Study: How Protesters Become Violent.

In October 2016, I wrote a piece about the WUO (the Weather Underground Organisation), a group of far-left domestic terrorists, and I quoted Brian Flanagan, one of the members of the group, saying that “when you feel that you have right on your side, you can do some horrific things.” I talked about a connection the modern left felt to the protest movement of the 60s, but without as much cause, and I asked if it was possible that a new group like the WUO could form, and I believe that Antifa (or Anti-fascists) is that group.

Even though I would like to focus this article on the left-wing, the antifa of UC Berkeley, who recently beat and pepper-sprayed audience members there to see a speech by right-wing editor Milo Yiannopoulos; one of whom, according to a student, was beaten so hard he suffered broken ribs even through a Kevlar vest; even though I would like to discuss how the left has turned its back on free speech, or at least the fringe “anti-fascists” who can’t see the irony of silencing alternative points of view, this is more than just a partisan issue. There are members of both sides who commit violence for political aim, and in any protest there are risks of rioting (although this in no way excuses what happened in Berkeley), so what is it that leads people into acts of political violence, and is it ever acceptable?

The Origin of Violence:

1. The Intensity of Moral Standing.

James M. Jasper in the Annual Review of Sociology, 2011, wrote about the connection between “Emotions and Social Movements”. He writes about what he calls ‘affective loyalties’, an admiration or ‘cognitive appraisal’ of another person or object. It is said that people in the modern day are more impressed by virtues of celebrity than they are by intellectual virtues, and if that be the case I would argue that maybe what we’re seeing is a quasi-religious alignment to what was once called a “role model”. First of all think about that phrasing in itself, “this is the model for what your role should be,” and so people attach themselves to these people not as admiration so much, but as adoration, and the desire to be like this person. The power of celebrity opinions over people’s political beliefs may not have as much effect as celebrities want them to but they do have an effect. In this sense it could be argued that a sort of cult-ish desire to be seen on the same side as a celebrity you adore can lead to a heightened emotional connection with a certain argument, although I would argue that it would take more than this for it to become violent (despite celebrities like David Harbour from Stranger Things promoting violence at SAG, or Madonna talking about blowing up the White House).

Jasper continues his analysis by talking about the power of moral emotions, which “involve feelings of approval or disapproval based on moral institutions and principles, as well as satisfactions we feel when we do the right (or wrong) thing” (p2). So maybe on a base psychological level, as we may desire approval from a parental figure, and formerly from a religious institution, we have assigned the role of moral guardian to those we adore on a celebrity level, intensifying an already emotional connection by affective loyalty.

Although you would not necessarily have to tie this concept to celebrity, any form of competing collective solidarities like the left versus the right involves a moral guardian. Without religion, or a rational proof of secular ethics, or a government for whom morality can be dictated by (thankfully), we may instinctively attach an invisible moral guide to any scenario, by need of one. In other words, everyone may attach a moral figure, who may not exist, to their arguments (which is why logic never seems to intervene in what is “right or wrong”) the survival of whom holds priority over the discovery of fact. In that sense, every time we have an argument we are defending the existence of our moral guides where to be proven wrong has a far more detrimental effect on a person’s psychology than just to change their minds. It becomes a war of morals.

Or maybe an argument has a sort of “good son” effect, where two sides argue over, in space of any identifiable set of demands, “what father wants”.

2. Under Threat: Shame, Pride, and Anxiety.

Outlined by Jaspers collection of research, Scheff (1994) indicates that “pride generates and signals a secure bond, just as shame generates and signals a threatened bond.” This, I guess, would be where arguments form on the basis of guilt. The “if you don’t agree with me, you are a bad person” position, often held by the left, who have been placed on such a proud hierarchy they struggle now to contemplate the idea that any loss to them is a loss at all, and not an evil takeover by the other side. In other words, to lose generates such a fall from grace, such a shame, that the threat can lead to a strong moral shock. Could this be an instigator to violence? We know that according to a field study by Miller and Krosnick (of Minnesota and Ohio State) in 2004, threat is a higher cause of political activism than opportunity. They offered different versions of a letter by a political lobbying organisation to potential contributers, one threatening an undesired policy, another showing opportunity for a desired policy and a lot more contributed under the threat letter than the opportunity. We know therefore the power of threat on political action, but is it enough of a shock to form violence out of protest?

