bureaucrats w guns

Bureaucrats with guns: Or, how we can abolish the police if we just stop believing in them by Andrew Johnson (2021)


Andrew Johnson received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California Santa Barbara in 2022, with an interdisciplinary emphasis in Global Studies. He has a Master’s degree in Philosophy from Louisiana State University and a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the University of Maine. He lived and taught Philosophy for several years in China. He worked as a Research Fellow for the UCSB Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies in the “Structural Violence, Police/Prison Abolition, and Decoloniality” Research Cluster and helped supervise an educational correspondence program for prison inmates throughout California as a Public Humanities Fellow for the UCSB Interdisciplinary Humanities Center. Last year, he was a Visiting Lecturer in Political Science at Seattle University, where he taught courses on Global Policing, Police and Politics, and introductory and upper-level courses in political theory. He is currently a Visiting Fellow at Philipps-Universität Marburg, where he is working on a collaborative research project “Dynamics of Security: Forms of Securitization from a Historical Perspective.” He is in the process of adapting his dissertation research into a book, entitled Theses on the History of Police. This book explores the historical narratives surrounding the formation and development of police institutions and contemporary social movements seeking to diminish their political power. Finally, when not struggling as a professional academic, he has spent half his time involved with community and political organizations dedicated to collective liberation.

[image links to more info on andrew]

via 50 page pdf [http://notebooks.drustvo-antropologov.si/Notebooks/article/view/507/402]

reading for m of care – may 25 – on andrew johnson’s bureaucrats w guns – on david graeber‘s giant puppets and police ness

via fb share [https://museum.care/events/reading-group-on-andrew-johnson-s-bureaucrats-with-guns/]:

Reading Group on “Bureaucrats with guns: Or, how we can abolish the police if we just stop believing in them” by Andrew Johnson – May 25, 20:00 (London time)

“While inspired by David Graeber’s essay “On the Phenomenology of Giant Puppets: Broken Windows, Imaginary Jars of Urine, and the Cosmological Role of Police in American Culture”, my essay actually traverses Graeber’s entire oeuvre. There are stylistic allusions, jokes, criticism of both Graeber and contemporary social movements, biting commentary, and, at times, unfiltered rage. In many respects, while this is an essay about Graeber, it is every bit an essay about my own thoughts and worldview.”

notes/quotes from essay:



David Graeber’s essay On the phenomenology of giant puppets: Broken windows, imaginary jars of urine and the cosmological role of police in American culture (2007) is a ground-breaking yet unappreciated essay that re-evaluates theories of police. The central question animating Graeber’s “interpretative” essay is: why do cops hate activist puppeteers? Graeber’s “tenuous” answer is that police are a form of structural violence and that their power is derived from their cosmological or imagined status. The police are one of the central themes animating Graeber’s work from the beginning of his career to the end..t As an anthropologist, he repeatedly turns his attention to places that lack formal police institutions or maintain police forces utterly alien to modern sensibilities. These unusual places are the animus for his recasting of the traditional concepts of political theory: sovereignty, hierarchy, and the state. Graeber’s later work, attacking bureaucracy and meaningless labour, continues his critical interpretation of police. It is impossible to understand the significance and importance of Graeber’s scholarship in toto, without understanding what he has to say about the police..t Most importantly, what Graeber has to say about the police is an altogether original interpretation that should be of importance to those studying the police and to social movements seeking to diminish their political power. Some of Graeber’s observations represent considerable challenges to the cause of police abolition, whereas others provide supporting theses that could aid our struggle against police authoritarianism. I conclude, contra Graeber, that the unreasonableness of the police is not sufficient for them to melt away.

