Give It Away is a paper by David Graeber, about MarcelMauss, who I’ve been researching.

I just discovered MarcelMauss, who had a number of things relevant to our InternetExchange, and that give a lot of backing to SamRose and RadomirDopieralski’s gift idea.

Here are some parts of the paper.


The Russian revolution thus left him profoundly ambivalent. While exhilarated by prospects of a genuine socialist experiment, he was outraged by the Bolsheviks’ systematic use of terror, their suppression of democratic institutions, and most of all by their “cynical doctrine that the end justifies the means,” which, Mauss concluded, was really just the amoral, rational calculus of the marketplace, slightly transposed. src


If the market could not simply be legislated away, even in Russia, probably the least monetarized European society, then clearly, Mauss concluded, revolutionaries were going to have to start thinking a lot more seriously about what this “market” actually was, where it came from, and what a viable alternative to it might actually be like. src


It was time to bring the results of historical and ethnographic research to bear.
Mauss’ conclusions were startling. First of all, almost everything that “economic science” had to say on the subject of economic history turned out to be entirely untrue. The universal assumption of free market enthusiasts, then as now, was that what essentially drives human beings is a desire to maximize their pleasures, comforts and material possessions (their “utility”), and that all significant human interactions can thus be analyzed in market terms. In the beginning, goes the official version, there was barter. People were forced to get what they wanted by directly trading one thing for another. Since this was inconvenient, they eventually invented money as a universal medium of exchange. The invention of further technologies of exchange (credit, banking, stock exchanges) was simply a logical extension.
The problem was, as Mauss was quick to note, there is no reason to believe a society based on barter has ever existed. Instead, what anthropologists were discovering were societies where economic life was based on utterly different principles, and most objects moved back and forth as gifts - and almost everything we would call “economic” behavior was based on a pretense of pure generosity and a refusal to calculate exactly who had given what to whom. src


In gift economies, Mauss argued, exchanges do not have the impersonal qualities of the capitalist marketplace: In fact, even when objects of great value change hands, what really matters is the relations between the people; exchange is about creating friendships, or working out rivalries, or obligations, and only incidentally about moving around valuable goods. As a result everything becomes personally charged, even property: In gift economies, the most famous objects of wealth - heirloom necklaces, weapons, feather cloaks - always seem to develop personalities of their own.
In a market economy it’s exactly the other way around. Transactions are seen simply as ways of getting one’s hands on useful things; the personal qualities of buyer and seller should ideally be completely irrelevant. As a consequence everything, even people, start being treated as if they were things too. src

Mauss' Conclusions

Mauss was never entirely sure what his practical conclusions were. The Russian experience convinced him that buying and selling could not simply be eliminated in a modern society, at least “in the foreseeable future,” but (ed: perhaps) a market ethos could. Work could be co-operatized, effective social security guaranteed and, gradually, a new ethos created whereby the only possible excuse for accumulating wealth was the ability to give it all away. The result: a society whose highest values would be “the joy of giving in public, the delight in generous artistic expenditure, the pleasure of hospitality in the public or private feast.” src

The first sentence reads, “Mauss was never entirely sure what his practical conclusions were. The Russian experience convinced him that buying and selling could not simply be eliminated in a modern society, at least “in the foreseeable future,” but a market ethos could.” …but isolated from the whole paper, seems to imply that the Russian experience (communism) led him to believe that a market ethos could work.

This is not at all the case; The Russian experience only led him to believe that buying & selling can’t be eliminated in a modern society.

It was his anthropology research on indigenous cultures, that led him to believe that a market ethos (a market attitude,) could be the next steps for a society that values “the joy of giving in public, …”

MarcelMauss’ idea, in short, is for sympathetic people to cultivate an ethic of gifts and giving. But the world “gift” has a special meaning here – it is not giving something away “for free,” no strings attached. His concept of giving stems from the observations of how indigenous cultures (and families, and myriad other places) give: “Give, receive, and return,” – and are part of an intentional social relationship. When I give $100 to the homeless food drive charity, it’s not a “gift” in his sense, because I don’t want to receive anything in turn from the homeless. Return un-quantified receipt is an essential part of the “gift,” if it is to transform society.

