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Chapter 1 Where to Start

Chapter 2 Language and Giving

Chapter 3 Reciprocity

Chapter 4 Definitions and Exchange

Chapter 5 The Concept of Man

Chapter 6 'Marksist' Categories

Chapter 7 The Collective Source

Chapter 8 Castration Envy

Chapter 9 Is = $

Chapter 10 Value 157

Chapter 11 Shifting into Exchange

Chapter 12 Giving Value to Exchange

Chapter 13 Market and Gender

Chapter 14 Deserving to Exist

Chapter 15 Pointing and Patriarchy

Chapter 16 The Point of the Ego

Chapter 17 What Does Democracy Re-Present?

Chapter 18 The Unmasculated Agents of Change

Chapter 19 Dreaming and Reality

Chapter 20 Giving and Love

Chapter 21 From the Garden to the Grail

Chapter 22 Cosmological Speculations

Chapter 23 After Words Practicing the Theory

Index of Figures

Selected Bibliography

Return to Home Page

Chapter 3


The logics of giving and of exchange contradict each other, but the one is also built upon the other. Exchange is a constrained double gift in that the receiver must give back to the giver an equivalent of what she has received. The product of one person takes the place of the product of the other. I believe that this requirement of equivalence and place-taking is a derivative of naming, where the verbal gift takes the place of the nonverbal gift, and of definition, where some verbal gifts take the place of other verbal gifts. In exchange, which operates on the material plane, a return 'gift' takes the place of one's own, and may seem to serve, as the verbal substitute gift would, to create a bond between the exchangers.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions however, and acquiring the equivalent return 'gift' becomes the whole motivation of the first 'gift.' Transforming the gift process into an equal exchange, erases the other-orientation of both exchangersmaking their equality only the equality of their self interests. Exchange becomes a kind of magnetic template around which our society organizes itself. Our thinking gravitates towards it, giving it a great deal of credit, perhaps because of its similarity with naming and definition (the linguistic processes from which it derives and which we continue to use). Giftgiving continues unabated, but remains invisible and does not become generalized as a model which is validated by having conscious followers. In fact, the gift paradigm gives-way: it does not compete with the exchange paradigm. It is thus in the situation of giving value and giving many gifts to exchange.

Exchange is self-reflecting and therefore self-validating. It has a symmetrical form and the requirement of equivalence between the products subverts the focus on the need of the other. Because exchange is based upon and promotes the self-interest of both exchangers, there is an equality not only in the products but also in the motivation of the persons involved.

As instances of equality, the two are then again equal to each other and a hall-of-mirrors effect begins, which is again equal to that effect in all the other exchanges taking place--for instance, in the market. The processes of substitution and equivalence in language also resonate with and confirm the derivative processes in the market, giving the hall-of-mirrors many abstract reflections.

The abstract need for equations, which is set up by the process of exchange in function of the self-interest of each of the exchangers, acquires an independence, a sort of life of its own. Anything that can be substituted by an equivalent appears to be a value (an exchange value), whether or not it is directed towards someone's need. I believe that the over-emphasis on the equation, while ignoring giftgiving, is the source of the idea that there is much human activity which is not need directed. The abstract needs of the process of exchange are not considered needs but part of 'the way things are.' However, satisfying them becomes more important than satisfying human needs, and the exchange process takes over from giftgiving, seeming to be the source of 'human' values. Thus we have the inhuman and inhumane market-driving category of 'effective demand.'

Because exchange requires an equation, which is equal to other equations on the market and elsewhere, it brings with it a sort of built-in meta level1, which allows it to self-propagate and to remain in evidence in the foreground. At the same time, giftgiving (which only requires an imitator in order to serve as a model) is pushed into the background and made invisible, even though it continues to be practiced in many ways. In fact, exchange is parasitically embedded in a wider process of giftgiving, which actually gives to the process of exchange, allowing it to continue to prevail. Exchange itself becomes the 'other' of giftgiving.

The generality of giftgiving is captured by its being practiced on exchange; then it is redefined as an inferior or failed exchange. It appears to be a special case of incomplete one-sided exchange which cannot exist on its own. The logic and practice of exchange are parasitic upon the logic and practice of giftgiving, however. The gifts they receive help them dominate the lives and the world views of both those who practice exchange and those who practice giftgiving.