giant puppets.. structural violence.. spiritual violence



The opening line of David Graeber’s essay On the phenomenology of giant puppets: Broken windows, imaginary jars of urine, and the cosmological role of police in American culture (2007) begins by saying it is an ‘essay of interpretation’ (Graeber, 2007, p. 375). Perhaps, this is the earliest sign that what comes next is intended to be grandiose. Perhaps it should have been evident from the title. James Q. Wilson and George Kelling’s broken windows theory, the locus classsicus for conservative calls for law-and-order, is never mentioned or cited but haunts the text, meeting its match in the images of black bloc anarchists shattering the literal windows of capitalist institutions. For Wilson and Kelling (1982), broken windows were a metaphor for disorder. Heavy-handed policing was justified by appeals to neighbourhood safety, but that was mere window-dressing for the larger aim of protecting those in suits. .t For Graeber, those in black hoodies confronting the suits were the ones worth valorising. Anarchists, vilified as forces of disorder, were the ones seeking a more just world and embodying democracy in action. Standing between, separating and protecting, the suits from those in black hoodies were those in blue uniforms, or to be more exact, those in full tactical military gear emblazoned with the title: POLICE. Put another way, underlying the criticisms of the World Trade Organization (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), and structural adjustment programmes are police institutions, at once local and global, whose armed soldiers are the necessary counterpart to the institutionalised raiding and extortion by global bureaucrats. Police are partisans in a covert war against society. By claiming to “interpret” the police, Graeber intends to offer some hardly tenuous conclusions” that advance upon traditional theories of police. What has always been striking to me is what little has been said about Graeber’s interpretation of police within police studies or by police abolitionists.

The allure of Graeber’s essay on police is not just its pretensions for grandeur. Who writes an essay about police in which the primary antagonism involves puppeteers? Or, for that matter, who can slip allusions to imaginary jars of urine into the title? Who in writing about police would ever claim to discern its cosmology? Underlying the claims of grandiosity is damn good storytelling. The hallmark of ethnography lies, in part, in the eloquence of its style. Graeber himself admits that his interpretation arose from an initial feeling of puzzlement. A benefit of Graeber’s interpretative stance is that he seeks an honest accounting of the institution and its role within contemporary politics. The puzzle that drives Graeber’s inquiry: why do police hate puppets and their puppeteers? Underlying the question is the absurdity of it all..t Police at war with puppets is intensely comical. Juxtaposed with the seriousness of “interpreting” police is Graeber’s mischievous giggle as if all it might take to undermine their mythic power and sway over society is by pointing out their preposterousness. This, after all, is the strategic aim of activist puppeteers: to break the spell that the capitalist order holds over us..t

carhart-harris entropy law et al


This article is not just a summary or promotion of On the phenomenology of giant puppets (2007). Graeber’s essay, in fact, is the basis for extended treatment in the final three chapters of his magisterial book Direct action: An ethnography (2009). The police are one of the central themes that animates Graeber’s work from beginning to end. As an anthropologist, he repeatedly turns his attention to places that lack formal police institutions or otherwise maintain police forces utterly alien to modern sensibilities. These unusual places are the animus for his recasting of the traditional concepts of political theory: sovereignty, hierarchy, and the state. Graeber’s later work, attacking bureaucracy and meaningless labour, continues his critical interpretation of police. It is impossible to understand the significance and importance of Graeber’s scholarship, in toto, without understanding what he has to say about the police. Most importantly, what Graeber has to say about the police is an altogether original interpretation that should be of importance to those studying police and to social movements seeking to diminish their political power. Some of Graeber’s observations represent considerable challenges to the cause of police abolition, whereas others provide supporting theses that could aid our struggle against police authoritarianism. Foreshadowing my conclusions, I do not think that Graeber’s mischievous giggle is enough: the unreasonableness of the police is not sufficient for them to melt away.

direct action an ethnography

Fragments of an abolitionist anthropology

fragments of an anarchist anthropology

The French philosopher Michel Foucault once made the bold assertion: The great event of the 18th century, we always think of judiciary reform, the obtaining of liberties, etc., but what really happened during the 18th century was something important, an invention for which we don’t give enough credit to its inventors, it happens that they were French, is the police. The police are an invention [my emphasis], in its modern form, of the 18th century and of the bureaucratic monarchies. (Foucault, 1977)

