By "long, long ago" it might have been about ten years ago. Maybe more.
There was some software I liked very much. I cannot remember which happened first, but the software company gave all of my staff free copies of their stuff, and we gave them free advertising. There was never a contract, or even an agreement. It was just lots of giving. Eventually the company grew and I think it might have been sold, and a new guy was in charge and the whole thing stopped.
It was beautiful while it lasted. Simple and beautiful.
Somehow it always reminded me of this:
Surely, this is nothing new.
About a dozen times I have tried to rekindle stuff like that with other organizations. I'll give a bunch of candy to somebody thinking it will be like that all over again. And maybe it sorta works for a while, but ....
Now that I think about it, I do think I have a few relationships like that now. Just smaller.
I was listening to an audiobook today called, "Write, Publish, Repeat"; one of the authors was mentioning how they share the best of their information with other blogs. They do written and audio interviews. In doing these interviews they collect a few new readers of their science fiction series. It's a host beneficiary arrangement that keeps the blog fresh; I'm sure you have used this tactic to spread the word on your various kickstarters.
As I was listening I thought of all the great podcasts you have done, and thought "Paul Wheaton should do more of these with the various sustainable agriculture websites out there. Maybe some prepper sites." I know you are probably stretched pretty thin time wise, but a nice telephone interview with someone with a good subscriber base is bound to grow permies. Even using a podcast from awhile ago to 'wet the appetite' of some blogs subscribers might bring converts. I imagine each site would direct their subscribers to a link that would benefit them.
Anyway that audiobook was full of good advice on keeping yourself evergreen in your subscriber's eyes.
This is subtly different from the "gift economy" as most people seem to imagine it.
(Or maybe as I imagined it.)
When I was younger, I think I used to imagine "the gift economy" as being made of beautiful luxury items - the sort of things people commonly give as gifts, but are too nice for everyday use - and the time to work on them, for example knitting and sewing and baking people's Christmas gifts.
When we became highly dependent on other people's generosity following a medical crisis (which coincided with job transitions in an economic crisis), I began to appreciate the conveniences money offers, for example, to select shoes that fit and still have tread on them. We had lots of some things (overgrown zucchini, soap and towels), and other things would go scant (hardware for repair jobs, updates for computers). There were things that we didn't even consider buying for ourselves, because we could not have afforded them, and sometimes someone would just up and give us something immensely useful - like my mother giving me a car when she got tired of watching me borrow wheels to drive Ernie to doctor appointments. How do you repay a car? She doesn't need it back; she got a better one. She does not want the money back if we sell it. We ended up giving her a private lesson to build her own skin-on-frame kayak for birdwatching, and she still uses it every year. But is that the same value? Or more? or less? These cycles build until you cannot help feeling you have received more than you can repay, and you keep giving, and if the relationship is balanced, both parties keep escalating the giving (as they also learn better which gifts will be most useful).
It reminds me more about the idea of "reciprocity," which our tour guides explained as part of our cultural introduction to the Peruvian Andes. "Don't eat raw salad except in the restaurants where we specifically tell you it's safe; try chicha at your own risk because they start the fermentation by spitting in it; and understand that here reciprocity is an important cultural value."
"Here you have reciprocity between neighbors: if you show up to help raise my roof, I show up when you raise your son's roof.
You have the reciprocity where everyone in the community puts in for shared resources - like giving time and materials to maintain the roads or the village school, which are not owned by anyone in particular but used by all.
Then you have the reciprocity with the larger state - in the Inca times, you put in a certain number of days per year maintaining messenger trails, or working on bigger projects, or helping to grow food [we later saw royal research/retreat villas, that developed improved or altitude-tolerant varieties of medicines and crops]. Now it's normally taxes instead of labor. But still the state is responsible for protecting you from bandits and invaders, for communications, and for projects that are bigger than one village can accomplish on its own."