There is an upward flow of gifts, against gravity, towards the superior positions in patriarchal hierarchies and away from needs. The presence together of many of these gift-exchange hierarchies, which bolster each other by their similarity and sometimes by service is called 'social reproduction.' The hall-of-mirrors creates abundant images of the same structures--and thus once again looks similar to language--but we are led by the reflecting equation to take the cue for understanding the world from the aspect of the propagation of similar one-many images instead of from the gift aspect of language.

Perhaps it is because of similar structures at different levels that the parasitic exchange paradigm is elevated to the level of a self-perpetuating system with a 'mind' of its own. If these processes are functional in the formation of our individual minds--conscious vs. subconscious for example--perhaps they are also forming the same patterns on a very large social scale.

The self-perpetuation is facilitated by the confirmation of finding or creating self-similar images at different levels. I look at such similarities between patriarchal structures at different levels not as analogies, historical isomorphisms or homologies, but as self-similar social patterns created by the reciprocal feedback of the form of the definition into the definition of gender (and vice versa, the definition of gender into the form of the definition) at many different levels.

The idea of self-similarity was developed by Benoit Mandelbrot in the study of fractal geometry, where he found that the same patterns were repeated at widely different levels or 'scales.' The cauliflower is the common example: each flower and piece of each flower looks like the whole head.2

I think the same thing happens in society in what we call 'social structures.' In fractals, the patterns are created by feeding the result of an equation back into the equation millions of times. Socially, we are doing the same thingfeeding back the definition into itself endlessly and thus we are actually creating the same patterns at different levels.
Figure 1. A fractal image is generated by feeding back the results of an equation into the equation millions of times. Copyright Clifford Pickover; reprint of graphic with permission. From Fractal Horizons: The Future of Fractals by Clifford Pickover and J. C. Sprott, 1996. This book is a clear recent discussion of fractals.

Is Reciprocity Exchange or Turn-Taking?

Homo economicus, the protagonist of neo-classical economics, is made in the image of exchange. Even the word homo, meaning 'the same,' brings with it the idea of an equation. We educate our boys to be similar units of masculinity and then to vie with one another for economic and symbolic superiority. We educate our girls to nurture this process and to bring up their children in its image. This has the effect that in the 'free market' (an oxymoron) society more males can be found in the practice of exchange, while more females can still be found practicing giftgiving.

Our economic systems are based on exchange and our study of them, economics, is based on exchange as well. Capitalism itself practices the values of masculinity and masculinity the values of capitalism. Since these are social roles, they can also be practiced by persons of the other biological sex. However, this may be rendered more difficult because the social interpretation of genders creates many impediments against the success of one gender in areas usually occupied by the other. One of these areas is economics, the academic discipline that studies capitalism.

Because the study of the production and distribution of goods in our society is based upon and directed towards self-validating exchange, it does not consider giftgiving as 'economic.' Yet giftgiving is indeed the production and distribution of goods. The micro-economics of a different (gift-based) macroeconomic system takes place in every household. Women's un-monetized gift labor has been invisible to economists until recently because those who were practicing the values of exchange were the only ones studying it.

Now some women economists, who like other women have been socialized towards mothering and the practices of giftgiving, are applying gift values to the study of exchange and to their profession and are experiencing a great deal of healthy cognitive dissonance. However, they have not yet begun to question the validity of the exchange paradigm itself as a world view, perhaps because they are still more or less successfully operating within it.3

It is easier for those who are at least partly outside the exchange logic to identify and promote giftgiving as a socially relevant paradigm--indeed as the solution to the problems being caused by exchange. This 'revolutionary vanguard' would include not only women, housewives and mothers (whether or not they do monetized labor), but all those who do not make profit from exchange and instead are unconsciously giving to it--the male and female 'hosts' of the parasite.

Most of us are still blinded to giftgiving by the internalization of the self-reflecting logic of exchange. Even while we are practicing it, we do not 're-cognize' giftgiving, think about it at a meta level or have a meta language with which to talk about it. We continue to think in exchange terms about our own culture, as well as about examples of institutionalized giftgiving in other cultures.

A recent school of thought in France, based upon the work of the anthropologist Marcel Mauss, devotes a great deal of attention to giftgiving, which it sees as composed of three moments: giving, receiving and giving back.4 The insistence upon reciprocity hides the communicative character of simple giving and receiving without reciprocity and does not allow this group to make a clear distinction between giftgiving and exchange as two opposing paradigms.

