'Money & Life' Doc Frames New Economy of Living Systems

In the documentary Collapse, Michael Ruppert puts an incredibly fine point on the fact that, upon a foundation of finite energy, we have built an economic system that demands infinite growth. He adds that we are currently at the collision point of those two forcibly exclusive ideas. Like the various Zeitgeist films, it is a fascinating framing that, no doubt, includes much truth blended with a fair amount of speculation. It inspires the viewer to think, if not act, but its main catalyst is that of fear. 

Enter first-time director Katie Teague who is in the final stages of taking a different tack toward the subject with her Money & Life documentary. Still, any venture such as this requires funding and so Teague finds herself turning to the true believers for Kickstarter donations in order to put the finishing touches on the piece.

Among those believers are the film's sound editor, Marga Laube, who has been catapulted into action just by working on the project: "By redirecting my attention away from money itself as a focus — gotta go work to get more money to pay off my debts — and onto the actual material and non-material things that I value — like the food I put in my mouth, my relationships, the fine textures of a well-knit blanket, the purity of the creek by my house — I begin to move into a state of reciprocity with all of Life that is a first step in rewriting our collective social agreement about money, and developing a new economy that grows out of our true values. The film's intelligent, compassionate reportage about money — where money came from, where it is now — is bringing about new awareness in me, about how we are creating the economic climate we are living in, and how we might want to create something different." 

So, do we run for the hills with a bag of gold coins per Ruppert's suggestion? Or do we step into a whole new way of being with money, each other, and the planet? Teague offered Shareable her thoughts on the matter.


Katie Teague's Money & Life documentary asks us to look at money in a whole new way. Photo credit: Tax Credits. Used under Creative Commons license.

I've watched quite a few — too many, perhaps — documentaries that move in a similar circle to Money & Life, but without its grace. Sure, finger pointing is one avenue to accountability, but you seem to take a different approach to that tarmac by choosing to shun the angry, conspiracy-based cynicism in favor of a forward-looking, solution-based optimism. Is that a fair analysis?

That is a fair take on my approach, and it’s always interesting and informing to see/hear others’ perspectives on what I’m up to. Before I jumped off the cliff into the world of filmmaking four years ago, I worked as a psychotherapist. And, as a therapist, I could see that finger pointing — while, yes, it has its important place in terms of accountability — only goes so far and ultimately keeps us mired in a level of division and separation that, to me, is so clearly the root source of the suffering in our lives and in the world. If we stop at finger pointing, we get stuck in distraction, seduced by the momentary feel-good of blame and judgment. That’s certainly not healing. True healing is simultaneously an awakening to a deeper truth. And my impulse to make a film had everything to do with healing our disconnection from our own deeper nature, with one another, with the earth, and the wondrous world of creation.

I had decided to make a documentary film before I decided to make a film about money. Then, in September 2008, when the financial and economic crisis was coming into sharp relief, I simply had a knowing all of a sudden that the documentary would be about money. It was equal parts knowing that I needed to expose and dive into my own ignorance and avoidance of the Great Taboo and equal parts intuiting that some significant energy was locked up in the shadows of our relationship with money.

Inevitably in my research for the film, I fell down the conspiracy theory wormhole and logged many hours on the Internet overcome with fascination and horror, and experiencing a decoding of what I thought was real. This was definitely an important part of the journey. Some of the information floating in abundance is true and some of it not and I don’t know which is which.

But, at the end of the day, my actions are the same no matter the relative truth. It’s just too convenient to name the evildoers as purely other and call it done. Don’t get me wrong; I think holding those who commit evil actions accountable is important. I also see it from another level, where the force of evil plays a role in the evolution of a greater whole, and that I am not separate from that. This has implications at the material level, as well as psychological and spiritual. My charge was to create a film that transcended blame and judgment, while highlighting the real precariousness of the situation we are in at the same time.

My approach has been more of a 10,000-foot perspective over the landscape of money, couching the economic crisis in a larger evolutionary context that sees the possibility of breakthrough as a corollary to the breaking down of systems. At some point, I even dropped the standard polar framing of “problem-solution.” While you could say this film is “solution-based,” I prefer to say it’s emergence-based. It’s actually a pretty significant change of framing because, in reality, we don’t know the solutions from where we stand. Solutions tend to arise from the old thinking or worldview. And I think we are on the cusp of a new era that’s pregnant with emergent possibility. The language of solutions feels too small. This film will be criticized for not providing clear-cut solutions in action-list fashion. It doesn’t tell people what to do. Rather, it paints a panoramic portrait of where we are and the patterns of what’s emerging in this now-identified space of “the new economy.”

Money & Life trailer from Katie Teague on Vimeo.

You interviewed some amazing thinkers for this project, Thom Hartmanm, Jean Houston, and (a personal hero of mine) Dr. Vandana Shiva among them. One of the points raised in the trailer is that money has evolved from a means of wealth to a measure of wealth and an “object of spiritual veneration.” Do you see us collectively reverting back to an earlier model or creating an entirely new economic system altogether?

In my view, there is no “back” to revert to. I think the genuine opportunity of this time is that we can consciously choose not to revert because we see clear-as-day that it’s not even possible. Instead, we have the monumental and inspiring challenge to collaborate with our own awareness in bringing forward a new system that is adequate and relevant to the exact moment of time we are living in. As Hazel Henderson says in the film, “We have a big redesign job, from top to bottom … and that ought to be fun because everyone can be involved.” I love that line! It’s daunting but inviting and really pointing us forward not back.

