Thoughts on Gifts

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I don't do holiday gifts, that requires a level of planning and coordination i'm simply not able to initiate, let alone sustain, at the moment.

I am liable to occasionally giving certain people money or something expensive, or just paying for dinner more often than not.

After reading the first hundred pages of Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber, i was moved to examine my own behavior a bit. (There is tons and tons in the book to think and write about that is much more important than self-reflection, but this is easier to write.)

He divides economic activity into three categories:

  • Communism (we're all in this together: sharing)
  • Reciprocity (both expect to get something back from the person given to eventually and immediate transaction)
  • Hierarchy (both patronage and tribute)

I'm not entirely sold on this division, but overall it makes a lot of sense. (And his point is all three are always present.)

He talks at length about how the giving of gifts can move a relationship to hierarchy, and quotes more than once (even though as an anthropologists he notes he doesn't even know the language it was originally said in, let alone its widespread currency) an Eskimo saying:

Up here we say that by gifts one makes slaves and by whips one makes dogs.

So on the personal level, i guess i want to be clear that any time where what i do has nothing to do with reciprocity (which is everything except when i am making a purchase or a contract), then what i am doing is about communal economics. You are family.

Funny to find a very similar point in an online Forbes post:

Take yourself out of the Christmas equation. Admit it: when you give something, you’re expecting an equally great thing in return. When I expected an expensive puppy in return for the basketball tickets and designer duds I gave, I turned gift-giving into a practice of finding “stuff” of equal thoughtfulness, price and value. Plain and simple, it was selfish, and it turned the magic of gift giving into a financial transaction. As children, our parents showered us with Christmas presents even though all we had to give in return was a glitter-covered macaroni ornament. How can we learn to place generosity over reciprocity? If you knew you weren’t getting anything in return, would that change what kind of present you’d give a loved one?

http://www.forbes.com/sites/moneywisewomen/2011/12/19/how-i-blew-1000-an...

(Though note that gifts to one's children constitutes a matter of hierarchy, naturally, to Graeber.)

I think then i have to declare anything i have given is not a gift. It's just something i felt like doing. Not expecting reciprocity, and nothing about hierarchy.