Money is the ultimate human construction – implications for people and change

Money is the ultimate human construction – implications for people and change
5th March 2018 Tim Malnick
In Money & Life

If you are thinking about change – either a personal change, or creating wider change in a community or organisation, it is important to recognise that money played no part whatsoever in the creation of the universe. I say this because many people and organisations holding a vision for change in some area feel restricted or blocked by their hopes and fears around money. One helpful start in overcoming these blocks is to consider that money played no part in the creation of the planet earth or in the 4 and a half billion or so years of evolution during which a vast, dense ball of particle stuff¹ eventually gave rise to this amazing thing we call Life.


Life does not require money:

This may seem stupid, or even obvious. But most people today cannot conceive of life continuing without money. Most people believe, on some level, that without money they will no longer be able to exist and that their projects or activities will stop existing. Further, most people believe on some level that they must therefore get money ‘to earn a living’ or to ‘secure existence’ (i.e. be secure). This is a strange thing to believe since the evidence does not support it once we actually look. It is well worth seriously contemplating the undeniable truth that for pretty much the entire history of the universe and this wonderful planet, money has not made a tiny jot’s worth of difference to the unfolding of life.

Just stop and ponder this for a moment, however crazy it may seem. The creation of the great land masses we now recognise as continents. The emergence in the murky primordial soup of the first single celled life forms. The gradual evolution of plants, animals, air, climate, all the complex, mind bogglingly wonderful variety of life in all its forms and everything that supports it. None of it had anything whatsoever to do with money.

Another reflection. Babies everywhere are made, born and brought up throughout history without money. Not so sure? Consider that all babies of every species apart from humans come into existence and are born without money. We humans have existed and procreated without money for the vast majority of our history. The most stable and by far the longest lasting human form of society was hunter gatherers. The hunter gatherer lived in symbiotic relationship with the natural living world, with no need for money. Life – human life and the life of our planet and everything within it, proceeds in its own way without any reliance whatsoever upon money.


We don’t need to give up money, but we do need to see how we invent it:

I am not about to suggest that now we have invented it, we shouldn’t use money, or that we should all abandon money and go back to a hunter gatherer lifestyle. Nor to claim that without money we would all be happier and more content. But, my experience working with many individuals and groups wishing to change, suggests it is very important to be able to draw a meaningful distinction between Life – unfolding and existing on its own terms entirely, and Money – an entirely human creation, a historical construction, which may, (but usually does not) serve Life.

Money is the ultimate human construction. What do I mean by this? Well it is a construction in that it is something we have invented from our minds and keep going through social agreement. Money has no intrinsic existence, value and indeed no meaning at all without humans creating it and continuing to believe in it. We all (pretty much) agree that money means something, is about something, and is useful for something. And because we continue to agree this, Money continues to serve that function. But because it is ultimately a construction, there is no external validity or truth to this whatsoever. Remember, Life has gone on perfectly well without money for millennia. Money is not actually necessary for anything if we don’t believe in it. The same cannot be said for fresh air. Fresh air is not a human construction. Sure, we may have different concepts and ideas about ‘Fresh Air’ what it means, how fresh is fresh etc. That much is in the realm of human thought and up for debate. But, whatever your opinions on the matter, if you don’t have access to fresh air you will die. So will antelopes and crocodiles regardless of whether they have any theory about fresh air. Life will stop without fresh air. This is not a matter of human debate. Food, water and air are needed for life. Money, it turns out, is not.

So Money is the ultimate human construction. It is ultimate because more than anything else created by humans we have come to believe absolutely and unquestionably that we do in fact need Money for Life. Somewhere along the way we have individually and collectively made a great error. We have totally forgotten that Money is simply a human construction, a human creation, nothing really to do with the great unfolding mystery of life itself, and we have confused and entangled it with Life.


Personal and collective implications of not seeing money as a construction:

This confusion is terribly important. It leads many people to postpone living their life fully – doing whatever they feel most deeply or meaningfully called to do and to be, because of hopes and fears about money. People postpone life in order to chase money and call this being ‘sensible’ or part of the ‘real world’. Because we have hypnotised ourselves into this confused view, it is easy to place Money before Life. Great personal misery, meaninglessness and anxiety are one result of this.

Collectively this same confusion plays out whenever governments and companies make decisions that threaten or destroy life but make Money. When a company continues to drill for oil that we know can never be burned if life is to survive – this is a decision that puts Money above Life. When economists prioritise growth of an economy, but not the capacity of the planet to regenerate and stay healthy, this also puts Money over Life. The pain and paradox of this is that because Life is what philosophers would call a ‘higher order’[2] thing than Money (Money emerges from Life, but Life doesn’t emerge from money) – any decision that places Money above Life will eventually create damage to life in some way. Thus our planet – the source (of course) of all money and life – is being systematically destroyed because of decisions that reverse the natural hierarchy of life over money. Business and political leaders call these decisions ‘sensible’, ‘rational’ and part of the ‘real world’, failing completely to recognise that they are precisely the opposite.

As the journalist George Monbiot said recently after a widely reported stock market drop,

“Stock markets slide for a day. Result: mass panic and wall-to-wall coverage. Soil is sliding off the land worldwide, threatening the entire basis of human survival. Result: indifference, no coverage. What is salient is not important and what is important is not salient.”


We reclaim life by noticing it, everywhere:

So, what can we do about this? There are many wonderful people working on responses to this distortion. People are working on New economics, citizens incomes, state money creation, they are also doing the deep work needed to re-connect[3] back to life. Perhaps the main thing we can each do is just to notice the presence of Life. To notice how life continues to unfold and flow – with and without money. You could do it right now, wherever you are. To just notice how it is life that supports you to live – never money, however much or little of it you have. To notice the air we breath, the plants that grow, the movement of our body through space, the pulsing of blood in our veins. Your life is not created, determined or maintained by money. It has been given freely.

To repeat, this is not to say that money is bad, that we should not have or use money, or that we should be living without it. But we must notice, cherish and honour life as primary – our own lives and the lives and life around us – and see how that is completely distinct from money. As we come to see that life always continues to unfold, and that that great unfolding really is very much less to do with money than we have been brought up to believe, then many deeper changes in our own lives and in our society at large will suddenly become possible.

Interested in exploring your own patterns around #moneyandlife? Why not come on one of my 2 day Money Workshops?


[1] Ok, I am no scientist but you get the idea

[2] See Bertrand Russell’s logical categories; adapted by Gregory Bateson to illustrate different depths of learning and change in human systems.

[3] The latin word ‘religio’ the basis of the word religion means literally ‘to reconnect’