Consider when it is combined with anxiety. According to Jasper, anxiety is generated “when norms are violated; the more they are violated, and the more strategically central those norms to people, then the greater the anxiety” (p7). So maybe political violence can be the result of the shame of losing moral superiority, and the threat of immoral takeover, combined with an anxiety or an aversion to change. The WUO may not have fit in that category, given it was the change, but in today’s politics the pendulum has swung over to the other side. Liberalism is the norm, and conservatism/libertarianism is the change, and we know how violently some of the establishment conservatives reacted against leftists in the 1960s. In that sense, maybe parties have nothing to do with it, maybe it is all about power. But of course, given the WUO this can only be one of several motivators.

3. The Strategic Trap of Stigma.

Another point raised by Jasper in 2010, outlying a position by Gamson 1995, is that “movements by stigmatised groups face a strategic dilemma: they are trying to remove the group stereotypes or even the very categories, that shame them, yet they use these same identities to mobilize supporters.” You can apply this problem to real world examples on both the left and the right. Some student conservatives feel their ability to express their political views are being stunted by pro-liberal campuses or lecturers and will see themselves as stigmatised. They want to remove this stigma, but can only do so by convincing others that it exists. On the left too, feminists, or black lives matter who consider themselves stigmatised must prove this fact to others in order to gather support. It may be a stretch, but it is possible that, maybe even unconsciously, some of these groups know that violence begets violence and that if they have to instigate it so that they can blame and use examples of violence from the opposition to gain supporters, they will do. This would be the trap of needing stigma more than wanting to remove it, so much so they will fight to create it against themselves.

We know that many in the media after UC Berkeley for example suggested that the violence by Antifa on the left was actually right-wing agitators. If this is true, it proves the above point, if it is not true, it proves the above point.

Acceptability and Aftermath:

1. Violence by Scale.

Personally, I don’t believe it is ever acceptable to instigate violence in any scenario, political or otherwise (violence for self defence etc. I do not consider an instigation). However, it becomes a tricky subject when discussing violence that is met with greater violence. Neither is morally acceptable, but which is more excusable, the greater violence in response? or the initial violence which may have been small? Equally I think motive plays an important factor in this too. During the Guatemalan protests between 1954 and the early 1980s, specifically in Chupol, the insurgency was met with greater military violence to combat it. According to O’Kane, of the Political Studies Review, “the purpose of the brutal defeat… was to preserver the old order of power and privileges.” So, as a moral exercise, which was more acceptable? Were the military correct to meet violence with violence in self defense, even if it was in favour of an arguably totalitarian regime? Were the people right to enact violence in the first place if there was no direct violence attributed to them first? Is the greater violence by the military worse than the initial violence by the insurgents? To be clear, in this real case I think it could be argued easily that the insurgents were acting on self defense but at face value, if the only problem was  “power and privilege” is the violence acceptable? If it is, then violence on the left has been legitimised since the left wing, from feminists to black lives matter, have been framing western societies as imbalanced on power and privilege for a long time now (more frequently in the last few years).

The question over whether that claim was true then or is true now is irrelevant, if people believe it to be true, that we are living in an unequal society (by opportunity), then to accept that as a moral motive to political violence is to give people reason to commit it on the left right now, and whenever it is believed and believed falsely. It sets a precedent, where violence can be recruited by persuading people into victim-hood, an easy thing to do.

