- This Course is based mainly on "Nonkilling Economics", chapter prepared by Alfredo Macías (Santiago de Compostela University) for Toward a Nonkilling Paradigm (Honolulu: Center for Global Nonkilling, 2009). The Course is part of the Interdisciplinary Program on Nonkilling Studies at the School of Nonkilling Studies.
The contemporary economic system is a modern and efficient machine that produces violence and death in most regions of our fragile planet. As Paige indicates (2009: 103-104), where he cites the Manifest of fifty three Nobel Prize laureates (Nobel prize Prize Recipients 1981: 61-63), we can and must address the situation of poverty and exclusion that a significant portion of humanity endures as a veritable “holocaust". What will future generations think when they observe the current drama of hunger and exclusion and lack of access to the most basic goods that many human beings need? Would it be legitimate to compare our indifference today with the attitude of those who looked the other way in Germany’s Nazi regime and did not stop the atrocities ?
Since the Second World War we have lived in an epoch of explosive growth of the inequality between the rich and the poor (Paige 2009: 25-31). All the international organizations concur in highlighting this obvious trend. This trend of larger and larger gaps between rich and poor has not only continued but it has become larger and more apparent in the past decades. This is in spite of the well intentioned counter-measures put in place to avoid the growing inequities. In 1990, the average North American was 38 times richer than the average Tanzanian, whereas in 2005, fifteen years later, he was 61 times richer. In 2005, the average revenue of the richest 20 per cent of the population of the world was more than 50 times the average revenue of the poorest 20 per cent. In addition, the poorest 40 percent was receiving only 5 per cent of the world’s revenues and the poorest 20 percent were receiving only 1.5 percent of world revenues. In summary, this poorest 40 percent corresponds with two billion humans who live with less than two dollars a day.
Under the conservative estimate that the 500 richest persons enumerated in Forbes magazine have revenues not greater than 5 per cent of their assets; their revenues would be higher than the revenues of 416 million of the poorest persons together. That is 500 individuals with access to wealth comparable to the total wealth of the poorest 416 million global neighbors. In Brazil, for example, the relation between the revenue of 10 per cent of the poorest population and the revenue of 10 per cent of the richest population is the following: for every 1 Brazilian real the poorest person gets the richest person gets 94 reais.
For the world taken overall, this ratio is not 1 to 94 but 1 to 103. If measureed in a more systematic way using Gini’s coefficient, the general standard of world distribution would be more unequal than in any country, except Namibia. In a scale in which 0 represents the perfect equality and 100 the total inequality, Gini's coefficient of the world is 67 (PNUD 2005). Numerous studies developed by governmental and non governmental organizations explain how the inequality and the poverty interact with violence and environmental devastation. As Gandhi warns:
A nonviolent system of government is clearly an impossibility so long as a wide gulf between the rich and hungry millions persists… A violent and bloody revolution is a certainty one day unless there is voluntary abdication of riches and power that riches give and sharing them for the common good (Collected Works 75 (1941): 158).
On the other hand, it is necessary to take into account that the economic development experienced by the western countries has been based mostly on the expansion of the military-industrial complex, which has represented a source of weapons, the tools of killing and lethality, to feed indefinitely the conflicts and the killing that is suffered in many corners of our planet (Paige 2009: 106). Even a former US President and Army General Dwight D Eisenhower warned about the expanding military industrial complex during in 1961: “We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations”.
The current economic science is thought to improve efficiency, but it is also used to justify the logic of an economic system founded on killing, on violence and in the inhibition of the most charitable and altruistic attributes of human beings. For this reason, we will try to construct alternative instruments of analyses that allow us to use economic science as an instrument of support in the search of a nonkilling society, based on the common good and equitable sharing of benefits and resources.
Following Paige’s methodology (2009: 73-91), we will look first for the anthropologic and philosophical foundations, and the historical roots, of this search. Then we will think about the alternative approaches that can allow humanity to develop a nonkilling economic system, based on cooperative actions and principles and behaviours of solidarity and commonwealth, where the community fortifies and does not disintegrate in fratricidal conflicts supported by the forces of a market rooted in underwriting violence.