We have an astonishing amount of knowledge at our fingertips, we have access to all the world’s wisdom traditions, we have the informing vantage point of what we call history (We can save the debate on “history” for later.), and we can see what’s happening on the other side of the planet virtually as it’s happening. The gift of the in-formation age is the capacity to infuse the world of form with conscious creation. The shadow, of course, is a tragic disorganization and fragmentation from overload. We’re at a really epic confluence on the planet of which globalization is more effect than cause. I see globalization as a reflection of a deeper evolutionary process or planetary initiation, that’s a whole-scale shift in human consciousness and capacity.

I think the challenge of our time is to bring together all these unique streams of knowledge, of memory, of tribe, to re-member and re-source the brilliance and healthy manifested impulses that have come before, to retain that goodness and integrate it into forms and practices that are more relevant to the reality of today.

Let’s bring that inquiry into the realm of the economy. There’s a lot of talk about returning to the gold standard. Okay, maybe there is some wisdom in the essence of this idea of “return,” though maybe it’s not about the exact form of gold. Probably we do need to re-link the money to what’s real on the planet, but can we find ways that are more adequate to the world we are living in than the days of the gold standard? Can we find ways that reflect the real abundance of the planet while also reflecting the need for sustainability and re-generativity? Nothing is static in the world of becoming, so how do we build an economic system that builds in eventual disruption and the emergence of new forms? We are in an extraordinary moment of global emergence. Not even the so-called experts know what’s coming or what we should do.

That we are losing faith in the experts and the powers-that-be is a good sign. Then we are pressed to turn back towards ourselves and towards our local communities, to acknowledge our inner and outer assets and leverage them for some new goodness.

Looking with a broader lens, mass consumerism seems to be more of an effect rather than a cause — although, I suppose, it's both. What other issues does the film identify as root causes of our economic undoing?

To put it bluntly … evolution is the cause of our economic undoing. The film doesn’t out-rightly state it in such terms, but it’s a narrative that follows the arc of living systems (without using those terms because I hope the audience stays awake during the film).

This view sees that humanity is in a maturation period, as both Elisabet Sahtouris and Charles Eisenstein illuminate in the film. You could say we are maturing from competitive adolescence, as a species, into adulthood in which cooperation or win-win competition dominates. But this transformation is predicated on a shift in the understanding of our basic nature as human beings (as referenced in an earlier question). The root cause is the lens through which we are looking. If we look through a Newtonian, mechanistic, scarcity-based lens then we will create systems and institutions and a world of incentives that feed back into that worldview. And the effect of that is our current perpetual growth economic paradigm that is the primary driver on the planet right now. And it’s a Frankenstein of “individual insatiable appetites” at this point. We are cannibalizing ourselves because we are still operating in a system based on separation and the fear that comes of separation. The fundamental economic model that is driving the modern world is the cause of its own undoing.

A quote on your Kickstarter page from Matthew Wesley of The Wesley Group jumped out at me. He said of Money & Life, “Like many good films, it challenges its viewers to see the world in new ways. But that is the least of it. The film requires something of us — a particular kind of witnessing. It demands a kind of participation that engages not only the mind, but the heart. In the end, it calls us to into a different conversational dynamic with the prevailing economic systems and the economic alternatives that are emerging.” Indeed, a holistic engagement and a paradigm shift in our language are critical components of what's to come. Being one of the trumpeters of that change is a big deal, no?

This question would not have made sense to me four years ago when I began this journey. I don’t think we set out intentionally to be “trumpeters,” but following one’s heart, it can happen that we wake up one day and feel a trumpet pressed to our lips.

About two years into the project, I realized that my saying “yes” to the film was the crossing over of an initiatory threshold, that the filmmaking process was a crucible in which I was being cooked and the film is almost a byproduct more than the goal. The idea that “I am making a film” (in the sense of an independent subject acting on a separate object) just collapsed like a house of cards. It was a moment of quantum recognition, that I am a living fractal of the film (even though the film is not about me or my story directly). And I realized that all my confusion, my rage, my grief, my awe and inspiration, my highs and lows and intense inner polarities that I had been feeling throughout the process were an exact reflection of what is happening on the planet at this time.

I think being a trumpeter requires a certain devotion that schools us in learning to stay. It can get very uncomfortable, be it under the weight of your own demonic inner voices or the outer voices of criticism that say “you got it wrong” or analytically shred the piece of work you have given your life energy to. It’s a profound practice to stay — in deep partnership with one’s self and with life — when the rocks are sharp and the seas are storming. But if we are doing it only to assuage the inner or outer voices, then we’ve settled with looking for approval but one more time.

And I’ve found — always — that the kindness of staying delivers gifts that are simply unknowable otherwise. One isn’t a trumpeter for the sake of being a trumpeter but because you’ve accepted the responsibility for what you love.

The pitfall of identifying as a trumpeter or someone walking at the evolutionary eco-tone is the shadow of self-importance. I’ve had to see that in myself again and again working on this film. And so keeping a grounded foot in the cosmic play of consciousness — that everything arising is an apparent manifestation of a singular reality or consciousness — has been immensely important for me in maintaining good inner and outer health, a good sense of humor and letting go of the outcome of the film while being deeply committed to it at the same time.

Our lives are made up of and shaped by the complex web of exchanges (and I hardly mean only financial transacting). In other words, life is relationship. We are in constant relationship with everything, living cells in the body of life. And sometimes it’s the smallest thing that makes the greatest difference. You never know. But we can overlook the “world in a grain of sand” when we are hyper-focused on the big. And while the film is certainly focused on the big issues, I think in its most subtle transmission it’s a trumpet call for recognizing the true wealth that is abundant all around and inside us.

And to be a trumpeter for awakening to the power and value that we each have by the sheer miracle of our existence is the only deal as far as I’m concerned.

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