03 May Shared values
Money was the first tool in human history to unify the world; where religions and empires have failed, or been only partially successful, money has succeeded in introducing a system of shared values into people’s lives. The beloved banknotes (or coins) of any state in the world represent a collective mental construction based on mutual trust: everyone can cooperate in a common project, each contributing their own skills, provided that there is a fundamental intermediary, money, with the alchemical power to transmute anything into the only shared universal value: economic wealth.
Muslims, Catholics and Jews, Taliban, Asians and Westerners, workers, mercenaries and lawyers, bourgeois, statesmen and clergymen have been fighting for millennia, each one preaching his own values in opposition to those of his neighbour, sometimes making an attempt on their lives each other, but always continuing to do business together by sharing the one value they never felt they disagreed about: money.
An exceptional conquest in a fragmented and divided world, with very dangerous consequences, however: when you feel like associating everything with one price, you can buy and sell anything (including, to name just a few, ideals, traditions, culture and nature).
Man has always had needs and seen opportunities in his life; but only money has made the satisfaction or the realization of these drives simple and within everyone’s reach.
The Amazon, now stable news in the chronicles of the whole world for decades, is destroyed regularly for money and the Western world is responsible for what is happening: there is no doubt about this.
Money, however, is not only a western value, but, as I said, universal and is assimilated by any people in contact with modernity: when we arrived on foot in an indigenous community of the Amazon, before our eyes there were only small straw huts, some corn fields, sleepy animals and a great sense of peace. Heaven on earth: what more should a people who are used to living in contact with a lively and extremely generous nature want: fruit, vegetables, fish and wild animals are close at hand. All the rest of the time is dedicated to leisure and community life.
They tell us their story, how their grandparents and great grandparents lived in the heart of the jungle, they all knew its secrets and talked to her; after the arrival of the first missionaries, these peoples of the jungle began to go up the rivers approaching the first inhabited centres: they traded the products of nature, exchanged goods and quickly returned to their pristine lands.
They have fought for centuries against the white man and his abuses and have managed to maintain a large territory within the forest where dozens of autonomous communities have been established.
As we spend our days with them, we get used to a slower, more relaxed pace of life; we enjoy nature, a spartan life but in which nothing is missing and we realize with each passing day that we are serene and satisfied.
They are simple, kind and often smiling.
But in the eyes of the village chief there is a shadow of concern, of nervousness every time he turns to us to ask us for one and only one thing: money. Within the community we enjoy some activities organized by the community itself; they offer us lodging and food and in exchange they rightly ask for a return.
However, I wonder, why an economic return? A few days a month they probably have to go to the market in the nearest town and show up with money to buy the few products they can’t find in nature: their children are starting to attend school and, therefore, need books and exercise books; although they often tell us that in the forest they can extract any type of medicine from plants, I can imagine that every now and then they need to use a hospital or a medical service.
In short, they are getting closer and closer to a modern Western system and are acquiring its fundamental institutions.
But why so much concern, embarrassment or nervousness?
A question that I can’t actually answer, but leaving room for intuition, one of the possible explanations could be this: despite the simplicity of life and aspirations of these people, they are at the same time deeply connected with the surrounding nature and draw from it tremendous knowledge and wisdom, as well as livelihood; deep down they sense the risks associated with our beloved banknotes but, dealing with tourists from all over the world, they realize the universal value assumed by money. They therefore adapt to the situation, because they slowly feel new needs arise within them and see opportunities.
It is understandable to approach money for utility, but why are we unable to find other values to share as a universal community? The same values adopted and handed down by a small indigenous community for thousands of years: one of these is the preservation of nature and the ecosystem in which we live, depend on it and are part of it.
Bibliography and useful references
A great contribution to the writing of this article came from reading a brilliant anthropology text, written by Yuval Noah Harari, professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His book, Sapiens. From Animals to Gods: A Brief History of Humankind is a provocative and enlightening text. If this article has stimulated your curiosity on the subject of anthrology and the relationships between different cultures, we absolutely recommend that you read it!