2. An Obsession with Conspiracy.

Timothy Tackett, a historian writing about the French revolution, writes:

“ON THE MORNING OF MAY 23, 1792, in the third year of the French Revolution, Jacques-Pierre Brissot and Armand Gensonne climbed to the rostrum to address the National Assembly. In successive speeches, the two deputies revealed the existence of a terrifying plot to destroy the Assembly and the revolution itself. The whole was masterminded by the “Machiavellian” Austrian minister, Prince Wenzel Von Kaunitz, but it was coordinated in France by a shadowy “Austrian Committee” of the king’s closest advisers, and it was said to be responsible for almost all the ills besetting the new French regime: the disappointing results of the recently declared war, the counterrevolutionary movements in the countryside, and even the divisions within the Assembly itself.”

This, outlining the attempt by the Assembly to whip up conspiracy in the time of a revolution is incredibly prevalent today. With the conspiracy of “Russian Hacking” and Putin-led propaganda, to the aforementioned “right-wing agitators”, it seems like a tactic of political movements who currently hold power, perhaps out of fear of losing it or the previously described anxiety, fall upon conspiracy to explain their loss, often tied to the notion of an “evil uprising”, again substantiating my earlier point. So the question is, why? It could be an attempt to salvage what dignity they have and to avoid the throes of shame, pushing their own supporters to the opposition, equally it could be a way to manipulate their supporters into radicalization. Or perhaps just a way to delegitimise their enemies. Either way, even in defeat, “Ideologies must portray the movement as having history on its side – but only in the end, someday” (Voss, 1996).

Tackett quotes Lynn Hunt, “the obsession with conspiracy became the central organizing principle of French revolutionary rhetoric. The narrative of Revolution was dominated by plots.” And I think the notion of ‘plot’ in political thinking is underestimated. In every story there are the good and bad, the moral and immoral, and so much dominated by fiction today, I think it makes sense a deep rooted aversion to be seen as the villain, and not the hero, to any degree that even in defeat it is a tragedy where the hero has lost. So I suppose what you have are different people fighting as their own protagonists, unable to see that these are just different perspectives. Can even literature be blamed for that? Fantasy, superhero movies over more complex and non-moral or mythical storytelling? If so, perhaps it is not about power, or ideology, but about culture.

If you have any other thoughts or ideas about the underlying roots of political violence, or disagree with something I’ve argued leave a comment down below, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

 

 

 

 

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Are We Living in an Orwellian Dystopia?

The New York Times recently published an article entitled, “Why ‘1984’ is a 2017 Must Read,” a statement I can whole heartedly agree with, only for different reasons. Now, stepping aside the irony of the New York Times calling anything Orwellian, given they were caught in a WikiLeaks release exchanging emails with John Podesta, they are correct that George Orwell’s novel did predict the current state of the world, only it is, as I would argue, the state of the left not the current Trump administration nor any right-wing upsurge he predicted. I would go one step further and say that the right-wing upsurge is a revolution against what has become the IngSoc (English Socialism).

I can argue this on four points.

1. Doublethink & “Alternative Facts”.

The controversy over Kellyanne Conway’s statement, Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts”, led to a reported boom in sales of the George Orwell classic. The argument is that the notion of “alternative facts” was similar to Orwell’s doublethink – the idea that you could have two conflicting truths exist simultaneously. In the novel, people learn doublethink in order to fit in and is tied to the Big Brother propaganda. In other words, “alternative facts” are given by a government to manipulate people into thinking that both their statements and the facts they’ve been given elsewhere are mutually correct, even though they are contradictory; this leads neither of them to be able to be considered correct over the other. The purpose of doing so, as I interpret it, would be to make it unclear in a person’s mind who is telling the truth, therefore allowing the government to lie and not be held accountable for it.

