bartering stories

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bartering stories

Postby hannah23 » Sun Dec 07, 2003 10:46 am

I'm writing an article about the bartering trend for a national magazine. Since Burning Man is a "commerce-free event" I'm told that a lot of bartering and trading takes place. I'm interested to hear what you've bartered in years past--from the mundane to the quirky.

many thanks!

Hannah Wallace
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wrong

Postby unjonharley » Sun Dec 07, 2003 11:16 am

wrong, we do not barter. we gift not asking of any return. we carry what we belive will be enough for us. then a little extra to give if some one is without. Then there are gifts to others exchanged for as little as a smile. Never met a friend that I didn't like. Some folks just can't seem to get it straight. Buy a ticket and come see for yourself.
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Postby Kinetic II » Sun Dec 07, 2003 11:51 am

Hannah, there are lots of stories about gifting on the main site and on the eplaya, I'd do a little more researching along with asking the questions. Unjon described it perfectly. I've taken all kinds of things from extra dust masks to orange juice to glowsticks with me and gave it all away. I expected nothing in return. But...what I received ranged from smiles and hugs to necklaces and a few of those exchanges have led to new friendships. There's really no bartering in the normal sense...someone may offer an item in exchange for a drink but I've watched a bartender pour something for a person who had nothing to offer. They gave the drink as a gift.
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Postby Bob » Sun Dec 07, 2003 2:35 pm

Some background, from Burning Man's major-domo, Larry Harvey:
http://www.burningman.com/whatisburningman/2002/02_news_sum_2.html
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Postby stuart » Mon Dec 08, 2003 11:40 am

there are 'barter bars'.

many bring random crap from oriental trading or candy and gum
I have seen bartenders sneer at these and prefer a joke, story or song.
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Postby MrChevere » Mon Dec 08, 2003 12:00 pm

I had a gocery bag full of cassette tapes that I hoped to hand out. Seems very few people have cassette players anymore because I came back with more than half of them.
I'll keep them with my 8 tracks. Maybe they'll be worth something in a million years.
It was like this when I got here, honest.
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Postby precipitate » Mon Dec 08, 2003 1:14 pm

> 'barter bars'.

We ran a bar for a few years. I suppose you could say it was a barter bar,
in that you had to give us something to get a drink, but what you had to
give was performance rather than goods. We had a peep show and a
dare bar. The dare bar was more successful (and more fun).
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Postby Dustdevil » Mon Dec 08, 2003 4:02 pm

My wife traded a necklace for a spot near the front of the line to get into the Great Canadian Beaver Eating Contest. Maybe that would be considered a bribe. In any case, it worked.
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Bringing the Gift Economy to the "Real World"

Postby robbidobbs » Tue Dec 09, 2003 11:36 am

BM has a gift economy, which means (paraphrasing Honeyman) that what you offer to another Burner, already belongs to them.

I have personally brought this attitude into the Default World. If I own something that would be more appreciated and useful by someone else, then I give it to them saying "I was wondering who's this was, and it was yours all along." The inhabitants of the Default World generally aren't socialized to be given gifts w/o strings attached, and that is exactly what Burners are engendering. And yes, potlatching is a major cultural phenomenon at BRC.
Example:
I have water, you have beer. I appreciate your company, and now we are friends. There is no "trading" involved.

When I am on Poop Patrol, I am giving of myself. I do this freely. I do not expect to be given trinkets, consumables, or whatnot. I expect to be listened to is all. I am often given water, intoxicants and a GREAT DEAL of entertainment by my audiences. That's wonderful! One big hug is worth it. Taking my message to your camp is worth it. Practicing what I preach is worth it. I keep going on this faith.

But if I go to a camp, and they are in a festive and welcoming mood, I will cheerfully make fun of them if they so much as hint at requiring that I provide them with something. Because that's all I do, is give them myself. I try really hard to improve the quality of their lives with the Wholy Word of Excremental Correctness. That's GOT to be worth more than schwag.

Here, this one's on the House: Carry a ziploc baggie in your butt-pack in case a girl in the pottie lines should need one.
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Postby Ugly Dougly » Tue Dec 09, 2003 2:15 pm

Beer. Bring a cooler full of cans of some random beer, and advertise (here or at the "real" playa bulletin board) that if people bring warm beer in cans they will get cold beer in return.

