It will be almost four years since I chose to live in the gift economy (I plunged in 100% in September 2011). Four years, many adventures on seas sometimes calm sometimes windy, and especially a beautiful acquired experience that I enjoy sharing in the series of articles that will follow. I hope that this will also answer, at least in part, to the many letters I receive. Many people are wondering, some would like to live this experience partially or completely, which requires a lot of technicality. The gift economy can not be improvised.
Precisely, this first article is first of all “technical”. It lays the foundation and key concepts of the gift economy. Then, I will be able to talk to you about my personal experience, my failures and successes, the things I learned and the questions this raises today.
But let’s start from the beginning …
What is the gift economy?
The gift economy implies that a person A offers a wealth to a person B, without that person B having to give a consideration.
It is often said that one gives without waiting and without counting … Nothing more wrong. The gift certainly implies that there is no counterpart requested (unlike the market economy), however there is always a context in which a donation is made. A party, a birthday, the desire to help, a gesture of love, a transmission between generations, the social life in a village, a medical act … so many contexts that determine the nature of the gift, its quality as its quantity. We do not give anything to anyone, anytime. If I live in a village, I can decide to help my neighbor repair his roof, will I offer him my house? I offer a book to my friend for his birthday, but will I offer him 1 million euros as long as I have them? For my child, on the other hand, I offer my life and my time without counting. At the hospital, I give my blood, on couchsurfing I offer lodging to the traveler. There are circumstances in which one can sacrifice one’s life for others, for love, for ideology, for an act of war or peace, for an act of faith. If I die, I can also offer my organs. One can also give one’s time for a cause … Each example I have just quoted shows the importance of the context as to the nature of the gift. You must never ignore the context.
The market economy
The market economy involves what is called the counterpart condition. A gives a wealth to B provided that B returns an equivalent wealth, otherwise the transaction is not made. Note that the market economy also includes barter. The two protagonists must agree on the equivalence of the wealth they exchange, which may give rise to negotiation or bargaining. The final price, or the nature of the final agreement in case of barter, is determined by the balance of tensions.
The market economy can take place with or without money. If it takes place with a currency, the latter can exist in the form of money (the type of money we know based on the debt, and in which we grew up), or with other monetary forms that remain to be invented ( see “Towards the post-money society“). If you use money, then it’s called a rare currency. Scarcity will then fan competition, hoarding, concentration of wealth and power. Money is an appropriate technology for a human society with pyramidal collective intelligence, which is precisely about market economy, competition and scarcity. I anticipate that the shift to holomidal collective intelligence will occur with the birth of post-money technologies that will foster sharing and cooperation, without taking away the benefits that competition can bring when it is fertile.
The language of the gift economy
Nous grandissons, nous vivons, nous mangeons, nous dormons dans le paradigme de l’économie de marché. Il constitue notre paysage quotidien que nous décrivons au moyen de centaines de mots, termes et concepts : achat, vente, remise, marge, chiffre d’affaires, impôts, travail, salaire, charges, bénéfices, pertes, intérêt, crédit, propriété, actions, parts, dette, emprunt, taux, parité, bons, monnaie, argent, billets, cartes de crédit, payant, gratuit, ROI, levier, loyer, thésaurisation, investissement, amortissement, EBITDA, OPA, Bourse, valeurs, obligations, OPCVM, liquidités, spéculation, produits dérivés, broker, trading, coûts de latence, data snooping, et tant d’autres…
We grow, we live, we eat, we sleep in the paradigm of the market economy. It is our daily landscape that we describe through hundreds of words, terms and concepts: buying, selling, handing over, margin, turnover, taxes, labor, salary, expenses, profits, losses, interest, credit, property, shares, shares, debt, loan, rate, parity, bonds, currency, money, notes, credit cards, paying, free, ROI, leverage, rent, hoarding, investment, depreciation, EBITDA, takeover, stock market, stocks, bonds, UCITS, liquidity, speculation, derivatives, broker, trading, latency costs, data snooping, and many others …
How many words do we have to qualify the economy of giving?