This is not a naive idea, that people will just donate in the future, and everyone will be fine. This is a radical reconstruction of social relationships. It is also incomplete. It will require more thought and work, if it is to be performed in modern society.

Hence: “Mauss was never entirely sure what his practical conclusions were.

See also: SamRose’s local work on transforming the InternetExchange into a gift circle / ring / something.

Also of Note...

This isn’t about Mauss, but it was part of the paper:

(The researchers) had just sat through several days of an interdisciplinary conference on the subject of gifts, and after reviewing the papers, they came to the shocked realization that it did not seem to have occurred to a single scholar in attendance that a significant motive for giving gifts might be, say, generosity, or genuine concern for another person’s welfare. In fact, the scholars at the conference invariably assumed that “gifts” do not really exist: Scratch deep enough behind any human action, and you’ll always discover some selfish, calculating strategy. Even more oddly, they assumed that this selfish strategy was always, necessarily, the real truth of the matter; that it was more real somehow than any other motive in which it might be entangled. It was as if to be scientific, to be “objective” meant to be completely cynical. src

(This is an example of what I call, “SuperFreudianism.”)

If I remember right, the researchers put together a mad paper called MAUSS, that became influential, and started to build a community. Now, in France, they work on things like the guaranteed income.

Their answer to the endless calls for France to adopt the “American model” and dismantle its welfare state, for example, was to begin promulgating an economic idea originally proposed by American revolutionary Tom Paine: the guaranteed national income. The real way to reform welfare policy is not to begin stripping away social benefits, but to reframe the whole conception of what a state owes its citizens. src


Having lived nearly half of my life in a communist society I would not say that it was ‘a society whose highest values would be “the joy of giving in public, the delight in generous artistic expenditure, the pleasure of hospitality in the public or private feast.”’. It was not less a selfish society than any other - people were never ‘giving in public’ nor they were more generous than any other culture. Money was deemphasized there (or actually only the local communist money - because dollars had always very high value there) - so it was more a barter economy - it was about doing favours in exchange of other favours. For those from the West (or too young to have lived in communism here) I would recommend films like Wodzirej to get the feeling of the everyday life under communism. This barter based economy was not less alienating than a money based - it was all about an arbitrary decision of someone having access to something - in a way with money you have a more objective mechanism for that.

Hi Zbigniew; Yes, what you just wrote – is precisely what MarcelMauss wrote. Mauss observed communism, and said, “This clearly isn’t any different.”

He was also not advocating for barter! He argued against barter.

I feel frustrated, because I, and Mauss, are trying to talk about deeply substantiated anthropology studies of indigenous cultures where, indeed, people experience “the joy of giving in public, the delight in generous artistic expenditure, and the pleasure of hospitality in the public or private feast,” and it’s not an ironic statement.

I invite you to check out MarcelMauss links, to see what he’s really saying. He’s absolutely not advocating communism, or barter.

I think this connects with SamRose’s work. SamRose observed that people in communities simply don’t like to put exchange valuations on the favors they do for one another. He and some of Adrius’ group (forgot-the-name) are talking about making “Gift Nodes” on the various wiki, in the various communities, and allowing for communities to gift each other, in public view, and so on. This is very similar to the concept of potlatch, which has been practiced for unknown number of centuries.

This also connects with OpenSource. Perspectives vary within the OpenSource community, of course – some people advertise it as just a better way to make money – but there is a large part of the OpenSource community that reflects in the joy of giving in public, the delight in generous artistic expenditure, and the pleasure of hospitality in the public or private feast.

For example, look at RadomirDopieralski. And Radomir’s resistance to connecting it with money, or things with assigned value – you’ll see that this is common in these societies, by the anthropology.

I think in that paragraph:

Mauss was never entirely sure what his practical conclusions were. The Russian experience convinced him that buying and selling could not simply be eliminated in a modern society, at least “in the foreseeable future,” but a market ethos could. Work could be co-operatized, effective social security guaranteed and, gradually, a new ethos created whereby the only possible excuse for accumulating wealth was the ability to give it all away.