To approach these questions, this chapter is divided into five parts: a review of the theoretical motives that lead us to believe that contemporary economic science is not prepared to advise on policies and to develop institutions favourable to the construction of a nonkilling society; an analysis of the anthropological, philosophical and historical foundations that allow us to shelter the hope that humanity can develop economic behaviours that allow us to advance towards a nonkilling society; a discussion of the importance of economic reciprocity as an instrument not only to avoid war,, but also to develop nonkilling societies at large; an outline of a series of alternative approaches for a nonkilling economy; and, finally, some conclusions.
To Rethink the Economy from a Nonkilling Perspective
How have humans confronted the need to satisfy their basic needs and to achieve their aspirations? With what logic have the species confronted these needs and aspirations? Which are the means and ends? The methods and goals? In all these questions, there is nothing predetermined, beyond the own positive and negative tensions of humanity. Everything is possible to solve in the field of cultural human creations. Indeed, the economic architecture and structure was designed and is owned by the species. History and the natural environment represent contexts in which to act.
Economic managent is necessary to the human species since a social dimension was developed to confront the material aspects of the existence. Economics is a human invention. It is a social construction that is substantially related to the powers and the capacities that characterize us as species. Economics refers to our symbolic capacities, among other things. Material exchange historically constitutes the objective representation, though not the point of departure, the essential principle, since this representation does not derive from a passive absorption of the reality, but it is made possible due to the active intervention of the subject that realizes the experience, knows it, feels it and thinks it. Our economic dimension thrives on the internal world of each one of us. Following this argument, all economic representations, from exchange to accumulation, are subjective and cannot rise over human conscience, as it ends up being the case with utilitarianism.
Adam Smith, in The Wealth of the Nations (1776), warns us of the importance of the material exchange as a constitutive factor of human social and economic practice. But the Scotch author emphasizes something, that later will be forgotten. The answers that are given to the material needs, as to exchange, do not constitute an external dimension of women and men, which would be imposed irremediably upon themselves. To think about this question has great theoretical and methodological importance. Adam Smith, in his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) - as his colleague and friend David Hume, in his A Treatise on Human Nature (1739)-, attribute great importance to the moral sentiments in the achievement of social harmony.
Specifically, the sentiment of affection between human beings represents a seam of the western thought that did not have continuity, a point of opposite vision to the rationalist mechanical roller that will stay during the emergence and the consolidation of modernity. They differ from diverse authors of the modern Europe, including Karl Marx -in The German Ideology (1845) and specially in the Theses on Feuerbach (1845)- or, in a more contradictory way, Max Weber -in The Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of the Capitalism (1905)-, which construct their methods and their theoretical approaches from inverse hypotheses. They try to explain how the external world influences the internal world of the human being.
The economic science will take as a point of departure an already distorted analysis of the objectivation of human accomplishments - the commodity in case of The Capital (1867) of Marx-, where the principal human power would be work. The economic science will ignore the diversity of routes that the humanity has taken to confront the problems of the material life, centering exclusively in those ways that begin historically with the expropriation, often violently, of the common goods (Thompson 1971) and that finish in the ravenous accumulation, which is destroying the environment and the capacity of the peoples to be materially self-supported (Wolf 1982).
Therefore, there is necessarily a labour of debunking of certain common places established by the classic elaborations of the economic science, realizing a break with the progressive visions that see the development of the material life of the human species as a series of evolutionary states, where traumatic and violent experiences – as the appearance of private property- are justified for the advances of the civilization. For economic science, the answers we would think are always in the world that surrounds us. It would be necessary to depart from the external thing, of the objective thing, which has a consequence: that is, human beings can seek to live better by means of the work, on the basis of objective laws, developed scientifically. Following this logic, the economic behaviour of individuals would represent a passive adjustment to the laws of markets, or another type of economic institutions. The only way of changing our material condition would be to rely on our own production relations reduced to their technical, legal or merely social dimensions. Historically, these changes have always been violent, and have generated violent systems of political and economic domination themselves.
From this classic perspective, our symbolic capacities would be the result of the development of our productive capacities, where the homo economicus would be only a species more evolved than the beavers, the bees or the ants. Nevertheless, unlike other species, the material human life is debatable enough so that we could diminish the productive and reproductive dimensions, leaving to the margin the creative and innovative spheres. As Fernand Braudel says, as human beings we are even capable of creating new problems. Let’s think about our forbears, but let’s think also about us: the economy is substantial to the existential human dimension, and not only a practical activity. This consideration is related to a tension with universalism, a tension to the abstraction, which ends up by denying the individual being, concrete. It is necessary to understand it and to overcome it to re-drive and to return to the humanity of what are own fruit and own faculty. The economy is a human choice, nevertheless the economic science has tried to separate this cultural invention from its creators, dedicating apparent absolute truths for the lay myth of progress, enclosing the human species in relations of cause-effect, where the material life could be explained by pure objectivity, where the economy turns out to be a natural institution, unable to be thought of out of its established forms. Indeed, the human choice would be explained by external conditions, determined mechanically by the shortage of resources, and the violent fight for appropriating them. Really, the choice is not possible; the economic behaviours cannot be conceived in these terms.