While I agree that Conway’s wording was stupid, she did not outright say “we present alternative facts” full stop. Rather, I think, in the context of the conversation she was probably implying that the media’s “facts” were not facts at all. Maybe they had alternative information that backed up their own statements. Or maybe she did mean that in which case I won’t defend her for it, but it doesn’t seem likely, actually if you read the transcript it does just sound like a bad phrasing that reporters leaped on. But why? Why would a journalist seek to find any opportunity, however far fetched, to delegitimise the president? Well it’s a simple answer, because they see him as an opponent to their ideology. I mean think about it, imagine how stupid a masterfully manipulative totalitarian administration would have to be to accidentally tell people they’re lying to them, and yet the media is treating this like a full blown scandal.

By its very nature, two contradicting arguments accepted as fact does imply that one of them is false but it does not say which one. It could be either, so who do you believe? The media, or the government? This is an easy question to answer. First, you do not believe the media, who has spent the last year corroborating the Democratic party doctrine and favouring the Obama administration by cult of personality, but you do not believe any government who can use that precedent of trust to tell you anything they want to in future. So who do you believe? Well, that’s just it. To even ask the question is a problem in itself, if you have to rely on a statement of fact to believe that a fact is correct, without evidence, based solely on the reliability of its source, you are setting that same precedent.

2. Big Brother & Thought Crime.

The Big Brother character in Orwell’s book represents a totalitarian state, one that surveils its people, and punishes them for what is considered a thought crime. There are thought police who seek to make sure that everyone believes universally that which is dictated by a big brother government. If I were to put anything in the modern day to this category, barring the advocacy of big governments like the European Union, it would be political correctness.

By its very origin, political correctness (the “I don’t know if I can say that” ideology), was used to silence alternative opinions. According to Kohl, “The term “politically correct” was used disparagingly, to refer to someone whose loyalty overrode compassion, and led to bad politics.”

Now, whether or not you accept Kohl’s analysis, just look at the term itself. A ‘politic’ is an opinion on how the world should be run. To say that someone’s opinion on how the world should be run is not ‘correct’ is to say that they are guilty of wrong think; a thought crime. However, rarely is it used in the modern day to refer to someone’s politics – it may not be politically incorrect to vote for Donald Trump, but both Donald Trump and his supporters are likely politically incorrect, which is a subtle difference. Equally, it is not often used to direct or punish thought (unless you belong to the “objectification” school of Feminism), but to direct or punish the expression of thought, in language. Language policing is not thought policing, that is unless you apply motive. Then you can demonise based on the assumption of thought by association to, or expression of, thought which is seen to be “incorrect”.

Closer still, is the concept of “hate crime”. To punish differently a man who attacks someone else, from a man who attacks someone else based on a protected characteristic, is to make motive the only arbiter. If to commit a crime based on prejudice is worse than that same crime with any other motive, you are punishing the thought of hate, so you are ruling on a thought crime. It also sets a precedent, where motive can be assumed and applied by the ideology of political correctness, for which, given its ever-changing set of rules, anyone at any moment can be culpable. A regular crime today, can be a hate crime tomorrow even if, to you, your motive is the same.

Either way political correctness toes a fine line to Orwell’s thought police.

3. The Ministry of Truth & Plenty.

I published an article last week discussing what I called the Papacy of Experts, tying the concept of “expert opinions” to propaganda and religiosity. From that article I assert that “bishops of the holy see pass down some truth which is known to be had by the holiness of the man who told it to them, as so can an expert pass down his truth, which is known to be had by the intelligence of the man who told it to him.” My point being that facts from institutions whether it’s centered around climate change, psychology, economics or other sciences should not be trusted religiously by the titles of the men who claim them. Anyone labeled a “science denier” for being sceptical about any of these purported facts are being silenced from doing the job of a scientist, which is scepticism, by a threat of social exclusion. This in no small way can be attributed to Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, responsible for revising the truth, in line with the state’s interpretation of events.

