Cycles of Exchange

This post was inspired by eGaia, a book by Dr Gary Alexander about the big picture of how we got where we are and where we could be headed.

The theme of chapter 8 of eGaia is our inherently cooperative nature and how, evolutionarily speaking, that has been playing out. Sahlin’s work “On the Sociology of Primitive Exchange is quoted from. Basically, Sahlin outlines three types of reciprocity on a spectrum from “generalised reciprocity, through balanced reciprocity, to negative reciprocity”[1] with our money based economy represented as balanced, “new” economies such as Eisenstein’s Gift Economy under generalised reciprocity and survival of the fittest type behaviours categorised as negative.

Perhaps being female led to me question this linear model and to look a little deeper. It seemed to me that a cycle would be more representative of how human behaviour works and evolves.

For some time now I have felt a little uncomfortable with the Gift Economy being touted as the answer for us in our stage of development. It felt to me, much as many who question some of the ways proposed for us to live which seem to be taking us back in time to early halcyon days, to be taking a step in the wrong direction, much as though it clearly has much that is attractive within it. Somehow though, it didn’t appear to be an economy for freeing up individuals’ creativity, which to my mind is equally a part of our birthright as the evolving apes Dr Alexander explains we have evolved from, as our inclination for cooperation.

The Gift Economy takes us back to a form of tribalism, whereby the individual only survives if the whole is healthy and the whole only survives with support from all those in the group. Therefore what the individual offers must be perceived as needed by the group. Whilst there is much to applaud in this way of thinking, it is not the whole picture.

I would like to present here a cyclical model of how exchange works: fig1

Cycle of Exchange

Once I began to consider our evolution, our stages of development, as a cycle, I began to realise how our familiar pattern of three, the triad, limits our thinking and view of the world. It omits the beginning, the end, the whole, and restricts our ability to be able to situate ourselves in the eco system within which we exist. In doing so it makes us impotent in our belief that we are omniscient.

We sell ourselves short. We do not allow the fulcrum of our development, as creators, to appear on the chart, leaving those that do explore beyond, placeless, unrecognised and often scapegoated; labelled rebel, insane or imbalanced. Yet to create is the pinnacle of human endeavour. It is here that we truly become “godlike” for want of a better phrase.

The cycle of exchange can be studied on many levels. As my aim here was simply to explore what I felt was missing from the model presented here I will touch only briefly on the other layers. Suffice to say that this same model can equally be seen as a map of our potential for development not just as a society, but also as any one group within it and as an individual human being. I will write further on these aspects at a later date.

Here I would like to discuss how it seems the notion of reciprocity has been developing through the stages over the millennia since the survival of the fittest was the norm. I start here, and yet of course a circle has no beginning and if one does start anywhere then that will surely also be the end of that cycle and the beginning of another.  If we are to take survival of the fittest as our start point then we are assuming our descent from animals where the weakest are often left in some way (sacrificed) in order to ensure the continuation of the rest of the group.

What followed on was what is called Matriarchy by some; tribal living where the needs of the group were paramount and each member knew his/her role within that society. The way this worked enabled everybody’s needs to be met but what it didn’t allow was much space for individual expression. Inevitably this led to what we have been living in; a Patriarchal society. Clearly a society based up on individual needs is going to come to grief at some point if it is not intrinsically based up on the stages that have gone before; the needs of the group, and a recognition of where the strengths of the species lie.

However, and this is where my cycle contains what I felt was missing from Sahlin’s spectrum, this is not the end game. A fourth stage of development exists; that which I have for several years now been calling Humanarchy, where both masculine (goal orientated) and feminine (relational) societies work together efficiently in such a way as to free each being to be able to simply live according to his/her deepest known truths, offering their passion to the whole. I am aware that this is the area in which I may lose readers, we have not after all, been educated to believe in our divinity, our power, leaving us instead to seek power and recognition through other means; money, status, rank, and other such trappings.

Yet this, I would argue, is exactly where our Economics have been and are failing. We strive to make money, to achieve rank and status in order to be perceived as successful. In this scenario it is blatantly irrelevant whether or not these tokens of value are truly earned or not. We know they are not based on truth; on our real gifts, the treasure we have at the heart of our being, our ability to create wonders. Some do, of course, offer their gifts and all accolades are laid at their feet, often when they are safely dead, and unable to shake our deeply held belief system too hard. They are the Michael Angelo’s, the Van Gogh’s, perhaps Dickens, Shakespeare, the poets, musicians and the sculptors. They live for what they create and what they create is universally loved for it is created from the place of the collective consciousness; the fourth stage of our development, the place where we know that we are all interconnected and interdependent.

This stage is very different from the earlier meet- the- needs- of- the- tribe co-dependency although it could also be said to be more feminine in nature, just as perhaps the survival of the fittest might be considered more directional, more masculine in essence. Here, in the fourth stage, all of the other developmental stages are taken as given, and incorporated into the person, the group, the society, but they are not the focus. What matters here is our understanding of our intrinsic value as a unique human being, and a trust in the unique flavour of creativity we bring to the whole.

In this stage of exchange, and the inherent way in which life on our planet functions, there is no explicit giver and receiver; there is no expectation of pay back, now or at any other time in the future. Each gives according to their deepest felt passion and it is received exactly where it needs to be.  It is of no relevance what a person has done to deserve any benefits they might receive, and no thought is given to what benefits one might acquire from doing what they feel most strongly to do.

This may seem Utopian in feel to some readers; yet I no longer wish to apologise for sharing this stance on life, (I have been collecting peoples’ stories for several years now and have come to realise that that all images of Utopia are created and stored in our shared collective consciousness) nor do I feel the need to explain exactly how this might work in practice. The heat and light from the sun creates the possibility for everything that happens on Earth, bees create honey after pollinating the plants they have a relationship with, we create new humans beings simply by pro creating with one another. Our deepest form of reciprocity already exists; we just haven’t learnt to trust it yet. Its method of exchange is far more complex than anything our simple minds could conjure up. Our work in the world is to do what we are best at; creation, in whatever form that might take.

In our Utopian world because the collective consciousness will be an inherent aspect within our world view all other forms of consciousness and their corresponding economic systems will have their place in the interlinked societies we create too, but they will serve to underpin the one that is most developed, that which allows us to concentrate on truly giving of our best, and to receive all that we need to live without having to worry about how an exchange is being made at all.

Our current linear world view models are limiting our expansion and development as human beings, growing instead, as Dr Alexander analogises in chapter 4 of eGaia, societies like cancerous growths. Growths that form unnaturally are, generally speaking, forms of protective tissue where there has been harm done; whether it be physical, emotional or psychological trauma. Perhaps the early steps towards Utopia lie in recognising the agents of that abuse. Our dilemma in trying to fit along a spectrum is that we become either black or white, trying to avoid the opposite as being inherently wrong in some way, and fail to see that both have strengths and qualities and  both have weaknesses. We may then try to situate ourselves in the middle and fail to recognise that this too is simply another aspect of the whole, one that over inflates its importance and denies its place as a part of a greater whole. Once we are able to function from within a healthy world view of our environment, one which places us neither more than nor less than any other life form, but playing our own unique role, we will stop damaging both it and ourselves.

[1] eGaia Dr Gary Alexander Fast Print Publishing 2014 ch.8 p125

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