We need to overcome these theoretical hypotheses, which finally are a hypothesis of life. Social and economic relations are not determined, but they suppose another dimension of invention and projection. In this respect, the tension to the transcendence can recover a major protagonism, overcoming the limits of consciential sedimentation that are observed in the forms of original cooperation of the first human communities (Lévy-Bruhl 1927: 127-161). We have the opportunity to depart from our faculty nature and our conscience, integrating what has been separated by the modern and premodern traditions: the reason of the sentiments, the material needs of the spirit and the affect, the ideas of the emotions, the tension to the abstraction of the tension to the transcendence.
The economy cannot be thought of independent from human aptitude to think and to project towards the future the integral well-being of the species, in a harmonic and peaceful form. Indeed, the real sense of the economy could be represented by the interlacing of three anthropologic tensions: the need, the aspiration and the transcendence; which turns out to be exactly opposite to the mechanical and violent logics that the different economic theories have deployed throughout history.
Precisely, the human capacity of economic invention expresses itself in a diversity of problems and solutions. Historically, they escape to conventional economics, subject to an ethnocentric and progressive vision. It’s curious to observe how the economic science has been and is a construct of an ideology of shortage, selfishness and rationality, and simultaneously it has been turning into the defender of lethality through a system of irrational consumption based on the unlimited production of goods that, in an expansive logic, violently expropriates the material capacities of many peoples. Hereby, one has sought to annul the possibility of thinking and feeling what is necessary, which is sufficient, enclosing the human spirit in the economic logic, of the violent expropriation and the accumulation toward the benefit of a minority.
Nowadays, we are present at the awareness of the inadequacy of western thought, overlapped in the institutional and material omnipotence. This inadequacy reflects the inability of the academic western centers to be responsive when asked about the origins, the roots and the bases of existence of the killing-prone civilization, which they themselves claim. It is the consequence of the historical pretension of constructing knowledge through a reading of reality unilaterally based in economic-political terms, from the historical European evolution, unable to admit their own absolute aggressiveness and ignorance in relation to other cultures and earthly beliefs.
Actually, the toxic cloud of modernity continues to wrap everything, determining the hopes and the pleasures of life, reducing the most authentic feelings to the ridiculous, turning into values the more mechanical dimensions of human activity, without excluding lethality and the evilness. Nevertheless, there is still another way of looking at the world and looking to our future.
Human Foundations of a Nonkilling Economy
Economic science tries to convince us of the need for the State or markets to accelerate the productive performance of each person. Without them, humans would not develop a spirit favorable to efficiency and accumulation. In addition, current economic science understands that only a privileged minority can assume this coercive and lethal function, in exchange for an exclusive good. For thousands of years, political elites, cities, empires and, in general, dominant and proprietary classes exercised this function under diverse economic systems, adapting to environmental and technological conditions.
In its theoretical development, economic science starts from three theoretical premises, which are present and seemingly inalterable in time and in cultural diversity. First, the exchange of objects would be a logical derivation of the human intention to exchange. In addition, the mercantile exchange would prevail over other diverse forms of exchange, as the community reciprocity and the centralized distribution develop. Secondly, the value of change of the produced goods would turn around its utilitarian dimension, the value of use. The accomplishment of the exchange for other objects would socially certify the practical relevancy of the commodity. Thirdly, reproduction is not perceived from the point of view of human needs: as reproduction of those human beings. Reproduction will turn around the process of accumulation in the productive process itself.
Goods are not always exchanged, sometimes they are shared and other times guarded jealously (Godelier 2000). Possibly, humanity started by sharing the most basic foods. The ritual of “insulting the meat”, when the hunter was coming to the community with the hunted animals, was a good sample of it (Lee1979). The hunted pieces were despised by the community, with a dual goal: to avoid the political prestige of the hunter while pressing this one so that he would share the food with others, avoiding the accumulation by few and conflicts inside the community. On the other hand, the sacred goods were guarded jealously, as they played a substantial part in collective identity. The original community would never exchange a sacred stone for another type of good, for example.
