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Life, Money and Illusion - Living on earth as if we want to stay
Author: Mike Nickerson

Reviewed by Genevieve Jones

Do you ever get overwhelmed by the state of the world?

I like to be informed, but last winter I made myself quite sick reading too many disaster books. So many books present only the dire warnings, escalating problems, and end-of-the-world scenarios, whether it be about environmental crises, government corruption, economic decline, escalating risk of epidemics, expanding poverty. (Is that my heart racing?) I was getting stressed out, but still I kept going back to "Doom" aisle (they call it 'Social Sciences' at the Killaloe Library). I had an overwhelming feeling that the problems were too great and my efforts were too small and too late.

"Life, Money & Illusion- Living on earth as if we want to stay" is different. Read the dedication:

"To Daniel, Eliza, Taegan, Lillian, Zephyr and all the children who will follow, from whom our generation borrows the earth."

This author knows it's not over. "There are abundant solutions, well within our grasp, if we choose to apply them," he writes.

Mike Nickerson has always been fascinated with the evolution of society. In 1971 he founded the Institute for the Study of Cultural Evolution to study social problems and their solutions. His books include, "Bakavi: Change the World I Want to Stay On", and "Planning for Seven Generations". In 1990 he released an audio-visual discussion kit called "Guideposts to a Sustainable Future". Mike worked on the Canada Well-Being Measurement Act, the Board of the Ontario Environmental Network, the United Counties of Leeds Waste Management Planning Process and the Governing Council of the Green Party of Canada. In order to fund his activism habit, he designs and builds custom wooden furniture.

The title, "Life, Money & Illusion" outlines the main themes of the book. Life: how does a species succeed? Money: its history and how it works. Illusion: how the current expanding economic system is at odds with our success as human beings.

Mike took 10 years to write this book, and it's easy to see why. The scope is massive. Basically, he has outlined the major problems of the world, and proposed solutions. His manner is clear and gentle. He doesn't disparage 'evil doers', or create monsters out of corporations or governments. He calmly explains how people have made the mistakes that got us here, given the circumstances and pressures involved.

"Life, Money and Illusion" is well researched and easy to understand even though Mike discusses some very complex topics. For example, he describes the history of money in all its forms, why we use it, how it has worked in the past, and how the economy works - or doesn't! As I read this, I realized, "Holy cow, I'm reading and understanding economics for the first time in my life! I get it! (Remember economics in high school? I have a permanent scar from my forehead hitting my desk). Whether it be the science of money, molecules or media, Mike is always informative without inducing sudden deep sleep. He goes from issue to issue, gently tying them together, defining them and posing solutions as he weaves in personal stories, philosophy and history.

Problems addressed include human impact on a full planet; pollution, destruction of habitat, loss of agricultural and wild lands, extinctions, resource depletion, inequity among people through domination, exploitation and poverty, failure to consider future generations. and much more. Mike explains the oil/transportation crisis, the role of the media, the evolution of war, overpopulation, unemployment and unstable economies.

"Our customs, traditions and economic system developed during a period when the thought that we might disrupt planetary balance was absurd. Consequently, these institutions give few clues for solving today's problems, yet they provide the patterns by which most of our activities are determined. Restructuring these institutions to help us find and maintain balance with the rest of life needs to be a top priority."

Why did the east coast fisheries collapse?
How do banks create money out of thin air?
How can companies become responsible for the damage they cause to the environment and to society?
How can the world help developing nations turn their economies around and escape poverty?
Why do we work a 40 hr work-week instead of 30 hrs?
What is wrong with charging interest on loans?
How do we profit from war?
How does corporate globalization affect our future?

This book is full of "Aha!" moments as Mike answers these and many other questions.

Solutions abound. For instance: we could tax only bad things, like pollution, resource depletion and urban sprawl. We could remove taxes from good things like employment, and local investment. In our natural tendency to avoid paying more, we would either put an end to the problems, or at least have the problems paid for by the people who generate them in the first place.

What if we actively measure our well-being and build this into the economy? What if we attribute value to unpaid work and natural resources, which are currently not accounted for? Why not track the use of resources, measure pollution, focus on health, etc.evaluating our ecological footprint every step of the way? Other solutions in the book involve the participation of all members of society in mutual provision; protecting the well-being of communities; encouraging local business, democracy and proportional representation.

"We are in trouble, but never before has there been an organism as competent as humans," Mike writes. "We have what it takes to succeed on this planet over the long-term. Whether or not we respect ecological limits will be the deciding factor."

And it's not all work.

"Life based pursuits, or the 3 Ls - Learning, Love and Laughter-as they are referred to for our sound bite world, offer boundless frontiers. The development of our human abilities was the essence of human culture before the commercial era pushed acquisition to its current place of prominence. The saturation of landfill space, problems with pollution and painful experiences with finite natural resources bid us reconsider the emphasis we place on the pursuit of our human potentials."

Mike wants to nurture understanding, stimulate vision, outline areas for debate and investigation, clarify values, build political will to tackle the crisis, and help to manifest our courage. In order to stimulate discussion, he offers free business-size cards to hand out that describe the basic premise of sustainable well-being (see contact info below):

"Well-being can be sustained when activities:

1- use materials in continuous cycles
2- use continuously reliable sources of energy
3- come mainly from the qualities of being Human (i.e. creativity, communication, movement, appreciation, and spiritual and intellectual development)

"Long-term well-being is diminished when activities:

4- require continual inputs of non-renewable resources
5- use renewable resources faster than their rate of renewal
6- cause cumulative degradation of the environment
7- require resources in quantities that undermine other people's well-being
8- lead to the extinction of other life forms"

Our biggest strength is our ability to connect with each other in purposeful and supportive relationship. Mike ends his book with suggested guidelines for meetings to share ideas and information, take action and support each other, using the principles of humility, brainstorming and consensus.

We stand at a fork in the road. On one hand, we can continue with exponential growth until resources run out and chaos overwhelms us. On the other hand, we can change our direction toward sustainability now, while we still have the room to make a gentle transition. I pick Door #2, what about you?

Read this book. Give it out as presents. Donate one to your local public library. Encourage schools to use the audio-visual discussion kit. Tell your friends about it. In a world that sometimes feels desperately out of control, "Life, Money and Illusion; Living on earth as if we want to stay" is an oasis of clear thinking, sound reasoning and achievable solutions.

"On the scale of civilization, the challenge is huge, but it is not beyond our collective abilities. Ours is a time of extraordinary opportunity for exciting, purposeful lives. Should we awaken to the task and shepherd our species successfully through this time of passage, our generation will be forever honoured by those who follow."

To purchase a copy of the book or receive free discussion materials,
The 7th Generation Initiative
2799 McDonald's Corners Road, RR#3
Lanark, ON K0G 1K0 Canada
How to order this book