Up in our country we are human!

In the Danish writer Peter Freuchen’s Book of the Eskimo. Freuchen tells how one day, after coming home hungry from an unsuccessful walrus-hunting expedition, he found one of the successful hunters dropping off several hundred pounds of meat. He thanked him profusely. The man objected indignantly:

“Up in our country we are human!” said the hunter. “And since we are human we help each other. We don’t like to hear anybody say thanks for that. What I get today you may get tomorrow. Up here we say that by gifts one makes slaves and by whips one makes dogs.”

The last line is something of an anthropological classic, and similar statements about the refusal to calculate credits and debits can be found through the anthropological literature on egalitarian hunting societies. Rather than seeing himself as human because he could make economic calculations, the hunter insisted that being truly human meant refusing to make such calculations, refusing to measure or remember who had given what to whom, for the precise reason that doing so would inevitably create a world where we began “comparing power with power, measuring, calculating” and reducing each other to slaves or dogs through debt.

From Debt: The First 5000 Years, David Graeber, p.79


I am gonna use this human nature life lesson in my life encounters here forward whenever I can, and pass it on.


My life has improved drastically since adopting gift economy as my primary means of resource transfer.

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You might enjoy Daniel Suelo’s blog zerocurrency.blogspot.com

Mr Graeber’s book is pretty good, but I think things he uses for evidence of early markets and currencies were much more likely to be gifts, freely exchanged at seasonal meetings of the tribes. I think actual debit/credit trade actually started when we became sedentary, post ice age.

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Ernesto, Thank you for the recommendation of Suelo’s blog. I have been following him on and off for the last 10 or so years.

I agree that Graeber may be confusing early markets with gifts and free exchanges at gatherings. I am not sure it was the sedentary life that created markets, although it seems to have done so in many areas. North American tribal groups pretty much maintained their gift economy well into the 19th century, although they were seasonally sedentary. The Gaels of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands/Islands maintained their gift economies into the 7th or 8th centuries. The Cymru maintained their economy up to the major incursions of the Saxons. But history is written by the conquers, so much has been lost.

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Brilliant, thank you for all those connections.