It seems to them that giftgiving is just a variation on exchange, with a longer pay back time and less emphasis upon equality. The bonds still seem to be caused by constrained reciprocity, rather than by the direct satisfaction of needs. Like most men, these investigators are limited in their thinking because they have not been socialized towards the adult experience of creating bonds directly through mothering. Giftgiving appears to be a curiosity, not the mother-based (mammalian) life logic or a program for social change.5

Years ago, French anthropologist Levi-Strauss's description of the symbolic 'exchange of women' among family groups6 inspired much further speculation in the exchange mode by anthropologists, psychoanalysts, linguists and semioticians. From the gift paradigm point of view, women are themselves the source of nurturing, so that the 'giving' of women is a gift of givers--a meta gift. The exchange (if it is constrained and seen through our capitalistic eyes) or turn-taking (if it is not) has a content which, in the case discussed by Levi-Strauss, is women, who are the source of giving.

Giving and receiving, rather than the constraint of reciprocity, is what causes bonding. The interaction of nurturing and receiving nurture (or nurturers) is the mutually creative factor, not the imposition and following of the law, not the equivalence of exchange, nor the constraint of reciprocity. In societies which are less deeply etched by exchange than our own, gift practices (gift cycles) serve definitional purposes, defining relationships among the members of the group. We might consider them descendants of language, of another lineage than exchange, but using the giving and receiving of gifts--co-munication--for the purposes of status. (See Figure 2. on Page 56.)

Figure 2. A possible genealogy of co-munication through gifts, language and exchange.

Women are the Vanguard

Lewis Hyde, Jerry Martien and other writers on gift 'exchange' have done work7 which re-interprets historical and anthropological literature, at least partially liberating the idea of the gift from the constraints of capitalism. Perhaps because they have not had the experience of mothering, they tend to see the gift way as a poetic thing of the past, which has been forgotten, marginalized and covered over--much as their own experience of the gift way (with their mothers when they were children) has been covered over but still remains in the unconscious and in myths and stories. Continuing to see giftgiving in terms of reciprocity (that is, exchange) maintains the discourse within the parameters of the patriarchal status quo.

Women can more easily recognize the presence of giftgiving everywhere because we have an actual example of it in our adult practice of our social role (however socially disqualified and devalued that may be). That is why women are the vanguard, the carriers of giftgiving as a social program, a way of organizing society now and for the future.

The lack of a theory of language as giftgiving makes the understanding of giftgiving as a living principle more difficult. However, the discussion of money as a 'gift' and wampum as 'words' and 'speech acts' proposed by Martien is a bridge between language and material giftgiving (as was wampum itself). Martien lets us see that wampum was a means of material co-munication (interpreted by European settlers only as a 'primitive' kind of money). The strings of shell beads were sent from place to place to define situations and satisfy special needs for bonding, attention and care. For example, special beads were sent to those in mourning, to satisfy the need for consolation. Beads were given to create pacts and maintain promises among social groups. Wampum would appear to be a many-word material language, which went beyond definition to create solidarity and mutual inclusion, while money remains at that stage which names everything quantitatively in order to facilitate a more 'primitive' human relation of mutual exclusion--of having and not-having private property.

In our own lives, as well as in the investigation of other cultures, the question arises as to whether it is possible to follow and assert a clear model of giftgiving or whether, by focusing on giving back, any transaction becomes assimilated to the model of exchange. This is really a problem of the intersection of two logics; but it is often read as a moral question(we ask, "Is she really being altruistic, or is this just a hidden manipulation?"), which only clouds the picture and sometimes makes us pay for our acts of love with shame. We wryly comment, "No good deed ever goes unpunished." Self-interest appears to be the basic motivation of all humans, with scarcity as its natural complement. The good of the whole seems to be, after Adam Smith, the compendium of the self-interests of all, while orientation towards the other is unrealistic and self-sacrificial. Reciprocity is a way of maintaining the self-interest of both of the parties to the interaction.

The custom of giving back a bit extra, more than one has received, is a way of affirming the gift model--even when, through reciprocity, one is running the risk of being perceived as exchanging. However, this process has also been assimilated into exchange as interest on loans. In fact, lenders give their money in expectation of the extra gift of interest they will receive. (This kind of exchange has become so much the norm that an interest-less loan is now considered a gift).