"As a visitor, this means you recognize when someone is offering a service, and you offer something in return. If someone is standing on the corner in full traditional garb, carrying an adorable out-of-season lamb, they are not waiting for a bus. If you take pictures, they have provided you a service, and you are expected to reciprocate. You don't have to offer money - it can be some little thing like a photo from your own small town, or a bead bracelet, or a seashell - but you better offer something, because otherwise you are just taking advantage."
My sister said something similar when I went traveling - and gave me 3 pieces of cheap jewelry as a starter pack. "If you get mugged, or lost, or just want to take someone's picture, it matters to offer something in return. The gift doesn't have to match the value - sometimes you can't ever repay your debts to a rescuer. But it doesn't work to just accept help, and take advantage, and not give anything back."
The same idea shows up as an emotional response trigger in the "Lauch" book you recommended - people naturally respond to generosity with generosity.
And it even shows up in games theory - I remember one computer simulation discussed on NPR, where it was an extended "Prisoner's Dillemma" over something like 100 iterations per game (not just the conventional one-round prisoner's dillema, which so thoroughly fails to predict actual criminals' behavior because it sort of assumes that prisoners don't meet again after betraying each other's trust). The winning strategy was not "ultimate harshness," or "turn the other cheek," but a modified "tit for tat" strategy, with a minor percentage of generosity.
You open by being nice, then see what the other party does. Once the other party has played, whether they are nice or nasty, you repeat their previous move the next round. If you both continue being nice, you both win. If the other party whomps you, you whomp them back the next round. However, if both parties are playing strict tit-for-tat, one inadvertent "whomp" leads to both parties suffering forever. So every once in a while - somewhere between 4% and 11% of the time, as best I recall - you throw in a "nice" again just to see if you can get the other party back on track. Why does this strategy win over both selfish nasty, and strict tit-for-tat?
In a game of 100 rounds with an incurable "whomper" you only lose about 10 points. In a game with a saintly generous player, or another tit for tat player, you will gain all the points available subsequent to the generous gesture - or on the order of 70+ points per round. On balance, those little moments of generosity pay you back big time, because they allow the fair-minded folks to reinforce each others' success.
Reciprocity - give as good as you get, plus about 10% benefit of doubt.
I sometimes describe it as "You treat people right. And if they treat you right, then you keep treating them right."
If they don't treat you right, you can walk away, or limit your business with them to any necessary and explicit dealings, as you would with anyone who cannot be trusted.
But I still like my lawyer uncle's advice: "No contract can fully protect you from malice. Don't do business, even with a contract, with someone that you would not trust on a handshake."
(He does recommend a clean, simple contract as a record of the deal; human memory is fallible, and if either party needs to transfer the deal to successors, the contract is invaluable.)
I think our culture puts too much emphasis on selfishness, competition, and individual success at the expense of others. We think in terms of "winners" and "losers," like one implies the other (when there are plenty of scenarios where win-win or lose-lose are the two most likely outcomes.)
When we do offer "public services," they are often delivered in a manner that ranges from begrudging to insulting. Public schools are an obligation that many students confuse with work, at best, or torture at worst. Somehow the habit becomes ingrained "the world owes me free information, which it is my job to process for my own benefit" instead of "My community has given me the best it can offer, I must reciprocate with substantial contributions."
The opportunities for trust, collaboration, and mutual benefit are not the only casualties of the selfish approach.
Feeling grateful and supported - even deliberately reflecting on the people, places, or intangibles that make you feel most supported and grateful - is a powerful physiological stimulus to strengthen our bodies and envigorate our endeavors. (This was a tip from a behavioral psychologist in a training that Ernie and I attended in 2014. We saw it twice, with a total of 5 or 6 people asked to demonstrate their physical strength in a simple "body talk" style comparison, and further discussion of emotional and professional effects.)
So those who are ungrateful and begrudging toward the world in general may be doing more long-term harm to their own individual health and power than to any "mark" they slight along the way. Not to mention the lost opportunities.
I guess that's why they call it a negative attitude. Playing "screw everyone" is a lose-lose game.