Stuff like that. Use your imagination. :P
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Re: Bringing the Gift Economy to the "Real World"

Postby rogue agent » Tue Dec 09, 2003 7:33 pm

robbidobbs wrote:BM has a gift economy, which means (paraphrasing Honeyman) that what you offer to another Burner, already belongs to them.


In addition to the gift economy, there is a barter economy. There are barter bars, there's even barter camps that look like a yard sale or swap meet, that exist solely to swap what they have for what you have. I'm sure there's people who swap a couple gallons of fuel for a case of beer, or whatever. It might be frowned on by purer Burners, but it exists.

Anytime there is scarcity and value, there is commerce and trade. It's human nature, unavoidable and necessary. I love how the concept of the gift economy works as a tool to change the social patterns that separate people, but I also understand and accept its limits. It's an artificial construct that requires a level of sacrifice that's unsustainable too far beyond the week of the Burn.

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Postby unjonharley » Tue Dec 09, 2003 8:02 pm

Agent, I don't know that your quite right. I was brougt up to give to a persons needs. There have been times when I gave the shirt or coat off my back to strangers in need. One time I gave my coat at the seen of a acident. The person was cold. Seven years later the coat come back. She remenbered my last. She over heard my wife giving her name at a store. she asked if she and I were related The lady returned the coat and thanked my wife for it's use.
It's neat to know this gifting thing has worked for many years.
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Postby rogue agent » Tue Dec 09, 2003 8:52 pm

unjonharley wrote:Agent, I don't know that your quite right. I was brougt up to give to a persons needs.


You do it in small bursts to meet specific needs, not sustained as an economy. As an economic system gifting can't hold up outside of the Playa because scarcity & value become dominant forces. It's a wonderful experience for the week it lasts and we need to learn how to carry it over into our mundane lives, but we need to be realistic about its limits as well.

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Where there's a will there's a way

Postby robbidobbs » Wed Dec 10, 2003 9:49 am

What I think we as Burners are trying to engeanor is to get rid of the "currency" aspect of bartering. That you give up an opportunity to create a community if you continue in the mindset that you can exchange goods/services for what you want automatically, and never talk to the other person again. Immediate exchange is not always what's called for.

I've experienced a twist on the bartering phenomenon out there, and it's really quite clever: you want something that the other person has, or someone gives you something, and for some unknown (?) reason, you get cozy-cozy to find out what you can do for that person to get what you want, or you feel compelled to give a gift in return, whether it happens immediately or with a delay.

I got something really nice from one of my Pottie People, and it was completely without strings. For two days, I thought about what nice thing I could do for them, and then did it. They poo-poo'd my compulsion, but it made me feel better to do the nice thing.

Ok, I need an editor.
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Postby Lydia Love » Wed Dec 10, 2003 10:33 am

They poo-poo'd my compulsion


Can I just say that in the context of *you* as the writer, this really cracked me up?
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Postby blyslv » Wed Dec 10, 2003 11:21 am

Our bar required energy. Do something, contribute your creativity get a drink.

If the notion espoused by BM that cash ruins human interaction is true, then I think that barter is more effective then gifting to increase human interaction and connection. Barter makes you think about what you have, what you want and the relative values. It makes you sit down with a person and discuss. I found at BM that the this process makes most people very uncomfortable and that true barter doesn't happen very often. But it was only my second year, so WTF do I know?

One of our peeps, who had all the wood, had difficulty getting to the event on time 'cuz of mechanicals. Our next door neighboor had wood aplenty. But he would not barter at all, he insisted on giving me some. Later, as much for me as for him, to restore balance I guess, I dropped off a large quantity of booze at their camp.

hic!
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Postby III » Wed Dec 10, 2003 11:28 am

gifting is a weird sort of power exchange. in some cultures, it is acknowledged openly, with people demonstrating their power by giving gifts that cannot possibly be reciprocated, thereby holding the recipient in a debt position.

the idea behind gifting at burning man is theoretically to release this debt, but as demonstrated by robbidobbs and blyslv it's pretty hardwired into our brains, and difficult to let go of.

