: “Something in your heart knows that this is what life is supposed to be about”, available both as a audio download, and as a transcript.  It’s a great interview, perhaps one of the better ones covering the basic outlines of Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics, as well as touching on ways his thinking intersects with the Transition movement.

I first heard of Charles Eisenstein in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.  I was finding numerous good articles from various sources, but one that stood out was an essay called Money and the Crisis of Civilization.  It had a tone of such authority and wisdom, that I pictured the author as a wise elder.  I was later surprised to learn that Eisenstein was a fairly young man.

The next time Eisenstein’s name came up for me was when my wife’s uncle gave me some mp3 recordings of The Ascent of Humanity – put together by amateur enthusiasts who were so enthralled with the book that they created a network of folks who took turns recording different parts of the book and then compiled and distributed it for free on the internet. When I finally got around to listening to these, I must admit I was disappointed.  The tone of the primary reader was so bitter, it came across as an anti-civ rant.  I was later surprised to learn that Eisenstein is an incredibly positive and inspiring personality, who does not speak this way at all himself.  I also learned that he does have some “anti-civ” influences (Derick Jensen, Daniel Quinn, John Zerzan), but he has moved well beyond these influences.

Charles Eisenstein’s name came up again in 2011 when I was perusing the premier peak oil blog, The Oil Drum, where Eisenstein had provided a guest post on Peak Oil, Peak Debt, and the Concentration of Power, where he made a compelling argument: “Many alternative energy technologies have made little headway, not because they are technologically unfeasible, but because they don’t fit into our present physical, financial, and psychological infrastructure. There is a causal as well as a metaphorical parallel between the concentration of power in oil and in money.”

A lot of people came to know of Charles Eisenstein and his work when the Occupy movement was first gathering steam, and Velcrow Ripper’s short “Occupy Wall St – The Revolution is Love” video, featuring Eisenstein, went viral.

The system isn’t working for the 1% either. You know if you were a CEO, you would be making the same choices they do. The institutions have their own logic. Life is pretty bleak at the top too – and all the baubles of the rich are this phoney compensation for the loss of what’s really important. The loss of community, the loss of connection, the loss of intimacy. The loss of meaning.

Eisenstein’s  book, Sacred Economics , has also been getting a lot of attention, and is serialized online here.  Unfortunately, I’ve not yet had a chance to read it.

Then I saw Ian MacKenzie’s short 12 minute video , capturing the essence of Sacred Economics:

Sacred Economics traces the history of money from ancient gift economies to modern capitalism, revealing how the money system has contributed to alienation, competition, and scarcity, destroyed community, and necessitated endless growth.

Today, these trends have reached their extreme – but in the wake of their collapse, we may find great opportunity to transition to a more connected, ecological, and sustainable way of being.

I was excited when I found a whole series of audio interviews under the theme “Beyond Awakening,” conducted by Terry Patten, co-author of Integral Life Practice with Ken Wilber.  Even more excited when I noticed one of those interviews was with Charles Eisenstein, recorded January, 2012.

I’d like to close with an excerpt from the interview posted by Rob Hopkins  today. This interchange illustrates where the principles of Transition and the principles of Sacred Economics collide.

(Hopkins): One of the things that’s been interesting here in Totnes is Transition Streets, which is the idea that you get out on your street and you get together 6 to 10 households in each street, then you meet 7 times at each other’s houses. The first time you look at energy, the second week you look at water, transport, food, and at the end of each week you undertake to do certain things before you meet up again. On average there are about 680 households in Totnes that have done that, and on average they cut their carbon by about 1.3 tonnes a year and saved themselves £5-600 a year.

There was a qualitative study that was done about what was their experience, what they got out of it.  By far the main thing they got out of it was meeting the neighbours, community, feeling more connected to where they are, new relationships, feeling part that they hadn’t done before. There was one of those big word cloud things created of all their answers and peak oil and climate change and economics didn’t register –  it was all just ‘neighbours’, ‘connected’, ‘friendships’, which I thought was really interesting. So with the gift economy, might it be that we actually address all the things we’ve been talking about in terms of peak oil and climate change, but just not actually explicitly focussing on those things?

(Eisenstein): I think it’s interesting in the scenario you just described with the streets and looking at energy, so the thing that they got out of it was the connection to the community. But if they’d just got together in their houses and talked about those things and done nothing more than have conversations they probably wouldn’t have that sense of community. They have to have a sense that we’re here to do something, not just to talk about it.

A purpose…

Yeah. In the States a lot of it is really – let’s get together and talk about how right we are. So I do think there has to be something like that.

When they’re actually doing something that pushes them a bit.

Yeah, creating something together. Because when you create something then you have to step aside, because something other than yourself becomes paramount, it’s this thing you want to create. When you let go of that ego self then real connection is possible. Like if you’ve been in a band or in a sports team, you feel a more authentic bond…at least that’s what I experienced when I was on the track team in college, even if I didn’t like some of the guys, there’s still a real bond, because we were dedicated to something greater than ourselves together.

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