In the previous post I began to set out some further thoughts on gift, springing from my reading of Thorstein Veblen’s 1899 satire Conspicuous Consumption. I want to continue to develop the thoughts outlined there about the ‘leisure class’ that Veblen describes.
Essentially, we might now see them as the aristocracy, or celebrities. They are those who do not feel they ought to work. Tara Palmer-Tomkinson is perhaps the best example I can give for a UK readership. I’m sure there are similar figures in other countries. These people are allowed to work, but classically only in ‘governance, sport, priesthood and warfare.’ *
‘When the community passes from peaceable savagery to a predatory phase of life […] the activity of the men more and more takes on the character of exploit. Tangible evidences of prowess – trophies – find a place in men’s habits.’
What I think he is suggesting, here and elsewhere, is that there is a connection between the rise of individual ownership and war. Trophies – evidences of a warrior’s powerful exploits – are perhaps the first items that attain individual ownership status, as they are potent symbols. We thus enter a vicious circle: the way to display power over another group is to plunder the symbols they hold of their own exploits. And so war and retaliation and the growth of personal wealth as a symbol of power and might increases.
I’ll expand on this in the next post, but basically this suggests to me that, in addition to the economies of gift and the market I mentioned in the book, there is a 3rd economy – the economy of ‘plunder’. And, as with the other economies, the economy of plunder has its own leverage in terms of relationships between parties on the two sides of the exchange.
* And yes, I’d put Tara P-T in the role of priest. Celebrities do carry that function in many ways now.