PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus


Simple Life, Usury and Superstitions by peaceprobe

The dollars moving out there through cyberspace and the markets are only worth something if people believe that paper money has value.  That belief has everything to do with who owns the dollars, who owes dollars and how, or even if, there is faith that those dollars will make the future better and contribute to security.  Occasionally strange people who embrace ascetic like notions of simple life come along to challenge our faith in the hidden hand of the market place.  We need them now. 

When I went overseas in the 1960s I often met people who talked about the money lenders who went to markets and coffee shops to find consumers to whom they offered a loan at 20% interest for just a few weeks. In emergencies, vulnerable consumers or petty merchants borrowed money fast.  Occasionally they lost everything because they were unable to pay back on time.  Lenders themselves rarely lose, and may even welcome the crisis of foreclosures.  

This primitive banking system is practised in every developing nation and in some industrializing cities. Advanced capitalism encourages a more rationalized version of this in developed nations.   Rates are far lower than 20% for a six to eight week loans but borrowers still lose everything sometimes.  In the current home loan crisis, recipients are losing their homes because they took advantage of low cost opportunities or failed to read the fine print.  

The law is a helpful though often a porous boundary in preventing these collapses. Ancient and modern lenders use, misuse, avoid or manipulate the law.   The power of money lenders is always great.  The power of the borrower is great too if they happen to unite which is rare. Big borrowers like the US government or large strategic corporations unlike small borrowers get bailed out.  We are now in a crisis of faith, faith in the US dollar.  We are not confident of what has value.  But borrowing continues to be encouraged because it makes more things happen.  The economy grows and they tell us that is good for all of us. 

The time has come for a renewed vision for simple life to make itself known outside and even inside the monuments of economic globalization and foreclosure.   People who practice simple life detach themselves from the faith statements of good economic citizens and try to live within their means. When they take jobs or select careers their choices are guided by healthy connections with the earth, water and air, the source of all value.  Their non attachment is often but not always related to faith, in some cases faith in a God who functions outside the rules of economic life, rules put in place by the haves.   

This simple life also creates space for  volunteering, peacemaking and all kinds of experiments in self sufficiency, and self reliance.  Simple life people think globally.  They, of course, can be preachy or wrong but often their stubbornness is a gift for all of us if we take the time to listen.   Their core spirit is honed through detachment from hardened positions of finance, towards a vision of wholeness that can awaken whole communities, even nations. 

A simple life like John the Baptist, or Gandhi lived is a gift, and a sign for the ages.  With walking sticks they stumbled to the sea where salt and new life awaited them and their followers.  Their strange notions of simple villages made joyful by transcendent visions of righteousness were mocked.  But their detached ways eventually saved continents from the tragedy of money lenders.   There are John the Baptists or Gandhis expectantly waiting to be born in each of us.  

People who have internalized the depth of compassion at the core of simple life can be a gift for a wobbling global economy.  Detachment from the economic system does not infer an expectation of doom or permanent success.  It does, however, remove the simple lifer from the  superstitions of the global economy.  Real promoters of simple life have learned that guilt is not a good motivation.  Without all those burdens, debts, and obligations the person of simple life has a degree of critical objectivity and wisdom to bring as their gift to the great economic councils where decisions about faith and money are life and death matters for billions of people.  

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