Shifting into Exchange
When we use words instead of material gifts to
communicate, we shift to another plane that we have created--language,
which works according to similar co-municative principles. But when
we shift from material giftgiving to economic exchange, we
actually shift to the logic of substitution in place of the logic of the
gift. The logic of substitution (which has a linguistic function) in
a self-similar process, itself takes the place of the logic of
giftgiving. Because of the double, two-level substitution of money for
a product and of one logic for another, we cover more ground
than we realize; there is a wider gap between giftgiving and
exchange than there is even between things and words. (This gap is
filled on the one hand with 'deserving' and on the other
with correspondence between word and thing--perhaps what
we sometimes call 'truth.')1 There is a move from the micro to
the macroscopic through the self-similar structures of substitution
and exchange. (See figure 15.)
The alignment of self-similar structures creates a sort of
mind warp, a hole in the roof, a breach with a strong updraft
which draws us up into the 'new' mindset of exchange. Then this
new mindset or paradigm attracts the attribution of value to itself.
(It is only 'new' as opposed to giftgiving, which preceded
it ontogenetically and phylogenetically.)
Because of the similarity and self-referentiality at
the different levels, we give at least the amount of credence to
the substitution of the whole logic of giftgiving by the logic
of substitution that we do to the simple substitution of one thing
for another. The new grosser-grained material level is familiar.
Figure 15. Exchange over-takes giftgiving and barter.
We know unconsciously how the fine-grained micro level works, because we are using that substitution process all the time when we learn language and define things. We did shift to a new level when we gained language, and having language has mediated everything we are. The similarity to masculation of receiving a new 'name' in the price, of being given away by the 'producer' and out of giftgiving into the new logic of substitution, again sets up reciprocal confirmations. Exchange draws us in, and the exchange paradigm takes over, taking the place of other possible models for our concepts of human interactions.2
If superior value were not being continually attributed to exchange, it would not continue to exist as such. Nor would the masculated male continue to exist as such if superior value were not attributed to him. Giftgiving, and the extension and valuing of the gift paradigm, would make exchange unnecessary. So actually, at present, giftgiving is sustaining its 'competitor' (competition is of course an aspect of the exchange, not of the gift paradigm). The logic and the practice of exchange need this attribution of value, and everyone satisfies this need, even those practicing the gift paradigm. Having been given superior value, exchange becomes the only way to achieve survival--occupying the field, pervading our lives, and marginalizing or excluding its alternatives.
The social institution of exchange for money lets us shift paradigms every time we buy and sell. The shift itself becomes so common we do not notice it; it permeates our lives. Both the 'new' paradigm and the shift become natural and normal for us. The 'old' paradigm of free goods and services is dis-counted and valueless by contrast, though it continues to function.
Ego-oriented people attribute value to exchange, not only because they need it to survive, but also because by engaging in it they can individually deserve and receive extra value, appearing to be self-made (the source of their own superiority). Moreover, the masculated pattern of exchange repeats their own
over-coming. Other-oriented people also attribute value to
exchange by logical consequence, because they attribute value not only
to themselves but to others who need exchange to
survive. Exchange occupies center stage, and it also attracts
attention, because it promotes competition to which visibility is useful.
The seller must elicit the choice of the buyer through the
visibility and attractiveness of the product-in-exchange.
The substitution of giving--precluding it--makes
the transaction of exchange adversarial. Since the other person
is doing the same thing in a different phase of the process
(giving money while we are giving a product, for example), she is
our delayed or anticipated reflection and like ourselves, in scarcity
is always ready to get our product for less or sell her product to us
for more--even to cheat us. In exchange, when we 'put ourselves
in the other's place,' we recognize our adversarial interests.
A mechanism of our altruism thwarts itself by the realization
that the other person needs to cheat us, as we need to cheat her.
It would be in each of our mutually exclusive 'interests.'
The shift into exchange cross-validates with masculation,
so it attracts some of the value which is given to masculation
and vice versa. Like masculation, it cancels and invalidates
the giftgiving source, making its practicer appear to stand alone.
