• Friday, February 01st, 2013

This is a path to true prosperity without any gimmicks or solar panels or fancy technology. It is the path that our ancestors relied upon and it is the path that most indigenous societies use today. We cut out the middlemen (banks, financiers and government) and deal directly with each other to fulfill our needs.

The only trouble is that generosity requires a leap of faith. With the other person reciprocate? Will I be seen as a sucker? Will people laugh at me? And the inner dialog of objections continue…until you realize that you have nothing to lose and a lot to gain.


Silas Hagerty is a gift economy filmmaker in Kezar Falls, Maine. His most recent work is Dakota 38, the moving story of the largest mass execution in US history – - that of 38 Lakota Indians in 1862. He spent years doing the film and had no hesitation in essentially giving it to the Native American community when it was done. It was a natural part of his evolution in doing gift economy projects over many years.

After graduating from film school, Silas was looking for the rungs on the ladder of a conventional film career but began to see his passion for filmmaking could be a gift to be put in the service of others. The shift was powerful. Here’s how Silas explains the change in the way he thought and acted: “If I come into the room and am basically asking ‘how can you help?’ it creates a certain kind of energy. What I challenged myself to do was to walk into every encounter and instead ask, ‘what can I do for you? It’s a completely different energy. That basic structure started to change in me.”

This shift from a “me” to “you” – how can I serve you rather than how can you help me – is radical in today’s context, but really nothing terribly new. Anthropologists remind us that a communal sense has deeper roots than does our modern self-centric, individualistic social structures… has been working in the “pay it forward” arena for more than ten years. Its Karma Kitchen, for instance, has operated in Berkeley, California for several years on a model where patrons are charged nothing, but are told their meal was paid for by the generosity of the person who came before them. They are asked to contribute in order to keep this experiment going. And it not only has kept going for several years, but has inspired similar restaurants in Chicago and Washington DC. The gift economy model here is something like a large circle spooling forward. Though patrons don’t know each other, their mutual generosity is essential to keeping the restaurant alive. They, in a sense, are paying each other and learning that generosity does indeed beget generosity. This builds trust that ripples outward, a trust in generosity that does not remain within the confines of the restaurant. The collateral good here is incalculable.

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3 Responses

  1. Mark, It is easy to forget the full-cycle ‘economic’ (Greek ‘oikos’ = ‘home’) details of ‘indigenous’ (Latin = ‘self-generating’) heritage, especially colonial-invasion, epidemics, genocide, institutionalization & forced imposition. Every people in the world, all once ‘indigenous’ (Latin = ‘self-generating’) have now gone through these violent steps with massive amnesia or loss of collective memory. Society including institutional religion presently tend towards 2-dimensional ‘linear’ thinking (eg. freedom or ‘giving’) & planning rejecting instead of considering whole cycles in the 3-D full cycle world in which we live. This leads to institutional cruelty such as the residential schools became when the church tried to impose supposed Christian linear morality on whole 3-D cultures. The word ‘money’ comes from ‘mnemosis’ (Greek ‘memory’) & represents a deep tradition of economic memory for diverse ‘community’ (L. ‘com’ = ‘together’ + ‘munus’ = ‘gift or service’) stakeholder contributions.

    Those who advocate for the supposed ‘gift’ economy based on supposed association with the ‘potlatch’ etc typically have some linear pieces of an interesting 3-D livelihood puzzle & culture but haven’t considered rich 3-D indigenous traditions which form the whole cycle of giving & receiving:

    1) Collaborative critical-mass economies in the Multihome living with privacy but as well proximal opportunities for female-male inter-generational domestic mutual-aid,
    2) Distinguishing & uniting labours & knowledge in specialized Production-Societies & caucusing where universal lifetime progressive ownership from youth to elder enables a cycle of contribution, experience, expertise & decision-making acumen,
    3) Inclusive Accounting & economic welcome through the String-shell (Wampum, Esnoguay, Kayoni, Seewan, Quipu, Cauris-shell etc) value accounting systems of the world. We can understand the accounting cycle as integrating ‘capital’ (Latin ‘cap’ = ‘head’ or ‘wisdom’), ‘currency’ (‘flow’), condolence (‘social-security’), collegial-education (mentored apprenticeships), math-based communication & other values.

    Considering the role of collective memory across complex human economy, accounting is a key tool for systematic human recognition so all can be included, welcomed & coordinated in ecological livelihood. Indigene Community gathers this worldwide heritage for abundance & sustainability in our time. Here is one sub-section on Participatory Accounting from the Relational Economy section. I hope we go deeper in our analysis for co-creating a 3-D full cycle of ‘giving & receiving’ for all.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Douglas. You have a lot to offer on the subject of how to create a more just and sustainable living economy.

  3. It’s a pleasure to collaborate with you. There’s a disconnect in the left as there is in the right to consider the whole of what we have & where we need to go as a people, less reactively to the deficits of each & more pro-actively to the complementary strengths which we need to forge together. I just finished a 90 minute equal-time recorded dialogue with another community value system organizer. Jamie Klinger of JOATU (Jack of all trades unit) & I on behalf of RATIO (Recognition Algorithm for Time-Investment Ordinance have recorded this on electronic-audio. I can send you a copy for your review.

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