What I think he’s saying is:

  • We can’t get rid of markets.
  • But we can get rid of “the market attitude.
  • Attitudes can’t be changed by state power.

I think a kind of vision that could come from this would be:

Say I get a bunch of friends together, and we live cooperatively. We work in town, and we pay our part of the food and rent.

We work on art and software projects in our free time, and give them freely to the public. We engage with other communities that do the same, or similar. We shun things where people have to pay, though.

Several communities like ours form. They too, share freely what they make, and they too, shun what requires pay.

We buy some land collectively, in the spirit of giving. We make a donation tally from our respective communities.

On that land, we build a conference space, for our membership, and the general public to use, basically freely, but in accordance with some common sense rules.

Some scenarios to consider:

  • A bunch of kids want a Nintendo Wii, and want to play games on it. But the parents shun it, because “It’s not free. It’s not us. We aren’t even permitted to draw the characters.” The kids get angry, and rebel against their stupid cheapskate parents.
  • A farming society comes into the mix, and gifts food. A carpenter’s shop comes into the mix, and gifts shop time and wood. The society participants gift labor in times of need. It’s not about the money.

You might think, “Now wait– these aren’t gifts, because they’re expecting something in return.” That’s true. These are most certainly not what we consider “free gifts.”

Mauss would argue, “Free gifts aren’t really gifts, though.” A “gift” has a certain magic to it, (think of the Nutcracker, for example,) because it’s embedded in a relationship. But without the relationship, he would argue, “It’s not really a gift. It’s something, but it’s not a gift.

These are gifts, which intrinsically have strings and social embedding in them. It certainly can’t be legislated. It can’t be counted or bartered, either. Rather, it lives in the community, and the network of communities.

Mauss is saying that a gift-culture economic system can only be embedded in a certain social arrangement. The FragmentsOfAnAnarchistAnthropology is about figuring out how we can understand and grow these kinds of social relationships, how we can “leave” society as it presently works, (not “smashing the state,”) and transform ourselves, person by person, into the kind of society we want to be in.

Lion… Just out of curiosity, have you read Atlas Shrugged?

No, I have not; … but I understand that it talks about a “leaving,” as well.

I feel it resonates with several of the statements on this page. One point that is stressed is the opinion that work must be fairly valued and that it cannot be a ‘free’ leaving, if it is to be appreciated. The author also had quite a few strong opinions about capitalism and communism that permeate the work. My familiarity with it is limited because I read it mostly because I was forced to but, since there were “tests”, I did have to think about its messages. That was before Wikipedia…

Lion - I was reading this:

The Russian experience convinced him that buying and selling could not simply be eliminated in a modern society, at least “in the foreseeable future,” but a market ethos could. Work could be co-operatized, effective social security guaranteed and, gradually, a new ethos created whereby the only possible excuse for accumulating wealth was the ability to give it all away. The result: a society whose highest values would be “the joy of giving in public, the delight in generous artistic expenditure, the pleasure of hospitality in the public or private feast.”

and my understanding of it is that he based his hopes for the new society on the Russian experience, and I cannot agree with that - the communism experiment was a failure. But if you say that the model of the new society comes from studies of indigenous culture then it is a completely different thing and I would propose to change the passage I’ve quoted above and eliminate the confusion.

Well, I can’t change the passage, because I didn’t write it, but I see clearly now the source of confusion.

Let’s see…

…how’s that?


Often, in discussions that I have participated in about giving/sharing/pooling/commons and CommonPoolResources concepts, people equate what is being discussed with Communism, Socialism, or some other similar concept. This has happened in cases where HowardRheingold has presented CooperationCommons? concepts (see: and with ongoing discussions at, etc

What I (SamRose) am proposing, in all cases, for all time, is voluntary giving, and voluntary cooperation. Mutually agreed-upon. Voluntary sharing/giving/pooling can easily co-exist with market economies. The state is never involved in forcing people to choose giving over selling, bartering, or valuing and exchanging labor, etc.