Therefore, in her origins, humanity designed symbolic forms to avoid the accumulation of the goods of subsistence and the exchange of the sacred goods, which did not have a reason to deny a human intention to exchange and to save as instruments of precaution. Maybe, the persons choose to use the objects to communicate, or to bee well known. The exchange of objects might even be an excuse to begin social relations. Nowadays, in the local African markets, it’s curious to observe how women do not hurry to sell their agricultural productions along the day. If they sell them rapidly, they would have to leave the market too promptly. Consequently, they would have to resign what really motivates them to come to the market: that is, to speak with the people, find out of what happens in her country or in her region, to pay attention to stories and rumors, etc. For these women, all of these relationships are more important than the profitability that they obtain from the sales.
It is possible that, with the demographic pressure on natural resources, the community reciprocity could work as a complementary mechanism. Reciprocity allows people to overcome situations of food emergencies that could cross certain segments of the population, even other communities (Johnson and Earle 2000: 133-149). Nevertheless, the ethical commitment to share was a priority, before that the moral obligation to return the donated, as Marcel Mauss (1922: 163-176) would say. “Today for you, and tomorrow for me”, would perhaps be the motivation that was behind the first forms of reciprocity. The nature of these forms would be very different from the forms that are the basis of the exchange of goods of prestige.
The anthropological evidence is helpful here. With the emergence of the goods of prestige, the changes were important. Malinowski warns us about these transformations in Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922), as tho other North American anthropologists in their works on the potlatch. But it’s Mauss in his Essay on the Gift (1922), who could extract from anthropological research the elements for a major social reform in the 20th century, which methodologically turns out to be interesting.
With different modalities, the political regulation of the exchange of goods of prestige in intertribal ceremonies represented a clear indicator of how the political economy was gaining space. Still the coercive lethal pressure on human collectivities had to cope with certain cautions: the chiefs had to demonstrate generosity before their communities. Nevertheless, the moral obligation became more important, and the exchange turned into the primal aspect. Later, the economy based on killing or threats to kill gained more space incorporating the goods of subsistence to a trade regulated by states (like it was the case of cereals and spices), and where the goods of prestige represented an object of accumulation and ostentation for privileged minorities. The tribute (empires, which will expand by means of war and plunder, are a good example of a political economy in full use of its coercive powers: taxes are going to be the violent instruments of political economy on the human materiality.
This debate is important today. Since its origins, humanity has demonstrated that it can overcome a perspective of coercive economy in emergency situations, as the current food African crisis teaches us. Not only can humanity overcome this perspective, but most importantly it has thought and put into practice alternatives to modern political economy. The exchange of goods, under the mercantile criteria or reciprocity - gift, is not the only alternative. We can share food and other products that exceed our needs. Yes, it may be a moral obligation, and not because we believe that the Africans should be forced to give us anything in exchange. If we will think it through well, we might come to the conclusion that to share the goods not only would help us to understand the economy as a search for common good, but possibly we all, as a commonwealth, would live much better, in peace and harmony. So which of these different experiences, to share or to exchange, or perhaps some hybrid would allow us to develop better our human intention to seek universal communion and common good?
The moral valuation of human materiality
The question of value relates to anthropological and philosophical problems. In modern times, value refers to objects. Value would symbolize the power of money to measure everthing. Nevertheless, like Mauss would say, human beings do not exchange only objects, but inextricably there is a mix: the relation of exchange between the objects would be at first a “total prestation” or “total social fact” (fait social total).
A parallel issue is that the value of the individual has turned into a fundamental worry into modern societies; this results in separating the being and the moral value, which is and what must be according to the economic system. The value would designate something different than the being. It is difficult to deduce what must be or what is: it might not travel from the facts to the values. On the contrary, a question of values would end up as a question of objective facts. Precisely, in the definition of the being (person/individual) the dimension of value has been excluded, and in consequence the being diminishes into a mere object. Therefore, the existence of intrinsic values diminishes the existence of the person.. If the values would be instrumental, they would be defined by the practical properties of the object: the human being is valued as worker who produces useful things for the market.
