The true meaning of giving and the 36 steps of Genevieve Vaughan

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Rhythm, balance, the harmonious dance of give and take.

To change society we have to think differently.

We need to realize that: At this time, the theme of giving is topical. Between the criticism of consumerism, the sacrifices of those who have saved months in order to make someone happy, the hollowness of scarves and bubble baths, and gym memberships that will remain pristine, it is difficult to find the true meaning of GIFTING.

Christmas gifts can be the most exhausting form of torture or the most delightful form of magic and love. It all depends on our reading of reality. And so if we take a step back and decontextualize the practice of exchange from the modern period, we will find plenty of food for thought and inspiration.

This is what happened to author and independent researcher Genevieve Vaughan, who put gift giving at the center of her own model of society. In particular she unites women with the Gift Economy, envisioning a radically different vision of the world, in her eyes actually possible and desirable.

Below I list her “36 steps” to shed light on her philosophy:

1. Market exchange is not natural, real or necessary. It is an invention of patriarchy. The “illusion” that some religions (like Buddhism for example) believe life to be is created by the misalignment between our behavior, our constructions of reality and the deeper logic of nature. Women appear more ‘natural’ because they are in line with this logic while patriarchy is an aberration and an ‘illusion. The misalignment and refusal to practice and value this deeper logic creates much unhappiness and many problems in society.

2. The market actually creates negative relationships that foment isolation, competition, war and domination.

3. Exchange-giving in order to receive an equivalent of what has been given-is artificial and derives from a far more basic behavior that has its own logic. This underlying behavior is giving directly in order to satisfy needs.

4. Giving creates positive relationships through direct need satisfaction, which builds bonds, communication and community.

5. Exchange and giving constitute two ways of thinking and behaving that co-exist although giving remains largely unconscious. Many problems arise from the co-existence and interaction of these two logics and behaviors.

6. The logics of exchange and giving constitute two paradigms or worldviews that compete and complement each other. The exchange conceals the giving, competes with it and takes advantage of its gifts.
The giving surrenders to the exchange and gives value to it. The giving also often self-regards itself as worthless.

7. One of the ways in which giving is hidden in a society based on market exchange is in recognizing it only in maternal practice, charity and symbolic forms of exchange-giving.
The other areas of life are seen as biologically based and governed by abstract rules. For example, our society likes to regard the basis of language, a kind of hardware of our brains, as biological. Instead, giving can be seen as the basis of language on many levels, as the creation of human relationships through the giving and receiving of verbal gifts, language in maternal practice. By restoring giving to the many areas of life where it has been unrecognized or obscured, we can begin to bring the paradigm of giving to the level of awareness. Giving underlies the similarity between “meaning of language” and “meaning of life.”

8. Life beyond the areas of maternal practices and charity seems to be governed by the ways of the “male identity agenda.” Despite this, giving can be rehabilitated in our thinking with respect to these other areas. For example, profit itself can be seen as a gift from the poor to the rich because it is made up of surplus value, that part of the value of labor that is not paid for in workers’ wages. Women’s work in the home, which would add about 40 percent to the GDP of the U.S. (and even more in some countries) if it were calculated in monetary terms, could be seen as a gift from those who practice the gift economy to those who practice the exchange economy and to the whole system that is based on exchange.

9. Maternal practice and all kinds of freely given labor are made difficult or even sacrificed by the scarcity that is necessary for the functioning of the market. Scarcity is artificially created by the appropriation of the gifts of the many by the few, the gifts of poor countries to rich ones, the gifts of nature, the past and the future to the few for their profit in the present. Maternal values are seen as unrealistic and devalued by misogynists. They are seen as causes of suffering while denouncing women’s suffering and failure to meet needs is seen as victimhood.
On the contrary, it is necessary (functional) market scarcity and devaluation of the gift paradigm that cause women’s (and children’s and men’s) suffering.