Anthropologists, like the rest of us in patriarchy, have difficulty taking off the mirror glasses of the exchange paradigm. Thus they talk about 'gift exchange,' confusing the two modes from the beginning. Again giftgiving appears to be an under-developed version of exchange rather than a different and more viable method of organizing society. In so-called 'primitive' societies, giftgiving often has a symbolic function. I believe that is because, in imitation of language, as we just saw with wampum, special material substitute gifts (like verbal substitute gifts) are given in organized ways for the purpose of creating specific bonds among givers and receivers.

In other words, both the exchange of commodities for money and 'symbolic gift exchange' are variations on the theme of co-munication. They are two alternative uses of the intertwined patterns. In fact, both language and the production and distribution of material goods are found in all societies and have co-existed for millennia. Societies have learned to use their own processes in a variety of ways to create new processes of communication.

Language is a second (verbal) gift economy, while definition and naming are special de-contextualized processes of language. These processes evolve into exchange when they are transposed onto the material plane, as people substitute one product for another and equate them quantitatively.

The introduction of money provides a 'general equivalent,' a single substitute gift (like a word) in which the values of all the products on the market can be expressed and evaluated. While money provides an additional abstract element in the exchange process, it does not alter its basic logic. Thus barter is not a solution to the problems caused by exchange. Rather it is only an example of the same logic without money. By taking the distinction between giftgiving and exchange as the watershed between two basic paradigms of human interaction, we can clarify a number of different (seemingly unrelated) problems.

Many Gifts

We can understand many of the irrational and harmful aspects of patriarchal capitalism as a point of contact between the two paradigms. Surplus laborthat portion of the workers' labor time that is unpaid and goes towards the profit of the capitalistcan be considered as a gift under constraint, from the worker to the capitalist. The tendency to pay women less than men for comparable labor, can be interpreted as an attempt to maintain women in a giftgiving position, reinforcing our practice of the invisible gift model by making us give even more unpaid (gift) labor than our male co-workers do. Because of the equality of exchange and the value we attribute (give) to it, we are apt to give credit to the market as 'just' even when it is penalizing us (Father knows best).

Women's unpaid labor in the home has been calculated as some 40% of the Gross National Product. It is one of the most glaring examples of unrecognized gift labor that exists. Consider also the gifts that come to the rich from the poor, to the North from the South, to exchange-based economies from economies that are still to some extent gift-based. Differences in exchange rates, levels of life and self-sufficiency in the 'developing' countries permit a flow of gifts from them to the so-called 'developed' countries.

Not only is this flow not recognized as such, but it is actually read in the opposite direction so that the North appears to be giving loans, material aid, information, technology, markets, protection, even a 'civilizing influence' to the South, which becomes depleted and crippled trying to pay back the 'more,' the interest on what it has been 'given,' but which has actually served to stimulate more hidden gifts which drain away its capital.

For example, the lowering of the level of life in Third World countries serves the First World by lowering the price of labortransforming the differential of low-cost labor and raw materials into collective gifts from the many in the South through the few in the South to the few in the North. The manipulative use of giftgiving for the purpose of profit making (leveraging more gifts) is itself an exchange. However, misinterpreting giftgiving as an exchange and profit as 'deserved' confuses the two paradigms and is not just a bias of academicians. It is a very widespread view that is part of and supports the practice of exploitation.

The many examples of actual slavery that have poisoned human history are evidence of the tendency to place groups of people in constrained giftgiving positions through 'owning' them. Women of all races and cultures have also often been in these positions with regard to their husbands, whether or not they were actually 'owned.' In order to accumulate capital, surplus gifts must come from somewhere. Slavery provided that surplus 'free' to the slave 'owners' in the South of the US, for example, though it cost immense human suffering to the slaves.

But exchange also provides an efficient mechanism for accumulation, by hiding the gifts it receives behind the screen of an equation which appears to be 'fair,' and a transaction which appears to come from a 'free choice' (no matter that the absence of alternatives often reduces poor people to a situation similar to slavery). Capital can be seen as the combined gifts of the many captured by exchange and understood within exchange's self-reflecting parameters as coming from fair profit on an investment. Equal exchange does not produce a profit. Gift labor is necessary for that purpose.8

Gift labor is easy to hide because, as we said regarding language, giving is transitive. If 'A' gives to 'B' and 'B' gives to 'C,' then 'A' gives to 'C.' Thus, if a wife gives her free labor to her husband and he gives his surplus labor to the capitalist, the wife's labor passes transitively through her husband to the capitalist. The gift is also unseen because we avert our gaze from the original source. At most we look at 'B' giving to 'C.' What is in full evidence, however, is the so-called 'equal' exchange between 'B' and 'C,' where the capitalist pays the worker a salary which is determined by the price of that kind of labor on the market.