But, does some relation exist between the moral value and the economic value? For example, Polanyi was interested in understanding the contrast between the fixed equivalences in the exchange of objects of the archaic communities and the fluctuating price of the goods at present. This author attributed these fixed relations of change in Dahomey to the regulation established by the king, but surely the phenomenon was widely extended in other places. Byzantium would represent another spectacular case: in spite of the complicated vicissitudes of the empire, the buying power of gold remained practically stable from the 5th century up to the 11th century. In this case, the competent Byzantine bureaucracy does not explain this phenomenon by itself.
In our opinion, the explanation relates to the following appraisal of the communities: the rate of exchange between objects would not correspond exclusively with the value of use and the human work incorporated into the objects. On the contrary, it should be considered a more fundamental value, which links intrinsically the exchange with the community or social cohesion, the peace and the solidarity in the human community. Indeed, historically the utilitarian point of view has been predominant and excessive. Human beings worry about the purpose of production: why we produce objects. The knives serve to cut, but they also can be used for killing... It is not possible to deny this concern for the purpose of the economy. If we focus only on the value of use, we traverse the risk of devaluing the relations between human beings. In production, human relations would diminish to a relations between objects.
In The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century (1971), Thompson reports on the social conflicts in England during industrialization. During that historical period, the speculation on the price of the cereals began to put in danger the life of communities. When the political economy experienced enough difficulties people did not like that the logic of the market was prevailing over the interests of their community. In this respect, we think that the consolidation of capitalism represents evidence of an anthropological setback, in spite of all the contradictions. The current situation as a moral equivalence of a holocaust is reflected clearly in a significant portion of the planet. In The Great Transformation (1944), Polanyi wondered whether capitalism would represent an “evolutionary break” in human history. It would be a mistake to contemplate ancient mercantile and medieval life as a precursor phenomenon of the market in the current ways of production. But it is fair to say that the story of capital did not begin in the 16th century, but in the 18th, when the English state had a fundamental role in the process of economic system development.
The reproduction of human life
The reproduction of human life is a basic problem. We need to debate and to develop it in order to measure it. The original communities had a very different approach to the conditions of reproduction of life. Marshall Sahlins, in Tribal Economy (1976), explains how these communities were bringing toghether production and reproduction of life, as well as production and consumption. Originally, home economics linked both spheres : the production was subordinated to the peaceful reproduction of human groups. The interruption of patriarchy and male gender dominance supposed an incisive separation, a substantial and violent change in the underlying logic of the economic life, which lasts up to today.
In his Politics, Aristotle elaborated an initial theoretical model for this separation, with his famous categories: oikonomia and chrematistics. In this classic text, reproduction continues being a notion linked with the domestic space. Later, classic Western economic science linked reproduction with production (Smith 1776, Ricardo 1817). Thus when home economies reduce their functions they will start to consume and offer a workforce. Since then, the producers must be rational. They would constitute the pieces of a cold mechanism, consisting of tools and numbers. For their part, the consumers must obey the sentimental impulses. The consumption must be irrational: the more compulsive and impulsive the better. Advertising campaigns and sophisticated marketing technigues try to stimulate these reactions in the potential buyers.
But capitalism not only separates both spheres. In addition, the voracity and the violence of the process of accumulation puts in danger the reproduction of the life of millions of human beings. How is this to be addressed? Maybe, we might change our perspective and our ways of living. The reproduction of the life is not guaranteed by “productive work”. To guarantee the reproduction of life demands that people overcome the violent logic of the economy as it exists and to reject the belief that accumulation for its own sake and without end is the fundamental aim of the reproductive process.
Secondly, we must change individual and community priorities: the production of objects must be to serve reproduction and sustainability of life. Indeed, the industrial and financial powers are less important for our daily lives,even though we tend to think the opposites. We can live without big banks and big industrial consortia, though the states insist on rescuing them with massive financial aid. We must look for a rerganization of the economy based on another set of criteria based in a human tradition of cooperation, nonviolence and nonkilling. A decentralized economy with a level of accumulation that was appropriate to anticipate humanitarian emergencies can be developed. An economy based on reciprocity where the majority of people feel there is ethical behavior and fairness despite centuries of privilege for the few who hold access to the power of production. Specifically, the goal sis to develop a human economy where every economic act is taken and informed by a logic and spirit of common good and a peaceful and charitable life. A nonkilling economy.