Foucault’s assertion has always struck me as overly absolute and inaccurate. Foucault reinforces the assumption that police are a modern European invention and forecloses any enquiry into pre-modern forms of policing and social control. Foucault never analyses non-European institutions, nor does he explain how pre-modern police institutions shape modern police institutions. Foucault provocatively positioned himself in opposition to anthropology, claiming: ‘my aim is to define a method of historical analysis freed from the anthropological theme’ (Foucault, 1972, p. 16). This might have been prompted by anthropology’s disreputable roots in colonialism and the racist overtones of its portrayals of non-Western societies. The primary target of Foucault’s opprobrium was humanism and the human sciences generally. For Foucault, anthropology was identified with assumptions about human nature, a search for origins, and a propensity for totalising histories. Anthropology has more to offer than thinly veiled racist presumptions about non-Western societies or teleological accounts of human progress. From a genealogical point of view, pre-modern and non-European forbearers to police institutions are important, as they were appropriated in the process of creating modern police institutions.


Abolitionists have repeated some of the assumptions that underwrite Foucault’s “secret history of the police”. They proffer that the police are not necessary because they are relatively new, lending credibility to the thesis that a future without police is possible. This sentiment is best expressed in DeLesslin George-Warren’s powerful art piece: “There Was A Time Before Police And There Will Be A Time After” (Figure 1).

To take but one more example, see political theorist Geo Maher’s statement in A world without police (2021): to paraphrase Ursula K. Le Guin, while the power of the police can seem inescapable, “so did the divine rights of kings.”.t Once upon a time there were no cops, and that day is coming again soon’ (Maher, 2021, p. 11). Maher’s provocation evokes the phrase “Once upon a time”, implying that a world without police resembles fairy tales. Historically, though, if we understand cops as bureaucratic functionaries who wear blue uniforms, have badges and carry truncheons, there indeed was once a time without these officials. George-Warren’s design suggests that indigenous American communities did not rely upon the police, referring to the non-European, pre-modern, often non-state societies that Foucault wilfully ignores. David Graeber and archaeologist David Wengrow (2021b) likewise argue that indigenous Americans maintained an abolitionist justice system, refusing to spank their children, punish thieves or murderers, and/or take punitive action against tribal members. Both within-group and between-group violence was handled through arbitration. This prevented cyclical violence and sought to repair harms through the establishment of personal and social debts.

Families and communities were held collectively responsible for the misdeeds of bad actors. A focal target of the indigenous American critique of modern European society was the harsh punishment system and general lack of freedom within coloniser countries. A word of caution: it is conspicuous that Graeber and Wengrow’s indigenous critique lacks indigenous voices. As a prominent cheerleader of ethnography, Graeber’s interest in indigenous politics relies too heavily upon its representation by non-indigenous observers. Indigenous communities have diverse political cultures and allusions to the contrary flatten thousands of distinct cultures



If Foucault’s assertion is overly absolute, I find the abolitionist supposition of a time before police a bit oversimplified. The political imaginary represented by the vast expanse of human history that was unpoliced is enticing and fascinating, indeed romantic. This history, though, is more complex than assumed, and it is my belief that abolitionists and political theorists should not be dissuaded by alternative histories that do not easily confer with our slogans. *History is always an inconvenience for our theories, imaginaries, and ideals while not necessarily discrediting them. **Whereas cops might be new, policing has a lasting history. In one respect, this might be an analytic distinction: police are an office; policing is a function. In another, proto-policing institutions also have a lasting history. Put another way: whereas cops might be new, sheriffs certainly are not. Where as non-state and indigenous societies are powerful counterexamples to our repressive, heavily policed nation-states, these societies’ lived politics and forms of social control are bountifully heterogeneous. There are fragments of history revealing both policed and unpoliced societies; both ought to be of interest, as should their convergence. Myself, I am enticed and fascinated by these manifold histories, and some of my research has been devoted to exploring pre-modern policing and the contributions of political anthropologists.

rather.. to me.. *a cancerous distraction.. as all history ness to date has been about whales in sea world

