Regifting and Post-Tech Ethics

Roiled in the recent holiday spirit, my friend, Brit, asked if I could do a regifting manifesto in the vein of my fashion anarchy manifesto. I thought I’d over-comply and build an entire ethical system around regifting. Thus the following.

I think of ethics as having a constant layer and a layer of culturally-specific variables. The constant layer – the golden rule – is fairly simple, and is constant even as expressed differently by Kant, Jesus, Plato, Confucius, et al. As the Dalai Lama puts it: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

On the variable layer, ethical conundrums arise with each age and within each culture. As the Mayan calendar ends and we move into the post-technological age, I see a few practical strategies for ethical behavior that might navigate us from late capitalism to the Age of Aquarius.

First, we have to restructure our ethical vision to meet changes in the natural environment. Technology has reached a point where it can (a) rapidly strip-mine all remaining resources off the face of the earth in pursuit of quick profits, or (b) distribute resources as needed to all parts of the world. The Corporate State wants to bind people to the consumerist ethic that keeps technology on track (a). One person alone can’t stop that consumerist mentality, with its concomitant greed and political structures, all designed to maximize how much stuff can be hoarded. But there are things individuals can do. And through the old-fashioned ripple-effect of friends of friends of friends, and the newfangled speed of social media, we can change the cultural sensibility more rapidly now than in the past.

Thrift store shopping (kudos to Macklemore). Simple. Why burn through Mother Nature’s resources more quickly than you need just to satisfy the “new stuff” fetish that has been cynically implanted into our brains by the Corporate State?

Regifting. If you have something you know a friend would like, why not give them something that has a little bit of your own life imprinted on it, something with real traces of sentiment, something that shows you’ve sacrificed a little bit of yourself for them to keep forever or until such time as they regift it and pass along the chain of accumulated sentiment? Things made with your own hands would fall into this category too, at least so long as those things are given in the spirit that the receiver is welcome to pass along the object, which is now a locus of emotional history and not just an anonymous commodity, to someone else that he or she would like to bring into the chain.

Regifting will not get traction as quickly as thrift store shopping, because the Corporate State has buried this taboo into its subjects more deeply. After all, since regifting completely detaches the idea of “the purchase” from the idea of “meaningful gift,” the Corporate State rightly sees it as an even bigger threat. All the more reason for us to get a movement going to make regifting cool. And here we must rely on a new generation of teens and twenty somethings, as the stigma will be too much for most older people to overcome on their own.

So practice regifting, practice thrift store shopping. And practice fashion anarchy, too, as it will maximize creative leeway for every individual and at the same time liberate our most basic self-presentation from the commodified versions of self being sold to us for cold cash at retail outlets and big box stores every day. It will also dispel, and perhaps transform, the motivation of some of consumer culture’s most dogged enforcers (those who act as fashion police). If individuals do these things and promote these ideas mindfully, we will already be moving toward a culture where self-actualization and human achievement is no longer measured in terms of purchasing power.

But don’t underestimate the resistance we will encounter. On the economic level, these apparently small lifestyle choices shift the priority from ever-growing economies to sustainable economies, which is a very dangerous idea to the status quo of profiteering giants who are currently managing the global economy. On the other hand, don’t overestimate the power of those giants. As the earth’s resources are depleted, the age of consumerism will die. The writing is on the wall. The ice sheets are melting. What little rainforest remains (now about 6% of the land surface) could be consumed in about 40 years at present rates. The Age of Aquarius is coming. The only question is whether it will happen via a utopian or dystopian pathway. In the utopian model, human ideals are transformed and we come to find fulfillment in creatively sustaining the resources around us. In the dystopian model, our appetite continues to grow until there are not enough resources left to sustain growth, and the species begins to implode as resources dry up while humans still define themselves by how many resources they can personally control. Now make your choice.

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17 thoughts on “Regifting and Post-Tech Ethics

  1. As always, my life coach, you make excellent and thought-provoking points. I’ve taken this attitude with my books, and will have to expand that…my accumulation of stuff weighs on my spirit and ability to fly freely from adventure to adventure. But if it can bring happiness to another, particularly to a friend, why not?!

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  5. I notice that you wrote this two years ago and I do think there is reason to be (tentatively) optimistic. Certainly charity shops (do you call second-hand charity shops thrift stores?) are booming here; the vast majority of my crockery, for instance, comes courtesy of the many we have in Canterbury. Huge factories belching out pollution may be the main problem but it all comes back to consumption, so what we do as individuals can only help, don’t you think? As you point out “creatively sustaining the resources around us” is the key. Sometimes we can miss the obvious; it suddenly struck me four years ago, living close to a bus stop and the railway station, plus within walking distance of the town, library and leisure centre, I had no need to own a car. Getting rid of it has been so liberating! I absolutely agree that we should all do our bit to fight the “profiteering giants”, in the way that we can – (I do appreciate that some people need cars. But not nearly as many who possess them!) – and it is nowhere near as painful as we might suppose.

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    • Yes, Fan of Dickens, charity shops are “thrift stores” here in the U.S. I, too, spent over half my adult life without a car, often choosing where to live with that criterion in mind (tougher here than in the UK or Europe), and found it liberating. And I too conclude my blog entries on this theme with some optimism (e.g., “Professionalism and Alienation,” “Luddites and Technophobes,” with pingbacks). But then I watch a show about how with every telecom advance kids are becoming more and more embedded in product marketing just by their everyday gadget usage. And I wonder.

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  7. Yes, I see what you mean; advertising is becoming more and more pervasive. I think it is really impressive to live without a car in America; in the UK we are never far from anything. (I remember a teacher who came from America and he said that when he first came to England it reminded him of a toy town, with everything so tiny and close together). I need to catch up on the blogs you wrote before I joined the other followers. Looking forward to it!

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  8. Pingback: Gifts, Gifting, Regifting | shakemyheadhollow

  9. To buy gifts or to give gifts just because the corporate/government/materialistic machine tells us it is the time to do so (a holiday) is a cop out to me. Why conform to that dictate? I never give gifts on designated holidays. Give gifts randomly, on dates that otherwise mean nothing. So I say if you must give gifts re-gift, but do it on random unexpected days and screw up the market followers.

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  10. I won’t deny it… I found this post quite hard to read hehe! Your style is very complex but I hope to have got the gist of what you meant. It’s interesing to read an alternative viewpoint on the gift-issue. I usually leave questioning to my essays, but it’s cool that for you blogging means bringing up questioning online.

    Assia | http://www.assiashahin.com

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