Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Charles Eisenstein: To Build Community, an Economy of Gifts

Nylig kom jeg over en tekst av Charles Eisenstein, som viser hvordan vårt velferds- og markedsfundamenterte samfunn undergraver fellesskapsverdier (og da tenker jeg på ekte fellesskapsverdier fundamentert i lokalsamfunnet). Essayet kan leses her: To Build Community, an Economy of Gifts.

For å pirre nysgjerrigheten velger jeg å gjengi et utdrag av Eisensteins tekst:

“Com­mu­nity is nearly im­pos­si­ble in a highly mon­e­tized so­ci­ety like our own. That is be­cause com­mu­nity is woven from gifts, which is ul­ti­mately why poor peo­ple often have stronger com­mu­ni­ties than rich peo­ple. If you are fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent, then you re­ally don’t de­pend on your neigh­bors—or in­deed on any spe­cific per­son—for any­thing. You can just pay some­one to do it, or pay some­one else to do it.

In for­mer times, peo­ple de­pended for all of life’s ne­ces­si­ties and plea­sures on peo­ple they knew per­son­ally. If you alien­ated the local black­smith, brewer, or doc­tor, there was no re­place­ment. Your qual­ity of life would be much lower. If you alien­ated your neigh­bors then you might not have help if you sprained your ankle dur­ing har­vest sea­son, or if your barn burnt down. Com­mu­nity was not an add-on to life, it was a way of life. Today, with only slight ex­ag­ger­a­tion, we could say we don’t need any­one. I don’t need the farmer who grew my food—I can pay some­one else to do it. I don’t need the me­chanic who fixed my car. I don’t need the trucker who brought my shoes to the store. I don’t need any of the peo­ple who pro­duced any of the things I use. I need some­one to do their jobs, but not the unique in­di­vid­ual peo­ple. They are re­place­able and, by the same token, so am I.

That is one rea­son for the uni­ver­sally rec­og­nized su­per­fi­cial­ity of most so­cial gath­er­ings. How au­then­tic can it be, when the un­con­scious knowl­edge, “I don’t need you,” lurks under the sur­face? When we get to­gether to con­sume—food, drink, or en­ter­tain­ment—do we re­ally draw on the gifts of any­one pre­sent? Any­one can con­sume. In­ti­macy comes from co-cre­ation, not co-con­sump­tion, as any­one in a band can tell you, and it is dif­fer­ent from lik­ing or dis­lik­ing some­one. But in a mon­e­tized so­ci­ety, our cre­ativ­ity hap­pens in spe­cial­ized do­mains, for money.

To forge com­mu­nity then, we must do more than sim­ply get peo­ple to­gether. While that is a start, soon we get tired of just talk­ing, and we want to do some­thing, to cre­ate some­thing. It is a very tepid com­mu­nity in­deed, when the only need being met is the need to air opin­ions and feel that we are right, that we get it, and isn’t it too bad that other peo­ple don’t … hey, I know! Let’s col­lect each oth­ers’ email ad­dresses and start a list­serv!

Com­mu­nity is woven from gifts. Un­like today’s mar­ket sys­tem, whose built-in scarcity com­pels com­pe­ti­tion in which more for me is less for you, in a gift econ­omy the op­po­site holds. Be­cause peo­ple in gift cul­ture pass on their sur­plus rather than ac­cu­mu­lat­ing it, your good for­tune is my good for­tune: more for you is more for me. Wealth cir­cu­lates, grav­i­tat­ing to­ward the great­est need. In a gift com­mu­nity, peo­ple know that their gifts will even­tu­ally come back to them, al­beit often in a new form. Such a com­mu­nity might be called a “cir­cle of the gift.”

For­tu­nately, the mon­e­ti­za­tion of life has reached its peak in our time, and is be­gin­ning a long and per­ma­nent re­ced­ing (of which eco­nomic “re­ces­sion” is an as­pect). Both out of de­sire and ne­ces­sity, we are poised at a crit­i­cal mo­ment of op­por­tu­nity to re­claim gift cul­ture, and there­fore to build true com­mu­nity. The recla­ma­tion is part of a larger shift of human con­scious­ness, a larger re­union with na­ture, earth, each other, and lost parts of our­selves. Our alien­ation from gift cul­ture is an aber­ra­tion and our in­de­pen­dence an il­lu­sion. We are not ac­tu­ally in­de­pen­dent or “fi­nan­cially se­cure” – we are just as de­pen­dent as be­fore, only on strangers and im­per­sonal in­sti­tu­tions, and, as we are likely to soon dis­cover, these in­sti­tu­tions are quite frag­ile.” Charles Eisenstein

For de som ikke er klar over det, Eisensteins bok er nå fritt tilgjengelig som ressurs på internettet: Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition.

Her er en tale Eisenstein holdt for OWS.

P2P-blog: Does the Gift Economy Undermine Economic Growth?

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