buy nothing

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Buy Nothing. Give Freely. Share Creatively. No Selling. No Bartering. The ideal policy for the New Year Season!

'The Buy Nothing Project' began as an experimental hyper-local gift economy on Bainbridge Island, Washington (state) in 2013; in just 8 months, it had become a social movement, growing to over 25,000 members in 150 groups, in 4 countries.

The Buy Nothing Project says, "We offer people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of hyper-local gift economies in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbours."

This is a new concept, going viral in the West, but it has been a part of Eastern culture for many millennia, though now forgotten. In the West it is called a 'Gift Economy' as a reaction against 'Cash economy'. Here is a concept which we too can adopt now, as we have been re-adopting so many of our ancient customs and practices when they come back to us from the West.

It is the cash economy, and all the gimmicks used by the business community, which make people 'buy' unwanted useless goods. They offer discounts, interest free credit, they lie or tell you half truths about the immense benefits, and they even create jealousy among neighbours, to sell their products.

The local groups form gift economies that are complementary and parallel to local cash economies. A gift economy’s real wealth is the people involved and the web of connections that forms to support them. The Buy Nothing Project is about setting the scarcity model of our cash economy aside in favor of creatively and collaboratively sharing the abundance around us.

Long before the dawn of the 20th century, people in the west had forgotten the concept of Giving. Probably that is why Bronislaw Malinowsky found it remarkable that the 'Kula' people in Papua New Guinea travelled long distance to gift goods of high value to strangers, who in turn would gift to other people and sometimes it would circle back to the people who first gave, and he called it a Kula Ring. Malinowsky could not accept that human beings could make 'Pure Gifts' without expecting anything in return.

But Marcel Mauss argued that even if it was not a Pure Gift, it was given without direct reciprocity and he called it 'Prestation'. According to Mauss, Prestation is giving which is compelled by social obligations, which reenforces social status. Then perhaps we could use this term for the new year gifts and for alms-givings because these acts are social obligations most of the time.

The Adbusters magazine posed a question, "What would the Buddha buy?" if he lived in this consumerist world today. 'Shopocalypse' is a term coined by Reverend Billy who founded 'The Church of Stop Shopping', asking people to stop shopping. All these protest movements are happenings because many people are obsessed with shopping, purchasing for the sake of purchasing, which we can often see when people go on holiday abroad. They feel obliged to bring gifts to all their near and dear ones, and there are those who also expect such gifts when someone returns from abroad.

There is a rush to buy meaningless, often useless things during these two weeks before new year, just because they are available at a discount, just because we have to gift things to our family members, elders, children and loved ones.. When we buy something for ourselves, or to be gifted to someone else, we should ask ourselves, do we really need it? Does the person who is receiving the gift really need it? Is it something that he cannot buy himself?


For the New Year what the parents would really want is for their children to visit them, to spend the New Year with them, not to offer them useless 'gifts', or send such gifts through a courier service.


We have to ask all these questions from ourselves because we have forgotten the true unselfish act of giving, practiced by our ancestors. Even the concept of 'Dana' in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism has degenerated into acts of charity, to gain merit, or fame or respect. But it is well explained in ancient Jaina Dharma, "In the practice of giving, one gets over greed, which is a form of 'Himsa'." That is probably the reason why in Islam 'Zakat' means both 'purification' and 'growth'


Jacques Derrida said the only true gift is the one that is forgotten immediately by both the donor and the receiver. "For there to be a gift, not only must the donor or donee not perceive or receive the gift as such, have no consciousness of it, no memory, no recognition; he or she must also forget it right away".


Buy Nothing is what our software developers are practicing, when they use Copyleft and Creative Commons. They are gifting their software products to anyone who wants them, and it is coming into vogue with free e-books and journals and many newspapers. One does not have to buy any software, or buy any books to read.

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, "The only gift is a portion of thyself...therefor the poet brings his poem, ....the painter, his picture..."


As true artists and writers we should be able to gift all our creative works to the whole world, in the way shown us by Derrida, not as a gift to be given or accepted, with no obligations, gratitude or reciprocity. The moment we share our creative work, it is no longer our gift to our readers, because it belongs to all humanity, and thus there is no giver or receiver. That is what the Sinhala term for a book launch, 'Jana gatha kireema' really means, sharing it with the people, not selling it.



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