The economy must not mean only suffering, competition, hunger, lethality and environmental depredation. Up to now, the conception of the economic life has been like that because most of humanity entrusted the organization of the materiality to the privileged minorities and to the states. Possibly, the demographic pressure on the resources advanced more rapidly than the possible community answers based in criteria of reciprocity and of human community and common good. But the human species has demonstrated that it can live otherwise, at least there have been examples that have demonstrated its potential and alternative ways of organizing the economy.
Reciprocity, Peace and Human Communion
During most of human history, exchange have not been governed by economic rationalism and the search for individual interests. On the contrary, exchange has been realized under the form of gifts “theoretically voluntary but, indeed, done and returned obligatorily” (Mauss 1922: 156-157). As a consequence of the victory of rationalism and mercantilism, of the hegemony of notions of benefit or individual interest, we face enormous difficulties when we want to analyze a phenomenon as complex as reciprocal exchanges. Daughters of positivism, slaves of their epoch, social sciences have divided the social life in dimensions, which have been named as “economy”, “politics”, “society”, etc. As a consequence, to think about the accomplishment of reciprocal exchanges implies an enormous effort to overcome the narrow limits of notions as “exchange” or “economy”. We need to envision new modes of analysis and new methods for research.
According to Mauss, the purpose behind the reciprocal exchanges is the obligation to return the received. The aim is to produce a feeling of friendship and of peace between the participants. The obligation is not based exclusively on the duty to return: indeed, nobody can reject the offered gift. The obligation to receive is based on another important argument on the original societies: the threat of war. For Mauss, “to refuse to give, like to forget to invite or to refuse to agree, is equivalent to declare war, since it is to deny the alliance and the communion” (Mauss 1922:170).
Reciprocity represents the solution to the war of all against all that so much concerned Thomas Hobbes, in his Leviathan (1651). Reciprocity supposes an alliance, reinforces the beginning of solidarity, represents a resource to assure peace. Reciprocal exchange, as symbol of peace, represent “the victory of the human rationality over the madness of war” (Sahlins 1972: 194). Mauss thinks similarly to Sahlins: “peoples manage to replace war, the isolation and the stagnation, for the alliance, the gift and trade, objecting the reason to the feelings and the desire of peace to the sharp reactions of this type” (Mauss 1922: 262). According to Sahlins, the suppression of war does not suppose the submission of a part in the original societies, but a mutual surrender. This has an enormous ethical importance: the reciprocal exchanges are opposed to the worship of power, lethal threat, force and war. In consequence, all original transactions are agreements of peace: the exchanges must incorporate in their material intention the relevance of effort toward common good and human communion.
The reciprocal exchanges constitute the “simpler, more direct form, of producing dependence and solidarity preserving the status of persons” (Godelier 1996:150). Things are exchanged for “the will of the individuals and/or the groups to produce (or to reproduce) between them social relations that combine the solidarity and dependence” (Godelier 1996:150). Sahlins raised an idea, which is suitable to remember: “the union put end to the state of nature but not to the nature of the man” (Sahlins 1972: 198). We understand that this idea allows the beginning of a deep reflection, not limited to the original societies. Such phrase has implications in our societies, on the ways of constructing and comprehending knowledge across the social sciences.
Nevertheless, the question of reciprocity demands a deeper analysis, since the hypotheses can be different. For example, the recognition of the existence of negative aspects in the logic of the reciprocal exchanges, as the competition for realizing the best gift between the parts, has been linked by the supposition according to which the war of all against all molds the original societies. Over time the myth of the good savage has been passed on as an explanatory opposite model, where the most negative human powers are noticed. But, if reciprocal exchanges contain implicitly the principle of superiority, of antagonistic competition, then it is also true that solidarity is an inherent element in these exchanges. The threat of permanent war has been the most used supposition to analyze the emergence of reciprocal exchanges. Sahlin’s perspective is clear: reciprocal exchanges represent the victory of human rationality over the madness of war. Nevertheless, this rationalist explanation and approach turns out to be very defensive: it is not a question of avoiding only war, but to constructing the peace.
Departing from the most negative powers of the being, seeking to overcome the conflicts, the conventional analyses on reciprocal exchanges subordinates the affective dimension to the benefit and dominance of the rational sphere. Perhaps too much attention to rationality has been used as way of overcoming the state of widespread lethality. It is possible that the crisis of our modern world relates to this phenomenon. Nonkilling is not only a merely rational question, which is solved in the political, juridical or institutional spheres. Nonkilling can be a positive inspiration that pushes humanity to look to new logics and to avod the total dominance of economic ‘rationality’ as the preeminent factor and explanation for all things. First, this human search implies a philosophical challenge, the most beautiful research: to discover and renew the best of humanity and the description of a new human nature.
