Friday, December 24, 2010

A World Without Money (A Sunday School Lesson)

Important truths about personal integrity and money can be found in a recent Sunday School lesson.



Correspondent Joe H. recently described a fascinating simulation he held in his Sunday School class about the value of one's word (integrity) and money (trustworthy exchange). Joe's lesson was designed to teach truths which have largely been forgotten in contemporary America, where lying, cheating, gaming, embezzlement, fraud, misrepresentation, half-truths and propaganda are the foundation of Financial/Corporate America's soaring profits, the Federal government's robust defense of the financial status quo and many Americans' individual responses to this systemic fraud: committing their own frauds, gaming the system and misrepresenting the truth to further some scheme.


If you read Joe's account carefully, there are fundamental points being made about the nature of money and the value of integrity, a "commodity" which has been devalued to near-zero in contemporary America.


Here is Joe's account:


I was recently pressed into service teaching Sunday school to 13 9th graders, about half boys and half girls (pretty unusual for a Sunday School class). I am having a blast.


One recent Sunday, the Second Commandment was the scheduled lesson, and the pre-prepared materials were pretty skinny so I called an audible (football term) and made up my own lesson plan.


My goal was to teach the Second Commandment: "Do not use the Lord's name in vain," in a way that connected with my ninth grade students at a visceral level.


Modern Americans lack the context that makes the message of the Second Commandment accessible.


The standard bearers of 'cool' are professional athletes and rap stars. Trash-talk and debasement comes as easily as breathing to many of them. Their currency is domination and debasement. Respect for 'name' is alien to the standard bearers of modern 'cool'.


Name is slightly more respected in the economic sphere. The gates that grant access to economic life are not named Joe, or Chuck or Fred. They are named Visa and Mastercard, and American Express.


Most Americans think the Second Commandment is 'quaint'. If they even think about it, it is with a condescending superiority, something like: "Boy, did those old Hebrews get it mixed up. Imagine rating the name of the God/Goddess/All-That-Is (presuming one/they exist) ahead of 'Don't murder'....Just no figuring...."


As a card-carrying Christian of an unspecified denomination, it is my belief that proper understanding of God's plan will prepare us for life. My job, as a Sunday school teacher, is to teach proper understanding of God's plan and to make it highly accessible so it can come into play when they need it.


The goal of the simulation was not to prepare them for Joe H.'s fantasy of what the future might be like, but to make God's roadmaps accessible to them so they will be prepared regardless of the future they will live in. I know that all that "God" stuff makes some readers a little bit itchy. I will be pleased if they find any utility in the simulation or the discussion of it.


One part of the lesson was hands-on. I planned to create a small-village economy with 5-to-7 farmers producing 'corn', 2 weavers producing coats and 3 fisherman catching fish and transporting goods. Every family needs 60 kernels of corn a month to survive and 4 coats (I will probably use socks as a proxy for coats) a year. Fish is a luxury. The mayor is picked on the basis of how cool a party you can throw and the goods you give away (Potlatch culture).


Number of fish caught per month is based on the throw of a die. Weaver families can produce 3 coats per month. Farmers will be 'gifted' a harvest on an annual basis.


Breakdown was 7 'Farmers', 2 'Weavers' and 3 'Fishers'. Fishers also transported. The 13th person kept track of months and helped count out 'coats' to weavers, etc.


Each Farmer had 24 months worth of corn (one cup of popcorn) and had to feed both his family and use some for trade. A month's worth of popcorn was 60 kernels. So some of the more generous Farmers might start feeling pinched toward the end of the year and find themselves importing.


The kids must figure out how to make it work without money or paper records.(Emphasis added: CHS)


At some point in the simulation, I would have a couple of the kids start cheating. Inadequate food will kill off a weaver family and half the village will perish due to hypothermia.


My belief is that complexity obscures what can be clear and simple. A man's word/bond can be an ample substitute for money *if his name is associated with integrity*. (Emphasis added: CHS) To besmirch a man's reputation for integrity is to guarentee chaos, ruin and devastation.


It is my hope that after a few simulations, the cheaters will be quickly identified, shunned and extincted.


It is also my hope that "Do not use the Lord's name in vain" will have three dimensionality to the 9th graders after this lesson. They may also have a heck of a headstart on the kind of economy we may be heading toward.


* * *


The simulation went well. Kids are masters at suspending disbelief when the task at hand looks like a game.


Each month took 10 minutes to execute with the first month taking longer as they worked things out.


One month I forced zero fish caught due to a flood. The flood also destroyed the food the fishermen had saved up ahead.


Some of the kids "got it" much quicker than others. Not surprisingly, the girls caught on quicker than the guys. I think it is a cooperative vs. competitive thing.


Time went VERY quickly and I had to end the simulation because we ran out of time. So I forced a cheating event.


I asked who wanted to be a bad-guy. One of the fishermen volunteered. I had him sell defective fish (we were using lima beans as proxies for fish) so he was trying to pass off splits of beans as complete fish. The next month I killed off all families that obtained fish from the bad guy, telling the it was tainted from the flood,,,,he had dried it out and sold it as good. By a stroke of luck the two weaver families were wiped out.


Only one person had four socks to become 'the mayor of the dead' as she phrased it. And of course she was to die the next winter.


One guy kept trading with the bad-guy even though he had effectively exterminated the village. He did not get it. I guess shunning is not a natural act.


One place I did not effectively execute was to draw heavy, double lines back to how the importance of names is important to GOD. I hope I left them with the message that 'name' was your job, your bank account, your pantry and insurance policy all rolled into one ball.


Since I believe that foundational truths and relationships do not change with complexity, they only become masked or obscured; it makes me ponder the effect of training vast numbers of people to walk away from signed contracts, that is, mortgages and credit card debt. Will the village headman be known as "The Mayor of the Dead"?


The simulation could have been run faster than 10 minutes for every month. But running an economy without the benefit of money is an intensely social proposition. That comes very naturally to 9th graders and I wanted the experience to be theirs. I wanted them to own the successes and the failures. So I let them take a luxurious amount of time to transact thier trades. In hindsite, the efficiency of money separates us from a wealth of social interactions.


"Character equity is one of the few forms of wealth that is not diminished by inflation." -Joe H.



Thank you, Joe, for an important and insightful lesson. It is a fitting story for Christmas Eve. In Survival+, I identify ethical/spiritual decay as a primary feature of the interlocking crises that lay ahead for this nation--and the deafening silence in our culture and mainstream media on this subject makes me feel like a lone voice in a wilderness of corruption and an economy of fraud so ubiquitous that its residents no longer even notice their debasement.


This is why "maintaining personal integrity" is one of my key "survival techniques" in the decades ahead. That the loss of integrity in our culture goes unnoticed and unspoken makes me think of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Speech and his comment that "Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them."

Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether."


With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.



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