The 3rd Economy: Gift, Market and Plunder [4] | Urban Implications

[ Gift, Market and Plunder [1] ]  |  [ Gift, Market and Plunder [2] ]  |  [ Gift, Market and Plunder [3] ]

OK, sorry if the last post was hard work. But sometimes you have to mine deep…

1134507145To summarize for those who didn’t make it: Veblen identified the ‘leisure class’ as those who typically don’t lower themselves to proper work, but rather flit around doing ‘trophy’ occupations. He uses the hunter as an example of this, which drew me back to Lewis Hyde’s thoughts on Maori hunting rituals and the nature of gift exchange, and thus to reflect on a 3rd economy of ‘plunder’ to go with gift and the market.

In the hunter analogy:

The gift-hunter (typified by the Maori) kills in the forest, offers cuts to the priest, who offers it back to the forest. A virtuous gift-cycle that binds hunter to priest to forest to hunter.

The plunder-hunter (typified by Veblen’s aristocrat hunters) kills in the forest and hangs the stuffed heads as trophies on the wall. A vicious anti-gift cycle.

In the food analogy:

Gift: people round for dinner. Market: buying from the supermarket. Plunder: theft or exploitation of food resources.

So what the hell is this all about, and why does it matter to us? Well, to quote from the end of the last post:

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“Plunderers are therefore a symbol of those who consider themselves outside of life’s cycles. Outside of the normal economy of work. Outside of the cycles of gift that sustain us. And outside of any ramifications that might have. They, like the celebrities I have mentioned are one modern equivalent, consider themselves immortal.

“And its to the implications of this ‘set apartness’ – you might call it holiness, self-righteousness – of the plunderer that I want to turn to next. Because I think we have been guilty of collusion with this economy more than we might think.”

Firstly, some implications for city life. I’m wondering if the economy of plunder is becoming almost the default for many people in urban areas. Many of the children I’ve taught have been convinced that they won’t need to work. They see celebrities living this glamourous life, a life of leisure, and aspire to that instead, thus disengaging from the proper gift and market cycles involved in everyday work. They want to be ‘players’ – a word Veblen would probably have latched on to if he’d been around now.

Beyond work though, the ‘player’ mentality is more deeply problematic. The plunderer pays no attention to the gift-cycles around them, and is thus blind to the interconnectedness of life. In a city this becomes a major cause of community friction. Thinking back to the post on noise, the plunderer plays their car stereo over-loud as a ‘trophy’ statement, oblivious to the effect the noise may be having on others. Drugs and petty crime are often mainstays in the plunder economy, and yet the plunderer sees little of the wider destructive effects that these things have.

So what might we do to bring about change? Firstly, we need to reflect on our own urban practice, and consider where we might be engaging in ‘plunder’. Secondly, just as the gift economy creates a virtuous circle, so the plunder economy creates its own destructive cycles. It can be very difficult to break these, but acts of generosity are certainly going to be a way in, allowing trust and mutual respect to replace fear and suspicion. There also need to be opportunities for people to begin working within the ‘market’, and those within business need to be proactively re-engaging with communities to inspire them. And finally, we need somehow to debunk this cult of celebrity which I believe is driving so many of these problems. Many of these people do actually work very hard – but the image of themselves that they promote is that they don’t. And somehow this needs to be countered.

I’ll end this series of posts with some final thoughts on implications for the church, which I believe has perhaps been less into gift than plunder than we might like to admit.


10 responses to “The 3rd Economy: Gift, Market and Plunder [4] | Urban Implications”

  1. Kester,
    very interesting thoughts on the 3rd economy. two thing: as you say, “…as the gift economy creates a virtuous circle, so the plunder economy creates its own destructive cycles.” I would say that gift economies of mutual recognition are not as virtuous as you seem to be saying. Certainly they are different than market economies, but their is exploitation and domination involved also.
    And I want to throw a wrench in and ask if the plunder economy, rather than being a 3rd economy, is really just the gift economy applied to the Other (the one outside our Symbolic Exchanges–for gift-economies aren’t merely exchanging object, but rather acknowledging ‘subjects’. So the plunder economy would be not feeling the need to exchange a ‘gift’ b/c you are not really a person anyway–you are an alien, barbarian, or animal. Therefore it is really not even stealing. Or in the register of conquest, plundering trophies is symbolic domination of one over another–the destruction of their symbolic universe–a type of colonization.
    So, in short–gift and plunder are two sides of the same coin, depending on if you are inside or outside the community.

  2. I’d be happy to go along with that, though I’d argue for a different use of the term ‘other’. In my syntax, it is precisely an appreciation of ‘the other’ – whether that be within your tight community or wider city – that defines gift. The plunderer has no appreciation of ‘the other’, but simply takes regardless of consequence.
    Actually, there was a further post in the series I was going to do on the deeper undertones of gift exchange that might be helpful to shoe in when I’ve got a mo’.
    Either way, I’d agree, gift and plunder are two poles on the same axis.