In the same vein, the “fake news” witch trials in the mainstream media which primarily targeted conservative websites who disagreed with their liberal narrative, is a perfect example of an attempt to control “truth” as it is perceived and to do so on credibility and overt representation. In other words, in every paper, on every screen, on every website, bleeding its way even to the entertainment industry. We are so much dominated by celebrity and fiction that when Kellyanne Conway used the phrase “alternative facts”, millions of people rushed to purchase a fictional novel, it is also why we watch Schindler’s List in History class to teach us about the holocaust, because education shares too a philosophy and a message. It does not seek to inform, it seeks to instruct. By definition, it seeks to “educate” (give intellectual, moral, and social instruction to…).

4. IngSoc (English Socialism).

Make no mistake, Orwell’s nineteen eighty-four was not a criticism of right wing nationalism, nor really fascism (if fascism is to be believed on the far right), but rather soviet-socialism. It was anti-collectivism; or Oligarchical Collectivism, as described in the book, which “rejects and vilifies every principle for which the Socialist movement originally stood, and it does so in the name of socialism.”

Another passage in the book explains the ideology as follows, “The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close […] in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that.”

Now, from the left at the moment we have the democratic socialists, of Bernie Sanders, who probably do believe that human beings would be free and equal as a result of government power. We have global socialism, of Hillary Clinton and the European Union, probably belonging to the ideology of the Ingsoc, and we have the antifas, or anti fascists, a sub section of protesters, often seen in the modern day sporting socialist flags, seeking to “defeat capitalism” for the sake of humanity; not to mention the Newspeak style shortening of the name. It seems then a bit ironic to label the Trump administration, by most extreme accounts protectionist, patriotic and nationalist, to the Big Brother of nineteen eighty-four, when the labelers represent everything within that ideology.

Ingsoc is formed of moral relativism and collectivism, so too, is the modern left – from identity politics to nihilism and existentialism, the modern left is the perfect representation of Ingsoc.

______

Even such a brief analysis as this, it seems absurd to apply the Orwellian label anywhere else than in an ideology where anyone opposed to the prevailing narrative is “post-truth” (a far more dangerous and subtle form of manipulation than “alternative truth”); where people march in the streets for a global European superstate; where non-liberal voters are called “low information”; where in Nottingham it is a hate crime to be “mysogynistic”; where in Scotland there is an Offensive Behaviours Act; where in Canada, they tried to ban gossiping in public places; where in America Barack Obama used the IRS to target conservatives, preventing them from running against him; where the government can decide how much you should earn, and where the rest of that earning should go; where a candidate can be considered for office who deleted documents so that they cannot be investigated (an Orwellian memory hole); and worse, where people can be so brainwashed as to read a copy of nineteen eighty-four, and believe it to be a book opposed to patriotism, nationalism, and constitutional conservatism.

Although, the only thing a boom in copies sold of nineteen-eighty four proves, is that none of these people have read it yet, so I suppose that makes sense.

The Papacy of Experts.

It is often laughed at, the denial of expert opinions; that when an expert says “jump”, only a fool would question his degree in suicidology – and his knowledge on the subject. You will have heard from pundit postulaters, and educated comedians, that we are living in a post-truth world, why? Because we do not trust the experts anymore.

So what is an expert opinion? Is it one that can only be had with knowledge of the facts, and to deny that opinion is to deny those facts? (Whether they’re provided to you or not?) Is it one that only experts can have, and if you’re not an expert your opinion is not quite as important? Is it one where the qualifier, “expert”, turns opinions into facts. Well it seems to me, the difference between my opinion and an “expert” is the same between an estimate and a guess, one may be more educated, but neither of them are predictions.

The truth is, that an expert is simply just a man who cannot bear to be proven wrong. If he was not, then he would not need to call upon his qualifications to make an argument, he would simply present the facts. In this sense, to preface the word “opinion” with “expert” is like prefacing any word with a pronoun, all it tells us is that it is the opinion of an expert, not that the opinion itself is expert, and it does this because the validity of an opinion does not increase by the skills required for it to be ascertained.

