Thoughts on trade and ritual

Submitted by Majrelende in Anarchism (edited )

Recently, a friend and I were exchanging seeds, but by ‘exchange’ I do not mean ‘trade’; we were instead asking for what we needed while being respectful of the other’s needs, and it turned out to resemble the cold-hearted, ‘rationally self-interested’ supply and demand that economists believe in and yet surpass it in both social and material quality.

Trade, I speculate, arose as this mutual aid became more and more detached and ritualised and systematised. While ritual may make interactions easier and more easily doable, especially with strangers, they cut the bonds of compassion that are the the heart of mutual aid and eventually created a hyper-individualised or tribal society. Those who might have been friends are now tools; that which might have been a gift is now a commodity. With our robotic limbs of ritual, we may amputate ourselves to make it easier, rid ourselves of nature’s outdated ways, be cold and rational, without emotion, like social computers. This, I imagine, is the beginning of trade.



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Tequila_Wolf wrote

Have you read David Graeber's Debt? You might enjoy it if you like thinking about stuff like this.


toocats wrote

It's hard to just give something away without at least approximating its exchange value or exchanging things without approximating whether the exchange values of the things you're offering are roughly equal to those of the things you're getting in return, even if we consciously try not to.

It's also hard to be generous when you can't trust that your generosity won't be reciprocated by others if you're ever in need.


Majrelende OP wrote (edited )

When we exchange seeds, we rarely ‘approximat[e] [their] exchange value’; we consider our needs and seed supplies and give each other what would make sense to give. In fact, I think it is much easier to give and expect nothing in return than to be given something and want to express gratitude. Rationalising and ritualising interactions favours the other way: If I gave them something, I deserve [an abstract cultural concept] something back.


ziq wrote

When I give away a seed, cutting or plant, the value I get is in greening the world. Like I gave a rooted cutting to someone a few years ago and now it's a huge tree in their garden. I helped make that tree exist. The value of creation is the highest value there is.


toocats wrote

I somehow missed the

and yet surpass it in both social and material quality.

part of your original post and thought you were saying that despite the way you exchanged it ended up seeming like "trade" anyway so my reply doesn't make any sense. I was probably pre-coffee.

In fact, I think it is much easier to give and expect nothing in return than to be given something and want to express gratitude.

I agree. I don't know what I was trying to say but I didn't say it very well.


celebratedrecluse wrote (edited )

this observation may illuminate why anarchist projects have difficulty with any sort of scale or depersonalization

it may also give hints as to why anarchist spaces are littered with shattered relationships, dysfunctional antisocial behavior, and a conflation of socializing with in-groups and doing praxis


_caspar_ wrote

Fredy Perlman in Against History, Against Leviathan! argued similarly that “trade is something people do to their enemies. They don’t trade with kin.” this Leviathanic thinking demands hegemony of trade: whether with family, friend, or foe, one expects a return when giving.

I feel measurement is also an original culprit. once something can be measured, its value becomes comparable and legible for trade.

This is also reflected in Fred Moten and Stefano Harney's idea of mutual debt: never becoming a creditor expecting and seeking payment. “So rather than grasping over value, we insist upon the invaluable. That would mean an ethical imperative to structure a sociality centered on the invaluable, rather than a political economy absolutely predicated on value.” (Moten, A Poetics of the Undercommons)

Raoul Vaneigem also addresses this through different terms in their Revolution of Everyday Life: "The feudal mind seemingly conceived of the gift as a sort of haughty refusal to exchange-- a will to deny interchangeability. This attitude entailed a contempt for money and any form of common measure." they claim that the gift was problematically embedded with sacrifice during the pre-mercantilistic feudal era, but both were eventually dominated by exchange. they call for something going beyond exchange and sacrifice, perhaps a return to the gift.