The Disease of Patriarchal Capitalism

by Genevieve Vaughan

Women's Worlds, Ottawa, July 6, 2011. Download a PDF

We European/Americans have been infected by the disease of patriarchal capitalism and we have carried it to all the populations where we have settled. For many of them it has been fatal, others have adapted but some have succeeded in defending themselves and their traditions against all odds.

This disease hurts us as well as everyone else. It is the cause of wars and oppresssions of all kinds. It magnifies racism, ageism, nationalism, religious prejudice. Let me try to say what I think it is.

I believe it is an economic disease which originates inthe merging of patriarchal values with market values, creating a link between the man at the top of the hierarchy and money.These are both false concept models of value and they pull people towards being them or having them. They seem to offer and justifydominance, power and the ability to judge. Bilateral exchange for money, giving in order to receive an equivalent,cancels the unilateral gift. We base the economic market on exchange and consider it to be the only economy while forgetting that the unilateral giving of goods to needs is also a mode of distribution. Market exchange is a way of eliminating free gifts, making them valueless and invisib while appropriating them as commoditiesle. Who even thought of the gift of fertile seeds until their species were privatized and free fertile seeds were replaced bycommercial terminator seeds? Who even thought of the gift of free clean water until it was commodified and made scarce by pollution? Who thought of the gift of free housework until it began to be counted in monetary terms? It seems that the only way we can recognize the value of anything in our society is byexchanging it, naming it with money.

For me this way of doing things comes from the denial of the importance of mothers, mothering and being mothered for the definition of human beings.Our society has isolated mothering in the nuclear family rather than generalizing it to society as a whole. In fact unilateral gift giving (and its values) cannot be generalized if the main social nexus is exchange.

Because babies are born unable to care for themselves, their motherers have to give to them unilaterally without expecting a return. The unilateral gift has a logic of its own, and it creates relations of mutuality and trust. It unites people and a syllogism is connected to it. If A gives to B and B gives to C then A gives to C.The unilateral gift by which we satisfy others' needs also gives value to the other person by implication. The receiver is not passive but creative, and the success of the gift depends on her use of it.The unilateral gift can be repeated by the other person,taking turns. That is the other person has a turn at taking the initiative to give to the previous giver or to someone else again. This can be seen in the interactions between mothers and children which are not exchanges but alternations of unilateral gift giving initiatives.

Our ability to satisfy other's needs unilaterally(and pass it on) has been left out of our vision of the world because we base our thinking on exchange, giving in order to receive an equivalent. Exchange requires quanitification and measurement and places an equation between giver and receiver which actually covers up an adversarial relation - because each tries to get more out of the exchange than the other, not realizing that this means that each one is actually trying to get something free, that is a gift, even if it is forced. In fact that is what profit is, a forced or leveraged gift, which is unrecognized because it is called by another name.

With the gift of their free housework women contribute to this profit because the capitalists and corporations do not have to pay for the so called work of reproduction. Then there are the many gifts of nature and culture that are given low cost or free, and the savings corporations make by not cleaning up their own pollution and letting nature supposedly take care of it. These gifts of profit accumulate and form capital, which is then re invested to leverage more gifts.

All of this market thinking and doing, upon which I could expand ad infinitum, makes gift giving difficult. It creates scarcity in order to maintain control. In abundance gift giving is easy and delightful, but in scarcity it becomes difficult and even self sacrificial.The giving of gifts of profit to the few takes gifts of subsistance away from the many. When too much abundance accrues in the economy the overage is wasted in wars and symbolic excesses. Abundance would make the population difficult to control and people would not work for capitalists if they lived in abundance. They would rematriate, they would return to a maternal gift economy. This possibility is a real danger for capitalism which therefore creates the scarcity which makes it impossible.

These strange characteristics of the market economy seem normal and natural to us. In fact we do not question them until they begin to make our own lives difficult.

I submit that the market avails itself of the unilateral gifts of all, and that these are the gifts of the maternal model. They belong to an economy of mothering, supplying needs without the intention of getting a return.

Unilateral giving can be elaborated in many ways. I believe it is the basis of language and I have done a lot of work in the directionof showing how words are verbal gifts, and sentences are gift constructions. In this case language would be virtual mothering, mothering with gifts and services in the medium of sound. Therefore humans would be an extremely mothering species since we do mothering not only much longer than most other species but we do it virtually as well as materially. And we do it in language all of our lives (not just in child care). We use it to create and communicate all our thoughts, our literature and science but we do not recognize it as such because the mentality of exchange has wiped gift giving and mothering out of our world picture. Instead we are told we have inherited behaviors and inherited grammars, inherited altruism and indeed inherited superiority. Finding mothering in language and the economy allows us to generalize it, or to say that it is already general but unrecognized as such.

It is by the return to the interpretative key of mothering-and- being-mothered, unilateral giving and receiving that we can begin again to understand the relational side of life. Egalitarian non authoritarian motherers mind-read the needs of the child and adapt their gifts to the childs needs. The child is a creative receiver who in her turn can give to the mother, vocalizations,gestures, coos and smiles, which the mother receives and gives some more of her own. The child and the mother create moments of joint attention in which they point at parts of the world and receive those perceptions together. That is, when they attend to the same thing, they are both receivers of the same perceptual gift.

In doing this we also project the mother onto theworld around us and receive this motherworld's gifts of perceptions and experiences because we have learned to be creative receivers by having been cared for by our human mothers. The interface between ourselves and the environment is a nurturing motherly relation in which we are the receiving role. Moreover we preconsciously select which perceptions and events to give our attention to. That is, preconsciously we are like a mother who selects the most important things to give to her children.So we are unconsciously, pre consciously and physiologically ourselves mothering nature regarding ourselves and we also turn this towards others.

Maternal interactions, whether the mother is only one person or many, an extended family or a whole village, provide the basis for communication in the rest of life. If we say all this behavior is inherited we cut out the social importance of mothering and unilateral giving. Then we do not use that logic any more for understanding what human beings do. I believe we need a rematriation of Western philosophy and science. We need to bring back unilateral giving as a basis for understanding who we are as human beings before and beyond patriarchy and the market, and act accordingly. We need to rematriate European Americans to the mother in our own society and ourselves, respect the rematriation of the Native Peoples to their lands and traditions and stop the destruction of the Great Mother world wide.