Less than a dozen. And still, imprecise and vague for the most part. They even have a connotation of nice, idealistic Bisounours (or Smurfs). The articles found here and there on the subject, including wikipedia, betray this blur and the lack of theoretical and practical experience of the authors. Unclear and vague, they borrow their words from the market economy. For example, we speak of exchange while it is about gift, and one confuses without complex gift and gratuitousness. The “experts” on the subject go so far as to evoke the notion of gift and counter-gift, so much the spirit can not escape the market and the debt.
This confusion reaches its climax in the word “wealth” or “rich”. If I designate someone as wealthy, everyone will think of their bank account. Who will think of the most essential wealth, that of happiness, that of self-realization? In most modern cultures, one confuses rich and money. The consequences of this ontological confusion seem to me very destructive on the social and psychical levels.
To give you a picture of our lack of vocabulary, we behave in the face of the gift economy, like car manufacturers trying to describe an airplane. Even if there are intersections, the vocabulary and concepts of auto mechanics will never describe a plane, let alone fly it. We must develop a new science, that of aeronautics, with its names, its laws, its formulas, its definitions. In the same way, the language of the market economy will never be able to describe and make the gift economy work. We need a “science” of the gift economy and, more broadly, an economic science that transcends that of money and debt, which today predominates.
Yet the gift economy offers a range of possibilities far superior to that of the market economy, a bit like aviation compared to the automobile where we move to 3D in relation to 2D. The gift economy allows to build more wealth, it carries a multidimensionality that is not found elsewhere, it offers a more holistic and integrative societal model of the individual in the collective and the collective in the individual. But as long as we do not have the language to describe it and make it work other than in small committees, the gift economy will have no chance of existing on a large scale.
There is therefore everything to invent to describe this paradigm, its mechanisms, its social engineering, its technical infrastructure. One of the primary tasks of my adventure is therefore to put precise words, definitions and concepts to describe this other reality.
A few words to start …
The mini glossary below will give you definitions as I use them in the context of collective intelligence, which includes, of course, the question of currencies and wealth technologies.
The management and regulation of wealth. This definition goes well beyond, and more universally, than the “production, distribution, exchange and consumption of goods and services”, as indicated by wikipedia. Larousse, for its part, uses the term “riches” rather than “services”, but it is also confined to the notions of “production, distribution, exchange and consumption”, which implicitly confines us to only material wealth. In my definition of economics, we are talking about wealth in the broadest sense possible, which includes non-material wealth. To distinguish this term from its former meaning, I also speak of integral wealth.
|Gift economy||Economy operating on the act of offering and receiving unconditional consideration.|
|Market economy||Economy operating on the condition of counterpart, that of giving a wealth equivalent to what we receive, otherwise the exchange does not take place.|
|Gift||“Gift” does not mean “exchange”. If, by giving something, you expect something in return (another “gift”, consideration, love, reputation …), then you operate in a dynamic different from that of the gift. Similarly, if when you are offered something, you feel in debt, then you continue to operate in a form of exchange. Donation means giving or receiving without consideration, think context. What context do you offer or receive? Clarify this with your peers and with yourself.|
|Gratitude||Gratitude and recognition are the keystone of the gift economy. I like this english (and new) term of giftism, difficult to translate into french. You can receive a gift and want to express your gratitude, whether it’s saying “thank you” or offering another gift. I insist: it is absolutely not an exchange.|
|Holopticism||Coming from Greek roots holos (all) and optikè (see), Holoptism implies “seeing everything”. Imagine playing a team sport. You have constant access to the “everything”, what is happening holistically on the ground. You see your team as a living entity, as well as the opponent. Moreover, what makes a good player comes as much from his technical ability to play the ball as its quality “holoptician”, that of understanding and seeing this all. It requires some training. Now imagine living in a small village. You know what you can offer and receive, because you have constant access to everything. You feel the balance of things, what you can give and not give. You feel if an action will not only help a person, but also contribute to the general wealth, wealth you will benefit from. Holoptism offers this extraordinary property that connects the individual to the whole, and the whole to the individual, allowing dialogue and permanent adjustments. It makes possible the saving of the gift (as explained below). See more advanced definition in English.|
|Free / paying||These words do not belong to the language of the gift economy. They belong to the market economy to distinguish what one pays from what is transmitted “without paying” (often to buy something else behind). But I insist – and I know it takes a lot of time to integrate – donating does not mean free. Don means … gift. The gift engages efforts, manifestations of a whole lot of immaterial wealth so that it can take place. We do not give without this famous context of which I spoke to you above. For example, when a company asks me to help, I set very strict conditions for the context (I’ll talk about this in more detail). However, I do not ask them to pay me or give me anything in exchange.|
|Wealth||All that brings us closer to the beautiful, the good, the true. See conferences on the subject.|
|Integral wealth||Integral wealth includes all forms of wealth: mobile, measurable, orderly, and enuncible. See conferences on the subject.|
Holoptism as a condition of the gift economy
It is necessary that the individual has a clear perception of the community in which he evolves to feel well what he can give and receive.
