Reciprocity & Regard

Reciprocity and regard, terms that are elements of respect. Economics tries to quantify motivation as a transaction by which a transfer of money signifies a mutually beneficial exchange. It is intended to equalize competing and disparate modes of motivation by reducing them to an agreed upon means of exchange. Economics has led us astray in a number of ways by its compulsion to reduce. Prowling through complex systems with the machete of reductivism concentrates power at the cost of inflicting permanent damage. Here it is no different. We’ve been habituated to actually believe this reduction to a lowest tolerated common denominator. In actuality our motivations, as creators, makers, servers; as well as; audience, user, client; are much richer and more complex than can be reduced to a cash equation.

We give this lip-service, another platitude, another ought to twinge our conscience. The accumulation of these misdirections assemble the bars of a self-inflicted prison in which we hold ourselves in servitude to a toxic system. We bleed away any hint of actual connection that our organism attempts to present to us and return ourselves to predatory or passive modes. We know we pay a great price for doing so; but somehow it’s easier to look the other way. This mechanism erodes self-respect. One of our most basic needs and stamps us with the brand of our own servitude. This bargain, at the heart of the economic ethos, we jokingly refer to as a Devil’s Bargain. There’s an old truth behind the nervous chuckle.

Once we begin to go beyond this and start to examine the sources, and the coin, of our motivation; the reductivist bargain dissolves into a rich complexity. We discover that a major aspect of our motivation is tied to our relationship with respect: Making the leap to replace money with respect as THE currency of our exchanges might be a replacement of one reductivist analysis with another. Unless we maintain a sense that respect is an umbrella, a broad signifier. At one time this might have been true for money; but today that freshness and an open curiosity to look for and make connections – as far as money-economics goes – has fossilized into a muddle of hidden assumptions and poorly understood received opinion. Examining the pathways of respect brings us closer to the source. It removes a layer of abstraction.

I’m focusing on two elements of what Richard Sennett sees as making up a landscape of respect. His work on this needs to be absorbed. A landmark. I want to relate and adapt his insights as they apply to my own inquiry into the epochal transition we enter. This is part of my motivation regarding respect. Beyond that lies what has been a life-long struggle with the issue, internally, as self-respect, and relationally, between myself and others. I don’t see this as in any way a unique struggle. Its implications are vital to any understanding of how any of us place ourselves in the world.

An aside: I’d like to take back the term world from its reductivist usage as a signifier of some narrow aspect of our existence, perception, and awareness. The world is not geo-politics or a limited social sphere. It’s not even tied just to this planet, although our experience of the world is rooted in this aqueous globe. The world is our venue in the broadest sense. The plane of our existence. What and where we are embodied.

Regard is attention. Perhaps the ultimate currency? Giving attention focuses our awareness on something or someone at the cost of all other competing potential interests. Regard is transparent – even when we are aiming hostile attention, even ridicule or contempt. It is a clear sign that we value the object of our regard – at that moment – over anything else. This takes the dictum, “follow the money” one step further towards an understanding of motivation and the structures of power. It opens up the possibility to see these directly and clearly beyond the justifications and stories we pile in the way.

Life is a finite series of moments. Our attention is equally limited and precious – the conduit through which we experience our lives. Without it, we “have” no life. Regard is where our ability to chose beats against the limits on our existence. Let’s not have anymore excuses for claiming we’ve been distracted from what matters! Choosing to focus our regard on something, we proclaim to give it value. A value assayed in the ticking moments of life we have remaining. Reject distraction or accept it; but don’t claim the responsibility is not our own or that the cost is not ours to pay.

As we begin to notice these transactions and how they fill our time, we can open into a clarity of vision. What do we do with this insight? I’d say we vote with our attention. We continue to make choices; but instead of remaining confused by hidden fees and opaque rewards we begin to keep a tally, “How has this moment been directed at something worthy of my time, attention, regard?”

On the flip-side, since that wording seems to imply a passive consumption of attention, the kind of thing we bleed-off when we succumb to spectacle, let’s also ask, “How does this activity, this creation, this production, this service I’m working on measure up?”

This isn’t a call to a hyper-vigilant manic weighing of each moment to insure that it tallies with some “bucket-list.” On the contrary. I propose that a sense of confidence – in-our-selves – over generally maintaining these ledgers of our expenditures will lead to a relaxation of mania. Just as it helps release us from displacement. This is where satiety comes in. We begin to have a working sense of enough. Contrast this with economic life and its exhortation to chronic and acute demand and metastatic growth at all costs to meet it.

Just as we consider the meaning and ramifications of our own regard we begin to catch the significance of the regard of others. We navigate in a world surrounded by others doing the same, “You’re dead to me.” The ultimate insult because it declares the intention to cut-off all regard. On the other side, time, attention, regard that people do send our way is valued as an ultimate manifestation of what there is to value.

This brings us to reciprocity. As living organisms inhabiting time we require reciprocity: a spiraling of cyclic attention, regard, between and among us to create the continuity between instances that we call our awareness of ourselves and our environment. Reciprocity in this way is life itself. Without it we are functionally dead and as embodied beings we know this leads to our destruction. “You are dead to me!” If this is hurled at us from all sides, we will soon be dead.

This places reciprocity at a similar level of fundamental necessity as regard. Together they are the currency of our internal regulation and of our external lives within the world. We can look to these needs to find the motivations for most, if not all, we do. If there is a blockage – say we’re doing something “for the money” or because we feel compelled, “I have to do this!” We can bite the coin and test it against these sources of our motivation.

How do we tie these insights into motivation into the existing system of our money-economy?

That’s just one implication and points to a direction this inquiry can takes us. Unfortunately, the weather’s good and painting the house calls out to fill my regard today.

More on this next time.

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12 thoughts on “Reciprocity & Regard

  1. Antonio,

    “Regard and reciprocity…” I would say these were core attributes of a large majority of precivilized (indigenous) social groupings (egalitarian, kinship based tribes), at least if I read Morton Fried and other writers correctly.

    1. I think these are among our strongest human motivations. With enough intuitive empathetic effort, I think a case can be made that these values apply across a number of species beyond humanity. The question is how do we restore their primacy culturally so that the destruction and displacement their frustration foments can be dealt with.

  2. […] Reductivism is probably the least capable framework within which to deal with paradox. It’s reflex, that of Alexander, to cut the Gordian Knot. Right there we see unknowable complexity treated merely as an impediment to willfulness and destroyed in a fit of efficiency to strip out the useful from its greater home. “Good Intentions” could be seen as a desire to pick away gently at the knot, still trying to unravel it, but unwilling to own up to the violence the unacknowledged, but still accepted attitude of utility demands. […]

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