Thursday, February 7, 2013

Reciprocity Essay – Abstract & Summary

Bob Fiske

Reciprocity Essay – Abstract & Summary


Some people may be aware how "values" can shape an individual or an organization.  "Deep values"—values woven into an entire culture—usually defy perception.  This essay examines the deep value of reciprocity.  In its most pure sense reciprocity can be defined as a fair exchange.  Pure reciprocity is hard to find because it is usually contaminated by the idea of maximizing payoff.  Non-pure reciprocity is the common form because it is so heavily promoted by marketing.  Thus, most people have been conditioned to give only for the sake of a payoff.

Maximizing payoff has been taking a toll on the earth and underprivileged societies.  To repay the debt requires tempering our "taking nature".  This essay defines the concept of nobility and a new unit of currency, The Noble.  The practical effect of using this currency may be a marked change in human nature, culminating in responsible stewardship of the earth.  Issues related to adopting a noble nature and using The Noble currency are discussed.


1.    If you change a person’s values, then you can expect a change of his or her beliefs, actions and social affiliations.  Many values connect with the larger, containing social infrastructures.  These include industrial, financial and political structures.  The social infrastructure reacts like a living being.  If you attack its values, it will forcefully maintain its values and its methods of operation.

2.    Some values are “deep values”.  They are woven tightly into the culture and are held by virtually every person.  But deep values are hard to recognize unless the system is in gross imbalance.  This essay focuses on the deep value known as reciprocity.  Although reciprocity suggests the idea of fair exchanges, it is usually modified by the natural human tendency to maximize payoff.  Some people justify this as efficiency, or doing more with less.  Our huge human population is causing this distortion of reciprocity to deliver more and more damage to the world system in which we live.

3.    Marketing and advertising promote the idea of reciprocity every day, and help it become a deep value that is barely noticed.  The system of “fair exchanges” is more and more out of balance.  Some are reaping far more rewards than others.  The result of this is that significant segments of the world-society are recognizing that reciprocity does not necessarily lead to balance and fairness.  The good deal we have been conditioned to seek out may hide important costs.  The spirit of accounting, in which all benefits are matched by costs of equal value has been tinkered with.  Experiments in economic systems produced a dominant form—capitalism—that expertly hides so-called externalized costs.  These are debts we owe to the natural world and to exploited workers who remain beyond the view of our consuming society.

4.    We have become conditioned to give only for the sake of payoff.  Yet our system of exchanges mortgages the welfare of exploited countries, the existence of other species and the future that humanity will inherit.  Our system of exchanges is based upon the strong drawing upon the weak and the power to ignore invisible debts.  These are uneven exchanges, yet they are deemed “fair”.  If this is what we mean by reciprocity, then the proper thing would be to call for “non-reciprocity”.  This is defined as a giving act that does not expect a payoff to balance the loss.  This is defined as taking from the present world only enough, and putting back what you have taken to preserve the opportunity to take in the future.  Economic models in modern societies do not grasp this concept.  They are couched in terms of raising the bar.  In these models no credence is given to lowering the bar.

5.    In our relationship to the earth, it is time to start repaying the debt.  Who will take the lead?  Suppressing our desire to take might appear to be an insurmountable challenge.  Maybe the answer is to un-suppress other aspects of our nature.  The fully human being is endowed with capabilities such as self-restraint and judgment of actions as good or bad.  There may be other suppressed capabilities of the fully human being.  Expanding these capabilities will help temper our taking nature.  Additionally, our economic system is tied in with the methods we use to achieve a sense of self-worth.  If self-worth is primarily achieved through earning an income and buying goods and services, then this, too, will impair our ability to modify our taking nature.

6.    NOBILITY IS THE ABILITY TO GIVE SOMETHING OF VALUE WITHOUT RECEIVING ANYTHING IN EXCHANGE.  Could we use this idea as the basis for a revised economic system?  That is hard to know in advance, however, in an optimistic manner, I propose a new kind of currency for testing the idea: The Noble.  This currency incorporates two ideas: doing favors and paying a benefit forward.  If conventional monetary currency compels a value system that promotes taking, then a new currency could compel an opposite value system, one based on giving.  I propose that, from such a currency, a revolution of human nature might emerge.  This revolution would result in individual self-worth as well as responsible stewardship of the earth.

7.    Having put forth the Noble as a new currency, we consider two questions.  First, is it safe to use this currency?  Will others take advantage of your generosity?  Some suggestions for diminishing this risk are stated.  However, the ultimate answer is that using the Noble is a way to change yourself.  The second question approaches this from a different angle: a Noble shows its users.  The aim of the new currency is to change human behavior, one person at a time.  Seeing a list of names on the back of a Noble can communicate motivation to the recipient of a Noble: if these people are acting differently, then maybe I can, too.  Some final thoughts hinge on the ideas of choice and willingness.  To change my behavior is, first and foremost, a choice to do something different, something unusual and uncomfortable.  I pose this discomfort as two parting questions that dare the reader to examine his or her willingness to try on the uncomfortable notion of giving and receiving favors.

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