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Delanceyplace: Creating An Obligation

The supposedly virtuous act of giving is often instead
an act meant to create an obligation, an act whereby the giver measures himself against the receiver and requires a repayment, even if that repayment is gratitude, writes David Graeber.

[Here] are the words of an actual hunter-gatherer -- an Inuit from Greenland made
famous in the Danish writer Peter Freuchen's Book of the Es-kimo. Freuchen tells
how one day, after coming home hungry from an unsuccessful walrus-hunting expedition,
he found one of the successful hunters dropping off several hundred pounds of meat
[for him]. He thanked him profusely. The man objected indignantly:

'Up in our country we are human!' said the hunter. 'And since we are human we
help each other. We don't like to hear anybody say thanks for that. What I get today
you may get tomorrow. Up here we say that by gifts one makes slaves and by whips
one makes dogs.'

The last line is something of an anthropological classic, and similar statements
about the refusal to calculate credits and debits can be found through the anthropological
literature on egalitarian hunting societies. Rather than seeing himself as human
because he could make economic calculations, the hunter insisted that being truly
hu¨man meant refusing to make such calculations, refusing to measure or remember
who had given what to whom, for the precise reason that doing so would inevitably
create a world where we began 'comparing power with power, measuring, calculating'
and reducing each other to slaves or dogs through debt.

Author: David Graeber
Title: Debt: The First 5,000 Years
Publisher: Melville House Publishing
Date: Copyright 2011 by David Graeber
Pages: 79

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