Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Life of Gifts

A Chinese maxim states: "If you are angry at someone, give them a gift. It is impossible to be angry while being generous." I have, empirically, found this to be true; an act of generosity, even undertaken mechanically, will often change they way you feel. Because it is freely undertaken, a gift has a life of its own, above and beyond the mere transfer of property or service, a psychic significance for both giver and recipient. A dun letter from my kid's school put it quite well: "Paying for things is how meet our needs and obligations . . . but giving is what gives us meaning."

I heard on the news this morning that the incoming Congress is taking a more serious look at limiting gifts to lawmakers, especially in the wake of a party change-over after a series of scandals. I thought about the whole practice of gift-giving in our plutocratic . . . aHEM I mean democratic system. It always struck me as odd that the Washington power-elite were so scrutinized for pocketing gifts on the order of hundreds or thousands of dollars, while the captains of industry were swallowing spoils that were orders of magnitude greater. If politicians were so powerful, why weren't they getting richer at the public trough?

To understand it, you have to understand the psychology of gift-receiving. The Washington fatcats did not set about acquiring power to get money. Usually, it's the opposite -- they traffick in money to acquire power. And the psychic measure of power is in how many people need you, and how much they need you. A senator might not be richest man in the world, but he is the best friend of everyone he meets. Rich men usually pay for the privilege to be so sought after, through their philanthropy.

And hence the gifts. Lawmakers are swayed by gifts, but not just by the material value. It's the psychic payoff that gives it punch. It doesn't even matter if it's just a lobbyist picking up the lunch tab -- for just a moment, that lawmaker is a King, receiving tribute.

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