Elman Service – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ξ March 21st, 2007 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Science |



    We are accustomed, because of the nature of our own economy, to think that human beings have a "natural propensity to truck and barter," and that economic relations among individuals or groups are characterised by "economising," by "maximizing" the result of effort, by "selling dear and buying cheap." Primitive peoples do none of these things, however; in fact, most of the time it would seem that they do the opposite. They "give things away," they admire generosity, they expect hospitality, they punish thrift as selfishness.

    And strangest of all, the more dire the circumstances, the more scarce (or valuable) the goods, the less "economically" will they behave and the more generous they seem to be. We are considering of course, the form of exchange among persons within a society and these persons are, in a band society, all kinsmen of some sort. This contrasts directly with the principles ascribed to the formal economy. We "give" food, do we not, to our children? We "help" our brothers and "provide for" aged parents. Others do, or have done, or will do, the same for us.

    At the generalised pole, because close social relations prevail, the emotions of love, the etiquette of family life, the morality of generosity all together condition the way goods are handled, and in such a way that the economic attitude towards the goods is diminished. Anthropologists have sometimes attempted to characterise the actual transaction with words like "pure gift" or "free gift" in order to point up the fact that this is not a trade, but barter, and the sentiment involved in the transaction is not one of a balanced exchange. But these words are not quite evocative of the actual nature of the act; they are even somewhat misleading.

    Once Peter Freuchen was handed some meat by an Eskimo hunter and responded gratefully thanking him. The hunter was cast down, and Freuchen was quickly corrected by an old man: "You must not thank for your meat: it is your right to get parts. In this country, nobody wishes to be dependent on others. Therefore, there is nobody who gives or gets gifts, for thereby you become dependent. With gifts you make slaves just as with whips you make dogs."

    The word "gift" has overtones of charity, not of reciprocity. In no hunter-gathering society is gratitude expressed, and, as a matter of fact, it would be wrong even to praise a man as "generous" when he shares his game with his camp-mates. On another occasion he could be said to be generous,but not in response to a particular incidence of sharing, for then the statement would have the same implication as an expression of gratitude: that the sharing was unexpected, that the giver was not generous simply as a matter of course. It would be right to praise a man for his hunting prowess on such and occasion, but not for his generosity.

 

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