There is No Such Thing as a Free Gift

Beware of the gift

You must be thinking that I’m gonna preach you an evil idea to drive you away from sincerity act. No, it’s not. In fact, I’m gonna tell you some secret behind the working scheme of our society. Do you know that social relationship works by not giving a “free gift”? Oh yes, by not giving a free gift we create social bonds, thus develop and maintain alliances along with social solidarity.

How come?

Well, I just jumped on a passage about “theory of gift” and mesmerized by the idea that Marcell Mauss sparked 89 years ago: there’s no such thing as a free gift. In his opinion, practice of giving does not only involve the act “to give” and “to receive”, but also “to reciprocate”. When the giver gives the gift, eventhough he does it sincerely, it will create “moral duty” imposed on the receiver. The receiver will feel that in the future he has to reciprocate what has been given to him. Until that time, giver and receiver will develop mutual interdependence.

"Here is a free gift for you!"
“Here is a free gift for you!”

This is the passage quoted from Wikipedia:

“Because of this bond between giver and gift, the act of giving creates a social bond with an obligation to reciprocate on part of the recipient. To not reciprocate means to lose honour and status, but the spiritual implications can be even worse…”

“Mauss distinguished between three obligations: giving – the necessary initial step for the creation and maintenance of social relationships; receiving, for to refuse to receive is to reject the social bond; and reciprocating in order to demonstrate one’s own liberality, honour and wealth.”

“According to Mauss, the “free” gift that is not returned is a contradiction because it cannot create social ties.”

See? You must have ever experienced this kind of feeling. When you receive an aid from someone, eventhough he gave it genuinely without expecting any return from you, you’ll indirectly feel that this is “a loan you have to pay back”. Then this feeling will make you cling to him until you’re able to “settle the loan”. If someday you’re the first to grant him a gift, then it’s his turn to be subjected a “moral duty” of reciprocation. This cycle will keep evolving, both of you will be attached to each other, thus maintaining the so-called “social bond”. See your families, neighbors, friends, colleagues, communities, business partners, and even government of countries. It’s the way our society works.

For example, your parents. You didn’t ask them to feed or raise you, and they also didn’t expect you to return it, but you will automatically feel a duty to pay their merit. Your friends, your lover, they give you something simply because they like you, but however you have to do something back to “zero-sum” it. This what keeps you relationship going. They give you love, you have to return their love, too.

Beware of the gift
Beware of the gift

So, in contrast, the theory can also work vice versa. If you feel you don’t want to build a social bond with someone or certain group, do not receive any aid from him/them. Receiving help will tie you up with the giver, so unless you’re in favor to have a long-term relationship with them, just do not turn the button on.

This advice might sound selfish and arrogant, but you can counter it back. I myself don’t thoroughly agree with Mauss idea anyway. In some point, people can be entirely sincere about their act of giving, especially in individual level. For instance, when you donate your blood to unknown recipient, both of you don’t know each other, so there’s no opportunity for “reciprocation relationship”.

But I think in a group level, such as organizations and countries interaction, Mauss theory works very well. Do you remember when Soekarno rejected the aids given by Western countries to help Indonesian economy? I think he clearly understood this way of “gift economy” works. He didn’t want to trap Indonesia in a grasp of capitalist country by burdening a “moral duty” on us. He preferred not to “turn the button on”. He thought that we better be independent, stand our own feet, so we don’t need to be a bondman of any country.

Somehow I think, the aid given by those developed countries are based on their understanding of this “gift theory”. They want to reign and control the poor countries by letting them dependent on their help. You see what happen to Kuba, Iran, or North Korea: they build their own technology and reject assistance from other countries, simply because they don’t want to be under control of the superpowers.

To think some “evil way”, you can utilize this theory. If you want to bind someone into a strong social bond, or even take control of him, you can just help him. Give him an aid that he badly needs: a treasure, an authority, an opportunity, or even a life. This way he will be your slave forever. *evil laugh*

Well, I guess now we understand better about the prophet teaching of “the upper hand is better than the lower hand.” 🙂

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