I’ve seen many contributions from Pavlik on the P2P Foundation mailing list but I only met him for the first time at a hackathon in Berlin in December. I was intrigued by his choice to live without money and wanted to interview him for (Making A) Living On The Edge precisely because his concept of making a “living” is so distinct.
Pavlik is in Berlin at the moment participating in the Occupy Biennale and has been living strictly moneyless and stateless for over 3 years. He doesn’t use money, accept any nationality or use state documents which he sees as exercising his freedom of how he wants to live. He spends his time participating in different gatherings and projects, specialises in ICT and looks at how new tools can be used to change the way people collaborate and organise to move away from hierarchical structures towards flatter structures.
He first moved away from using money when he was living in San Francisco about 4 years ago and had the opportunity to learn what he actually needs. No living thing needs money, he says, but some people use money to get the things they really need. He came to the conclusion that if could get access to the things he really needs then he didn’t money – money only exists in relations between people he adds. “Money only exists in the human imagination – all the bills and coins and credit cards, if a small child looks at it, they see plastic, metal, paper, the money only comes from conditioning”.
At the moment Pavlik gets the things he needs through sharing. He works on projects without asking for anything in return, supporting causes he cares about. Similarly when people support him with food and shelter, he hitchhikes to travel from place to place, it happens just because people want to support him and what he does. No money is exchanged.
He sees that also with information technologies it is possible to move away from the dependancy on one system, especially what he considers to be very crippled and pathological state currencies with all they entail. It’s possible to move to a system with a diversity of systems which take relationships into account, he thinks – so if people know and trust each other there can be more liberal ways of accounting, not really accounting but supporting each other and trusting each other. In relationships with a little less trust it is possible to use different sorts of accounting such as resource sharing or some form of alternative currencies.
Pavlik only moves around the European continent and cannot leave a certain part of Europe due to his decision not to use state documents and he usually travels to participate in some gathering, staying with people, cooking and eating with them. If he stays in the country, he helps to grow food and in general sees his life as part of a wider ecosystem. He doesn’t like direct exchange – “I do something to get something”, preferring to do things to support, doing favours for friends and others, and in the same way receives support himself. In this way there is no element of debt, “I did something for you, now you owe me something,” instead, “I did this because I really wanted to support you”.
He finds that relationships without the use of money are friendlier but admits that he still faces some challenges, of how to organise things as people are used to using money they ask for money and they expect money back but although it involves more effort, he finds a higher quality of relationships which are more honest and more direct, more based on care and kindness. He sees the use of money as a vicious circle but thinks that by spreading a culture of not using it, more people can stop using it and can get to a critical mass. He believes it can become obsolete in a short time if enough people stop participating in it.
I asked him about other currencies, such as bitcoin. He says he doesn’t like bitcoin himself, and focusses on a diverse environment of different ways of accounting between peers, which may include monetary currencies, but he concentrates on a system without them. He sees bitcoin as a monetary currency and appreciates that people try to experiment but sees it as something, in the beginning at least, for geeks, and it doesn’t look at a larger ecosystem or relationships or what is needed to support certain services and resources, all problems which are similar to state currencies.
Economy vs Finance
Pavlik sees economy and finances as completely distinct – he considers economy to be relation and flows of services and goods, and collaboration and community whereas he sees finance as a tool to work with the economic relations. Therefore he sees a financial crisis as the system of mainstream currencies cannot work by design but he doesn’t see an economic crises as there are amazing technologies, 7 billion people who can communicate in real time worldwide, lots of resources still, and knowledge of how to reuse and recycle resources. There are some environmental challenges due to the misuse and abuse of resources and nature but mainly there is the problem of people getting stuck in the finances which have to collapse. He sees that those challenges bring people together to say that they don’t want to continue in that way. Often they can’t specify what they want to do differently, but they want to come together to discuss problems and how, collectively, different possible solutions can be found.
“The way I see these groups related to Occupy and other related movements is that people don’t have precise expectations of what we want, we just want to come together and look for solutions, different solutions for different problems”, he says. Instead of in mainstream political culture where the parties claim to have solutions to problems, the people there say they don’t have solutions but have certain ways of communicating and processes which may help find solutions. Pavlik appreciates the difference of saying, “if you face problems, possibly you need to participate in finding solutions, don’t expect Papa or Mama to solve your problems”.