Voluntary is THE key word here. Sharing, and CollectiveAction? based around giving is an alternative. And arguments can be made that OpenSource software is currently the Most Mature Sharing, giving and "P2P" economy. It is the best existing example of how this type of voluntary economy can work.

(extra comentary)

I think our world’s old economic debates about this subject are fast becoming obsolete. In fact, people are pursuing direct giving and sharing economies precisely because they (often, and in part) want to bypass the state, in many cases, and because they want to bypass corporations, and work and self-govern directly, and openly. YochaiBenkler wrote a nice big book about this recently, that makes a cogent argument about the nature of what many people are doing, and how it can be viewed through economic lenses.

I recently participated in the first ever academic conference on the Political economies of Peer Production

My take away: There is definitely a use for market economies. Yet, there definitely also, IMO, at least as much space for voluntary non-market economies, too. The state, and traditional market economies will adjust to support the EthicalEconomy? (

Key Question(s)

PS. This week I’ll be creating a “GiftNodes?” page here, in collaboration with

MostMatureP2PEconomy says something interesting:

“Beyond Gifts. No social relationships between producers and consumers.”

Which, is interesting, I suppose, but different than what I’m getting from MarcelMauss.

Is Mauss wrong, then?

It is convenient that we can copy software freely, but if something is going to work outside of software, (for instance, food and shelter,) it will need to be something different. (Or robots, or whatever.)

My first use of Linux came about because I saw it, I was impressed, and immediately wanted to contribute. My first contribution was to use it. People say, “The quality is higher,” and “This is important,” but I don’t think that’s actually true; Only in some cases. In a great many cases, I make a decision to use Free Software not because it is better, but because I believe in the cause, and know that “you use it, or you lose it.”


Gift based economy can work only on small scale - in long term relationships. In other circumstances there is no balancing mechanism - there is no need to reciprocate the received gifts.

Yes, so we are obviously talking about communal society.

My understanding is that the Native American tribes doing potlatch do it at a “gathering of the tribes,” so it “scales up” a little bit more than just (say) 150 people.

I would emphasize the: “Mauss was never entirely sure what his practical conclusions were.”

I think SamRose’s idea is interesting though; His idea is to have wiki communities support gift nodes, sort of like the WikiNodesNetwork?, and the wiki says, “This is what we have to give.”

Will it just be taken advantage of? Will people reciprocate? Is it possible that it could grow to something larger?

I don’t know! I agree that it is “a long shot,” but who knows?

I think that both Free Software and the “potlatch” things are more into the MeatBall:BarnRising than individual gifts – although it’s still a gift economy, because you know that when you need a barn risen, the people will come just like you came to rise theirs.

I feel the difference in motivation. You contribute to free software not because you want to give a gift, or because you expect something in return, but because it’s the right thing to do. I can imagine it’s similar with the barn rising – the barn is needed, it’s the right thing to build it in there, even if it’s not your barn. You know how things should be and you can help made them that way.

I guess I’m thinking more specifically about SamRose’s “gift nodes” concept.

I agree that: At the potlatch, in Free Software, etc., the reason we do it is because “it’s the right thing to do.” But if nobody reciprocated, it wouldn’t work.

Grr; I’m struggling for words. There are reasons for things, even if they aren’t “the reason we’re doing it.” Marcel is not wrong to say that it’s essential to the gift that there is receipt and return, even if the reason we’re doing it is because “it’s the right thing to do.” They’re not mutually exclusive.

Another example how things can go wrong in ‘non market economy’: Is something fundamentally wrong with Wikipedia governance processes?. This is relevant here - because this poisonous politics is very similar to what was happening in communism - the unscrupulous were using the lack of a balancing mechanism for their own advantage abusing the whole population. Market is a very good balancing mechanism - and if you get rid of it you need to carefully think what you will substitute it with. In simple, tightly bound societies this balancing mechanism is the fact that the players have to interact with each other over and over again - so it is a iterated prisoner dilemma - and the uncooperative strategy is not a winner here. But when the society grows the interactions are not repetitive anymore.

