Recognition by giving – a plea for giving
Not everywhere on earth does the material possession of the members of a society determine the social status of each individual, as in our Western civilization. Those people in our society who have much, as a rule, alone, because they have more than others, have higher social recognition than those who do not have so much. Why is that? One explanation for this is that, without thinking too much, we often associate mere possession of property or money with a superior value – success.
The rule is: Anyone who has had much success deserves much recognition. And in our society obviously, who has a lot, has much success. From this general social standpoint, it is hardly surprising that there is so little resistance to the accumulation of material wealth of a few members of society. For some of us, however, the bill just made is quite oddly flawed. Because it may be that those who own a lot or who have a lot of money and can afford a lot because of this, are in a sense successful. But why should they receive more social recognition than others? Maybe because we secretly believe that society as a whole is one of those who own more, benefits more than from those who have less. But is that true? This raises the question of why, then, because of the accumulation of wealth on the one hand, and on the other hand, people must increasingly live in poverty. Society can benefit from the wealth of individuals, but certainly not by hoarding wealth.
It seems as though society in the end has nothing at all to make such success and social recognition of wealth and property so naïve. Without having to exert too much effort, this concept of social distribution of recognition seems incomplete. And it is not without alternative in the world.
The potlatch – spending as a common principle
The Dutch cultural philosopher and historian Johan Huizinga deals with a cultural practice in the first half of the 20th century, which is often referred to as potlatch within cultural research. Huizinga describes the potlatch as a competition that has dominated the social life of many Native American tribes in the past. The potlatch is a feast set by rigorous rituals that chieftains of a tribe have chosen for a variety of social occasions. At this festival, the one clan of a community whose leader is hosting the potlatch donates a large portion of his possessions in the form of gifts to another clan. Huizinga writes where he refers to the practice of the potlatch at the Kwakiutl tribePotlatch . ”  The recognition he receives from society as a result of this is all the greater the more he gives away. The festivities take place under all sorts of musically determined acts, sacred songs and mask dances.
But as a competition, the potlatch dictates that the recipient himself within a certain period of time after the feast again aligns a potlatch, in which he himself must now give another group of the community. The joke of the game is in a sense that the formerly gifted is now socially obliged to outdo each other’s potlatch. So he has to give away more than he got. Which, in logical reasoning, is somehow understandable, since now the clan who has been gifted has in addition to his own possession also the goods of the other and consequently has to possess more than this. In this way, vast amounts of possessions within the community are constantly changing hands.
The entire ceremonial takes place in the spirit of bragging and showing one’s superiority over the recipient and possesses a character of the highest seriousness. By spending the entire possession of a clan, one realizes that one does not depend on his possessions and can do well without them. It is not uncommon in this cultural game that in addition to giving away possessions, many goods are simply destroyed before the eyes of others. Because even the waste shows that you can afford it. In addition, the potlatch maintains a mutual attitude of respect. This spirit is maintained outside of the ritual donations by all sorts of services provided by members of one clan to members of another clan.
In some indigenous communities, the potlatch is still practiced as a community-defining element.
What can we learn?
It can be seen from what has just been said that there is something in common between the potlatch culture and our own as far as the recognition of waste is concerned. But the destruction that accompanies the waste of goods in the great civilizations certainly reaches a level that justifies them as incompatible with world society. There are similarities in terms of the ownership of goods, but in the cultures referred to, there is much about the goods that someone has. So where is the difference?
The difference lies as so often in the idea: for, quite contrary to the customs of our society and actually the great civilizations of the earth as a whole, it is not there the possession itself, the recognition causes. Ownership is only a means and not an end in itself. For only by the fact that possession is handed over , the possessor receives social recognition.
Surely it is not the right way to make a recommendation that in future, please, every wealthy person should take an example and cede his entire fortune. That there are rich people is certainly not the problem we have. But if we all, not just the rich, can learn something from the potlatch culture, then it is the attitude of not accumulating and appreciating material possessions for their own sake. But it is the will to give something to others, who are somehow responsible for their own success in society. In this attitude, as in the case of the potlatch, social recognition does not arise from the material possession itself, but from the ability to let others partake, which is only there,
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