It sets the standard for the economic field and often even
for 'reality' itself. What is similar to exchange appears to be not
only more valuable but real and normal, while everything else
is unconfirmed and uncertain (another way women and
giftgiving are discounted). Exchange deals with evident value
overtly, names it, accumulates and stores it as money, foresees its
social fluctuations. It seems to be the crux of the matter. In other
words, at this level the exchange process attracts the gift of value.
We move back and forth from appreciating it to attributing value
to it, contradictorily receiving from it--from the
process--and giving to it. We breathe the living breath of value into
the exchange process, like God breathing the breath of life
into Adam. The value given to exchange by those who participate
it, as well as those outside it, is influenced by market forces
and finally accumulated in capital, which provides the rewards
for having and the punishment for not having that motivate
the whole process.
The importance of exchange is overdetermined, as might
be expected, but giftgiving too would be receiving value
and confirmation from many different areas, if its gifts and its
value were not being drained into exchange. Many processes can
be interpreted as giftgiving-and-receiving--from sexuality to
birth, to breastfeeding, to breathing, to Mother Nature dropping
her handkerchief for us to pick up (in windfalls and
synchronicities), and to all the many ways of nurturing we have mentioned at
all levels. These can be and are symbolized in many different
ways, beginning with Mother Earth and Sister Water, the
cornucopia and the grail. However, giftgiving is often concealed
because exchange (like masculation) is in competition with giftgiving
and parasitically depends upon it for the value that is attributed to
it. Exchange needs to be in the forefront, to disguise giftgiving
or blot it out, and to seem to receive value because it deserves it.
Exchange actually needs its value to appear to be revealed
as its own rather than as attributed by others. That is, it needs
to seem to have the source of its value in its own double logic, as if
it were only getting back an equivalent of what it, exchange,
'gave.' It appears to re-institute giftgiving at its own (partial)
meta level, and we may be led to believe that exchange is a very
beneficial gift to the community. In fact, so-called 'developing'
communities often have this idea when they begin to raise crops for
sale instead of for their own consumption. The initial increase
in prosperity and 'independence' appear to be almost magical,
but they are soon off-set by the defects of dependence on a
market economy. This dependence actually privileges only the very
few, while making it appear to the others that their own
defects--lack of intelligence, ineffective strategies, wrong choices, bad
luck, etc.--are the reasons for their failure. Blaming
individuals (instead of the system) for their failure allows excessive value
to continue to be given to exchange and to the market.
Since exchange appears to be the only source of goods
for survival in an economy based on scarcity, it does seem to
deserve all our attention. However, the system has to create the
scarcity as the prerequisite of exchange--because giftgiving in
abundance subverts exchange by making it unnecessary. As the
monetized economy expands, it occupies the space that previously
was available for gift production and consumption, making it
difficult for those not participating in exchange to survive.
Natural resources are employed or destroyed (intentionally
or unintentionally), so that they cannot be used as a source
of livelihood for those who traditionally were nurtured by
them. The economic marginalization of Native Americans and
the destruction of the huge herds of buffalo on the North
American plains, which were the free source of livelihood of many
tribes, are one tragic example among many.
By showing how exchange is parasitic on the gifts of
the paradigm which it hides and denies, we can finally see that it
is not the primary source of economic well-being and that, even
on its own criteria, it does not deserve the attention and the value
we give to it. Giving value to a wider meta view for the good of
all, we can shift the paradigm back from exchange to giftgiving.
1Actually telling the truth should be seen as other-oriented communication,
satisfying others' communicative needs to know about a situation in order to satisfy
their other complex needs. Lying is ego-oriented. Like exchange, it uses the other for
the satisfaction of the needs of the ego. False advertising is a lie which promotes
an exchange. 'Objective' truth, the correspondence between words and things, might
be seen as a reflection of equal exchange, outside the giving and receiving grain.
2The new naming also happens in fundamentalist Christianity with baptism and
with being re-born, which is similar to acquiring a new (exchange) value by
relating oneself to the general equivalent. It is also similar to masculation and almost
creates a third gender identity, with its own mandates for behavior.