Trust and the Sharing Exchange: A Buddhist Response to Kojin Karatani’s Modes of Exchange

Trust and the Sharing Exchange: A Buddhist Response to Kojin Karatani’s The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange

What will persuade you to share your information with me?
Trust, as a moral medium of exchange.

Karatani’s Model of Exchange:

Table1 Modes-of-Exchange Matrix

B: Plunder and redistribution A: Reciprocity
(Domination and protection) (Gift and counter-gift)

C: Commodity Exchange D: X
(Money and commodities)

Table 2 The Modern-Social-Formation Matrix

B: State A: Nation
C: Capital D: X

Karatani’s analysis of the four types of exchange is one I largely agree with; but I disagree with his suggestion of how Form C: Capitalist Commodity Exchange, will be superseded. He says it will be superseded by a World Republic, an ever-enlarging and all encompassing United Nations, with all it’s organizations and functions: World Bank, IMF, UN Peacekeeping, World Health Organization, etc. that will take over the functions of the State and Nation, and regulate the commodity exchange economy

But I disagree; I think it will be superseded by the global exchange of information, in a sharing economy that fills the definition of Form D: a Supra-Reciprocal exchange. Karatani said that Form D re-institutes Form A, Reciprocal exchange, at a “higher register”, one that goes beyond household, tribe, band, church.

Information is continuing to grow at exponential rates. Cesar Hidalgo’s explanation of the growth of information (Why Information Grows, 2015) shows that the planet acts like a giant computer that stores and processes information. He says the “hard drive” of the planet is nearly empty. There is so much more space in which information can grow. Furthermore, complex civilizations, like the one we are currently in, are giant computers that can process vast amounts of information, exponentially more than we do already. Hidalgo says that we have barely begun to exploit our potential for processing and growing information.

The growth of information continues exponentially until it exceeds the social processes (institutions) and technological structures (machines) that produced it. The growth of information within a social system is equivalent to the growth of energy within a system. When the energy of a system increases, it shifts the form of the system into a new, more complex state. The attractor (organizational form) of the current social system will shift from money and commodity exchange to information and the sharing exchange. A commodity is scarce, costly to produce, only available at certain places and times. Information cannot function as a commodity because it continuously increases and is ubiquitous, and is therefore abundant, not scarce. The exponential growth of information will disrupt all our current social structures that are based on scarcity and commodity exchange, including Karatani’s Capital-State-Nation.

Information is Transforming Capital

Information is growing at such an exponential rate that it is destroying the value of money. There are so many more billionaires on earth right because a billion dollars has so much less value than it used to. The more billionaires there are, the less billionaires are actually worth.

Information will destroy money as a system of valuation. What will be left will be the sharing exchange (Form D or “X”)

The growth of information has exceeded and destroyed the property values ascribed to intellectual property and copyright, such as:

the music industry
the publishing industry
the film industry
science & technology
corporate shares

Information is Transforming Social institutions

The growth of information networks exceeds the boundary limits set by social institutions that have used those limits to contain and control its members. The growth of information networks will radically reshape social institutions or destroy them.

the family

Information is Transforming Religious Institutions

The growth of information and communication technologies will disrupt the historic social structure of religions as self-contained communities.

ex. All the forms of Buddhism that have ever been put into written form (or electronic media) are now simultaneously available to everyone in the world who can read and has a connection to the internet. There are no more boundaries between forms of Buddhism, which were formerly divided and contained by historic period, sect, culture, language, etc. You are free to learn any kind of Buddhist dharma or practice you can lay eyes on. The historical sangha, which was an enclosed society based on “secret” teachings and practices, is gone. There are no secrets anymore. Anyone can learn any kind of Buddhism, anywhere, any time. The Buddhisms we practice now are forms of a global Buddhism that is growing, spreading and intensifying: it is not scarce, it is ubiquitous.

Trust and Shame as the Moral Regulators of the Sharing Exchange

What will persuade you to share your information with me?
Trust, as a moral medium of exchange.

I share information with you because I trust you, because you demonstrate trustworthiness and moral integrity. If you violate my trust, than I can use social networks to expose you to the world as a morally degenerate person who is not worthy of trust. No one will share their information, goods or services with you.

