RSS
 

Showing posts tagged david graeber

cyclopean:

Another occupy question for the anarchists out there:

One of the biggest drains of energy I saw was all of us fighting ceaselessly about appropriate tactics.

Ironically, the pacifists were the most aggressive and belligerent about these arguments.

These are important conversations, but it seemed like a waste of energy that could have gone into actual organizing or, heck, trying to maintain what was left of your life outside of occupy.

And I didn’t see any other options besides:

A: fight endlessly and bitterly

Or

B: just give the liberals what they want.

Neither one seems particularly good.

Any thoughts about how we deal with this better the next time a significant and ideologically wide ranging popular movement pops up?

I seem to recall reading David Graeber (maybe it’s in “The Shock of Victory”) having a theory that all fights about tactics are simply proxy fights for larger issues. I don’t know if there’s any way to get around that in any movement that’s ideologically diverse. People with different ideologies are also going to have disagreements on tactics, even assuming they’re working toward similar goals.

Maybe I’ve got followers who have more insight or experience. Anyone want to take a crack at it?

 




If, on the other hand, we stop taking world leaders at their word and instead think of neoliberalism as a political project, it suddenly looks spectacularly effective. The politicians, CEOs, trade bureaucrats, and so forth who regularly meet at summits like Davos or the G20 may have done a miserable job in creating a world capitalist economy that meets the needs of a majority of the world’s inhabitants (let alone produces hope, happiness, security, or meaning), but they have succeeded magnificently in convincing the world that capitalism—and not just capitalism, but exactly the financialized, semifeudal capitalism we happen to have right now—is the only viable economic system. If you think about it, this is a remarkable accomplishment.
David Graeber, “A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse” in the latest issue of The Baffler


At the moment, probably the most pressing need is simply to slow down the engines of productivity. This might seem a strange thing to say—our knee-jerk reaction to every crisis is to assume the solution is for everyone to work even more, though of course, this kind of reaction is really precisely the problem—but if you consider the overall state of the world, the conclusion becomes obvious. We seem to be facing two insoluble problems. On the one hand, we have witnessed an endless series of global debt crises, which have grown only more and more severe since the seventies, to the point where the overall burden of debt—sovereign, municipal, corporate, personal—is obviously unsustainable. On the other, we have an ecological crisis, a galloping process of climate change that is threatening to throw the entire planet into drought, floods, chaos, starvation, and war. The two might seem unrelated. But ultimately they are the same. What is debt, after all, but the promise of future productivity? Saying that global debt levels keep rising is simply another way of saying that, as a collectivity, human beings are promising each other to produce an even greater volume of goods and services in the future than they are creating now. But even current levels are clearly unsustainable. They are precisely what’s destroying the planet, at an ever-increasing pace.

A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse

(via bostonreview)

I haven’t had a chance to read this essay yet, but it’s been so long since I’ve posted a David Graeber quote.

306 notes

Posted at 4:09pm
Reblogged (Quote reblogged from bostonreview)
Tagged david graeber debt

 


mortauxvaches:

youthisastateofmind replied to your post: to everyone freaking out about the election,…

I agree in general, but I was around for the huge protests against going to war in Iraq, and that didn’t stop it. Electing Gore rather than Bush would have made a bigger difference on that. On other issues, protest is a more effective tool.

I see where you’re coming from, but it’s really hard to look at that in hindsight. The flip side of those protests was a lot of scary hawkishness from a lot of the reactionary middle and lower classes. Additionally, who knows what fucked up information the Pentagon would have fed Gore. That being said, those protests were massive and Gore seems to be pretty lefty. Also

>implying Americans didn’t elect Gore

There’s a David Graeber essay, “The Shock of Victory” where he talks about how anti-war protests end up being taken over by the more hierarchical elements of the left (like ANSWER in the Iraq War protests) and turn out to be largely useless as a result. Protests like Occupy, on the other hand, which involve a much more grass-roots democratic approach, are much more threatening to the status quo. And there, we’re protesting pre-existing income inequality, rather than trying to stave off some new threat. So, I think under a Democratic administration we’ll be protesting more useful things than under a Republican administration, and doing it in a more productive manner.

And, yeah, I know we didn’t really elect Bush, but the comment box was too limited to make that point. Bush ended up in office, which was what mattered for the point I was making.

 




bostonreview:

Cage match: Harvey vs. Graeber. Read our recent interviews with both gentlemen.

It’s like a whole bunch of the things I always talk about on my blog all together.