10. The exchange economy has values of objectification and fetishism and has always had problems distinguishing what is social from what is biological, and it happens because its serious problems are the product of masculinity interpreting a social agenda of “male identity as biologically fixed.”

Why did it happen?

11. Masculinization: all human beings are born dependent and therefore someone has to take care of them unilaterally from early childhood. Women have been assigned this role by society, which socially interprets their biological capabilities as opposed to those of men. Until they learn language, male children identify with their mothers and participate with them in giving and receiving. When they learn that they belong to a category that is the opposite of their nurturing mothers, they must find — or create — an identity whose basis is NOT being like their nurturing mother — which involves not giving. What they find instead is the male identity agenda: independence (opposed to interdependence of giving and receiving) competition (opposed to cooperation) domination (opposed to communication at the same level) stoicism (opposed to emotion). This false masculinized agenda has been regarded as the human agenda instead of maternal practice. It has been projected into our institutions and has profound influence on the way we construct reality.

12. Emotions are the maps for giving and receiving. The masculine requires mastering emotions. So does the market.

13. Hitting, which like giving crosses interpersonal spaces (albeit negatively) is a mode of relationship-making (of dominance), is the masculinized substitute for giving. Striking replaces giving on many levels, from violence in the family to war.

14. Gift relationships create community. Masculinized men desire the independence that seems to be given by the market. Exchange separates people by putting them in positions of adversaries. Exchange is ego-oriented and gives value to the ego. Giving gives value to the other. The market provides a post-masculinized way to practice giving. It allows the head of the family to support the family with a wage and to own and bestow the means of giving, the means for the production of gifts. Similarly, capitalism owns the means of commodity production and the medium of exchange – money. This makes the giver dependent on the exchange and the givers dependent on the exchanger.

What to do

15.* Restoring the image of the mother as the image of the human and the gift as the human mode.
* See patriarchal religion as a projection of masculinization.
* Attempt to make women conscious of the modes of gifting they are already practicing and re-integrate gifting into our expectations of male gender identity.
* Using our projections consciously. Mother Earth is not just a metaphor. Nature actually functions in the mode of giving and not exchange. The mode of giving ranges from minimum to maximum intentionality. If we reproject what we have learned as children cared for by mothers into a paradigm of giving, we can recognize the mode of giving in nature. If instead we project the non-giving perspective of exchange we will see nature as objectified. Our understanding of nature as alive or dead depends on whether we project the modes of giving onto her or not. And the same is true for us.
* The point of view of the self created by the exchange is very limited. If we place ourselves from the point of view of the other (or the many others) who has a need that we could meet, we expand our perspective. We can consciously create and value gift-based selves instead of exchange-based selves, remaining at a meta-level, realizing that we are living in a market-based society, working for paradigm shift through social change, and vice versa, for social change through paradigm shift, while simultaneously keeping our ‘selves’ and bodies whole in an exchange-based world.
* This may involve participating in the exchange economy while at the same time practicing giving at the individual level for social change and validating the modes of giving at a meta-level.
Let’s say someone has a normal job (hopefully in an activity that is not exploitative or polluting): this person gives money, time, and creative imagination to social change activities while valuing the paradigm of giving and one’s giving both socially and intellectually and spiritually, and in his or her individual relationships. At the same time it critically analyzes the exchange society.
* Create models of functional gift projects that validate the gift paradigm.

16. Creating and believing in women’s culture based economically on the gift even if still burdened by the exchange economy society, patriarchy and its values, but liberating. It is important to do this in the context of cultures of oppression because that is where the values of patriarchy and the market are validated and produce harm.

17. Keeping to a meta-level. Looking to a broader horizon.
Restore the idea of gift where it has been eliminated or seen as a propensity for victimhood.
See all levels of needs-that have been hidden by other descriptions, need for social change, need for truth, market needs, needs created and caused by scarcity.
To look with the perspective of gift to see needs instead of applying the gaze of exchange to profit.
Realize that we cannot make this change alone.
Promote a paradigm shift.
Promote decision-making processes in accordance with the values of the gift, aware that we live in a society based on exchange.
Act in accordance with gift values and not self-destructive.
Critique patriarchal exchange, the market and globalization.

