The Power of an Idea

A few weeks ago I saw an article / video entitled The American Who Quit Money to Live in a Cave, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. The article is about this dude Daniel Suelo who apparently “stopped using money in 2000.” Finding out more about Daniel reminded me of when Shane and I hung out in Slab City in the desert in Niland, CA, for nearly one month in February 2009. A lot of people live there in their trailers and campers year round, and some are seasonal residents or just travelers like us. While we certainly weren’t independent of money (we went grocery shopping once per week or so), it was obvious that living simply produced less trash and waste and most importantly required very little money.

For example, I was happy with very little possessions; my leopard print sombrero was functional in the middle of the desert:

Shane and I were content with our “house:”

And Ruby was content with her pile of dirt:

Suelo lives in a cave in Utah, doesn’t pay rent obviously, and exists on other peoples’ discarded items and food. He uses internet at the public library, and this is where his critics say he is not independent of money, because clearly peoples’ taxes pay for the internet he uses at the library, and his groceries come from the discarded scraps of a system that operates thanks to money. Clearly his life is not 100% money independent. That notwithstanding, his critics should really tone it down a little, because he really is attempting to live according to an ideal, as much as it is possible in our money-driven world.

The more you think about it, it’s so ironic that even a person whose every action is driven by the ideal to be free of money can never be entirely free of the ramifications of our “system.” He has embraced this alternative lifestyle of living off of others’ discarded items and food for more than 12 years now, and yet the structure of our world has made the pure attainment of his ideal impossible (though he comes pretty close). The conclusion we can draw from this is that money is a really powerful thing if its very presence in our world can prevent a person who really wants to get away from it to not really be able to do so, no matter how hard he tries– he did a lifestyle overhaul, lives in a cave, and still might not be really free of it! The sobering fact appears on the scene when Suelo says that “money isn’t real.” It really isn’t. It’s just some idea, some concept, that some dude came up with so long ago. A piece of paper in exchange for something given. Like an IOU. Because as soon as you give me something, I automatically OWE you.

What this situation shows us is that if we live in a world where “money makes the world go ’round,” we are left to draw the disheartening conclusion that the most powerful idea on our planet currently is that one would never “give something for nothing.” I’ve been thinking that one over for these several weeks now.

So what can I do? Well, as a teacher, I will try my best to set an example for young people about doing service for others and not expecting payment in return. This summer I will be leading a group of high schoolers in building new facilities and teaching English in Haitian communities in the Dominican Republic. Can you imagine if we could get everyone building houses and teaching knowledge while not asking for anything in return? Money’s reign would quickly come to an end. So, this summer I will be doing my part to aid Daniel in his message that we shouldn’t be relying on a piece of paper that isn’t even real to provide for us– we should be relying on each other. Hopefully the new most powerful idea in the world can pertain to something like providing for others and thinking more of the entire world as a global community and not just as separate nations that keep tabs on what they “owe” each other. Let’s not “throw money” at the world’s problems; let’s “throw people” at the world’s problems. Let’s actually solve problems rather than sitting around talking about them and just bring about positive change already!

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One Comment on “The Power of an Idea”

  1. Bill May 24, 2012 at 06:57 #

    Marissa, that was an awesome observation and a solution that can be accomplished, albeit, hard work and some disappointment. You do your best to help but sometimes, there are other factors much stronger than you guiding or pushing these kids the other direction.
    That is the battle, getting the kids to understand and follow your example.

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