i find that for me, (and possibly in the spirit of what this is intended to be) the best way to release that feeling of obligation is not to gift back to the person who gifted me, but to go and find others in the community to gift, so that i am part of a greater flow rather than just a small tight quid pro quo loop.
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Postby Markov Chaney » Wed Dec 10, 2003 12:25 pm

I really like the idea of nonreciprocal gifting. I think I'd find it difficult not to feel obligation when gifted. Sounds like a good habit to break anyhow. I wonder though, do you find that people that have gifted you tend to have expectations of reciprocation?
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Postby III » Wed Dec 10, 2003 12:42 pm

>do you find that people that have gifted you tend to have expectations of reciprocation?


generally yes. but, they also tend to mention it, which gives me the opportunity to encourage them to reciprocate to someone else. it's kinda like "pay it forward", only not as schmaltzy.
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Postby blyslv » Wed Dec 10, 2003 4:28 pm

III wrote:the best way to release that feeling of obligation is not to gift back to the person who gifted me, but to go and find others in the community to gift, so that i am part of a greater flow rather than just a small tight quid pro quo loop.


Yeah. Last year I found that all my energy went into One Big Thing. Next year I want to play around with smaller things that call on more creativity then getting people drunk in a dress.

Not that there's anyting wrong with that.
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Postby rogue agent » Thu Dec 11, 2003 12:24 pm

OK, here's my combined take on all of this.

Money: One of the functions of money is to lower the social cost of transactions, so it takes less mental effort to buy or sell something. This is why I'm opposed to the Center Camp cafe; it enables people to buy things without significantly engaging the cashier.

Barter: Barter is an exchange transaction where each participant gives up something of value in return for something of equal (perceived) value. This satisfies an internal moral calculus called reciprocal altruism. I do something good for you in order to encourage you to do something good for me. As others have pointed out, the drive to balance the books is extremely strong in us; in fact it really is genetically burned into our brains. Both participants benefit from the transaction,but the rest of the community is excluded.

Gifting: Gifting is a higher order transaction where equity is maintained and reciprocal altruism is satisfied through a "pay it forward" expectation. Someone gives you something & your mental accounting tells you the books aren't balanced. To settle the account, you feel driven to give somebody something, preferebly something of equal (perceived) value. The community as a whole benefits, because any member of the community may receive a gift without notice solely because they are a member of the community. Upon receiving a gift, the giftee feels driven by reciprocal altruism to even the books by gifting someone else. Eventually a significant amount of social capital is created out of thin air as everybody runs around trying to catch up with everybody else to "earn" their membership in the community.

There's a lot more to add, like how cheaters and freeloaders affect the equation & how to minimize their effects. But this is enough for starters.

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Postby III » Thu Dec 11, 2003 12:58 pm

(boy, i wish i'd been able to say it that way)
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Postby flyboypa28r » Thu Dec 11, 2003 1:32 pm

It would be interesting to find out how gifts propagate on the Playa. In other words: to see how many times a single item keeps getting passed around just for the sake of giving someone a gift (assuming it's a trinket of some sort).
Honestly, when I give a gift it will be from the heart and if I receive a gift I will keep it as a rememberence. I wonder how many people feel the same way vs. just trying to keep up with "balancing the books".
Experiences?
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Postby rogue agent » Thu Dec 11, 2003 2:14 pm

flyboypa28r wrote:It would be interesting to find out how gifts propagate on the Playa. In other words: to see how many times a single item keeps getting passed around just for the sake of giving someone a gift (assuming it's a trinket of some sort).


The Christmas Fruitcake Syndrome?

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Postby flyboypa28r » Thu Dec 11, 2003 3:48 pm

Exactly :-)
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Postby foamin' at the mouth » Thu Dec 11, 2003 6:03 pm

Gifting: Gifting is a higher order transaction where equity is maintained and reciprocal altruism is satisfied through a "pay it forward" expectation. Someone gives you something & your mental accounting tells you the books aren't balanced. To settle the account, you feel driven to give somebody something, preferebly something of equal (perceived) value. The community as a whole benefits, because any member of the community may receive a gift without notice solely because they are a member of the community. Upon receiving a gift, the giftee feels driven by reciprocal altruism to even the books by gifting someone else. Eventually a significant amount of social capital is created out of thin air as everybody runs around trying to catch up with everybody else to "earn" their membership in the community.


