chapter  4
Free at Last: Empathy, Solidarity, and the Gift Economy
Pages 18

In many cultures, one has a responsibility to provide water and/or food to those in need. The acequia system detailed in Chapter Two is derived in part from an Arabic model based on the “right of thirst” and in recognition of the basic fact that all living things require water (Peña 2005, 83). Food sharing among humans has been the overarching norm throughout our existence, with expressions like “breaking bread” coming to symbolize conviviality and positive exchange. Many people today still practice forms of charitable giving in their lives, even to the degree of structured tithing that is part of some faiths. Without thinking about personal gain, people will often react to a crisis in their midst by rushing to the scene and offering assistance, including acts of heroism as we have seen on display in nearly every disaster in recent years. Additionally, utilizing the internet and social media, a vibrant system based on the provision of free items can be found in most cities across the United States and, increasingly, worldwide. While perhaps these activities have not been named as such, taken together there is evidence to suggest the beginnings of a working gift economy premised on the non-monetary exchange of goods and services as well as on the implicit recognition of our responsibility to aid others as part of a healthy society. We might even say

that these nascent Golden Rule-like efforts comprise a shadow economy with empathy, solidarity, compassion, and mutual aid as its dominant currency.