**any form of m\a\p.. so since forever ago


In which we consider the relationship between states and bureaucracy

It should not be surprising that Graeber, perhaps the most prominent promoter of anarchist anthropology, would have something valuable to contribute to abolitionist anthropology. Graeber identifies theories of the state and non-state political entities as two promising tenets of his non-existent science (Graeber 2004). In On kings, Graeber returns to theories of the state to ‘put some flesh’ (Graeber & Sahlins, 2017, p. 65) on his own (early) definition and to deride the endless debate surrounding the origins of the state for creating a ‘shop-worn concept’ (p. 456). If the state has been over theorised to the point of abstraction, the most promising, as yet unexplored, subject is non-state political entities. Here, it is revealing that the police play an outsized role. Whether ancient Athens can be classified as a state or whether kingdoms were states remains unclear. In Athens, Graeber dismisses the power of a police force staffed by slaves. Ancient Athens, along with countless other examples, lacks the characteristics of a state largely because it lacked a formal police apparatus. One of the basic assumptions of political philosophy is that a police force is a necessary and sufficient condition of a modern state. A central thesis animating my research is that many of these preconceptions about police are inaccurate. One of the significant insights of the recent proliferation of research into police is the need to disaggregate policing from the state. Succinctly argued by Lucia Zedner: ‘the concept of policing as a state activity is now becoming an intellectual straitjacket’ (2006, p. 82). States might require police, but policing is often voluntary, communal, privatised, and/or transnational. As put by Graeber: ‘“The state” would better be seen as an amalgam of heterogeneous elements often of entirely separate origins that happened to have come together in certain times and places’ (2017, p. 456). If an anarchist and abolitionist anthropology can be distinguished, the foremost challenge is detailing the complex relationship between the state and non-state political entities. Whereas innumerable political theorists have written about state origins, few have focused on the origins of political institutions. *What remains to be developed is a political anthropology of institutional formation

*oi.. cancerous distraction


The study Police: The first 5,000 years has yet to be written. However, Graeber and Wengrow’s The dawn of everything: A new history of humanity (2021a) is a mighty first step in developing an account of institutional formation. Their tome is explicitly not a book about inequality; rather, Graeber and Wengrow experiment with new theories about state and non-state political entities. Here, they posit that ‘the state has no origin’ (Graeber & Wengrow, 2021a, p. 359). The fixation upon the state as the central unit of political analysis masks our understanding of the underlying practices which constitute it. Graeber and Wengrow endeavour, instead, to write a new political history and a theory to match it. Relying upon archaeological discoveries and a series of quirky ethnographies, they point to evidence of anomalous cases that invalidate the dominant linear theories of state formation. While attention has gravitated to the debate over the agricultural revolution, growing evidence of cities and states without rulers, police, and/or bureaucrats have made a lesser impact. Yes, Graeber and Wengrow conclude that grains do not make states, but just as important is their contention that police do not make states either. *The traditional theory of political development maintains that increases in social scale necessitate the formation of police forces. An armed bureaucracy is an evolutionary springboard for the power to command large numbers of disparate strangers..t The historical evidence tells a different story. Graeber and Wengrow point to expansive shatter-zones, heavily populated cities, and even states where decision-making power resided in community assemblies. Natchez, in present-day Mississippi, is cited as an example of ‘sovereignty without a state’ (Graeber & Wengrow, 2021a, p. 392). The Great Sun King had no apparatus of control. Tell Sabi Abyad, in contemporary Syria, is described as maintaining an extensive bureaucracy but one that was care-based and not equipped for violence. Graeber and Wengrow, in turn, propose new categories to theorise institutional and state formation. They identify three elementary forms of domination: the control of violence, the control of information, and the projection of individual charisma. First-order regimes exert only one mode of domination. Second-order regimes combine any two. Modern states are those that successfully wield all three

*myth of tragedy and lord et al.. need infinitesimal structures approaching the limit of structureless\ness and/or vice versa .. aka: ginorm/small ness.. gillis on small scale et al