Anytime you think “thank you” toward someone, you have received a gift.

I think of gifts as very mild debt, and when you reciprocate the gift, you have made a kind of trade.

Trade is required for specialization. Specialization is tremendously valuable because it increases productive efficiency and helps groups achieve goals that individuals cannot.

Direct trade (such as barter) is good, but indirect trade (such as with money) is much more valuable because the traders are not required to have simultaneous coincidence of wants. If you want to trade eggs for apples, but the apple tree owner may not want eggs right now, or ever. If you will have to trade your eggs with someone that has one of the things on the apple grower’s list of wants - such as pecans - but only if the pecan tree owner wants eggs right now, or ever, etc.

So gifts are not the same as barter or currency, but have some properties of each. One differences I observe is that gifts are ‘loose’ across time. I can give you eggs now, and this fall you ‘might’ (notice this is not a ‘must’) give me apples, or even apple pie. Repayment is not guaranteed, but is certainly a happier affair when it does occur. I think most people want to repay, but it is difficult to know how, especially when you are not sure what the giver wants. A public area to display the goods and services we want and those we offer might help increase the number of gifts, and consequently the amount of trade.

Because time and absolute value are less important, gifts are also more easily be used to indirectly pay others. In this way, gifts are similar to currency because they are less direct than barter. – PatrickAnderson

ZbigniewLukasiak, I don’t know how to work with your post.

On the one hand, we have (I think) indigenous societies the world over engaged in gift cultures (not barter, not market,) and on the other hand, we have a blanket criticism of all non-markets because … Wikipedia governance is unspoken (TheTyrannyOfStructurelessness?,) and thus unfair? And then the even wilder assertion, that markets are full of balancing forces, and so are fair?

What did we just walk in to, and how? And why?!

Is this tied to CommunityWikiIsTooPeaceful? Are we just trying to stir up a good’ol “communism vs. capitalism” debate? Or are we talking about indigenous societies and SamRose’s GiftNode? concept?

Hi Lion - yeah - I know this was a bit harsh - but for now I cannot formulate it better. Forgive me - but I hope it goes with your idea of WikiAsYouLearn - these are my, still a bit incoherent, notes. It comes to one point - gift economies don’t scale - or at least did not scale before interenet. I believe that internet actually can make public opinion much more efficient and it is one of the balancing mechanisms. In the tightly bound communities it is the gossip that coerce people to comply with the society rules. I guess my view on human nature is much darker then most of other CommunityWiki members - and there needs to be some objective mechanism to make people cooperative. I do believe in good will etc, but I think it works only for short term and in the long run what you need is a well balanced system - where people would act cooperatively for their own good. As the free market theoreticians showed market is effective as such a balancing mechanism (for many aspects of economy) - what communism showed is that bureaucracy is not. And I bring this Wikipedia criticism to support my thesis that a system without a balancing mechanism will attract people who would like to abuse it.

If your view of human nature is dark – that’s okay, as long as you can see the divine within. If I saw only the dark of human nature, I would question further living.

When I started writing about MarcelMauss, I, like you, was wiki-ing as I learn. I didn’t have much shape to my thoughts. Thanks to interacting with you, and Patrick, (and by saying “thanks,” it means that these are now gifts,) I see more clearly the shape of what I am looking for.

My question is not: “Will it scale?”

My question is closer to: “Can I do this?”

I find it very inspiring that indigenous cultures have not thought much about their “economy” as an “economy.” They’ve seen life more holistically. All “economic” activity in indigenous culture is interwoven with exactly who they are, what they are doing, and how they relate with one another. It’s not primary, and it’s not even secondary.

Put another way: I’m much more interested in their spiritual ideas and their social cohesions, then I am interested in their economic theory.

That this hasn’t been evolutionarily stable, as compared against, say, “civilization,” means very little to me, like an irritating fly buzzing around. The incessant questions of, “Does it scale?” “Can everybody do this?” “Can a civilization be built on this?” (ThePowerOfQuestion?) – they’re so loud, I can barely hear these other frames of existence.

My question is again: “Can I do this?”

