Robin Wall Kimmerer on gift economies
I’m taking a two-week break from regular posts, but the holidays seem like the perfect time to share this essay in Emergence Magazine from Robin Wall Kimmerer on what the ecology of serviceberry and gift-giving practices in Indigenous societies can teach us about alternative ways to organize our economic relationships. Harvesting a surfeit of serviceberries (Amelanchier) provides her with evidence against the assumption of scarcity in neoclassical economics:
This abundance of berries feels like a pure gift from the land. I have not earned, paid for, nor labored for them. There is no mathematics of worthiness that reckons I deserve them in any way. And yet here they are—along with the sun and the air and the birds and the rain, gathering in the towers of cumulonimbi. You could call them natural resources or ecosystem services, but the Robins and I know them as gifts.
While the world is not without scarcity, much economic scarcity is manufactured in choices to hoard rather than share. In gift economies, sharing in times of abundance strengthens the communal bonds that lead to everyone being cared for year round:
To name the world as gift is to feel one’s membership in the web of reciprocity. It makes you happy—and it makes you accountable. Conceiving of something as a gift changes your relationship to it in a profound way, even though the physical makeup of the “thing” has not changed.
Kimmerer’s reflections on the spiritual and instrumental value of gratitude are where I want to start 2021. Thanks for reading the newsletter through its first six months, and I wish you all the best for the new year.
I need a picture to go with this post so that it doesn’t load with a grisly possum close-up, so here’s a photo I took of waves breaking at Salisbury beach the other day with a strong wind out to sea, which was tearing long ribbons of spray off the top of the breakers that often extended far back and formed brief rainbows.
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Possum Notes is a weekly newsletter about wildlife and landscapes around where I live. It’s produced on occupied Massachusett and Wampanoag land.