Let’s pretend that I am an expert in literature. I will tell you, in my expert opinion, that the novel Of Mice and Men is objectively better written than Lord of the Flies. And I mean objectively because of its structure, the use of language, and the skilful integration of plot and theme. Would you accept my statement because I know more on the subject than you do? Even if you prefer Lord of the Flies?

“Well no, that’s different, that’s subjective. There is no gradation in prose, there are no numbers in literature.” Well, which expert told you that? And why do you believe him? I have plenty of knowledge in narratology and once more a range of figures and polling data about which styles appeal to more people. I’m not going to show you of course, but you are expected to trust that I have them, after all, I’m an expert on the subject.

So when I hear that 97% of scientists can agree, or 9 in 10, all I can think is that if 97% of scientists can agree, when the job of a scientist is to be sceptical until finding proof, then by willing to agree 97% of scientists are not doing their job. Rather, they are being compliant, because if it were proven, it would not have to be agreed. And it is also probably true, that so many of those 97% could merely be banking on each other’s expertise to guide their opinions. On top of that I would trust more the opinion of a friend who’s done his research, than a man who is paid to provide his opinions, as I would trust a friend who has read a book more than I would trust a quote, hand-picked and purchased, from a best-selling author who praises it.

From expert to expert, opinions can be passed down, like teacher to student, through some apostolic succession; bishops of the holy see pass down some truth which is known to be had by the holiness of the man who told it to them, as so can an expert pass down his truth, which is known to be had by the intelligence of the man who told it to him. And if a papacy of God can be dictated by the Counts of Tusculum, and the Theophylacti, a dark-age aristocracy, then is it such a conspiracy to think that a papacy of experts can be corrupted also?

Science has become a religion in two ways; while different in its approach, in evidence over faith, its followers do so by faith and faith alone. The second way, is that both a man with a PhD in Theoretical Physics, and a man who claims to be a successor to Saint Peter, with a direct line to the word of God, can speak ex cathedra (“from the chair”) to define what people should or should not believe. A scientist would say of God that if one cannot provide any evidence, there can be no claim to His existence, and yet all too willing is he to expect to be believed without providing evidence of his own claims. And so too are fans of science willing to proclaim that a belief in God is a form of brainwashing, Church propaganda, and yet not at all willing to look further into the propaganda of “expert opinions”.

So where does it come from? I know we are living in a society which shames people for being wrong more than it teaches them what is right, so maybe people are so afraid of being beaten in a debate, they will preach the reliability of their sources more than help to explain what the sources mean, and how they can be interpreted. That is a real post-truth world, and so I would urge you to remember that truth is refuted by reasonable doubt, and opinions are only upheld by a preponderance of evidence. Experts should be treated atheistically, their opinions no more consecrated than the opinions of an old man in papal regalia.

Analysing the Gift.

Gift Efficiency

Joel Waldfogel, in his study The Deadweight Loss of Christmasdescribes gift giving as an economically inefficient practice. The theory goes, simplified of course, that if the giver purchases an item more than the receiver would spend on himself with the same money then the gift has a net loss. He conducts a study which found that “between a tenth and a third of the value of holiday gifts is destroyed by gift giving” (p8), tying value to one’s desire to have the product for the price it is advertised (which largely goes untested if you are buying on the assumption of someone else’s desire for the product) combined with the opportunity cost of what would have been purchased otherwise in its place. In short, Waldfogel proposes that since a proportion of receivers do not want, would not buy, or would not buy for the price of the product, that the holiday season could see a deadweight loss (loss of economic efficiency) of £2-8 billion if £24 billion were spent on gifts over the Christmas period (£24 billion figure comes from the estimated retail intake of Christmas, 2015). 

By the numbers, it is certainly valid to question the legitimacy of gift giving over simply just exchanging monetary gifts so the receiver can spend as he desires, but before you declare an end to Christmas presents altogether, Waldfogel, and others who make this kind of argument, forget a couple of basic points.