TheFederationOfDamanhur is a modern day society. It shocks me. I’m not aware of any other community like it.

Damanhur is one of the leading communal alternative spiritual groups in the world and I think it’s part of the tradition of ‘Ancient Wisdom Movements’, but on the other hand it’s new. I think that the founder, Mr. Airaudi has succeeded in inventing something which is really new and that has been proven successful by the fact that this experience has lasted for much more than sociological theories would have predicted. Damanhur’s stability is quite uncharacteristic and exceptional, and it runs counter to some theories that these kinds of communal groups can be successful in the post-modern world but only for a few years. Perhaps theories themselves can be revisited based on Damanhur. And Damanhur is big enough to make us reconsider theories, because we are not talking of 20 people living together - they can be exceptional or peculiar people - we are talking of more than 600 people.Damanhur website, citing Massimo Introvigne

I will be visiting them this year, probably around August, because I have to understand how it is that they work.

I’ll write more on this on a check-in page, (see CommunityWikiIsTooPeaceful,) because I believe I have found my end on this page.

(But if you’d like to continue to talk about it; Fine. I guess I just agree with you: It doesn’t scale. Not that we’ve found any way to, at least.)

OK - so we agree on one point. But there is more. I don’t have any quotes to back this up for now - but let’s treat it again as tentative hypothesis - the indigenous cultures are quite controlling - you live with people watching your every step - and then discussing those steps between them. This is the balancing mechanism there - the society controls every move of it’s members and checks if it is beneficial for the community or not. Money market let’s us abstract that away - the society can relay on the fact that if it is profitable than it is good - and everyone wants to be profitable. I don’t think the old way would be acceptable for someone bred in a modern society.

It will be interesting to hear your thoughts about this after your visit to Damanhur.

I don’t really think it’s the gossip, or fear of punishment, or any such thing that’s actually stopping people from doing tricks. It’s not like I don’t go around killing people just because I’m afraid of the penalty for such deeds – I’ve been in many situations where there would be no penalty – intead, I just don’t want to kill anybody. Or cheat anybody. Or lie. I think that nobody wants it – but we will sometimes do it in a tight situation, out of fear or greed, etc.

I think that most of the time peole operate on “autopilot” – you cannot think consciously about every little decission you make. And when going on tis autopilot, we act according to our conscience. But sometimes, there appears an opportunity to gain a lot by thinking ahead and acting in nonstandard way. At other times we have our back against the wall and we have to think our way out. So we play a game – we try to “game the system” to our advantage. Few people actually like it – and I think they actually like it because they are good at it and it gives them satisfaction – same reason why you might like anything else you do.

Now, societies will typically defend against this gaming in two ways. One of them is to try and detect any attempt at gaming, and punish it (or at least make it unscuccessful). You can sometimes see parents scolding their children: “don’t play games with me”. Lawyers know it as the distinction between the “word of law” and the “spirit of law”. Of course, not spelling out the rules helps here. This creates (or is supposed to create) a world of romantic utopia, where people follow their hearts, where you are prosperous when you are “good”. Of course, it doesn’t scale – to detect gaming you need to guess the intentions. To guess the intentions, you need to know the situation and the persons involved. The whole “justice system” can be gamed too – and so on. it’s interesting to note how this is a “world from fairy tales” – this is what is considered “right”, even if naive. In fairy tales bankers, lawyers and generally businessmen – those who play by the rules, not by the heart – are the evil.

The other way is to allow gaming, even encourage it, and set the rules so that the games are “fair”. Now you don’t need to guess the intentions, you just punish for breaking the rules, and this punishment is a rule to be played against too (some companies will gladly pay penalties rather than follow the rules, because it’s still better for them, for exmaple). It all looks nice on paper, except it doesn’t work. Nobody thinks all the time – and many peopl openly refuse to play, which automatically makes them losers. It’s also incredibly hard to set the rules so that the situation created is acceptable for the society – remember the “rapacious capitalism” just after the industrial revolution? But rules have a great advantage: they are cheap and can scale.