In the sharing economy, we will share food, housing, energy and other material needs. In the sharing economy, not everyone will need to own everything they need. They will only need to “borrow” them for the time being: rent, lend, use, share. What facilitates the sharing exchange is trust. I trust you to get in my car so I can give you a ride. I trust you to stay in my bedroom. If you violate that trust, I will use the social network to show that you are not trustworthy, and no one will share anything with you.

Example: Offender lists. Sexual predators end up on offender lists for life; no one will trust them; no will share anything with them.

Anyone can be exposed at any time and thus be excluded from the sharing network. Panopticon will ensure that everyone behaves as they should, because they could be exposed at any time to social disapprobation and shame.

Shame is the most powerful social mechanism for controlling human behaviour voluntarily, without force. Social exposure through information sharing activates shame very powerfully. Social exposure of this type will transform legal systems. It will be no longer necessary to prosecute people through the court system; we will simply expose them to social disapprobation.

Prisons will no longer be necessary; it is far easier and cheaper to control criminals in the community using electronic surveillance and psychotropic medication than it is to warehouse them in prisons. Prisoners will be deinstitutionalized just as mental patients and disabled persons have been.

Information is Transforming the Nation-State

Information will eventually disrupt the nation-state, the other two social structures that make up the Karatani model of Capital-State-Nation.

As Militaries become wholly dependent on information technology, they become vulnerable to disruption and even destruction via hacking. Hackers are the revolutionary proletariat of today, and the future. The most potent para-military forces in the world are hacker groups, like Anonymous.

Hackers can bring down governments, shut down transportation and communication systems global finance exchanges, government surveillance and military systems. They can disrupt and destroy satellites and weapons systems of all kinds. In short they can disrupt and destroy the power and control technologies of the State.

Wikileaks showed us that States no longer have the power to control secret information. We can disrupt the power and influence of States by exposing their secrets to the social approbation of the world. In the face of that kind of power, States will have no choice but to cooperate and share information.

Nations will be disrupted by information systems since a person is not limited to kinship with people in her own family, city, culture, religion, or country, but can associate with people from all over the world.

Buddhism and the Transformation to the Sharing Exchange.

Ethics and integrity as the moral medium of the sharing exchange.

As Karatani said, Form D: the Supra-Reciprocal exchange, is based on a moral economy of the communal sharing exchange. Communal sharing economies were instituted at the founding of universal religions. Karatani noted that Buddhism is one of the universal religions that at its founding instituted a communal sharing economy.

Karatani said that Form D: what I call Supra-Reciprocity, will be based on the social structure of universal religions, like Buddhism. Why? Because Buddhism, as a religion of ethics, creates trust, and trust enables sharing. I will share my information, my goods, my home with you because I trust you, because you demonstrate moral integrity.

Buddhism as a Meta-religion.

Buddhism excels as a medium of sharing exchange because Buddhism is empty. Buddhism is not a typical religion that is tied to particular forms: rituals, gods and beliefs. Buddhism is a meta-religion, a metaphysics that tells you how to understand all religious phenomena, belief systems and ethical systems. As such, Buddhism is a very powerful medium for the information processing and trust-building that takes place within a sharing exchange.

Buddhism is not concerned with believing in a certain God or gods, with life after death or other supernatural esoterica. Rather, it is concerned with pragmatic ethics, with karma, cause and effect, and pratityasamutpada, interdependence. It is a religion of morality, ethics and integrity. As such it is an excellent vehicle for creating a world-wide system of trust that facilitates the sharing exchange. It tells you how to conduct a sharing exchange in a way that builds trust and reciprocity, and how to evaluate the trustworthiness of a sharing exchange.

The demonstration, through the practice of Buddhism, that one is able to overcome greed, hatred and delusion, envy, fear, craving, addiction and selfishness, and a host of other psychological and moral weaknesses, is an excellent medium for generating trust that facilitates sharing and reciprocity. A religion that places the highest value on altruism, compassion, generosity and intention to benefit all others is one that generates trust and facilitates the sharing exchange.

The form of Buddhism that will create this kind of world-wide medium of exchange will not be Buddhist religions per se, but Buddhist ethics and principles that are shared by anyone, regardless of their culture or sect.

Principles such as interdependence, universal compassion, karma, generosity, altruism, non-violence, and the practice of the Five Precepts (not killing, not stealing, not lying, not engaging in sexual misconduct [i.e. not taking advantage of someone’s trust], no intoxication) will serve as an excellent moral medium of exchange.

