“The Gift”

My first book of 2020 is Lewis Hyde’s classic The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.

Only a few chapters in, it has already made me think deeply about many issues, such as:

  • The nature of capitalism, which is to take wealth out of circulation. Hence the self-fulfilling law of scarcity that serves as the foundation of economics texts.
  • The propriety of capitalizing that which we receive as gift. Many of the gift cultures Hyde writes about have strong injunctions against this, and even today it’s not possible to capitalize, say, a mountain sunset (if we have eyes to see it). We probably fail to capitalize on many gifts without price, and there might be a good case for investing at least some capital gifts in the culture we have.
  • The essential importance of life — of people, communities, goods, and nature — beyond the reach of the market. Ours is not the first culture to fall too much under the illusion of an all-encompassing, all-knowing market. And, as Hyde demonstrates, extremes don’t last forever.

Most of all, the book has opened my mind to a new question for 2020: how might I simultaneously build confidence in my ability to live and work within the market-based “real world” and the enormous abundance that exists within and beyond the market?

I don’t think it’s possible to live entirely beyond the reach of markets (Hyde doesn’t, and that’s not what he’s arguing), but I also don’t think the point of coming to know our talents is merely to monetize them.