Whole Earth Catalog – Giving $14,905 away: a hip soap opera

Original Publication – The Village Voice, October 21, 1971

San Francisco, California

You may remember last June at his Demise Party here, Stewart Brand, successful editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, offered 1500 freaks $20,000 and he couldn’t give it away.  Now four months later, the first halting steps to use the money are being taken. But it hasn’t been easy.

Stewart’s game was really Test Your Attitude Toward Money, and it had all the elements of a hip soap opera. Is my trip really together? Can truth, love, and beauty prevail when thousands of dollars are stacked up a few feet away? Do I love my brothers enough to give up my trip for theirs?

Monopoly, Stewart style, is played with crisp $100 bills, and the players don’t have Boardwalk all to themselves.  Everyone has to reach a consensus on what to do with the bread or nobody gets anything. Those who first played on the night of the Demise Party became hopelessly deadlocked in a marathon session between the “spending trip” and the “saving trip” which ran the gamut from burning the money to its enshrinement-in a non-biodegradable plastic bag.

So, taking a cue from the establishment, 30 hard-core hagglers formed a committee to postpone deciding what to do with $14,905 – down from $20,000 because a few eager pranksters started passing out bills to the crowd.  

Fred Moore, “Human Being,” seemed to hate money the most so he became fund keeper. Even though Moore was totally broke the night of the Demise Party he burned one of his two remaining dollars and circulated a petition saying people were more important than money. At dawn the morning after, Fred stuffed $14,905 into his jeans and drove off in the battered old van where he lives with his three-year-old daughter. Throughout the summer, Fred refused to have anything to do with banks, preferring to keep the money in an “unsafe place.” (Rumor had it he buried it somewhere.) “We shouldn’t give money more value than it deserves.”

By last week when Fred finally called a meeting of the committee, the fund had a name – Chrysalis. “Think of it organically,” the letter of invitation read. “The tool ‘money’ that launched the three years of the Whole Earth Catalog’s existence might be likened to the first stage in the life of a caterpillar.  The Demise Party marks the beginning of the second stage – the chrysalis (cocoon of gold). This is the stage we are at . . . Eventually, a butterfly will emerge . . . 

The group that gathered at an old farm up in the hills above Stanford was most into the cocoon-of-gold aspect of Chrysalis. Cows mooed unceremoniously over the fence, and large jugs of organic apple juice were passed around as 40 freaks and two straights – one, a little old lady in tennis shoes – came from as far away as L.A. to rap and scrap for Chrysalis.

“I’m Mike. Could we use names when we’re talking.”

“Why? I think it takes up useless information storage in your head.”

One “People’s Architect” from Berkeley objected to Fred’s reading a list of petitions that came in the mail, but he was the only one. “I object, but I’ll abide by the majority rule.”

“That’s not consensus!” shouted one man. “Don’t go along. Dissent is everything.”

A well-prepared San Francisco group promising “minimal dependency on the dollar system” wanted the $15,000 as a loan for 60 to 90 days in order to negotiate a lease on a huge synergy warehouse, as space for “250 artists, priests, photographers, and engineers to create an alternative urban environment.” They promised integral part of the program would be to interact with residents of the ghetto neighborhoods where the warehouse is located.

The warehouse seemed the most viable idea – better than printing thousands of “Goodbye Aquarius, Hello Pisces” pamphlets, or sending a 75-year-old woman around the world to religious shrines, or giving some convicted LSD dealers in Soledad musical instruments to start an inter-racial band.  People in the group volunteered to help these projects on their own.

But the warehouse commune still met with opposition, mostly from one young freak with Calvinist tendencies.

“Man, you haven’t suffered for that bread or felt any pain for it.”

“Neither did Stewart. He inherited it,” came the reply.

“We’ll guarantee the money in a special account,” asserted another longhair, who must have been a loan officer in a former life. “We’ll hold it as collateral.  You can tell that to the landlord. You won’t actually need to be given the money.

“Look man, either you trust us or you don’t,” said the woman leader of the warehouse faction. “What is all this begging crap you’re putting us through?”

Finally, after a five-and-a-half hour session that alternated between learning-sharing workshop, bucolic G.M. boardroom, and Esalen touchie-feelie, the group reached the sacrosanct, State of Consensus – with a few conditions. The warehouse people could have the money as a loan – but they had to sign an iron clad contract, prepared by the self-appointed long-haired loan officer, who later admitted to a background in “marking and sales.”

At sundown the group, quite pleased with the idea of making a decision, joined hands as the did the night of the Demise Party in a Hog Farm Gong Bong, squatting down and breathing in and out sssssing 14 times.  But Fred Moore, Human Being, was uptight and disappointed.  “All we discussed here is money. Money gets in the way of everything. Money’s not important, people are. I thought we’d hold hands and chant Oms together – something creative.”Suddenly sensing his discomfort, two men took Fred and lifted him up above their shoulders. Almost immediately the whole group began solemnly passing Fred around in a circle above them, and he began to relax. Very gently the group lifted him down to the ground and began massaging his temples, then his legs and arms.  It was a way of telling Fred they understood and thanking him for the energy he gave to the Chrysalis.  Not quite convinced he should give up his responsibility and “get off the bread,” but feeling a lot better, Fred raised himself up on one elbow and softly said, “You are all really beautiful people.” Then he went home to dig up the money.

This article is typed from the original material.  Please excuse any errors that have escaped final proofreading.