The gift economy is practiced naturally in the context of original collective intelligence (village, sports team, jazz band, family …), that of the small group where everyone sees and perceives themselves. When I give or receive, I know the impact that it has for me as for the collective to which I belong, which allows Holoptism. Holoptism exists as a natural property on a small scale; nature has equipped us with a biological information system – our senses and our current brain – that allows us to see the collective in which we evolve. Rather than a primary vision like that of a physical object, it is a representation, a complex construction that is elaborated in our cognitive space. Most mammals, as well as some migratory birds, have this ability. What makes a good player in a sports team is as much in his ability to play the ball well as to represent everything in his mind. This allows him to build symbiotic actions with the team, actions that can be seen as forms of donations offered and received (we do not “bill” the km ran or efforts invested).
There is no gift economy without holoptism.
From holoptism to panoptism, towards the market economy
When we become too numerous and at a distance from each other, we lose holoptism, we move on to panoptism, which results in centralized and pyramidal mechanisms of control and regulation. Imagine society as a mountain. Those from above see everything but without the detail, those from below see the detail but without the overall vision, with all the intermediaries between the two. The panoptic society, which characterizes the pyramidal collective intelligence, is constructed with presbyopes and nearsightedness. This relative blindness thus makes us lose holoptism, consequently, our natural capacity to live in the gift.
The market economy is part of this evolution, with the arrival of the pyramidal collective intelligence. Its advent has allowed large collectives to organize, entire civilizations to be born, with their castes, their social classes, their centralized powers, their chains of command. Money has made it possible for the circulation of wealth on a large scale, where the economic equilibrium is maintained by the market, the counterpart condition at each exchange.
The market economy extends well beyond our immediate sensory perception; the village becomes city, country, continent, planet. Macro, conceptual, abstract, immense, transcendent, too vast for the individual mind, many theories have tried to demonstrate that the market economy enjoyed its own balance. We lend him the famous “invisible hand” that regulates and arranges everything. Here we have all the characteristics of an egregore, if not a religion. But more pragmatically, behind the invisible hand, we find above all concentrated powers in the hands of a few, on scales of which very few people have idea. Who today realizes the level of concentration of wealth and power? It’s beyond the imagination. The rare money-based market economy is the DNA of the pyramidal collective intelligence. Without this dynamic, it can not exist. Our states, our current constitutions, human rights, are based on these cultural notions of property, labor, market, signatures of pyramidal collective intelligence. A paradigm that claims, wrongly it seems to me, the “natural right”.
While it undoubtedly represented a necessary step in the evolution of mankind, the market economy based on rare money today shows not only its limits, but its toxic and destructive aspects for life and the planet. All riches are not sold or bought, far from it, and the word “wealth” can not be reduced to material commodities alone. Let us add that the flow of life on earth – resources, energy – can not simply be content to follow the market and money routes that all converge on megacities and major economic centers. Life needs to follow its own flow, more complex and holistic. The Human has no alternative but to move on to the next stage – probably the next one – which will build its reality on a new language constituting a new reality, the language of the flows and the integral wealth. What I work for, with passion and patience. But I am conscious of oversimplifying here, while it would require lengthy explanations, step by step.
