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It seems that David has gone missing. Wednesday was a big student demo in London and he was certainly in that. Maybe he got locked up or injured. Or more likely he got caught up in the sit-ins that followed. The authorities are getting worried. In the meantime, there is nothing to stop us carrying on our conversation and I will if no-one else wants to.
Oh and as for the contract...
Mauss seems to have been trying to demonstrate that, rather than the original contract being a Hobbesian social contract required to create the force of the state which could then serve to enforce all other contracts, made necessary by our self-interested, aggrandizing natures, the original contract was a gift relation, basically, an agreement not to act in self-interested, aggrandizing ways that would require state enforcement. However, this essentially means, no contract at all in the contemporary sense of the term - just obligation. In that sense, Sahlins is right I think that Mauss was taking up the Hobbesian problem.
Myself, I wonder if any of this really works. I'd be willing to be convinced. But it strikes me that contracts, in our familiar Roman law sense at least, are kind of intrinsically - they always imply actors who cannot be trusted to act on good faith, and therefore, which require some sort of means of external enforcement. That's the non-contractual - in the sense of, not agreed to by the two parties - element.
...a contract is what you only need to insist on when dealing with people you can’t trust. This is why everything has to be set out in writing and made legally enforceable, which means, that either party can appeal to lawyers, courts and judges, and ultimately, orders backed up with the full powers of prisons and police. It’s also why the parties to the contract are able to specify everything exactly in the first place: in relations based on trust, love, and mutual devotion, everything is always much more flexible. Legally, one peculiar result is that, most contracts not only involve money, they have to involve money so as to establish it’s that kind of arrangement; contracts are not legally binding unless some money changes hands. Gifts for instance have no legal standing.
I read the piece today and I thought it to be interesting. Thought provoking is a good word to describe it. I must admit that I disliked the way communism was used. It is mostly out of ideological grounds.
David defines it as follows: communism as any human relationship that operates on the principle of “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.” I could have used a more neutral term like “solidarity,” “mutual aid,” “conviviality”, or even, “help” instead.
I wouldn't call the spontaneous help one gives somebody as communistic act. In another context one could call it good citizen, good Christian, good Muslim what ever. A good Nazi would maybe be to far to go. I see a problem to use that term since it has too much ideological weight and to many dark associations, to me and to many more. I would have prefered the other terms.
"If reciprocity is the exchange of things that are in some way assumed to be equivalent, and tending towards some sort of balancing out, then the point about "exchange being the quantification of reciprocity" is either no longer true, or makes exchange a very specific thing, much more so than we ordinarily consider it, since, exchanging favors or greetings becomes either an idle metaphor, or itself a form of quantification, which strikes me as unwieldy."
Indeed, in Philippine experience, reciprocity is separate from exchange. The former is unquantifiable, abstract, and continuous-- oftentimes, never-ending.
I remember this good example from my economic anthropology class years ago:
A good doctor saves a brilliant lawyer's life; thus the lawyer is eternally indebted to the doctor. If the doctor encounters a malpractice lawsuit, the lawyer is expected to help to reciprocate the act of the doctor that saved his life before. What are received or given in this scenario are irrelevant but the acts of giving and receiving. If the doctor wins his case, the give-and-take relationship does not end there. The relationship will be passed on to the children and the grandchildren of both individuals. The doctor will probably send a broiled pig (lechon) to the lawyer's house, and later, the lawyer will give the doctor a book or offer his time to write the doctor's last will. It is not the material gift or the exact service but the act that is being reciprocated.
Exchange, again in Philippine experience, is quantifiable, formally or informally contracted and agreed upon, and short-term. A doctor and a lawyer, for example, have an arrangement that the former will help the latter with his hypertension, and in return, the lawyer will help the doctor with his legal case. Such transactional relationship is brief, impersonal, and professional. It balances and cancels out payment-and-debt and benefactor-and-beneficiary relationships.
On incomplete contract where gift is given to establish relationship:
I went to a Korean-owned laundromat months ago. It was my first time to go there because my chef coat got stained. I thought it needed an extraordinary laundry machine. The owner assured me that he could do the job. The next day when I picked it up, the hint of the stain was still visible. The owner said, "You don't have to pay this because you can still see the stain." He offered his laundry service to me as a "gift" because the "contract" was incomplete. From then on, I have become his loyal client.