18. n our personal lives, enhance ourselves ourselves with the values of giving, gratitude, community, return to the earth and spirituality. Pay attention to needs. Legitimize empathyLearning to receive and give with dignity and sensitivity. Validate these values not only by practicing giving in reality, but also with awareness.

19. Doing projects that promote a paradigm shift-with the full knowledge that we are not there yet. This includes both projects that disrupt and expose patriarchy and projects on issues of the environment, racism, nuclear armament, militarization and the death penalty.
Propose the paradigm of the gift and its values as an alternative to patriarchy, which is to be analyzed, criticized and dismantled from this point of view.
Propose that patriarchy dismantles itself (as we have seen in cases of unilateral disarmament, as happened in USSR under Gorbachev). This can be done in a nonviolent, lasting way that may have the advantage of bringing the powerful to self-knowledge. (If it is true that power does not give up without a fight, which I do not believe anyway, let this fight take place in the consciousness of the powerful.) (If each man and woman has values based on the gift economy, if we are homo donans, then both the powerful and the weak function on the basis of giving). The problem is that the values and agenda of masculinization  and exchange have taken predominance over the way of interpreting the world and acting in it. Now not only the rich and powerful believe in the value of domination, the poor and those without power also believe in it, and so the only way to survive and help others survive in this society seems to be to become powerful and replace those who are on top, at the top of the system — and this applies to women, ethnic groups, religions and nations. However, the system itself is an expression of patriarchy and masculinization values. We can change the system by going down and coming out of it simultaneously. Only if we recognize it for what it is, a kind of torture wheel for all, can we give it up and start anew on the basis of nurturing for all. The values of direct giving are already there, we just need to discover them, not reinvent them.

Understanding what is happening:

20. Suspect and reject reasoning and motivations based on exchange as retribution, eye-for-an-eye, self-interest, even values given to equality over qualitative difference. Realize that they are amplified by exchange and therefore may appear more “fair.” Lies are based on self-interest, while truth meets the needs of others as a gift.

21. Fight against false reflections on giving and the market itself, reflections that come from the market itself. The critique of essentialism is based on exchange and market values. At the economic level, there is no “common property” or “essence” among owners except their mutually exclusive relationship and their ability to exchange using money, when from time to time they regard their property and labor as having exchange value. Both exchange and giving are processes that not only distribute goods, but also generate human relations and identity. The kind of identity promoted by exchange is “atomistic,” self-sufficient and individualistic, and denies connection (and the gifts it receives). It has no essence but a common lack of connectedness and claims that this is a value. Therefore, the critique of essentialism comes from a position of the exchange paradigm.

22. The separation of “family” and “work,” of the private and economic spheres, has focused the gift in the context of the family.
Recognizing the gift or maternal only in the mother/son interaction, considering it inferior and a biologically defined task of women (opposed to the variety of the market and property-defined as individualistic values and identity-leads us to abstract from this limited area a “common quality” of altruism opposed to the apparent variety of qualities from the market and male identity agenda values that have been embodied in the market-independence, self-centeredness, competition, domination, accumulation.

This reasoning has 3 flaws:

  1. Altruism is logically and psychologically different from self-centeredness because (especially in abundance) it informs and diversifies oneself as well as others. In fact, the diversity of individuals and groups is delineated on the basis of the different kinds of nurture they receive and give as children and, behind the individual and collective wall of denial, as adults (e.g. in not being able to recognize the free labor of others).
  2. Narrowing the area of instances from which to extract a “common quality” with respect to maternal giving to the area of mother-child interaction alone is too limiting. Maternal giving occurs in many other areas of life-practically all EXCEPT market exchange-even if this is not recognized.
  3. The capacity of unilateral giving is not a state but a creative process. Abstracting from a state or a series of states is different from abstracting from a process or from different instances or levels of a process. Abstracting from a state we can find an essence, attempting to abstract from a process or its different levels or instances gives us instead a common logic or series of interconnected behaviors. If maternal giving is a process that takes place at different levels, abstracting from the aspects in common does not give us an essence, it gives us the logic of giving.

