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Exchange and Gift - Page 37

Effectively, the bourgeoisie's accession to power represents man's victory over natural forces. But as soon as this happens, hierarchical social organization, which was born out of the struggle against hunger, sickness, discomfort... loses its justification, and can no longer escape taking full responsibility for the malaise of industrial civilizations. Today men no longer blame their sufferings on the hostility of nature, but on the tyranny of a perfectly inadequate and perfectly anachronistic form of society. When it destroyed the magical power of the feudal lords, the bourgeoisie pronounced the death sentence on the magic of hierarchical power itself. The proletariat will carry out this sentence. What the bourgeoisie began by historical processes will now be finished off in opposition to its own narrow conception of history. But it will still be a historical struggle, a class struggle which will realize history.

The hierarchical principle is the magic spell that has blocked the path of men in their historical struggles for freedom. From now on, no revolution will be worthy of the name if it does not involve, at the very least, the radical elimination of all hierarchy.


As soon as the members of a horde mark out a hunting territory and claim private ownership of it, they find themselves confronted by a hostility which is no longer the hostility of wild animals, weather, inhospitable regions, or sickness, but that of human groups who are excluded from the hunting-grounds. Man's genius found a way out of the animal dilemma: destroy the rival group or be destroyed by it. This way was through treaties, contracts and exchanges, which are the basis of primitive communities. Between the period of nomadic food-gathering hordes and that of agricultural societies, the survival of clans required a triple exchange: exchange of women, exchange of food and exchange of blood. Magical thinking provides this operation with a supreme controller, a master of exchanges, a power beyond and above the contracting parties. The birth of the gods coincides with the twin birth of sacred myth and hierarchical power.

Of course this exchange is never of equal benefit to both clans. The problem is always to ensure the neutrality of the excluded clan without actually letting it into the hunting territory. And agricultural societies refined these tactics. The excluded class, who were tenants before they became slaves, enter the landowning group not as landowners, but as their degraded reflection (the famous myth of the Fall), the mediation between the land and its masters. Why do they submit? Because of the coherent hold over them exercised by the myth -- although it's not the deliberate intention of the masters (that would be to credit them with a rationality which was still foreign to them). This myth conceals the cunning of exchange, the imbalance in the sacrifice which each side agrees to make. The excluded class really sacrifice an important part of their life to the landowner: they accept his authority and work for him. The master mythically sacrifices his authority and his power as landowner to the dominated class: he is ready to pay for the safety of his people. God is the underwriter of the transaction and the defender of the myth. He punishes those who break the contract, while those who keep it he rewards with power: mythical power for those who sacrifice themselves in reality, real power for those who sacrifice themselves in myth. History and mythology show that the master could go as far as to sacrifice his life to the mythical principle. The fact that he payed the price of the alienation which he imposed on others reinforced the master's divine character. But it seems that a make-believe execution, or one in which he was replaced by a deputy, soon released the master from such a hard bargain. When the Christian God delegated his son to the world, he gave generations of bosses a perfect model by which to authenticate their own sacrifice.

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