On Mauss' idea that there is no free gift:
I agree,but his explanation seems incomplete. The logic of Testart's beggar example can easily refute it. To support Mauss' argument in relation to Testart's critique, the biosociality of the concept of gift should be dealt with so reciprocal altruism would be relevant. One can see reciprocal altruism among Vietnam war veterans begging on American streets and by California freeways and the people who give them money, food, and even jobs. They have with them signs written on cardboards that say," Feel good, help the homeless," "Give food for karma," or "Unload the weight in your pocket." There is a biosocial explanation why people help, donate, and give. It can be to relieve stress or lessen guilt, besides the psychospiritual belief that the divine is watching, and will give graces to kind givers. Giving, to some, can be therapeutic. Even the sign, "I won't lie; it's for beer," makes people laugh, enjoy their street experience, and give their spare change. "Will work for food" is also reciprocally altruistic.
Here is a question though - doesn't hierarchy depend on an in-group communism of sorts? If we think of the boundaries set up around caste or class don't they depend on the maintenance of a kind of communistic mentality of undifferentiation? For example, when Larry Summers says it is OK to dump toxic waste in Africa because Africans are different to us (see Achirri Ishmael's poem blog), then isn't the thinking akin to the communistic one - 'we can share because we are basically the same - the others share their particular sameness too'? So Hierarchy has a communistic element built into it. Only with reciprocity is there a gain to reaching out to people we don't like.
I must admit I found the essay fairly difficult. There are so many threads to consider. I read parts of it again to try to be able to work with the argumentation. But it goes of in so many directions it is complicated to find somewhere to start.
First I think Izabel is correct in the comment: With gift, reciprocity, contract, exchange, or even transaction, it is not easy to come up with generalizing theories due to the fact that every culture has its own notions of giving, receiving, debt, value, ethics, gratitude uniquely expressed in its own language.
I postulate that Mauss was wrong if he tried to prove that the original contract: was a gift relation, basically, an agreement not to act in self-interested, aggrandizing ways that would require state enforcement as Keith writes.
Here I found Huon's statement more fertile: For Mauss reciprocity is social - it is a fact that emerges from how society comes into being and is part of the meaning of society. Both of them drew on Kant for whom reciprocity is the necessary flipside of community: it is a 'primary analogy' which all human beings draw on: you can't have a notion of community without the idea of reciprocation - community implies reciprocation or interaction.
Instead I try to use the terms reciprocity and hierarchy when contemplating the development of taxes in the European history.
In today Western society one pays the taxes automatically. It is money one doesn't even see. During the Medieval days the bailiff came and collected the taxes. One saw what one lost. There goes the lamb. But what did the farmer get in turn? The house wasn't torched down.
In those days the state wasn't much different to the gangs in Belarus (is it a modern phenomenon?). It was more of a monopoly of violence. There wasn't any reciprocity. This also led to revolts, which if they went too far were knocked down upon with lots of blood fertilizing the earth.
The nobility didn't have to pay taxes, but provided soldiers instead... Well I think most of you already know the history of the European countries since they are similar. What I'm trying to get to is the contract in the Hobbesian manner is only half-true, since Leviathan didn't really do his part of the bargain. He just collected taxes to use for his castles and wars. The little man didn't get anything out of it. But through the progression of time the contract got more and more valid.
In the welfare state it is the state which provides the protection and welfare for the needy through the taxes. Although they aren't doing enough of the bargain, thinks some, and use private security firms, private schools, private health care and so on. The hierarchy between the state and the individual has come to a standstill. The question is where to go now?
Here is the thinking of the gift interesting, since the welfare state as an institution, is held in suspicion. You write David:
The logic of hierarchy, then, is the opposite of reciprocity. Whenever the lines of superiority and inferiority are clearly drawn and accepted by all parties and relations involve more than arbitrary force, they will be regulated by a web of habit or custom. Is the welfare state keeping to its promises? No some say and blame it on lack of resources. There is a scapegoat, which is the immigrant. To speak with Simmel he is the stranger who comes but doesn't necessarily stay. His relation in the society isn't established. He isn't part of the system. He is a potential free rider.
Here I come to think of Thoreau who said I don't believe in the war against Mexico. I won't pay that tax. In the highly impersonal society we live in now we don't have that choice. We can't decide to go to prison. We don't have any moral freedom when we give. I don't support the war in Afghanistan. Well says the state: I don't care.
What has happened to the gift? It is on the personal interactive level of exchange and communism. It is part of friendship and creation of and keeping a relationship. This I think is universal. It is part of the innate herd mentality of the human being. What is amazing is how sophisticatedly developed it is in every culture.