Through personal development which seeks new levels of sociability and interconnectedness with others which until now may have been felt only as an acquaintance can become the impetus for major shifts in how the economic principles are developed and structures shaped. Maybe, nonkilling is a dimension where human beings can recover integrity, overcome the separation between reason and feelings. In all this, the role of culture is fundamental. Culture like human activity works on the existential and mental dimension of life. Culture needs to address a redefinition of our values and behaviors. Fed on the creative life inspired cultures of nonkilling the recrafting and improvement of the species can became an art and spectacular human accomplishment.
Is a Nonkilling Economy Possible?
In Essay on the Gift (1922), Marcel Mauss raises that reciprocal exchanges observe a course of trasformations from their more primitive manifestation, in which goods are “offered and returned”, up to their appearance in the shape of vestiges in socially more complex institutions (from the Germanic right up to the modern economies of “cold and calculating mentality”). Said differently: reciprocal exchanges would be present in every society.
This approach allows us to suppose that the moral condition is attributable to any economic organization, but this condition would not be an exterior determinant: the economy lodges itself directly in our human powers. In this respect, the economy includes an area of subjective relations. This area of subjectivity has been historically undermined by the exclusive domain of the rational. Precisely, the predominant formalism in economic science has turned to economic activity as an essentially mechanical and abstract fact.
In reality, ,the original society is a world more integrated to practical and ideological dimensions. The theory of reciprocal exchanges reveals continuity. It is not surprising that exchanges are characterized by the survival of the sacred thing in the world of objects. The sacred thing and the subjective are common foundations. The common condition of all these forms of reciprocal exchange consists of the fact that the subjective substance has not been lost. The things do not become exhausted in themselves. Indeed, the things are the subject itself, they contain and represent humanity.
In the historical tour between the moral economy of original societies and the economy of rational calculation of modern societies, the notion of community has entered a crisis . This transformation relates to the historical overcoming of the limits of kinship. Progressively, society becomes more complex. In consequence, the intersubjective relations have a smaller and then minor importance on shaping and explaining economic and social processes. Even, these limits would have a spatial translation: the most direct and less interested relations of reciprocity will take place in the immediate vicinity. Then, a basic principle emerges: the social or cultural order is instituted so much from the structures (the gifts to friends), like from the events (the friends to gifts). In consequence, the limits of the kinship and the community are historical, and they can be modified.
The kinship imposes relative and not definitive limits to this original cooperation. Maybe, the explanation resides in the fact that kinship constitutes a moral reference, probably the most relevant. So, what is morality but a recognition of the forbears? In this respect, Mauss’s offer makes sense: to restore the morality, since foundation of the subjectivity tends to be a cultural construction, even the kinship can be re-formulated.
In consequence, the capacity of humanity to develop new forms of economic organization is not determined by exogenous laws that restrict her areas of choice. The important thing would be to understand that this current conception of the economic science is a cultural product. Therefore, the challenge would be to think about forms of economic organization, of cooperative character, which were not restricted to the links of blood, kinship, marriage, chattel and property as well as geographical proximity, though they could be founded on these more basic structures. The organization of the economy would have to be thought of in a different form: not from the perspective of aggressive competition, not from the need to destroy others as way of surviving and improving oneself. On the contrary, the economic organization would have to raise on cooperative systems, capable of being enclosing and not exclusive, where the improvement of the others and each one is part of a mutual enrichment. Mutual aid, mutual benefits, mutual gains.
Thinking about the cooperative relations of original communities thousands of years ago, we might transform the hypotheses. We could give them the return, but not only. We can wonder: was the idea of cooperation of our ancestors only the instinctive response to the pressures of survival or, without denying this possibility, was it answering sentimental motivations as the need of nearness, love, comfort, peace, affection or safety? We can wonder what material needs harness humanity nowadays: what do we need more: bread or love? This is not a banal question. Maybe, the bread could be better, tastier and for all if we think it from the feelings, developing a sentimental reason for its production.