I blogged about this video ages ago because I’m a bit of a linguistics nerd, and a fan of Steven Pinker on linguistic and cognitive science issues (let’s not get into his problematic views on evolutionary psychology and the like). He describes three “relationship types” common to people across all cultures (you can jump to 3:35 to get to the start of that part): Dominance, Communality, and Reciprocity. Mostly, he’s concerned with how we use different verbal strategies, such as politeness, to navigate between these relationship types.

A few months after posting this, I was reading David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years, and noticed that he seemed to be talking about much the same thing. In chapter 5, “A Brief Treatise on the Moral Grounds of Economic Relations” he sketches out an anthropological framework that consists of “three main moral principles on which economic relations can be founded:” Communism, Exchange, and Hierarchy.

Communism, by which Graeber means “any human relationship that operates on the principles of ‘from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs,’” is simply a more economic-focused way of describing what Pinker calls communality. Dominance, of course, implies the existence of its opposite, submission, which together are hierarchy. The fit between Pinker’s reciprocity and Graeber’s exchange isn’t quite as perfect, but they do seem to be talking about much the same thing.

I find Graeber’s way of describing it more useful to applying these ideas to other aspects of life, politics, economics, etc. But this video’s useful to get the basic idea for those who haven’t read his book. Mainly, I’m putting this here so I can refer back to this basic framework when discussing things where I find it relevant.



I once put out the idea that the best way to think about anarchism is as a combination of three levels. On the one hand, the sort of instinctual revulsion against forms of inequality in power; on the other hand, a reappraisal of what one is already doing in egalitarian relations; and then the projection of these principles on all sorts of relations. So those three moves making what you’re already doing self-conscious and trying to take those principles and project them to all sorts of relations… But that’s what I’m trying to do in the book and I hadn’t really thought of it until I just said that—when I say that what we’re already doing is communism. The first step we have to make is to realize that we’re already closer to it than we think. We don’t live in a capitalist totality. Capitalism couldn’t survive as a totality anyway. We live in this complex system and we already live communism and anarchism in a million forms everyday.

David Graeber, in an interview with Rebecca Solnit in Guernica. If you haven’t read Debt: The First 5,000 Years yet, this is a pretty good discussion to see how Graeber’s argument gets from anthropology at the beginning to political criticism at the end. They manage to touch on a number of the themes that he’s written about in various places.

(h/t: Aaron Bady’s weekly roundup of amazing links)



Even capitalism’s greatest detractors, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, celebrated its unleashing of the “productive forces.” Marx and Engels also believed that capitalism’s continual need to revolutionize the means of industrial production would be its undoing. Marx argued that, for certain technical reasons, value—and therefore profits—can be extracted only from human labor. Competition forces factory owners to mechanize production, to reduce labor costs, but while this is to the short-term advantage of the firm, mechanization’s effect is to drive down the general rate of profit.
For 150 years, economists have debated whether all this is true. But if it is true, then the decision by industrialists not to pour research funds into the invention of the robot factories that everyone was anticipating in the sixties, and instead relocate their factories to labor-intensive low-tech facilities in China or the Global South makes a great deal of sense.

David Graeber, “Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit” in the new issue of The Baffler (sadly not online). The issue in general, and Graeber’s piece especially, are basically grappling with the idea that, while iPads and everything might be nice, back in the day they told us we were going to get jetpacks and three-hour work days, so what the hell happened?

I’ve actually been contemplating the issue of Marx’s argument (in Capital, Vol. 3) about the declining rate of profit being behind our current economic downturn for a little while now. I’m not sure how much is due to inherent problems with capitalism and how much is due to its current, globalized, financialized, neoliberal form. But I think I largely agree with the general thrust of Graeber’s essay, which I’d encourage everyone to track down. I’ll try to follow up with a few more quotes to flesh out his ideas, for any poor souls who rely on my blog to be informed about the world.



A popular exercise among High School creative writing teachers in America is to ask students to imagine they have been transformed, for a day, into someone of the opposite sex, and describe what that day might be like. The results, apparently, are uncannily uniform. The girls all write long and detailed essays that clearly show they have spent a great deal of time thinking about the subject. Half of the boys usually refuse to write the essay entirely. Those who do make it clear they have not the slightest conception what being a teenage girl might be like, and deeply resent having to think about it.

David Graeber, “Beyond Power/Knowledge: An Exploration of Power, Ignorance and Stupidity” (pdf)

He also says much the same thing in “Revolutions in Reverse,” an essay included in the book Revolutions in Reverse (which can be read in Scribd at the link). I’d been meaning to post a quote from the second source for a while, thanks to Aaron Brady for the actual excerpt above. That last link is a good essay on the recent Rush Limbaugh BS and how patriarchy works and how male privilege is defended by having men like Limbaugh around to keep women’s opinions out of the allowed discourse on the subject. To keep high school boys forever unable to write essays that could relate to the issue of needing hormonal birth control to control ovarian cysts.





