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July 05, 2006


Geoff Holsclaw


very interesting thoughts on the 3rd economy. two thing: as you say, " the gift economy creates a virtuous circle, so the plunder economy creates its own destructive cycles." I would say that gift economies of mutual recognition are not as virtuous as you seem to be saying. Certainly they are different than market economies, but their is exploitation and domination involved also.

And I want to throw a wrench in and ask if the plunder economy, rather than being a 3rd economy, is really just the gift economy applied to the Other (the one outside our Symbolic Exchanges--for gift-economies aren't merely exchanging object, but rather acknowledging 'subjects'. So the plunder economy would be not feeling the need to exchange a 'gift' b/c you are not really a person anyway--you are an alien, barbarian, or animal. Therefore it is really not even stealing. Or in the register of conquest, plundering trophies is symbolic domination of one over another--the destruction of their symbolic universe--a type of colonization.

So, in short--gift and plunder are two sides of the same coin, depending on if you are inside or outside the community.


I'd be happy to go along with that, though I'd argue for a different use of the term 'other'. In my syntax, it is precisely an appreciation of 'the other' - whether that be within your tight community or wider city - that defines gift. The plunderer has no appreciation of 'the other', but simply takes regardless of consequence.

Actually, there was a further post in the series I was going to do on the deeper undertones of gift exchange that might be helpful to shoe in when I've got a mo'.

Either way, I'd agree, gift and plunder are two poles on the same axis.

geoffrey holsclaw

yes, I would agree that we are probably using 'other' differently. I just ran into this over at pete rollins blog. While I assume you are coming more from a Levinasian/Derridian ethics of the other place, I'm coming from a Lacanian 'discourse of the Other'. For Lacan, the 'Other' is the symbolic order, or especially the disavowed/forgotten part that comes and haunts us.


That's a lovely image - 'the forgotten part that comes and haunts us'.

What's interesting in my dealing with kids for whom 'plunder' is default is that they are very afraid of this 'other', this part of themselves that haunts them. So perhaps much of their activity is a way of keeping the other quiet. They find it very challenging to actually 'hear things' and have their walls breached.

Geoff Holsclaw

As you said concerning kids who plunder, that they act out because of what they fear, to keep the voices out, to feel in control.

As we all know, kids (at least my 3, and 1 and 1/2 year old) need boundaries to flourish. But with a type of regression into a plunder economy, but without any actual Order/System of which a gift economy ran on, kids these days have nothing to guide them. They are full of anxiety/angst b/c they don't even have something to rebel against. Everything is up to them--and even for adults this is stressful...

Geoff Holsclaw

sorry to keep commenting here, but I thought this underscored both of our positions. it is from context weblog concerning 'prejudice and the brain.'

Here it is: Dehumanizing the Lowest of the Low: Neuro-imaging responses to Extreme Outgroups


Geoff thanks - this is excellent. A really interesting read, with some profound implications.



Thought you might be interested in two articles, one referencing
the other, that discuss “social giving” to online forums
and resources such as wikipedia.

From Collective
questions social gifting with several links to studies.

People contribute to sociable web media to find
emotional support, a sense of belonging, relaxation, and
encouragement, in addition to instrumental aid (finding a job, making
money). Social capital is an additional motivating aspect, as Nick
pointed out. But don't forget fun. Russel Hardin talks about
participation in demonstrations, driven by the desire to be part of
history; it is propelled by the desire "to share the
experiences of [one's] time and place.

And from Peer to Peer
, What
drives online cooperation: agonistic giving

I would like to add my own five cents here. Last year, I
had been reading some items on ‘value’ and its exchange
through society. Money captures only a small part of this value. When
we participate in online or other social projects, we basically
exchange value, and in essence, what I feel is that by giving, we are
receiving. So pure altruism may not exist, because when we are
giving, it really means we are receiving something: recognition,
reputation, the very fact of sharing might be giving us something.
The emotional laws of thermodynamics, that no energy is lost, might
apply here. Great altruists may simply be people who have evolved to
the point that they nourish themselves through giving.

These are looking at antagonistic giving to online “commons”
but they imply the agonistic giving in their rebuttal.

A few days ago I left a comment that I can no longer find, so I'll
remention the books that I listed there as recommendations for
examples of Gift economy. The
Hacker Ethic
by Pekka Himanen, Linus Torvalds, and Manuel
Castells is one. And Cathedral
and the Bazaar
by Eric S. Raymond is a classic essay on
Open Source software development by individuals contributing for the
greater good. You probably already know about these. The Open Source
software model, and now Open Source encyclopedias and thousands of
great, free online resources, seems like one of the greatest Gift
economies of human history.


One thing that you touch on only very briefly in the first post in this series is the idea of (traditional, i.e. established) Christian leadership being an example of the Leisure Class, therefore 'players' and ultimately therefore part of your plunder economy construction.

I was interested to read your comments on this in the light of my own experience of growing up close to lots of 'full-time' christian leaders. I think I've been unconsciuosly aware of this myself for a long time. At crossroad points in my life when I've had the option to go down that route ('full-time leadership'), I made decisions to follow 'secular' (I hate that expression)career paths on the basis that these were a greater CONTRIBUTION to the community around me, that I really didn't want to SPONGE off people around me and that 'leadership' should not be a paid function within the church community (i.e. gift within your language) as this is where all the problems start. I think this was implicit rather than explicit, but it always good when you've felt something for a long time and then you hear someon articulating thoughts that have knawed away at you under the surface for so long in such a clear way.

Also, I'd chuck it out that many of the issues the many guises of the established church is facing at the moment (the homosexuality debate is a great example), would simply evaporate if we no longer had the 'leisure class' of church leadership about in it current form. This is probably covered somewhere and I've missed it, but the more I think about it, the more I think so many of the problems we face stem from this model of leadership.


The liesure class does not lead, it rules in separatist splendor over the suckling subjugated saps.

I refuse to acknowledge them as leaders, I will not follow!

Yay Cuba (?)!

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