So, you just managed to do what it took Lewis Hyde in The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property a big old chunk of that book to explain.--although granted it was as much about the nature of art and it's role in society as it was about the role of gifting in various cultures and ours--and he gave a lot more nifty examples of the roles of gifting across social systems. Yours is nice and pithy though in comparison.

You must be one o' dem MacArthur Genius' too! What did you do with your 500K?--if you don't mind my asking.
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Postby rogue agent » Thu Dec 11, 2003 7:00 pm

foamin' at the mouth wrote:So, you just managed to do what it took Lewis Hyde in The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property a big old chunk of that book to explain.--although granted it was as much about the nature of art and it's role in society as it was about the role of gifting in various cultures and ours--and he gave a lot more nifty examples of the roles of gifting across social systems. Yours is nice and pithy though in comparison.


Wow, thanks. The reciprocal altruism stuff came from Edward O Wilson's Consilence & Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, both amazing books that put a whole new spin on human nature, in terms of sociobiology & evolutionary psychology. The rest of it I just kinda put together on my own. I've been thinking a lot about how civilization works, the mechanics of it, lately. Burning Man's a unique opportunity to study the underlying, fundamental rules for building a civlization, without some of the elements that would typically get in the way. Every year we get to build a city on a blank surface, adding new elements, encountering new challenges & discovering new rules on the fly.

You must be one o' dem MacArthur Genius' too! What did you do with your 500K?--if you don't mind my asking.


I wish. Right now I'm trying to jumpstart a career in a field that's only just emerging, something called Social Network Analysis. It's all about using math to analyze social groups & organizations of people so you can make them work better & get more from them. It's amazing stuff, but I haven't found my pot of gold yet.

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Postby foamin' at the mouth » Thu Dec 11, 2003 7:23 pm

Social Network Analysis


You know, those guys at the Institute for the Future are really into that stuff. You ought to snoop around there for career launching catapaults maybe. http://www.IFTF.org

They identify understanding the role of new social networks emerging in society as one of, I think, ten important trends.


I know how "Insititute for the Future" sounds and this can go either way-make you gag or pique your interest. The folks I've met there are pretty interesting and cool though in the dealings I've had with them.

Also maybe snoop around the Loeb Fellowship at Harvard. I think they have some fellows with similar interests. Nothing like a Harvard fellowship for launching you on yer way ya' know?

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Postby rogue agent » Thu Dec 11, 2003 7:48 pm

foamin' at the mouth wrote:You know, those guys at the Institute for the Future are really into that stuff. You ought to snoop around there for career launching catapaults maybe. http://www.IFTF.org


Cool, I'll check them out. Harvard's not an option, I'm a college dropout & more interested & qualified for the practical end of it than research. I kind of see myself doing what a high level IT consultant does, except with people instead of computers. Networks are networks, no matter what the underlying substrate is.

Thanks for the tip.

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Sticking up for barter

Postby KellY » Fri Dec 12, 2003 5:59 pm

I hope Hannah23 is still reading, I actually have a story for her. One of my favorite BurningMan memories is from 2000, when a couple of DeathGuild chicks, my friend Kieth from Apocalypse Theater and I spent the rainy Friday afternoon holed upin a tent with a bottle of vodka and all our various treasures spread out on the floor, trading back and forth. There were bones, beads, bits of jewelry, homemade scented oils, and lots of other interesting things. It was great fun, and a terrific way to get to know some folks who were barely aquaintances. We passed the bottle around, admired each other's stuff, talked about all sorts of things (I remember Kieth describing Aztec percussion methods he was learning that consisted of pounding on logs). It's not an experience that could have been duplicated in a "gifting" context, I think.

Some of the advantages of bartering over gifting:

There's no lingering sense of debt for someone having done you a favor;
You're not stuck with something you don't want but are too polite to refuse;
You know the item you've passed on goes to someone who wants it;
No one's left out of the "pay it forward" chain;
And it's it's own kind of fun.

I like gifting too, giving and recieving, and I agree the whole "barter bar" concept is lame (though I like the ones where you perform for drinks); I just think it's too bad that bartering has been so roundly bad-mouthed the last few years.
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