[iDC] work, play, praxis

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Mon Jul 6 18:41:02 UTC 2009

Hi everyone.  I will try to provide feedback in one message here.

Chris: In that second paragraph, I wanted to consider the possibility that
gifts are not really gifts at all--that the existence of various fake givers
can disprove reality of the gift.  For instance, I used to work at a
telemarketing mill (a dark chapter in my life).  Our marks had always "been
selected in a drawing" to recieve "gifts"--"free magazine subscriptions!",
"a free tennis bracelet!!", "a free Ginsu knife!!!"--provided the person on
the other end was able to claim their gift by paying the appropriate
shipping and fees.  On the one hand, I really needed money, but on the other
hand, I knew that I was exploiting basic human emotional needs--the need to
feel special, the desire to break out of the economic cycle, the enjoyment
of a freindly voice.  After several months of trying to eke out a living
this way, I was overcome by ulcers and panic attacks (a diet of dumpster
food and coffee combined with constant guilt on one hand and the fear of
eviction on the other had wrecked me, and to top it off, I had no health
insurance), my telemarketing career bottomed out.  I was spending my time
talking to the people I was calling about the evils of credit card companies
and the dangers of trusting telemarketers, how we got their number because
they had been profiled as susceptible to these pitches, and that they would
most likely be hearing from other telemarketers.  At that point, I was only
showing up to hang out with the other scoundrels working the phones, and
they were great fun, a real bunch of pirates.  The good news is that I lost
my job as a telemarketer.  To get back to the point of this long detour, I
think the importance of gifts are reinforced by the instances of their
exploitation.  The sociopathic "giver" gives because he/she KNOWS that other
people are going to believe in the gift, even in spite of contrary
evidence.  The business that gives "gifts" knows that people are sensitive
to gifts.   To tie it to my own experience as a telemarketing jerk, even
with the knowledge that the gifts I were giving was really just a part of a
scripted transaction, I still could not square the fact that I was calling
these things "gifts" when they really were something else.  I knew, at a
very deep level, that my simple act was contributing to a cold world...
that someday, I might find myself unconscious in a ditch, and the world
would be too cynical to stop for me.  Even the bosses knew that it was
important that we refer to the worthless products we were selling as
"gifts."  I hope this explains a little bit better.

Nick:  I think that the question of "fairness" is very important, and in one
sense, it implies a rational approach to mutally agreed upon standards or
rules which can be applied consistently.  The very appeal of these rules is
that they can be viewed as something operating quite independenty of love or
hate, because they are "the rules."  But I would like to offer a more
specific definition of love...  on which might be best understood by reading
Badiou's "What is Love?".  According to Badiou (and I am cannibalizing a
piece I wrote for netpoetic.com), love (which he distinguishes from simple
desire or submission) is the process through which “the Two” experience
“disjunction” in its very “unicity.”  In other words, Badiou’s love is the
union between two people by which their difference is experienced as a
truth.  It disrupts the narcissistic tendency of the Self, validates the
subject position of the Other, and establishes between the two a
relationship which is marked by the truth of this event.  Of course, when we
talk about love, we might really mean that narcissistic process through
which we admire ourselves by validating aspects of ourselves in others....
but for Badiou, love is a relationship between the self and the other.  It
is a relationship across ontological difference, it is the place where we
experience difference as real, and knowing this, we still proceed.  In this
respect, I think that "love" can be embodied in this spirit of fairness or
rules.  It is the collective decision to say, "even in a heterogenous
population, where we are not all the same, we are going to agree to honor
certain rights and freedoms, even if it costs me."  In a certain sense, this
thought process is an extreme instance of love, precisely because it honors
not only the direct experience of interpersonal difference, but it is
committed even to unforeseen differences.  The gulf between the self and the
other is hypothetically as wide as one can imagine.  I still haven't
answered your comment about the desiring impulse and capital itself, and I
don't know that I am equipped to.  Although, I would say that capitalism as
a technique, certainly serves as an instrument of desire.  On the other
hand, it seems important that we maintain a flow of responsibility...  that
capitalism has to be regarded and weighed as a tool of human desire, and
compared to other tools for pursuing these desires, both on an individual
and collective level.  The current thinking, in general, is that financial
markets are a given and that they represent an evolution of human
civilization and consciousness, and that protecting the tool is the same
thing as protecting the worker.

Ken:  Thank you for the book suggestion!

Sean:  Thank you for your theses (and the Roller citation, it sounds
fascinating).  One concrete example of the individual/collective dynamics of
the gift is "the wedding gift."  Historically (especially for working and
middle class folks), the wedding served an interesting social role.  On the
one hand, the wedding as an abstract event reinforces collectively held
values (heterosexuality, the family, the divide between childhood/adulthood,
the home, the responsibilities of the community, etc.).  But in a more
concrete terms, the parents of the young couple would throw a party to both
publically acknowledge the new union (both to remind the couple of their
obligations and to mark them in relation to the community).  People would
respond by bringing gifts, typically to build the home that the couple would
create together.  Ostensibly, out of practical concern for the couple, gift
registries arose to help givers fill the homes of the young couple with
things they would need and to prevent redundancies (In the past, many
wedding gifts were dicated by custom).  In addition, it made "giving"
easier, because you just had to buy something available in the store without
having to think about it.  But today, the wedding registry has become like a
letter to Santa Claus.  Since your "needs" as a new family are not dictated
by custom, they are dicated by individual desires.  Most couples have most
of the things that they need by the time they get married, but wedding are
getting more expensive, people want more things, and guests probably have a
latent guilt about weddings (they cannot carefully choose or make the gift,
so the only "sacrifice" you can make is to select a commodity whose
price-tag appropriately reflects your level of generosity and kind wishes).
The shift from gifts that reinforce social norms to gifts that reinforce the
identity of the individuals requesting them might illustrate the multiple
aspects of giving that you highlight (personal, interpersonal,
collective)...  and, on the one hand, the "collective" that this implies
certainly would have some very positive aspects to it (perhaps along the
lines discussed by Gilles Lipovetsky in Empire of Fashion), but on the other
hand, the stakes of this community are much lower, which might dilute the
impulse to protect this collective.



Davin Heckman
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