Mindfulness is currently seen as the form of Buddhism that will integrate with secular culture and make us all ‘cultural buddhists.’ But I see Buddhist metaphysics, ethics and interdependence as the forms of Buddhism that will help create the global sharing exchange.

It is the growth of networked information that will disrupt the current system of Capital-State-Nation and generate in its place the new social structures of the sharing exchange, the Supra-Reciprocity economy. And trust will become the moral medium of exchange of the sharing exchange.

Kōjin Karatani (柄谷 行人 (born August 6, 1941) is a Japanese philosopher and literary critic, author of Architecture as Metaphor and the parallax view. 


5 thoughts on “Trust and the Sharing Exchange: A Buddhist Response to Kojin Karatani’s Modes of Exchange

  1. I don’t agree with the idea of using shaming as a control mechanism! From what point of view are you doing that shaming: Is it against people you see as deviant from a norm? What Buddhism tells you there is such a thing as a universal norm that you would write into an online social networking system’s algorithm for some kind of “shaming” function? Or is it about people who have ideas that might differ from yours? Why would you psychologically shame someone even if you didn’t use it as a basis for a social system? Maybe as a Buddhist or just a living being you could try to figure out other things than how to control people? Please exclude me from your global system if it uses these things as and calls them Buddhist. In each situation people should meet and decide clearly what happened. in an environment of basic respect, considering all views equally, and allowing each to act as equals. Public shaming as a psychological mass control tool is not Buddhist: It has more in common with punitive western legal systems, but regardless of what culture or religion it might be inspired from, maybe concentrate on the trust bit instead?

    Also about your claim that buddhist knowledge is simultaneously available to all, it was also a claim that could have been made in shakyamuni’s time I’m sure, but still was as unlikely as a turtle bumping his head on a sandalwood log. A belief has to hit you on the head with the force that usually only comes from a human connection between two people or with a wider community of practice and belief – or in rare cases you might read or see something and be convinced enough to adopt its belief system, but it’s a lot more rare. So yes, maybe a lot of that stuff is online somewhere, or in books you could access, but so is lots of other knowledge. Lots of information of all kinds is on computers, so is available to a small percentage of the world that has access to one. So for a small amount of purposes and realms of work or interest, there is access to what people tend to search for on search engines or on social networks. So how do you know what to ask the computer: Maybe you should ask how you should behave, or how to bring about lasting happiness in all beings, or how to gain wisdom about the universe so you can transmit it etc etc, So how would you know to ask the questions if no-one was there to make a connection with you, and to tell you that these questions were more important than doing basic schoolwork, staying in touch with people, looking for a job, or other more probable uses of some online device than “seeking the word of the dharma”?

    Also if all that stuff is actually published, I’d like to have the link please!!! 🙂 Or if it doesn’t actually exist yet, we could create a site that gave free online access to all that in one place – like all of miao-lo’s writings, and all the official sutras, and the unofficial ones, and all the local tales and myths referred to in the buddhist writings, and all the dialogues and treatises from various scholars from the past to contemporary, and the one where the buddha talks about the country that is impossible to invade, or maybe just everything, on the one searchable buddhist writings database like wikileaks?

    1. I’m not saying that I advocate the use of shame as a mechanism of social control. I’m saying that shame IS a mechanism of social control, and always has been, in most communities that have been studied, historically and around the world. Perhaps I didn’t make that clear enough.

      I agree that one would not know where to start if one did not encounter the dharma through direct human contact, through other practitioners. I have said elsewhere that it is necessary to be a part of a in-the-body Buddhist community as a way to get started, in order to establish a practice. But once a person has established a practice (meditation, study, self-examination), I found that it more productive to go on my own, using the resources that I find online.

      However, I not only find scriptural resources online (e.g., which has the entire Pali canon that has been translated into English), but I also find other practitioners online. At least once a week I engage in live video calls with practitioners from around the world, speaking live, face to face.

      1. Thanks for explaining about the shame thing and I see what you mean.

        It’s interesting about the video calls and I wonder how that came about? I guess I’d like to be able to chat to Buddhists regularly, or with people from other faiths or spiritualities who ask similar questions so as to keep beliefs active and well thought out, but still I guess a mix of in-person and video is probably good too.. Still sometimes it’s good to just chat about some of the more obscure or complicate aspects of buddhism, and nothing like another long term practitioner or someone who has read it or come in contact with it all.. These people are hard to find!

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