Focusing on the salary as the 'just' price of labor draws our attention away from the quantifiable and unquantifiable giftgiving which is also taking place. Exchange validates itself and fits with the other exchanges which are occurring in the market. It floats like a cluster of bubbles on a sea of hidden gifts--given by women, workers, the unpaid, the underpaid, the poor, the unemployed (who with their demand for jobs keep the 'just' price of labor low), and all those in classes and countries which are in a giftgiving stance towards privileged classes and countries.

Then there are the many gifts of consumers who consistently overpay for products like gasoline, which have a relatively low production cost but a high utility to people whose needs have been determined by transportation industries. There are the gifts of the past, of the surplus value contained in 'fixed capital,' but also in (mostly women's) free gifts of maintenance of the buildings, goods, use values and people of previous generations--their children, their language, their art, their culture, and the by-products of their lives. There is a great unrecognized flow-through of gifts from the past to the present, as well as from people in groups and in countries in the giving stance to the countries in the taking stance.

There are the gifts of nature ready for our use, air and water and sunlight, which we are adapted by evolution to creatively receive--but which are becoming polluted and scarcified by being covertly expended, wasted, to cut costs (give gifts) in the service of the exchange paradigm. This pollution forces unborn generations to hand over to us their potential use of nature's gifts so that we can make a quick profit. We are blocking the flow of gifts towards the future. New types of commerce invade previously giftgiving areas, from fast food restaurants to laundromats. The inheritance of all is becoming commercialized by the industry of bio-genetics, turning even the (biological) free gifts of the many to the profit of the few.

1A 'meta-language' is a language which talks about language. Terms such as 'noun,' or 'sentence' are part of the meta-language of grammar. The 'hall-of-mirrors' effect spawned by exchange makes all the other equations and reflecting structures in the society validate exchange. By their similarity to it they appear to say 'This is norm-al.' The self-reflecting focus warps our view by overemphasizing the exchange process and decontextualizing ittaking it away from its contextits otherin giftgiving. In Principia Mathematica, Bertrand Russell discussed his theory of logical types where 'higher' logical levels are of a different type than the levels beneath them. For example, the class of all classes is a meta-class at a higher logical level than its members. Meta-messages are messages about messages and tell us how to interpret them. I believe that the hall-of-mirrors effect creates many meta-messages which keep our focus locked onto the exchange process. See also Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Ballantine Books, New York, 1972. Bateson discussed the potential for resolving schizophrenogenic double binds by changing meta-messages. I believe the double binds are caused by concealed exchange motivations at the meta level. Recognizing giftgiving as the context in which exchange and classification are embedded could cause us to re-focus our economics and our logic, validating giftgiving.

2For another useful explanation of fractal geometry and self-similarity see James Gleick, Chaos, Making a New Science, Penguin Books, New York, 1987.

3The International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE).

4See, for example, the work of Jacques Godbout, Serge Latouche and the review MAUSS, which is an acronym for Mouvement Anti-utilitariste des Sciences Sociales.

5In an influential foreword to a re-edition of Marcel Mauss' The Gift, W. W. Norton, New York, 1990, Mary Douglass discusses exchangeor reciprocityas the bond-creating aspect of the gift. She refers to her experience in a foundation where she learned that "the recipient does not like the giver, however cheerful he be." She believes that free gifts should not be given because "refusing requital puts the act of giving outside any mutual ties." p. vii. Women too can be mesmerized by the exchange paradigm into believing that reciprocity, not the satisfaction of needs, is the source of human relations. I would just like to mention that there is great psychological distress around free giving and that charities often give paternalistically, demeaning the receiversanother reason why the recipients may not have liked Douglass's "cheerful giver."

6Claude Levi-Strauss, Anthropologie Structurale, Paris, Plon, 1958.

7Lewis Hyde. The Gift, Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property. Random House, 1979, New York, and Jerry Martien, Shell Game, a True Account of Beads in North America, Mercury House, San Francisco, 1996.

8 Jack Weatherford, Indian Givers, Fawcett Columbine, New York, 1988, discusses the impact the gold and silver of the Americas had on European capitalism, along with the numberless other (unrecognized) gifts the native people gave to the rest of the world.

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