Moving over to a gifting culture.
I’ll start by stating, I am no economist, and while I am not necessarily informed around the incessant complexities of our current financial system, I am aware that it holds a tremendous level of imperfection. It is precarious, uninspiring and has led to established, and frighteningly unequal distribution of wealth throughout the world. Propped up by systems of globalisation and the international exploitation of resources, the fat cats at the top of a cleverly constructed hierarchy keep getting fatter at the expense of the little guys at the bottom. Such a system has been so normalised and therefore invisibilised that it is difficult to escape, and trivialises alternative systems which aim to remove capital gain as life’s highest objective.
During our travels, we have met and shared with people living by the philosophy of a gifting economy – a model in which valuables are neither exchanged nor sold, but are presented as an unconditional offering, removing the monetary value of an object or service and placing emphasis on the act of kindness or generosity itself. Conservatively constructed as a leftist alternative to capitalism, gifting exists in resistance to such it and aims to decommodify the exchange of value which ‘inevitably’ accompanies a transaction. Yet it is perhaps contradictory to place the words gifting and economy alongside each other and such a practice may be better described as a ‘gifting culture’.
People have, all over the world, made moves to resist and restructure capitalism, yet at this point it feels as though we are unable to fully escape it. And while placing emphasis on principles of gifting and decommodification does not rid the world of commerce, a capitalist system cannot remain unaffected by a culture of gifting and a shift in mainstream thinking from a highly individualised state to a more collective, communal sense of living, being and thinking.
But a big question remains – is a gifting culture possible or even sustainable in a larger consumerist culture. It is clear that we would need to unlearn socially constructed ideals of worth, profit and fairness in order to genuinely privilege a culture of gifting in our lives. To do so would require us to dismantle the carefully constructed narrative that human beings are fundamentally competitive, narcissistic and greedy, a profile which serves to individualise and isolate people in and from their communities. It may appear idealistic but this concept is very real for very many people and has been for a very long time.
Whether it be through the use of time, money, labour etc. we make ‘investments’ everyday, yet to embrace a gifting culture is a political act coupled with an intention to invest in human rather than monetary capital. In gifting our surplus in whatever form that takes (time, skill, knowledge, apples etc.) we invest in more sustainable, giving and caring communities because at the end of the day, my community, my friends, my neighbours are more likely to care for me than my bank ever will.