  3. yes, I would agree that we are probably using ‘other’ differently. I just ran into this over at pete rollins blog. While I assume you are coming more from a Levinasian/Derridian ethics of the other place, I’m coming from a Lacanian ‘discourse of the Other’. For Lacan, the ‘Other’ is the symbolic order, or especially the disavowed/forgotten part that comes and haunts us.

  4. That’s a lovely image – ‘the forgotten part that comes and haunts us’.
    What’s interesting in my dealing with kids for whom ‘plunder’ is default is that they are very afraid of this ‘other’, this part of themselves that haunts them. So perhaps much of their activity is a way of keeping the other quiet. They find it very challenging to actually ‘hear things’ and have their walls breached.

  5. As you said concerning kids who plunder, that they act out because of what they fear, to keep the voices out, to feel in control.
    As we all know, kids (at least my 3, and 1 and 1/2 year old) need boundaries to flourish. But with a type of regression into a plunder economy, but without any actual Order/System of which a gift economy ran on, kids these days have nothing to guide them. They are full of anxiety/angst b/c they don’t even have something to rebel against. Everything is up to them–and even for adults this is stressful…

  6. sorry to keep commenting here, but I thought this underscored both of our positions. it is from context weblog concerning ‘prejudice and the brain.’
    Here it is: Dehumanizing the Lowest of the Low: Neuro-imaging responses to Extreme Outgroups

  7. Geoff thanks – this is excellent. A really interesting read, with some profound implications.

  8. Kester,

    Thought you might be interested in two articles, one referencing
    the other, that discuss “social giving” to online forums
    and resources such as wikipedia.

    From Collective
    questions social gifting with several links to studies.

    People contribute to sociable web media to find
    emotional support, a sense of belonging, relaxation, and
    encouragement, in addition to instrumental aid (finding a job, making
    money). Social capital is an additional motivating aspect, as Nick
    pointed out. But don’t forget fun. Russel Hardin talks about
    participation in demonstrations, driven by the desire to be part of
    history; it is propelled by the desire "to share the
    experiences of [one’s] time and place.

    And from Peer to Peer
    , What
    drives online cooperation: agonistic giving

    I would like to add my own five cents here. Last year, I
    had been reading some items on ‘value’ and its exchange
    through society. Money captures only a small part of this value. When
    we participate in online or other social projects, we basically
    exchange value, and in essence, what I feel is that by giving, we are
    receiving. So pure altruism may not exist, because when we are
    giving, it really means we are receiving something: recognition,
    reputation, the very fact of sharing might be giving us something.
    The emotional laws of thermodynamics, that no energy is lost, might
    apply here. Great altruists may simply be people who have evolved to
    the point that they nourish themselves through giving.

    These are looking at antagonistic giving to online “commons”
    but they imply the agonistic giving in their rebuttal.

    A few days ago I left a comment that I can no longer find, so I’ll
    remention the books that I listed there as recommendations for
    examples of Gift economy. The
    Hacker Ethic
    by Pekka Himanen, Linus Torvalds, and Manuel
    Castells is one. And Cathedral
    and the Bazaar
    by Eric S. Raymond is a classic essay on
    Open Source software development by individuals contributing for the
    greater good. You probably already know about these. The Open Source
    software model, and now Open Source encyclopedias and thousands of
    great, free online resources, seems like one of the greatest Gift
    economies of human history.

  9. One thing that you touch on only very briefly in the first post in this series is the idea of (traditional, i.e. established) Christian leadership being an example of the Leisure Class, therefore ‘players’ and ultimately therefore part of your plunder economy construction.
    I was interested to read your comments on this in the light of my own experience of growing up close to lots of ‘full-time’ christian leaders. I think I’ve been unconsciuosly aware of this myself for a long time. At crossroad points in my life when I’ve had the option to go down that route (‘full-time leadership’), I made decisions to follow ‘secular’ (I hate that expression)career paths on the basis that these were a greater CONTRIBUTION to the community around me, that I really didn’t want to SPONGE off people around me and that ‘leadership’ should not be a paid function within the church community (i.e. gift within your language) as this is where all the problems start. I think this was implicit rather than explicit, but it always good when you’ve felt something for a long time and then you hear someon articulating thoughts that have knawed away at you under the surface for so long in such a clear way.
    Also, I’d chuck it out that many of the issues the many guises of the established church is facing at the moment (the homosexuality debate is a great example), would simply evaporate if we no longer had the ‘leisure class’ of church leadership about in it current form. This is probably covered somewhere and I’ve missed it, but the more I think about it, the more I think so many of the problems we face stem from this model of leadership.

  10. damnflandrz

    The liesure class does not lead, it rules in separatist splendor over the suckling subjugated saps.
    I refuse to acknowledge them as leaders, I will not follow!
    Yay Cuba (?)!