David Graeber’s Debt: My First 5,000 Words

Aaron Brady, who’s done some great blogging about Occupy Oakland at zunguzunguzungu.com, just started blogging for The New Inquiry. And his first post there is a nice big review of David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Which I keep telling everyone to read. But if a 300+ page book is a bit much to ask, this review lays out the essentials of Graeber’s arguments quite nicely.


thenewinquiry:

In the final lines of his introduction to Debt: The First 5,000 Years, David Graeber writes that “[f]or a very long time, the intellectual consensus has been that we can no longer ask Great Questions.” And as he put it in a guest post over at Savage Minds:

The aim of the book was to write the sort of book people don’t write any more: a big book, asking big questions, meant to be read widely and spark public debate…[T]he credit crisis —and near collapse of the global economy in 2008—afforded the perfect opportunity. In the wake of the disaster, it was as if suddenly, everyone wanted to start asking big questions again. Even The Economist, that bastion of neoliberal orthodoxy, was running cover headlines like “Capitalism: Was It A Good Idea?” (my italics)

Debt is a “big book,” in other words, because he wants to re-open a set of questions that had come to seem closed “for a very long time,” the questions of “what human beings and human society are or could be like—what we actually do owe each other, what it even means to ask that question.”

To be more specific, Graeber’s starting point is the Grand neoliberal orthodoxy that regards Debt as the worst possible thing, the argument, for example, that austerity measures likean end to state subsidies of public libraries in California are preferable to the moral crisis of going (deeper) into debt. This has been a bipartisan consensus that dominated the Anglo-American political and media discourse up to somewhere around the beginning of Occupy Wall Street, and which still dominates – perhaps a little more quietly, now – our political class’s actions. It may not be desirable to cut pensions or eliminate what used to be essential social services – goes the argument – but it’s better than going into debt.

Read More

 
 


As you might guess, the Liberty Fund is the sort of libertarian organization that has to remind you constantly that they love “liberty” and “freedom,” because they’re afraid that you’ll notice that their vision of “liberty” is basically just privatized class oppression. In any event, the sort of freedom that the Sumerian term amagi or amargi originally referred to wasn’t exactly “liberty” in the Hayekian sense of the word, but, well, let’s quote David Graeber in Debt: The First 5,000 Years, just because I love any excuse to do so:

Usury—in the sense of interest-bearing consumer loans—was also well established by Enmetena’s time. The king ultimately had his war and won it, and two years later, fresh off victory, he was forced to publish another edict: this one a general debt cancellation within his kingdom. As he later boasted, “he instituted freedom (amargi) in Lagash. He restored the child to its mother, and the mother to her child; he cancelled all interest due.” This was, in fact, the very first such declaration we have on record—and the first time in history that the word “freedom” appears in a political document.

Yup, that’s freedom. The god-king releasing the oppressed from the debt-peonage they entered into with private bankers. The ancient Sumerians understood the inherent coercion in market transactions; the modern libertarian looks directly at it and refuses to see it.
(h/t: Yasha Levine at The Exiled, complete with pictures of idiot libertarians with their amargi tattoos and a different David Graeber citation.)

As you might guess, the Liberty Fund is the sort of libertarian organization that has to remind you constantly that they love “liberty” and “freedom,” because they’re afraid that you’ll notice that their vision of “liberty” is basically just privatized class oppression. In any event, the sort of freedom that the Sumerian term amagi or amargi originally referred to wasn’t exactly “liberty” in the Hayekian sense of the word, but, well, let’s quote David Graeber in Debt: The First 5,000 Years, just because I love any excuse to do so:

Usury—in the sense of interest-bearing consumer loans—was also well established by Enmetena’s time. The king ultimately had his war and won it, and two years later, fresh off victory, he was forced to publish another edict: this one a general debt cancellation within his kingdom. As he later boasted, “he instituted freedom (amargi) in Lagash. He restored the child to its mother, and the mother to her child; he cancelled all interest due.” This was, in fact, the very first such declaration we have on record—and the first time in history that the word “freedom” appears in a political document.

Yup, that’s freedom. The god-king releasing the oppressed from the debt-peonage they entered into with private bankers. The ancient Sumerians understood the inherent coercion in market transactions; the modern libertarian looks directly at it and refuses to see it.

(h/t: Yasha Levine at The Exiled, complete with pictures of idiot libertarians with their amargi tattoos and a different David Graeber citation.)