23. The point is to liberate the gift from the burden of the market and patriarchy by seeing humanity as homo donans, the being that gives and receives and not only as homo sapiens. We must have been nurtured by others, and have creatively received gifts from outside, in order to know and know.

Let’s blame whoever touches.

24. It is the market process that creates the monolithic economic “essence”: exchange value.
This essence is important as a model in our Patriarchal Capitalist society and distorts the way we see the whole. Religion and philosophy deal with essences that reflect or perhaps are even based on projections of this economic “essence.”
In fact, give and take creates a variety of qualitatively different identities and values (of which exchange value is one among many – based on a singular quality that is quantity). Therefore, the desire for variety, creativity and connectedness can actually be satisfied by giving and receiving while it is only apparently satisfied by the market, and at the expense of connectedness. Therefore both essentialism and the critique of essentialism come from market-based reasoning.

25. The exchange paradigm in accordance with its competition values, competes with the gift paradigm. This competition is necessitated for exchange by the very creativity and viability of the gift (which is therefore a better model), but also by the market’s need to receive free gifts and the patriarchy’s need to assert the false masculine identity and its values as superior, both transposed into the market and experienced by males. The gift, for its part, in accordance with its values, unfortunately gives to the market and males, and makes exchange and the masculinized agenda possible.

Recognize the importance of logical paradoxes.

26. Unlike exchange, the gift process is not built around self-reflection. In market societies where the gift and exchange economies coexist, the process of self-reflection has been overtaken by the “self-reflecting” equations of exchange and has become identified with them. This is how Derrida says that the gift should not be recognized because if the person giving the gift is self-reflected, he or she is rewarded by the giving and the gift is transformed into an exchange. If the gift cannot be recognized, it becomes difficult to consciously generalize it.
What is basically a logical paradox becomes a practical paradox and is seen as a moral problem. So we move to another plane, where the donor is accused and held responsible “actually” for exchanging (it seems that people can always “give” their suspicion). The giver is accused of lying when in fact it is the exchange that has the structure of lying and is the norm. On the other hand, if giving were generalized and made the norm, there would be no particular reward to the ego in giving.

27. Recognize that things we think of as properties or qualities are often relational.
Like the gift economy, the market is seen as a state or collection of states with the common quality of exchange value embodied in money. These states are actually part of a process of abstraction of the common quality. That process of abstraction is the market process or mechanism. Therefore, essentialism is a pale reflection of a misinterpreted market process, that is, the process of extracting the “essence” of exchange values.
Another reflection of the common quality of exchange value is “power,” the masculine form of this “essence.” Although power is seen as a quality or property, it is actually relational and involves the domination of one in polarity with many surrendering and giving freely to that one.

28. Doing projects based on the gift paradigm with full awareness that making it generic to the system is a necessity: volunteering, charity, community service, parenting, teaching, spirituality etc. have no end in themselves but must be generalized toward the gift paradigm in order to create a better world for all. Support large-scale government projects with this generalization in mind. The giving of rich countries to poor ones should not contain hidden exchanges.

28. Always be aware that the exchange paradigm attempts to ‘discount’ the gift economy in countless ways.

30. Appreciate and learn aspects of giving from indigenous cultures.

31. Educating all children to give life and nurture like their mothers. And educate mothers to value the paradigm of giving and see all its ramifications in society. Reject the idea that there is a biologically “superior” gender that is not maternal.
Encourage children (boys) to express themselves emotionally like girls so that they can emphasize and recognize needs more easily.
Encourage role leveling as is already happening. See that roles have gift aspects and emphasize them.

