A sacred discussion about economics and law

Jeremy Wickremer joins the audience for a public conversation between Charles Eisenstein and Polly Higgins, two ‘visionaries of a new world’

‘Visionary’ is a strong word to describe someone. But Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics and an advocate of the gift economy, and Polly Higgins, who works to create laws that protect against the destruction of the environment, have both been described as such.

Sitting in the audience at an event titled Sacred Economics and Sacred Law, which brought the pair together for a public conversation, I had the feeling I was witnessing something special.

Watch the full video of the event here

I think what drew many of us to the event at BBP Law School in Holborn on 1 November 2012 was that Charles and Polly both have the insight and clarity to express what so many of us are thinking and feeling. They see the bigger picture, connect the dots, and through their intelligent, eloquent words help remind us of the sacred in life.

Polly and Charles acknowledged how the feeling that we are in a period of rapid change is widespread. However, the interpretation of and reaction to this change has taken two very distinct directions. For the majority of businesses and politicians the perspective is one of crisis, with the aim being to restore the old – an attitude of ‘more of the same please’.

But Polly compared the crisis to a healing crisis when you are ill and feel worse before you eventually get better. If the illness is brought about by a habit such as an addiction, it usually accompanies a learning process, which brings about a new way of being. It involves a purging or cleaning out of the old system.

Between them, Charles and Polly discussed how economics and law now need to be realigned to value what is sacred.

“Charles and Polly see the bigger picture, connect the dots, and through their intelligent, eloquent words help remind us of the sacred in life”

“We have to have some way of protecting things that are of infinite preciousness, for example human life,” said Charles. “You can’t get away with murder by paying a fine. By the same token, we need legal protection for the planet,” he said, pointing out that we have placed a finite value on the natural world, with companies able to damage and destroy and pay fines to atone.

Polly added that money is a physical manifestation of energy, and just like water it can flow; into good use or damage and destruction. It can also become stagnant, for example when it is hoarded in a bank, or it can instead be used for something life-affirming.

The scales of law have come to so favour property, ownership and profit, that balance needs to be brought in, she said. A law to protect against ecocide (the extensive destruction of ecosystems), which Polly is proposing, can help govern where our money goes.

As Polly described Mayor Bloomberg’s ringing of the opening bell for Wall Street with the message, ‘Let’s go back to business as usual after the washout of Hurricane Sandy’, it is clear that an opportunity to clean out the old ways is being missed by many.

Both Charles and Polly have a vision for paradigm change. Although their arenas of change may be economics and law, the foundation of their message is based on deeper common values.

Charles is someone who searches for the answers to deep questions such as ‘What are we and what does it mean to be human?’ and ‘What is the purpose of life?’.

Our current beliefs about the answers to these questions have led us to where we are today. Charles sees our economic story, which drives us to seek maximum security, and our biological story of maximum reproductivity and self interest, as now obsolete. Instead he talks of a new paradigm of the gift, where our lives can be driven by asking ourselves, ‘What am I called to give?’, ‘How can I be of service?’ and ‘What is my gift?’.

When we look around us, we can see an economy that fuels separation. Economic independence equates to not needing to rely on your neighbours; it is synonymous with a breakdown in community. Charles spoke of a needed transition from separation to union, citing that community is based on need and service, and also on the desire to bring your gifts to the world.

It became clear that it is the values of freedom, gratitude, servitude, sacredness, oneness and love that are the common space that Charles and Polly start from.

“Humanitarian progress is often led by idealists and pioneers working outside the constraints of convention and conformity”

It reminded me of St. Augustine’s words: ‘Love and do what you will’. Sceptics may find these utopian ideas to be unachievable or impractical. However, humanitarian progress is often led by idealists and pioneers working outside the constraints of convention and conformity. Polly pointed out that in the past it was considered normal to keep people as slaves.

Polly spoke about a realistic utopian vision being a vision that should embrace the complete cycle of life, birth, death, decay, regeneration and rebirth. Our present day cultural stories are in fact heavily based on a perceived utopia of continuous economic growth, and we have become overly focused on the up-cycle.

While listening to Polly and Charles, what I hear is their sanity. We have common expressions nowadays, such as ‘It’s a mad, mad world’. We have come to accept the insane as normal: war, murder, imprisonment, damage and destruction of the planet that sustains our own life.

“How is it so normal to create profit out of mass damage and destruction?,” Polly asked. Is the solution more insanity and more denial of our true nature?

We can see that the cracks are appearing on this veneer of ‘normality’. As Charles put it: “A story of the world has its own immune system, but it’s starting to unravel.” And as Polly enthused: “The best time to be living, ever, is now, co-creating the new world.”

As the conversation came to a close, there was an appreciation that we were in the presence of two people that truly justified that tag of ‘visionary’. Two people, with the wisdom, vision, compassion and tenacity to serve as guides helping us through a transition to a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Video: Interview with Polly Higgins and Charles Eisenstein