In which we show how sovereignty and violence are difficult to abolish

Political theorists have led the way in decentring the state from heterogeneous political processes through debates about concepts such as sovereignty, hierarchy, authority, domination, etc. Graeber found that these theoretical debates had more purchase than those surrounding the origins of the state. His conclusion to On kings (Graeber & Sahlins, 2017) plays a crucial part in demonstrating this. Here, he states: ‘Asking about the origins of sovereignty is very different than asking about the origins of the state’ (Graeber & Sahlins, 2017, p. 456). If sovereignty is equated with the power to command and carry out arbitrary violence with impunity, it is evident that we are commanded and threatened by a surfeit of authorities that may or may not be state authorities. Amongst state authorities, there is also indeterminable variation. Police are an extreme case, given wide-ranging discretion, nearly incontestable authority, free use of violence, and substantial political influence. A standard principal-agent relation cannot explain the present political situation. There is general agreement that police power is overwhelming; however, the political power of police remains shrouded in mystery (a mystery both Graeber and abolitionists have been at the forefront of trying to solve). This is one reason that Graeber notes: ‘in theory, of course, the traffic cop is different than the dictator’ (Graeber & Sahlins, 2017, p. 458). An examination of the historical record, where at times police were enslaved and routinely tortured and kings were often powerless and ritually sacrificed, proves that the difference is not that one has more authority or power than the other. There has been a recent resurgence in strongmen dictators, but the long-term, steady trend has been an exponential expansion in the number and types of petty police tyrants roaming the streets. There is but one tyrant; petty tyrants, on the other hand, are legion. Our reflections on tyranny, particularly the tyranny of our age, must attain a conception of history that is keeping with this insight. One of the principal conclusions of the long 20th century debate over sovereignty has been its intensifying decentralisation and the need to shift attention to police power

on kings

The problem with theoretical debates is that they involve essentially contested concepts and are rarely resolved. This is the tension that so constrains anarchists and abolitionists, often compelling them to issue grand and abridged accounts of the time before police and/or nation-states. The greatest challenge confronting abolitionist thinking is the draw of political realism. The general public has strong folk intuitions about the existence, possibility, importance, and/or preferability of unpoliced societies in the past, present, or future. Social movements must appeal to and aspire to change these deeply entrenched common-sense beliefs (Woodly, 2015). Rightly or wrongly, most do not find abolition realistic. Graeber offers valuable insight into the challenge of political realism. Graeber distinguishes political ontologies of violence from political ontologies of the imagination (2009, 2011). Political realism and political imaginaries are locked in diametrical opposition. For activists and organisers hoping to craft persuasive slogans, proposals, or aspirations there is a demand that they be credible. Despite Graeber’s reputation as a dreamer, he often refers to himself as a realist. His position is most explicit in his debate with Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (and ode to Roy Bhaskar). Here, he claims: ‘if one goes slightly further and argues not just that reality can never be fully encompassed in our imaginative constructs, but that reality is that which can never be fully encompassed in our imaginative constructs, then surely “radical alterity” is just another way of saying “reality”’ (Graeber, 2015a, p. 28). The stakes of this debate revolve around whether witches, spells, fetishes, and omens are ontologically real. Graeber rejects ontological anarchy in favour of a realist anarchism. What is a realist anarchism? According to Paul Raekstad, the existence of politics without states demonstrates that anarchism is not constrained by realism (Raekstad, 2016). For Gearóid Brinn (2020), a realist anarchism cannot discount the role of power, the permanence of conflict, the need for practical strategies, *the importance of history, and should shy away from normative claims

all ish until *importance of history


Graeber offers similar constraints upon our political imaginations. The origins of sovereignty are different than the origins of the state because sovereignty existed before historic records (Graeber & Sahlins, 2017) and can be considered an elementary structure of human social existence (Graeber & Sahlins, 2017). Put somewhat provocatively: ‘Kings can be killed; kingship abolished [my emphasis]; but even then, the principle of sovereignty tends to remain’ (Graeber & Sahlins, 2017, p. 459). The implications of such a thought for abolitionists are obvious and daunting. Stuart Hall, along with his colleagues from the Centre for Contemporary Culture Studies, threw down the gauntlet long ago: ‘Unfortunately you cannot resolve a social contradiction by abolishing the label that has been attached to it’ (Hall et al., 1978, p. 1). Abolitionists have not yet responded to this challenge. Sovereignty (and we can include power, conflict, and even policing) is ostensibly ineradicable, certainly intractable

to me.. abolishing/refusing et al.. are all means of perpetuating it.. if rather.. we tried a legit other way.. ie: only label(s) is daily curiosity/itch.. all other labels would just fall away (abolish ness sans observance/attention/energy/defense et al)

