An Example of the Gift Economy on the Internet:
For-Giving, A Feminist Criticism of Exchange

Nature offers her abundance free to satisfy the needs that nature and culture have created. Humans have altered this process by depleting the abundance, cornering what remains, and using it to manipulate other humans, keeping them on the edge of survival. This process derives from exchange, which is giving-in-order-to-receive, and is ego oriented, while the need satisfying process, when practiced by humans, is other oriented. Capitalism is based on exchange and socializes us into its ego oriented values of competition and domination which also often coincide with the values involved in the male gender identity. Communism places a different emphasis on the collective but has so far institutionalized patriarchal hierarchies, often promoting individual and collective tyranny.

In contrast to patriarchal economic systems, the free satisfaction of needs is still visible in the relation between mothers and children, because children cannot "give back" anything in exchange for the nurturing they receive and they have to receive free goods and services from their caregivers.

The free gifts of nature depend upon the capacity to receive of those who have the needs. The receivers' capacities can be enhanced or diminished by the presence of absence of gifts during socialization. Indigenous peoples often allowed everyone free access to the abundance of their environment, and considered themselves stewards of nature's gifts. They also often had societies in which women were respected.

When the Europeans invaded the Americas they had just slaughtered some ten million witches in their homelands. Many people now think that the free herbal and spiritual healing practices of the women threatened the church and medical profession which then attacked the women so that they could have complete dominance. The Europeans brought misogyny with them to the Americas together with the capitalistic ways of private property and the enclosure of the commons. In fact women's free labor in the home is made invisible and left uncounted by capitalist economists, but it has been a source of gifts circumscribed within the boundaries of each traditional family unit. The sources of free gifts are necessary to the economy of exchange because they provide the profit which motivates the process.

Human ingenuity is sometimes able to provide new kinds of free gifts, needs spring up to receive them, and an interactive area, a sort of ecological niche, is formed. The exchange economy then encroaches, finding ways to enclose the commons, deplete the abundance and transform the gifts into profit for a few. We can see this process taking place with the Internet as it becomes commercialized. In fact the exchange economy needs free gifts, and it therefore becomes parasitic upon the gift economy whenever possible. When it does not find them easily available, it seeks out areas which were formerly the common property of all and encloses them, transforming them into the private property of the few. Another recent example of this is the patenting of genes by pharmaceutical companies and agribusinesses, in such a way that areas of the gene pool of plants, animals and humans are enclosed, privatized and made the source of profit for the few. (See Biopiracy by Vandana Shiva, Boston: South End Press, 1997)

All of this activity is taking place in a climate which discounts giftgiving. Nurturing is seen as instinctual or natural until it is the source of profit. But when their work is monetized, child care providers, teachers and home maintenance workers are accorded little economic value and are kept in subservient giftgiving positions, so that a large portion of their labor remains free.

The exchange economy so blinds us that we cannot see the giftgiving that permeates life or embrace the models of giftgiving that are available. Instead we validate the success of money makers who turn the gifts of the many to their own advantage. What is necessary now is to shift the paradigm towards the validation of giftgiving. Fortunately the mothering model is still widely available in society though often oversentimentalized or debased. Women are still socialized towards recognizing needs and satisfying them, which is one reason we are seen as creating relationships and community.

Patriarchy has silenced women because the exchange economy is no match of the gift economy. If giftgiving were taking place on a wide scale and in abundance, exchange would be unnecessary and redundant. The status quo of the system based on exchange attempts to defend itself by discrediting and concealing the gift model. In order to discredit giftgiving, patriarchy has also found it necessary to create the scarcity which makes giving self sacrificial. It has used the same processes to redistribute the wealth to the possession of a few. Recently it has confused the women's model by assimilating giftgivers into the exchange economy, a fact which has also had positive effects of liberating women from some oppressive bonds while making it clear that men's privileges and values were not biologically based. Now women need to follow our hearts and values to lead everyone towards an alternative economic model which is already available though hidden.

For-Giving, a Feminist Criticism of Exchange unravels the complicated fabric of patriarchy, a fabric which is woven from many threads, of language, of economics and of psychology, to create patterns of dominance by sex, race and class, in the home and in the media, nationally and internationally. The book, which is published by Plain View Press [1-800-878-3605, P.O. Box 33311, Austin, TX, 78764, FAX: 512-441-2452. paperback, $17.50], is an attempt to offer a feasible global alternative based on the values of women everywhere. In order to practice what I am preaching, I am making the whole volume available to you here free. Please use it well.

For peace on Earth,

Genevieve Vaughan


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