Sharing a reaction here from Gen Vaughan at her request:

Dear Brian,

Let me see if I can answer the question about your three fundamental shifts.

I believe that it is important to put #2 first. We need to find the reason why things are going so wrong. It's not just that our behavior is bad, it's that something is causing it. I see gifting as the real human way, beginning with the model of gifting that the motherer provides to the child

and that I think is established epigenetically as a kind of 'operating system' in infancy and early childhood.

Children do not even begin to understand exchange, money and the market until they are around 3 years old so by default almost, they live in a gift economy. Learning about exchange, quid pro quo, do ut des, ego-oriented giving only in order to receive, imposes a second operating system, a second logic, on top of the gift logic, and this is where our problems start. The two systems conflict with each other, but since we do not realize gifting is basic, we normalize exchange and it takes over as the explanation of our behavior. It has some corollaries like reward and punishment that in our capitalist society are foisted upon children very early but in matriarchal societies seem to be used much less.

The gift economy is a continuation of the early maternal giving and receiving relation and In our society it coexists with the exchange economy, which takes it over and discredits and exploits it.. Profit is a gift given to the capitalist by the worker, that comes from the free care work of women, the gifts of nature and what Marx calls 'surplus value', the value of the product over and above the salary paid to the worker. So the exchange system is actually parasitic on gifting.

I believe exchange may come from the categorization aspect of language. I write a lot about it in my very long book, The gift in the heart of language, the maternal source of meaning. I mention that because I want it to be clear that I don't think exchange is a defect of our species but only a mistake that we have made historically and that we can stop making. Money is a part of that mistake that makes it worse. There are a number of other corollaries of exchange. Deserving is one. In deserving it seems you have to have given in order to be able to receive - so it is an exchange.

As to flow, I believe that happens when we are doing gifting, and the attention is on needs (of all kinds) and satisfying them. Self-referencing, reflexive exchange obviously stops the flow. But the two are tangled together in our society. For example someone can receive a loan which she will have to pay but she can use it for giving to her children or to create an exchange based business with the profits of which she can give to her children - or others. Gifting is dependent on the exchange economy in order to access the means of giving. This is like the workers in Marx's analysis who do not have access to the means of production, which are owned by the capitalists, so they are dependent on them. But there is so much to say about all this I really can't do it justice here.

Going back to the maternal model allows us to trace the two logics or paradigms and see where they intersect and how the parasitism happens. it gives us a guideline of meaning, which has been made invisible by patriarchal and market-based thinking.

I'd just like to add - If we only do practice it is hard to know what to do and hard to generalize it.

And finally -We are not a cruel, greedy profit-mad species, we have just made some wrong interpretations of the world, and these are making us collectively insane.

Let me know what you think.



PS Here is an article I wrote for an academic economics journal. You can download it free here


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What a gorgeous weaving of the various thinkings and experiments in this vital space! My housemates and I practice Miki's (Domonic Barters original idea) money piles to pay our rent and it involves facing all 4 of her barriers - I find it so useful and moving that she has managed to distill the range of complex emotions and attachments we find ourselves with.

thank you! x

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damn. i love so much about this. thank you for writing. might drop some more detailed responses later but def wanted to not wait to share my gratitude. 🙏

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Thanks for the provocations Brian. This is a thought I sit with very often and as I figure my own way through it, appreciate your guidance and direction.

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Aug 5, 2021Liked by Brian Stout

“I don’t want to erase the self; nor do I want to privilege it.” I really love this line. It encapsulates so well the balance we need to create, and elides the more usual conclusions, in which the answer to a supposed problem (the “entitled millennials” discussion comes to mind) is to simplistically encourage its opposite, again to excess.

The problem of the scaffolding and the foundation has itched at me a long time. Fix what we can within the system as it is, because people are suffering now. And also, dismantle the system. How do you do both?

The idea of “money as a tool of love” comes close to answering that, and is slowly transforming how I personally think and do around money. I wish I had more courage for this work. I find it exponentially easier to be someone who gives than someone who relies on receiving. But we all need to be both, as our changing situations warrant. That’s my challenge to grow into.

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Much to love and apply here, thanks Brian. Here’s to building a new foundation which later generations can build upon. Here’s to true abundant life and the healing of the earth and ourselves in it.

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Aug 2, 2021Liked by Brian Stout

Hi Brian,

This article comes at a perfect time as we are thinking about how to sustain the Wellbeing Movement. It is dense and full of relevant insights, as always! I am going to come back to it again to read all the material you have referenced.

My own exploration with the Wellbeing Movement led us to the same conclusion - that a community that is built on relationships of care for each other and the cause is far more potent a force than a community that is anchored in money. Money serves the role of just medicine and offers some temporary scaffolding.

We have applied the first principle, are beginning to explore the second more in practice, but still grasping the third. What you said here is true and challenging to embody - "There are at least three components: learning to identify our own needs, then learning to express them, then learning to receive others’ gifts to help meet those needs… these are three different skillsets, each of which most of us have very little practice at."

We will hopefully find a way to realize this together!

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And charity is not how it gets done either. The non-profit industrial complex covers so much horrifying behavior by the wealthy. We need to find ways to ensure that everyone has what they need, whether that's care, food, housing, education - etc - we need to ensure that at least the base of Maslow's hierarchy is something everyone has. The meritocracy/plutocracy will kill us all.

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Women have been held in a "gift" economy - free labor for centuries upon centuries. I think this is a ridiculous idea and doesn't solve real economic problems, especially for women and others who have been surviving in this give it or else system set up.

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Thank you for this, Brian. My favorite line: "The irony, of course, is that those who are accumulating financial resources — particularly for retirement — are doing so in order to be able to pay for human care… fearing that no one will be there to provide that support for us in our senescence."

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