* 200 articles. Two years. Whelk. The best of Upsideclown. Might be reprinted.

Giving is better than receiving

19 November 2001
Matt prefers being the active partner.

I've been given socks, music, electronic games (hand-held and otherwise), novelty gifts of various prices and levels of humour. It's all very kind and everything, and gifts are gifts afterall and you shouldn't look in horses' mouths and all that (least of all they have bad breath), but the vast majority of presents I've been given are fucking cock slop.

Not an original observation I know. But bare with me, for I am to propose a way of ending those days of having to dispatch well meaning relatives in violent Inappropriate Gift Rage.


A pair of socks. Dull. Gold cufflinks. Blank videos. A novelty book of cartoons about golf/computers/sex. Peach-and-chive soap in a wicker basket crafted in the Amazon. Cock slop of the highest order. Bad gifts.

A handmade card from your best friend. Good gift. Your favourite book from when you were young. Good gift. The last sixpence of a starving tramp. Good gift.

What's the difference? Bad gifts are mass-produced, bought without a thought. Good gifts involve some kind of emotional investment by the giver. You know they've really tried. That tramp will probably die tonight, but at least you know he cares.

It probably took your best friend hours to make that card. And that book -- how did they remember? How did they find out? You're impressed, right? What's more, all these good gifts are cheap. Money is a red herring. More proof: People wouldn't have been impressed if Christ wasn't God's only son. You wouldn't have a two-thousand year religion if there were a stack more Jesuses gathering dust on the top of a wardrobe somewhere.

So why does Mrs Bins from over the road insist on giving you thermal underwear (bad gift) every year? Let's sidetrack a little and figure out why people give presents. The problem has two stages.

Stage one There's an alternative economy going on here. Gifts are a way of indebting someone to you. Gifts can be used as very subtle weapons. Think of the white elephant. Or if I bought you lunch every day, one day you'd feel so embarrassed you'd buy me lunch back, even if you couldn't afford it.

It's a very advanced form of war really. By giving you something I'm trying to make you concede to me, but when you do you're still strong and useful in a way you wouldn't be if we'd been hitting each other over the head with big sticks. But it's resource consuming all the same, so society has evolved to constrain gift buying to only certain periods of the year, much like birds have energy-expensive breeding seasons that only last a few weeks.

Bloodthirsty Mrs Bins probably doesn't realise she's engaging you in savage battle every year, but that's okay because she's already won: You cheerfully mow her lawn and put up shelves for her once in a while.

For friends and family this kind of exchange is a good way to bond. And bonding with these people is a good way of ensuring that they do sensible things with their genes and memes (which, after all, you share).

So far, so good. Gifts as community superglue. In which case, shouldn't you value your gifts just as high as you value the giver (or higher even, if the war is really raging out of control)? Well yes. But:

Stage two. Something's gone wrong. The thing is that the receiver is supposed to get genuine value in the gift economy. And value for me doesn't necessarily equate to value for you. Value is a relative thing, which leads us to the two (and only two) categories of good gifts: Either you've really suffered for it, in which case I'm impressed. Or you've found something cheap, but that really means something to me. Good gift.

But money's got in the way. And what money tells us is that the value is the same on both sides of the transaction. Bollocks it is. Just the act of you lending me some cash means it has less value for you than for me. Money tells us that value can be measured by price and that price is objective, because it's the same whoever's buying, and because it's linear to add up. Bollocks again.

The problem is that money is a very powerful metaphor that's with the Western world from birth onwards. And so people get a little confused and they think that a 9.99 gift is worth 9.99 no matter who it goes to. Or that a gold watch is worth more than a handmade card.

So you end up with shite. Presents that don't mean anything, aren't worth anything, took five minutes to buy, but cost absolutely loads. Cock slop and forced grins all round.

And the solution? Ah, well. It's a new gift line I'm selling. It's targetted at people who don't know what to buy. Now obviously I can't tell what the person they're giving to really values, so I'm taking the other tack: Although the gift will essentially have no value there's going to be a great deal of suffering wrapped up in it. So that's that side of the transaction sorted. And I'm going to charge the giver an enormous amount of money to buy it, so that's the other side. Everyone's happy.

