This week’s card is the 5 of Clubs and my assignment is to barter. Pretty much anything. Here’s some weird stuff I just found about bartering which is tantalising incomplete —
Contrary to popular conception, there is no evidence of a society or economy that relied primarily on barter. Instead, non-monetary societies operated largely along the principles of gift economies and debt. When barter did in fact occur, it was usually between either complete strangers or would-be enemies.
According to wikipedia to find out a bit more about why or how barter was usually reserved for strangers or foes I was going to have to track down the work of economist David Graeber who wrote Debt: The First 5000 Years and while I am officially allowed to buy books again (as of today the ban on book purchases and writing meals has expired*), I just don’t have the time.
However, I have found this book review from Social Text Reviews where I bump into Georg Simmel again (the philosopher who guided us through the meaning of money seminar a few weeks back). But as for bartering this was the only mention from the review of Graeber’s work:
Importantly (and consciously) Debt overturns historical misconstructions such as the myth of barter (what Graeber calls a pernicious and long-lasting fallacy perpetuated by Adam Smith); the “free market” (a concept which has never sustained a universal meaning); and the ubiquitous but false notion that money is an invented thing (“‘money’ isn’t a ‘thing’ at all, it’s a way of comparing things mathematically, as proportions: of saying one of X is equivalent to six of Y. As such it is probably as old as human thought.”) (52). Graeber even performs a corrective on “knight-errants,” who in actuality were thuggish Christian fighters whose bullish debt extractions were washed over in literary accounts.
I don’t know, maybe it is worth buying the book? But after a quick Google I’ve an even better idea. Turns out Graebel is actually David Rolfe Graeber and he’s an American anthropologist and anarchist who happens to be based here in London at Goldsmiths, in the Social Anthropology department. I’m pretty sure anarchists don’t mind emails so I’ve just contacted him to ask what the story is with bartering — why only strangers and foes?
As for me, I reckon my bartering will be limited to friends and family. Stay tuned till next week …unless of course you’d like to make me an offer of trade.
* I was going to report back on whether deprivation proved painful, wasn’t I? The short answer is: No. I have plenty of books to read already and I’ve kept a running list of the ones I wanted to buy over the past several weeks. This has proved more fun than the instant gratification that Kindle could’ve provided. Maybe I should adopt this as a policy. But I don’t think so, nothing really compares with the pleasure of popping into my favourite bookshop and walking out with a fresh book in hand. As for no writing meals — (i.e., dining out alone to write), without wanting to over-promise, I think the break might make it easier for me to cut down on these and keep them more as an occasional treat. This prohibition lead me back into the kitchen. I’d almost forgotten the pleasures of cooking. (And yes, close friends reading this, I can hear you sniggering … but really, it’s all relative.)