First, if the product is created to be a gift item its price is accurately tested by the giver’s desire to purchase an item of that value as a gift, regardless of the product itself. It is also evaluated on a would-I-buy basis, where the giver considers if the product is worth the price of what you get, which is why multi-packs exist. In other words, price-value is no more affected than it would be if the receiver were to make the same judgments themselves.

Second, if there was only one giver and receiver then perhaps the issue of an opportunity cost could be argued but since gifts are often exchanged over the Christmas period (and over time on birthdays), it throws a spanner in the works; if I buy my friend a necklace worth £50, and they would have spent £30 on themselves, there is a loss of £20. But what happens if they give me a wallet worth £30 when I would have spent £10? Do they cancel each other out, as each loss to the consumer and receiver is the same?

Third, as I’m sure the Dickensians are screaming at the screen, there are other reasons for giving a gift, and other attributed values to receiving one. Receiving a gift may hold more value sentimentally to the receiver than a cheaper product would save if bought for themselves. Does the thought not count?

Behind the Gift

So why do people gift? Malinowski, while defining the Kula Ring of Papa New Guinea (a system of gift-exchange in the Milne Bay Province), described the importance of reciprocity. According to Malinowski there are no gifts without expectation, I do not give without expecting a gift in return or some other form of exchange (like social acceptance). While I think that’s probably true, it does raise the question; why do we desire gifts, and why do we give them?

Some argue, like Chris Gregory, that giving gifts is a form of securing relationships with people through debt. If I give a present then I place the receiver in my debt until they give a present back, for which I am then in their debt. The basic problem I have with this theory, aside from the view of gift giving as a display of dominance (which I think is an oversimplification) is that if the receiver repays their debt, why would it place debt back on the giver again?  Also, this argument does not have a first cause, what initiates the debt cycle in the first place, do you give a person a gift the first time you meet them to ensure the relationship is secured? In that way, is gift giving only half about putting others in debt, and half about repaying it?

The argument from reciprocity, that to give is to desire receipt, seems to be that in order to find the answer to why we want to give, we must first ask the question “why do we want to receive?” However it does not consider what may be received intrinsically by the act of giving itself, and I don’t mean the “warm-feeling” you get from seeing someone happy, what I’m talking about is self-image. In some tribes, the giver of a rich gift (a richer gift than may be able to be returned value-for-value) places power in the hands of the giver and demonises the receiver for not being able to reciprocate. So why would one give if they know they will not get value in return? Maybe gift giving is a form of competitive dominance, where the receiver feels lesser upon receipt and must counter that by offering a gift of better value rather than returning value in order to regain the power, people cannot share power after all, so while similar to Gregory’s “debt placement” it would rather be a power struggle – or maybe it is the fight to be recognised by your tribe as a prominent giver. But as I said before, I do think this is an oversimplification.

A Gift as Reward

I mentioned the intrinsic reward of gift giving, in the same vein as doing a good job at work makes you motivated, seeing yourself as the better “giver” may motivate you to continue giving. However, I want to look now at the possibility of the gift as an extrinsic reward, that is, a reward provided rather than as a result of action.

In business terms, to give money to an employee for doing a good job is an extrinsic reward which may help motivate them or certainly incentivise them to continue doing that good job. So perhaps a gift is a form of social incentive. Companionship is an essential part of human nature, before it just became weird to keep to yourself all the time it may well have been dangerous not to have an ally, someone you can trust. So I would suggest that perhaps, like passing a compliment, giving a gift is a ritual of companionship to ensure the trust of your ally or friend remains intact. On top of that we give to motivate them as an extrinsic reward (where before it may have been a share of your food, and now an Xbox One), to continue being your ally and to show them that you appreciate their companionship; which would happen vice versa and in the same way provide reassurance to both parties that this person’s trust in you is secured.

I would love to hear any counter arguments or ideas about the origins of gift giving, or its economic impact, so please leave a comment down below and share your thoughts!

(Image by Evalowyn (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)