Bryan Caplan  

Anthropology Versus Commodification

Change My View: A Data Opportu... Rashomon at the Financial Time...
A gripping excerpt from Brennan and Jaworski's new book on the philosophy of commodification:

...we present a range of sociological and anthropological evidence that there is no essential meaning to money or market exchange. Instead, the meaning of money is a contingent social construct. In the absence of non-semiotic objections to markets, the social meaning of money, of markets, and commodification, is relative, not objective. Note that we are not saying that morality is relative or a social construct, but, rather that the meaning we attach to market exchanges is.


There are facts about what symbols, words, and actions signal respect. But--when there are no worries about exploitation, harm, rights, and so on--these facts appear to vary from culture to culture. Consider that King Darius of Persia asked the Greeks if they would be willing to eat the dead bodies of their fathers. The Greeks balked. Of course, the right thing to do was to burn the dead bodies on a funeral pyre. To eat the dead would disrespect them, treating them like mere food. Darius then asked the Callatians if they would be willing to burn their fathers on a funeral pyre. The Callatians balked. The thing to do was to eat one's father, so that part of the father was always with the son. Burning the dead would treat them like mere trash.

The Greeks and Callatians agreed about what their obligations were. They agreed that everyone has a moral obligation to signal respect for their dead fathers... The issue here is just that the Greeks and Callatians were, in effect, speaking different (ritualistic) languages... Asking whether the Greek or Callatian practices are the correct way to express respect is, at first glance, a bit like asking whether English or French is the correct language. 

Personally, I like the idea of being eaten by my family and friends after I die.  But if that's not your thing, don't sweat it. :-)

COMMENTS (6 to date)
Jim Glass writes:

"Personally, I like the idea of being eaten by my family and friends after I die."

But would you enjoy eating them?

Brad writes:

Since Prof. Caplan is a betting man, let's see if he really means it.

$100 for a copy of a signed will with instructions to be cooked and served upon your death. There's a bonus ($$) for wine suggestions.

Floccina writes:
Personally, I like the idea of being eaten by my family and friends after I die.

I jokingly tell my family to bury me under a fruit tree and eat the fruits and think of me.

Tracy W writes:

Brad: what would be the point? A will can't oblige anyone living to do anything. At the most it can make its gifts conditional, but I suspect it would take more than $100 for Bryan to risk his loved ones choosing to disinherit themselves.

Also Bryan could sign the will, collect the money and then tear up the will.

Jesse writes:

Tracy: Nobody would be obligated to eat the late Prof. Caplan, he just needs to make arrangements to be prepared and served.

Prof. Caplan: If you were to go through with such a thing, your loved ones should request you well-done, so as to hedge their bets Pascal-style. (Too much?)

Daniel Ford writes:

I recommend against having your friends and family eat you, as they can potentially contract prion diseases. The Fore people of Papua New Guinea discovered this the hard way with Kuru. A hard death from an incurable infection is a poor legacy for your loved ones.

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