Perhaps. we can raise a more radical hypothesis: could the improvement of material conditions be possible if we were developing the most charitable sentimental powers of the species. Potentially, this hypothesis is an opportunity to start thinking about a reinvention of the economic life of humanity and about the search of a nonkilling society. This possibility depends on all of us, on the aptitude to reason in such a way that we are not accustomed, departing more consciously from the human essence, which joins us and can join us, of the good of each one and the common good.
In addition, it is important to think about the trend of modern economy toward the centralization and concentration of the wealth. In certain critical approaches, as in Marxism, an alternative to the current economic system would be the natural result of this process of concentration and of centralization. But it would be necessary to change the hands that hold the property of large companies. The central question is not really formal property, but the underlying trends toward the concentration and the centralization of capital, which then generates an organization of the economy that grants the benefit and success to those individuals with more voracious and monopolizing behaviors. Would it not be possible to construct an economy where there was prosperity for the most just persons, would we be more inclined to cooperate?
Maybe, this possibility might happen if we organize the economy stating that the central aim is not to accumulate, but to promote the well-being of all humans. Accumulation is necessary, but it is not an aim in itself. We need to accumulate goods to avoid problems of shortage of supplies or to invest in technology, but the paces of accumulation must be controlled by society . If this premise is not fulfilled, lethality will become a permanent threat, since the logic of accumulation is insatiable.
A great challenge for humanity is the technological revolution of the last several decades. The centers of research and knowledge represent institutions removed from human communities. It turns out to be difficult to imagine how human societies can control this process of technological change. Often, this process appears to us as an unavoidable advance, impossible to question. If someone dares to do it, immediately he will be accused of being an enemy of progress. Nevertheless, it is good not to forget that many of the technological advances that we enjoy have their origins in the military industry. In many cases, their development has been verified in wars and military tests, in spite of having had very harmful, even mortal effects, in the affected populations. Examples of it are the nuclear technology, computers, electronics, health technologies, etc.
On the other hand, the technological revolution is generating a wild expropriation of the traditional knowledge of many indigenous communities. For centuries, these communities have used this knowledge in a sustainable charitable form. The knowledge on the properties of herbs and medicinal plants, or certain natural resources of the soil and subsoil are a good example. The affected communities have suffered a process of expropriation of the traditional know-how. Now, the economic utilization of this knowledge goes to the benefit of large companies that have patented them, especially in the pharmaceutical industry. In these circumstances, the possibility that local communities could recover the control on the production of knowledge appears as a utopian aim. Very probably, a change in this dynamic needs to be the result of a cultural change. Perhaps one consequence of the monopolization of knowledge and information will be the necessitry of asking more deeply how our research and discovery and exploitaition of knowledge indigenous and cumulative are put to the service of the common good.
The current economic system is a very powerful and finely tuned machine oiled by consumption, accumulation and acquisition. Its cultural influence and its social rooting are enormous. But in spite of the lethality it generates, this power and this capacity of self-reproduction lies in the conscience of every individual.
It is true that privileged minorities have constructed aggressive instruments to force human beings to take part actively in this economic mechanism, but this participation has turned into complicity since a great part of humanity has assimilated these values of competition and hierarchy in their daily existence. Therefore, a parallelism exists between questioning the current economic system and changing our own lives.
Humanity has not always chosen the path with most destructive implications. For example, if we observe original communities, we will perceive that these human groupings were governing their exchanges with criteria of reciprocity, and not only to avoid war and killings. Arguably, these earlier societies were nonkilling societies. We can find this type of exchanges in the context of the relations of kinship and friendship. In both cases, it is not a question of how to elaborate on an ethnographic record of the economic phenomena, but to understand them with our human instincts and experiences and our sense of charity, mutual caring, kindness,and from our human moral and social nature. The construction of social relations needs to be inspired by the search for a common good. Of course the meaning of common good can change between people and must be discussed in common seeking consensus approaches. It seems that by nature every human being seeks to improve and aspires to a higher good for herself and others. Indeed, any economic activity develops from this intention.
Therefore, to construct a nonkilling economy depends first on each one of us. Certainly, there are very powerful institutional obstacles, but we must not forget that the formation of these institutions is the result of human action and inaction. We are complicit in where we are and will be responsible for where we are heading toward unless we determine to act and to change and propose new ways and new systems. To not act, to not witness is to remain complicit. If we ignore the anthropological evidence and the hope of infinite human creativity to improve, we will have permitted more of the same.
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