Four separate excerpts from The Ascent of Humanity (Chapter 4, Money and property):
The feeling “We don’t really need each other” is by no means limited to leisure gatherings. What better description could there be of the loss of community in today’s world? We don’t really need each other. We don’t need to know the person who grows, ships, and processes our food, makes our clothing, builds our house, creates our music, makes or fixes our car; we don’t even need to know the person who takes care of our babies while we are at work. We are dependent on the role, but only incidentally on the person fulfilling that role. Whatever it is, we can just pay someone to do it (or pay someone else to do it) as long as we have money. And how do we get money? By performing some other specialized role that, more likely than not, amounts to other people paying us to do something for them. This is what I call the monetized life, in which nearly all aspects of existence have been either converted to commodities or assigned a financial value.
For the typical surburbanite, what is there to do with friends? We can cook together for fun, but we don’t need each other’s help in producing food. We don’t need each other to create shelter or clothing. We don’t need each other to care for us when we are sick. All these functions have been given over to paid specialists who are generally strangers. In an age of mass consumption, we don’t need each other to produce entertainment. In an age of paid childcare, we hesitate to ask each other for help with the children. In the age of TV and the Internet, we don’t need each other to tell us the news. In fact, not only is there little to do together, there is equally little to talk about. All that is left is the weather, the lawn, celebrities and sports. “Serious” topics are taboo. We can fill up our social gatherings with words, it is true, but we are left feeling empty, sending those words into an aching void that words can never fill.
In sharp contrast to the monetized world of financial security, which inexorably separates everyone from everyone else, a gift economy is an economy of obligation and dependence. Financial security is not true independence, but merely dependence on strangers, who will only do the things necessary for your survival if you pay them. Would you rather be dependent on strangers, or on people you know? Well, that probably depends on how you treat the people you know. Thus the monetized life removes some of the incentives for people to adhere to social and ethical norms. Dissolution of community is built in to our system of money. The monetization of life dissolves communities, and the dissolution of community necessitates the further monetization of life.
Like an alcoholic whose resources of goodwill, money, pawnable assets, friends, and credibility are almost exhausted, our way of life is on the verge of collapse. We continue to scramble, applying new technological fixes at greater and greater cost to alleviate the problems caused by the last fix. The addict will keep on using until life becomes completely unmanageable. Ecological awareness, localism, green design, herbalism, community currencies, ecology-based economics are all like the drunk’s moments of clarity on the way down. They will not so much save us as serve as the seeds for a new way of living and being that we will adopt after the collapse. Indeed they will all come naturally, as a matter of course—if there is anything left at all.