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Exchange and Gift - Page 39

By giving themselves, the nobility united their power with the totality of cosmic forces and claimed control over the totality which myth had made sacred. The bourgeoisie exchanged being for having and lost the mythical unity of being and the world: the totality fell into fragments. Semi-rational exchange in production implicitly makes a creativity that is reduced to labour-power equal in value to its hourly wage. Semi-rational exchange in consumption implicitly makes consumer-experience (life reduced to the activity of consumption) equal in value to an amount of power which indicates the consumer's position in the hierarchical organization chart. The sacrifice of the master is followed by the last stage of sacrifice, the sacrifice of the specialist.

In order to consume, the specialist makes others consume according to a cybernetic programme whose hyperrationality of exchange will abolish sacrifice... and man. If pure exchange ever comes to regulate the modes of existence of the robot-citizens of the cybernetic democracy, sacrifice will cease to exist. Objects need no justification to make them obedient. Sacrifice forms no part of the programme of machines, or of the antagonistic project, the project of the whole man.


The crumbling away of human values under the influence of exchange mechanisms leads to the crumbling of exchange itself. The insufficiency of the feudal gift means that new human relationships must be built on the principle of pure giving. We must rediscover the pleasure of giving: giving because you have so much. What beautiful and priceless potlatches the affluent society will see -- whether it likes it or not! -- when the exuberance of the younger generation discovers the pure gift. The growing passion for stealing books, clothes, food, weapons or jewelry simply for the pleasure of giving them away gives us a glimpse of what the will to live has in store for consumer society.

Prefabricated needs are confronted with the unitary need for a new style of life. Art, the economics of experience, has been absorbed by the market. Desires and dreams work for Madison Avenue now. Everyday life has crumbled into a series of moments as interchangeable as the gadgets which occupy them: mixers, stereograms, contraceptives, euphorimeters, sleeping pills. Everywhere equal particles vibrate in the uniform light of power. Equality, justice. Exchange of nothings, restrictions and prohibitions. Nothing moving, only dead time passing.

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