First in the lineup are homeopathic medicines made from the tears of gypsy orphans, toothpicks made from fragments of the one True Cross, and a gilt-framed tramp's lung. I'm on to a winner.


This is the fucking archive

Current clown:

18 December 2003. George writes: This List

Most recent ten:

15 December 2003. Jamie writes: Seven Songs
11 December 2003. Dan writes: Spinning Jenny
8 December 2003. Victor writes: Rock Opera
4 December 2003. Matt writes: The Mirrored Spheres of Patagonia
1 December 2003. George writes: Charm
27 November 2003. James writes: On Boxing
24 November 2003. Jamie writes: El Matador del Amor; Or, the Man who Killed Love
20 November 2003. Dan writes: Rights Management
17 November 2003. Victor writes: Walking on Yellow
13 November 2003. Matt writes: Disintermediation
(And alas we lost Neil, who last wrote Cockfosters)

Also by this clown:

4 December 2003. Matt writes: The Mirrored Spheres of Patagonia
13 November 2003. Matt writes: Disintermediation
23 October 2003. Matt writes: Topology
2 October 2003. Matt writes: Haunted
8 September 2003. Matt writes: The Gardener's Diary
21 August 2003. Matt writes: The Starling Variable
31 July 2003. Matt writes: Two stories
14 July 2003. Matt writes: What is real?
23 June 2003. Matt writes: Mapping and journeys
29 May 2003. Matt writes: Extelligence
5 May 2003. Matt writes: Religious experiences
17 April 2003. Matt writes: Seeing the Light
27 March 2003. Matt writes: Flowering
10 March 2003. Matt writes: Climax state
10 February 2003. Matt writes: The Role of Cooperation in Human Interaction
20 January 2003. Matt writes: The same old subroutine
2 January 2003. Matt writes: New beginnings
9 December 2002. Matt writes: Packet Loss
18 November 2002. Matt writes: Wonderland
31 October 2002. Matt writes: Having and losing
10 October 2002. Matt writes: Trees of Knowledge
19 September 2002. Matt writes: The online life of bigplaty47
29 August 2002. Matt writes: Divorce
8 August 2002. Matt writes: How to get exactly what you want
18 July 2002. Matt writes: Eleven Graceland endings
27 June 2002. Matt writes: Listopad, Prague 1989
3 June 2002. Matt writes: Engram bullets
6 May 2002. Matt writes: Sound advice
15 April 2002. Matt writes: How it all works: Cars
21 March 2002. Matt writes: Proceeding to the next stage
25 February 2002. Matt writes: Spam quartet
31 January 2002. Matt writes: Person to person
7 January 2002. Matt writes: All for the best
13 December 2001. Matt writes: Life
19 November 2001. Matt writes: Giving is better than receiving
25 October 2001. Matt writes: Ludo
1 October 2001. Matt writes: Gifts, contracts, and whispers
6 September 2001. Matt writes: The world is ending
13 August 2001. Matt writes: The Church of Mrs Bins
16 July 2001. Matt writes: Things I Don't Have
25 June 2001. Matt writes: Fighting the Good Fight
31 May 2001. Matt writes: Code dependency
7 May 2001. Matt writes: Up The Arse, Or Not At All
5 April 2001. Matt writes: The increasing nonlinearity of time
19 March 2001. Matt writes: Hit Me Baby, One More Time
22 February 2001. Matt writes: Space, Matter, Cities, Sausages
29 January 2001. Matt writes: Truth in Advertising
1 January 2001. Matt writes: Six predictions for tomorrow
7 December 2000. Matt writes: You must reach this line to ride
16 November 2000. Matt writes: The truth about the leopard
23 October 2000. Matt writes: Shopping mauls
28 September 2000. Matt writes: Heavy traffic on the road to Utopia
4 September 2000. Matt writes: Sixty worlds a minute
17 July 2000. Matt writes: You, Me, and Face-space

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