Exchanges are mundane practices for subsistence. We have been exchanging innumerable material and immaterial things to feed ourselves. Probably because of the banality, we have rarely come to cast serious doubt about values in terms of which to exchange one for another. Very few might wonder if a price of a packet of milk is appropriate by reference to income, health conditions or calories needed for survival. In other words, even if fairly roughly, we have got used to balancing innumerably different values. Exchanges are imagined as symmetrical, equitable or flat relationships between comparable values.
Exchanges are, however, no less inequitable or imbalanced. Any exchange occurs when someone recognizes advantages to do so by reference to one's own and others' different endowments. If everything is evenly distributed, no exchange would be needed or accepted. Exchanges are to be initiated by those who notice differences. As a matter of fact, at least part of the reasons why virtually everyone uses money as a medium for exchanges is because it is credited by relevant authorities. Exchanges taking place in a local market are initiated only by those who have found advantages to do so. Rest are just obeying rules that are established and re-established by relatively small groups of people. Many are enforced to exchange, for instance, their labor for means of subsistence, i.e., money.
What is increasingly being obscured is the fact that our society is hierarchically stratified. Since the Enlightenment, upward mobility across class boundaries has been believed to be possible. It is, however, also true that not a few people, especially those with less power, do not believe so. Because of this tension, many have now become reluctant to speak directly about inequalities that are grounded in innate and cultural inheritances. Put in another way, vertical imagination, typically downward one, tends to be avoided. This tendency of normatively suppressed downward vertical imagination has significant implications for the secularized flat imagination about mundane exchanges. Virtually no one pays attention to the power of initiating a variety of exchanges. Many focus on equitable exchanges with media that have already been authorized and declared as definitive units by certain authorities. What they actually avoid is imagining that the power they are exercising might be affecting the more vulnerable.
What is needed is to acknowledge the fact that our society is hierarchically stratified, rather than confining ourselves within comfortable spaces in which equations can easily be established. This is about critical reflection on ourselves. However, it is not considered appropriate to advocate for it. Confronting squarely ourselves is even more difficult than we assume. Since many have come to put credit on scientific analyses, I would like to invoke them. First, communications by which to exchange ideas, knowledge and information will be seen as successions of utterances or messages punctuated by generative moments at which participants in communications are supposed to find utterances or messages meaningful in one way or another as if to be eye-opener. Second, to increase the chances to experience the generative moments, exchanges of ideas, knowledge and information are re-defined as being initiated by vertical imagination, meaning that the advantages of recognizing differences are seen as the origins of power and a variety of values. Third, by so doing, we may become more sensible to the importance of acknowledging necessarily unevenly distributed endowments in terms of innate characters and socio-cultural inheritances, which are sources of a variety of values in terms of which to exchange things. Downward vertical imagination would thus contribute to making social analyses, typically those on exchanges, much more relevant for wider audiences than assuming equilibria between definitively identified variables.