giving and receiving -- 10/22/15

Today's encore selection - from Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber. The supposedly virtuous act of giving is often instead an act meant to create an obligation, an act whereby the giver measures himself against the receiver and requires a repayment, even if that repayment is gratitude:

"[Here] are the words of an actual hunter-gatherer -- an Inuit from Greenland made famous in the Danish writer Peter Freuchen's Book of the Es­kimo. Freuchen tells how one day, after coming home hungry from an unsuccessful walrus-hunting expedition, he found one of the successful hunters dropping off several hundred pounds of meat [for him]. He thanked him profusely. The man objected indignantly:

" 'Up in our country we are human!' said the hunter. 'And since we are human we help each other. We don't like to hear anybody say thanks for that. What I get today you may get tomorrow. Up here we say that by gifts one makes slaves and by whips one makes dogs.'

An Inuit hunter with his kayak in 1854

"The last line is something of an anthropological classic, and simi­lar statements about the refusal to calculate credits and debits can be found through the anthropological literature on egalitarian hunt­ing societies. Rather than seeing himself as human because he could make economic calculations, the hunter insisted that being truly hu­man meant refusing to make such calculations, refusing to measure or remember who had given what to whom, for the precise reason that doing so would inevitably create a world where we began 'comparing power with power, measuring, calculating' and reducing each other to slaves or dogs through debt."


David Graeber


Debt - Updated and Expanded: The First 5,000 Years


Melville House


Copyright 2011 by David Graeber


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