The American anthropologist Polly Wiessner used to spend a quarter of every year with the !Kung bushmen in southern Africa. When she got home to New York, every time she felt at first a great sense of relief to have escaped the complex networks of reciprocity that bind those tribes — but 48 hours later, she always felt a profound sense of loss.
She argued that reciprocity is hardwired into humans. When I heard her story, I wondered whether it might be a clue as to why everyone seems so cross these days. I’m not talking about Brexit, or coronavirus, but something more fundamental. I believe the rage we feel is the result of constantly being offered what look like reciprocal relationships by the organisations we deal with, both public and private, which they then betray.
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