This is one constraint. A second constraint, correlated with the first, is that violence is a first-order social and political force. The primary challenge that animated the long 20th century debate surrounding sovereignty was the inability to evade or overcome the political realism, despite its dangerous implications, of Thomas Hobbes or Carl Schmitt. Graeber accepts this as well. He claims: ‘[T]o be a “realist” in politics has nothing to do with recognizing material realities, it is about willingness to accept the realities of violence. Violence is what defines the ultimate truth of the situation’ (Graeber, 2009, p. 505). There is no arguing with someone once they start beating you with a truncheon. In this instance, the challenge confronting abolitionists is made clear and formidable: the police act as a reality principle. ‘These things are real because they can kill you’ .. t(Graeber, 2009, p. 510). Violence is a metaphysical force. Violence is, happens, and all are forced into response. Graeber asks us to consider the multiple and varied meanings of the word force:

graeber man with stick law et al

Consider the following six sentences:

1) The police arrived at the square and opened fire on the protesters.

2) Several fell to the ground as the force of plastic bullets impacted them.

3) Others were forced to the ground and handcuffed.

4) Police then forced them into arrest vans.

5) As a result, the remaining protestors were forced to abandon the square.

6) The police force secured the area.

In sentence #2 “force” refers to simple physics… The usage in sentence #3 is close… but it blends into the more ambiguous usage in sentence #4, where likely as not sheer physical pressure (pushing arrestees, prodding, dragging, even carrying them) was supplemented by the giving of orders backed by implicit or explicit threat. In sentence #5, “force” refers only to the effects of fear of further physical attack. Finally, it is because of their ability to employ violence and the threat of violence, in the most efficient way possible to do things like clear streets, that the police can be referred to as “a force” (as they are in sentence #6). (Graeber, 2009, pp. 511-512


This passage makes clear “the forces” we are up against. It is not hyperbole to refer to the police as a reality principle, a metaphysical force, or comprising a cosmology. Abolishing the laws of the police stands as much of a chance as abolishing the laws of the universe. If police power is overwhelming and the political power of police mysterious it is because these powers are composed of invisible forces and hidden realities. .t This is what Graeber means by political ontologies of violence. Policing assumes an ontological status as natural, as an “elementary structure”, and as real. How does one confront such an enemy? If there is a contest between the political ontologies of violence and the political ontologies of the imagination, those wielding the truncheon, guns, and armed personnel carriers are winning

structural violence.. spiritual violence.. et al


Why the police have no origin

Thus far, I have described the theoretical challenges that confront an abolitionist anthropology but have not yet addressed the real existence of un policed societies. Unpoliced societies have often existed as a euphemism for non-state societies. However, there is evidence of states without police and police without states. Graeber provides examples of each in his description of the ghost-state, clown police, and the Crow police

It is ironic, certainly puzzling, that those most associated with anarchist anthropology have provided some of the strongest reasons for caution. Violence within non-state societies has been a long-standing debate by political theorists. Anthropologists, however, have led the way in establishing that stateless societies are neither inherently violent nor destitute. Karl Widerquist and Grant McCall conclude there is a consensus view amongst anthropologists acknowledging that violence and well-being in non-state societies (as in states) varies greatly (2016). Non-state societies are neither essentially peaceful nor excessively violent. The Hobbesian proviso has been effectively discredited; however, a vulgar anarchist anthropology still prevails. The foremost target of Graeber and Wengrow is not the reactionary Hobbes, but the romantic Jean-Jacques Rousseau. A lasting lesson of their new history of humanity is the widespread variety in politics and social life within both non-state societies and early states. Graeber’s mentor, Marshall Sahlins, established his fame on the claim that hunter-gatherer societies were originally affluent. In The original political society (2017), Sahlins’ pretentious swan song, he aims to disprove the existence of pure egalitarian societies by showing how politics and hierarchy prevailed within them. Despite their affluence and social equality, the existence of Gods and rituals within egalitarian societies provided a measure of political order. Gods command obedience. Rituals establish norms of communal conduct. Graeber and Sahlins posit: ‘It follows that the state of nature has the nature of the state’ (Graeber & Sahlins, 2017, p. 3). They argue that the traditional view of state and non-state societies as irreducible opposites is no longer tenable. There is a measure of sovereignty in stateless societies, as is there a measure of anarchy within states