32. Seeing giving in all different aspects of life so that we can align ourselves with it if we recognize it and when we recognize it.
This includes inner and outer giving from a psychological perspective; perception as the reception of experiential data; giving in nature; consideration of language and messages as gifts, mathematics and logic as aspects of giving; and consideration of biological giving and giving on an atomic level.

33. Using the idea of the gift economy to bridge differences in women’s movements so that we can unite the diversity behind common ends and values to dismantle patriarchy.
Connect the different aspects of the women’s movement based on this common economic mode that has a superstructure of gift values.
Use the idea of the gift economy to unite the women’s movement with the various progressive movements under the banner and leadership of women and women’s (gift) values.

34. Enable men (and women) to see that the masculine identity agenda, as understood by patriarchy and capitalism, creates a mistaken identity that is robbing themselves (as well as races and nations) of humanity, and that has been projected so large in society as to cause devastation.
Understanding the psychology of patriarchy.
Enable councils of women to create teaching models for men so that they can disabuse themselves of masculinity and its values and begin to practice and value the paradigm of giving and its values.
Create a profession for women to be personal gift trainers for both men and women.

35. Linking mixed movements on the basis of maternal.
These are for example:
Peace and environmental movements (Looking at the deep implications of the image of Mother Earth)
The movement against racism (Looking at the different values given to giving by different cultural groups)
Movement against the death penalty
Movement against domestic violence
Movement for spirituality based on female images of God
Movement against fundamentalism
Movement for economic justice-since capitalism is criticized but not at the level of that which promotes assimilation into capitalism. Or at least make it clear that the way to peace for all does not come through monetization.
Economic justice is an illusion because capitalism needs free gifts and therefore cannot work for everyone
Have a clear vision of what is to be done in the future

36. Promote anthropological studies of gift-using cultures to find ways in which the gift economy was practiced and with what effects…
Seek the help of surviving members of these cultures.
Create and legitimize a new folk psychological understanding of “human nature” as a social product that is maternal rather than aggressive and competitive.
Do practical collective studies: how to define necessity; how to generate abundance, give and receive with respect, how much technology to use, how to organize agriculture, distribution, education. Consider the use of alternative currencies to exit the market.
Consider the possibility of structuring society on work based on age and rhythmic by rituals, and also base continuing education on this ritual structure.
Legitimize the possibility of abundance for the many and work to create it.
Create small-scale pilot projects to solve problems by practicing the gift economy and use them as models, educating educators (large-scale experiments such as Soviet communism involve too many people and can have devastating effects).
Allow these experiments to include the creation of small and local governments and gift initiatives.
Do large-scale cooperative work to solve problems created by capitalist patriarchy such as poverty, disease and environmental devastation.
Create a culture of giving in which oppression is not legitimized and impulses toward domination and exploitation are disrupted .
Eliminate patriarchal hierarchies.
Give leadership to councils of older women.


  1. Women must lead this transition not because men do not practice giving and do not have among others these values, but because men have been taught that they are something else, that they have male identity rules of domination and competition, and all our institutions and economies have been built on that lie.

Women have been taught the lie that men are something else and that women are not only not equal to men, but that they should be complementary to the false male identity and believe it.
In fact, our society is built on this social lie, the lie of the father and the father before him.
Women have to lead because we have been doing more free work for centuries than men, giving attention to the needs of the family and society. Otherwise children and society would not have survived. We must lead, conscious of the values of the gift economy that we have been practicing so that giving is restored as the way to peace and abundance for all.

     2. Patriarchy is a social disease. The gift society is healthy in that it creates alignment with nature (we can understand free will in these terms: we can choose exchange or gift; both are products of socialization, but one aligns with nature while the other distorts, dominates and exploits).
Perhaps illness comes because a giving body or mind finds itself misaligned because it lives in an exchange-based society.

In the hope that the dissemination of these research and considerations will bring results, I wish all of us to rediscover the power of giving and giving in the most beautiful and lofty sense possible. The world needs it.


Diana Migliano







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