And some corrections …
At the margin, the gift economy?
This may seem odd to some, but the gift economy is the first form of economy we learn, the oldest and most natural. It begins with the family where, as far as I know, we do not get what we give and what we receive. It then extends into the extended community, the village, the school, the sports team, the friends … The gift economy is the oldest social form we know, the one in which our cognitive structures and relationships work best. We will see why.
The majority of people think that the gift economy lives on the margins of the market economy. Worse: they believe that the gift can exist thanks to the dynamism of the market. Let’s grow, earn a lot of money, we can offer it through charitable actions … Similarly, social solidarity (taxes, social security …) is it not based on ‘market economy ?
There is a terrifying mistake behind these beliefs. It can be forgiven for the fact that everyone lives in the little bubble market where everyone sees lunch at the door of his shop. To forgive, without accepting it.
In fact, the market economy lives thanks to the gift economy. The market economy exists because the trees offer their fruits, because the land offers its resources and men take ownership of them, because one day, men have landed in new places and declared them their property, because that men and organizations also claim ownership of what they discover (research, data, process, etc.). The market economy represents a very small portion of the economy in general, as long as we define the economy as the management and regulation of wealth (not the management of scarcity). We can look at this from every angle, there is always an original flight that, one day, made the market possible. We take ownership, then we sell.
I have no judgment on this “original flight” or this “appropriation”. I simply believe that one must honestly understand existence and dynamics as a phase of history and evolution. A more advanced consciousness sees archaisms that must be left today.
Without money, the gift economy?
This, I hear all the time: “you live in the economy of the gift, it means that you do not use money?”. False, it has nothing to do. Money represents a wealth like the others that can be offered and received as gifts. So the money I use today comes exclusively from donations, I do not win, in the sense of conquering it through a sale or negotiation. He comes in gratitude, and that enchants my heart.
Free, the gift economy?
False too, as specified in the definitions above. Free and paid belong to the paradigm of the market economy. When the sale and the purchase disappear, the free-paying duality disappears too.
Yet I hear people trying to say that they do things “for free”. They hurt themselves and they hurt the wealth they offer by devaluing them. Giving means knowing how to clarify the context, the one I mentioned above. If you give or receive, do it in a context always clear for you as for others. If you want to operate in the gift economy, get rid of the words “free” and “paid”.
Jam for …?
To use the term “consecrated”, I have seen too many people being exhausted by giving jam to the pigs (and God knows that I love pigs, sentient beings that we massacre without complexes). By offering, and still offering, they are pleasing to themselves (people, not pigs), they follow an ideation of a world that needs them, which flatters their ego. This illusion ends one day or another by a lamentable moral state, where one feels exhausted, misunderstood, in need of recognition, in the face of an ungrateful world. This posture of unconscious or compulsive generosity embodies the feminine syndrome, which gives, gives, gives, until exhaustion, without the voracious “mouths” around the situation. Needless to say, the opposite counterpart of this feminine syndrome – the masculine syndrome – is found in the obsession of conquest and possession that characterizes the market economy through rare money.
In other words, the gift economy requires as much to practice empathy and care – the feminine one – as the rigor and practice of limits – the masculine. We must learn to give and receive in consciousness, which brings us once again to the clarity of the context.
What about large scale?
Until now, we could not develop the large-scale gift economy because we did not know how to create holoptism on a large scale. But in recent years, the arrival of the internet, social media, socialwares and communitywares has shown that large collectives based on the gift economy could exist. Some examples: wikipedia, couchsurfing, freecycle, thingiverse, and of course many MMOGs that open the way to gamification. Play Ingress, for example, and you’ll understand.
The post-money technologies I work on with others transcend the duality of the gift / market. They will allow any collective, small or large, local or global, to define its own tools to organize, share, produce its wealth, in market mode or donation. Utopic this economic biodiversity? Explain to me then how does the internet work if not on an immense biodiversity of technologies allowing to organize the human experience?
So much for the outline. In my next article, I will tell you about my more personal journey. See you soon !