What is free

Is there such a thing as free?

This question was my morning reflection as I sat watching the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean. I am not sure I have arrived at the answer, as this is a rich question, worthy of deep reflection. These are my musings for now. I invite comments to expand the dialogue.

As a life student of Buckminster Fuller, I have been trained to consider the ‘all-in-cost.’ Simultaneously, I have spent a life refusing to reduce everything to money as a means of denominating value. How do you value the time to watch a sunrise? Or to play with your child or dog? Or the time you spend supporting great ventures that have the potential to add value to the world?

Is the experience of the sun on my face free? For to fully experience the sun on my face I must give up the experience of other things…like time spent with family, time spent with clients, creativity, or chores.

Is the sun free? The sun offers its warmth and energy freely. As does the wind offer its breeze. But if we ignore the offering, freely given, and instead burn fossil fuels which then create an absence of sun (Beijing, Shanghai) have we considered the all-in-cost of the free sun? For to say something is free we must at the least look into the far future. We must look well beyond today. Our financial system ensures that we do not do this, as there is no profit in that.

Is a precious metal lying buried in the ground free? Well, yes, if you leave it there. But when you extract it, the costs to be factored in include the cost of human labour, machinery, chemicals, time, transport, refining, recrafting….then…utility, removal, and either throwing away or repurposing. The cost of it, or parts of it, becoming pollution (stuff out of place) is part of the extraction cost. The cost of loss of land to the people, the emotional, and spiritual costs to all who have been affected by the extraction must be included in the equation. The cost to community. The future costs to Earth?

When we look at the all-in-cost of a barrel of oil, the price is far too high for any human to pay. If we did this cost analysis, it would be far cheaper to leave the oil in the ground. It is even possible to value ‘resources’ untouched, versus the impulse to extract them. A truly Sovereign ‘balance sheet’ would recognise all ‘resources’..not just profit and certainly not just happiness.

Add to this the gains..what are the gains…the all-in-gains? Does one tell a more compelling story than the other? Do we ever consider our actions in this depth before we take them?

How then do we measure cost? Or gain? And is ‘measuring’ the appropriate activity? We Western-minded humans are so captivated with measuring.

If I give my time freely to a venture…what are the costs and the gains?

The time may enrich my sense of purpose, and community, my learning and contribution. But the loss of income may mean my well-being is affected either now, or in the future when I do not have a source to sustain me when I need higher health care. Part of this cost resides in the current system we have created which relies on things like superannuation and health insurance to cover old age.

And is time simply a commodity? Or is that also part of our current human reductionist impulse? I would say time can be a commodity. But time can also be priceless. The point is to know the difference.

Buckminster Fuller spent his life demonstrating that when we commit ourselves to doing what is spontaneously arousable from within us, for the highest good for the highest number of people, then Universe will provide for us. He also did the mathematical modelling, pre the computer era, to demonstrate that if every human on earth had their survival needs taken care of…their food, shelter, health education costs… people would then, in the majority, spend their time doing things that truly added value to the world, versus the world we live in today where up to 70% of our ‘work’ is spent creating what he called obnoxico. (Stuff that has zero connection to productivity.) And most (about 70%) people go to ‘work’ doing things they do not like.

Until we start to value and truly honour the value of everything in our daily experience, not as a reductionistic denomination of money, and in our valuing, choose wisely to whom and what we give our time and love, and to do this from the place of an abundant Universe, then we will remain in the cycle of money for time, scarcity, and withholding contribution.

Following my post on words and labels, I have concluded that to say this is “Free” is most often an insult to the vast number of people, resources, efforts, passions, intentions, commitments…that went into the creation of the “free’ thing. Even to say the warmth of the sun is “free’ shows a level of disrespect for the gift of the sun. We have a debt to the sun. Let’s begin with gratitude.

My conclusion on my explorations of ‘free’…as of today:

1. To stop using the word casually. Instead, change from the reflex of ‘this is free’, to an honouring of the whole that went into the experience. To start with gratitude.

2. That our use of the word ‘free’ most often is a result of the very same reductionist impulse perpetrated by the place we have given money…that is at the centre of the human Universe. Placing money on the altar around which we measure almost all of life has within it precessional effects that include the blatant disregard of the gift of ‘free’.

November 28th 2019

*Originally published in 2014

Photo taken December 22nd 2017