In the end, we have a mix of the two. On middle scale, there are rules, and you can game them all you want. On large scale, the rules change and there are exceptions – to balance the “rapaciousness” of the rules and limit the amount one can win from the system. On small scale, peple still don’t think all the time and act according to their hearts. One can have a great advantage by thinking carefully about what they do for some time – but nobody can do it all the time, and it’s not a pleasant life (some call it “rat race”).

>  don't really think it's the gossip, or fear of punishment, or any such thing that's actually stopping people from doing tricks. 

This might be true for most of us - but the problem is that if it is an open system and people can get away with playing tricks then there will be people who do that. And there will be more and more of them because this system will attract them. I totaly agree with you that there is no clear cut in all of this - and that we have to live with that - but what I am saying is that we should still think about it and analyse it.

On the intuitive level it is about ‘being a sucker’. It is socially not accepted ‘to be a sucker’, you might think that the society should not care about it - or even it should actually encourage being altruistic - but the reality is that it shuns people who are too much altruistic. I propose that there is a reason for that - because it is the suckers that let the unscrupulous gamers thrive.

This is a great debate all around, from everyone who contributed.

I happen to believe that the MarketEconomyCannotExistWithoutGifts?, without giving that requires no reciprocation. I have never heard of a time when people in any society were not giving in some form.

This leads me to believe that one of the possible motives for giving can be a recognition that it helps sustain some form of common good that would otherwise break down and cause harm to all (thus sustaining through giving in these cases is being recognized as maintaining a commons).

My grandparents gave free food to families and people on the move during the depression, and a place to leave, and asked nothing in return. My parents gave money and time to certain causes and asked nothing in return. I give time and money to charities, and I give away work and information at times, and I believe that I am driven by compassion when I do so.

I think that people can be giving, yet also be vigilant against cheating. In fact, I think people increasingly are. In order to be vigilant, people need literacies of media, and foresight, and the nature of humans, and literacy of human cooperation dynamics.

I think that when cheating happens, and people are scammed on a large scale, my observation is that in free societies, people tend to learn. Think of the Wikipedia:Ponzi_scheme, or other famous examples where people where duped, and how cultures then turned “Ponzi scheme” into a metaphor for recognizing and declaring something to be cheating. 1

In short, if we are looking for motivations beyond selfishness, I think that Mauss is right, that at times, people are just compassionate and generous. I’ll go Mauss one better, and even suggest that people are hard wired to have this tendancy, due to thousands/millions of years of evolution where it has been shown to be successful among groups of humans. (The same can be said for cheating, that it is also a hardwired adaptation in some people). But it is not only hardwired. What this means is that we all have the genetic potential within us to be givers or cheaters, savers or killers, because we all have enough genetic diversity that we very likely have the genes of both within us.

But, genes are not the sole determinant of why a person is doing what they are doing, there is also the condition of the “organism” in question (the mental and physical condition of each person), and the environment that they are a part of. 2

There are simple experiments that teachers can perform with children in schools3 using simple AgentBasedModeling? that will demonstrate one of the key conditions required for activating the in-built human tendancy towards sharing/giving, that is communication, and recognition of some shared resource as a commons. RobertAxelrod? also experimented with AgentBasedModeling? the TragedyOfTheCommons, and also found that the only way the agents in his model could win, is if they knew what game they were playing (if they were programmed to be aware of their impact, and programmed to try and equalize their impact).

So, I think we have Gene, Organism, and Envrionment factors that play into what we are talking about here. I think that Radomir really does not kill people because he is genuinely averse to doing so, and I think that that aversion is the product of millions of years of genetic and cultural evolution.


2. Lewontin, Richard The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and Environment
3. using NetLogo? along with students to explore solutions to the Tragedy of the Commons

Define external redirect: WikiNodesNetwork EthicalEconomy TheTyrannyOfStructurelessness RobertAxelrod NetLogo ThePowerOfQuestion GiftNodes AgentBasedModeling MarketEconomyCannotExistWithoutGifts CooperationCommons GiftNode CollectiveAction

EditNearLinks: OpenSource YochaiBenkler PatrickAnderson HowardRheingold