Monday, October 18, 2010

The Way We Never Were

Reading an interesting book by Stephanie Coontz analyzing the myth of the perfect American family of the past.

One of the things she talks about is the rise of the Liberal European idea of personal freedom that came around the time of the Enlightenment. This was a reaction to the oppression of the monarchy and it defined the notion of individual freedom. However, while it defined the rights of the individual, it didn't really address the social and political obligations of living in a society.

This is something I've always recognized, but she articulates it really well, and she supports with a lot of supporting quotes and stories.

One thing that is interesting is that she brings up gift giving. A gift is an important social construct because it places an obligation on the person receiving the gift. In our society, people feel very uncomfortable if someone gives them a gift and they did not reciprocate, or if the value of the gift received is much higher than what was given. We feel this way because we are uncomfortable with acknowledging this social obligation - it impinges on our sense of freedom. We don't want to be "dependent" on anyone else. However, in a different culture she talks about, reciprocating with a gift immediately after receiving one is considered a grave insult to the giver. It implies that you do not want to take on this obligation and you want to eradicate it right away.


Blogger billoo said...

E-k, do check out Hyde's fascinating 'The Gift' if you haven't read it already.

October 18, 2010 11:13 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Thanks Billoo,

I haven't heard of this book before...

October 19, 2010 6:40 AM  

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