to me.. the deeper issue/reality .. is that to date.. no ie of legit free ness..

Anthropologists are keenly aware that when police disappear, life goes on and people carry on exactly as before. Graeber’s iconic example is the ghost-state of Madagascar. Before undertaking his field studies during graduate school, he was warned that state authority was in retreat and, in some places, entirely missing. Upon arrival, Graeber found the existence of the state alongside its non-operation. In both cities and towns, there were actual police stations but little policing. Graeber suggestively refers to this as a ‘ghost-image of authority’ (2007, p. 164). All of Madagascar was involved in perpetuating this scam: bureaucrats, armed bureaucrats, and those they failed to govern. One reason was the historical legacy of French colonialism. Memories of arbitrary violence served as the common image of state authority; therefore, there was a strong cultural sense that the state should be emptied and stripped of its content. Graeber argued that this case study was useful for understanding both state and non-state societies. The unpoliced ghost-state of Madagascar was evidence of a popular anarchist concept: “provisional autonomous zones”. Graeber (2007) notes:

One wonders if there might not be hundreds, even thousands, of similar communities in other parts of the world—communities that have withdrawn from and drifted away from the effective national governments and become for all intents and purposes self-governing, but whose members are still performing the external form and tokens of obeisance in order to disguise that fact. (p. 177)


If Graeber found something humorous in the heavy-handed policing of puppet activists, that same mischievous giggle is present in his analysis of the clown police of American indigenous communities. The funniest part of Graeber’s ethnography of protest policing is the appearance of the Revolutionary Anarchist Clown Bloc. At a moment of crisis during the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, the appearance of clown activists interrupted the certain arrest of black bloc anarchists, allowing them to dramatically escape. Billionaires for Bush activists handed out fake money to the riot police for repressing dissent. Clowns attacked the Billionaires with inflatable mallets. The humour of the situation managed to subvert the laws of war that had previously defined the situation. Perhaps, the lasting lesson of Graeber’s retelling of indigenous clown police is the need for a silly abolitionism: we can retain the presence of police so long as we outfit them in outlandish costumes, tricycles, and squirt guns

good ‘in the mean time’ strategizing.. but to me.. still a cancerous distraction to a nother way (because means focusing on laws et al)

The story of indigenous clown police begins in central and northern California, migrates to the southwest Pueblo Indians, and ends in the plains amongst the Crow Indians. In California, the appearance of clowns was both funny and terrifying. They were adorned in elaborate disguises and only given authority during rare ceremonies. These rituals consisted of frenzied group dance parties with the police serving as the overseeing chaperones. Only men could be employed as clown police. They primarily came from a class of hobos or beggars within the community. Their presence was intended to terrify those in attendance into participating and remaining subservient. Their purpose was to control misbehaviour. However, the rules of proper conduct were already arbitrary. It was forbidden, for example, to laugh at the jokes of clowns, telling jokes being one of their predominant tasks. The clowns, though, had the freedom to break all the rules and misbehave at will, often performing their duties backwards or walking on their hands. What Graeber finds remarkable about the presence of clown police is that they are the only people within these non-state communities who had the power to command, to punish, to levy fines, and even the authority to whip children


As the practice of clown policing migrates, from central to northern California, to the southwest, and the plains, they begin to embody more aspects of an autonomous force. At first, the clown police only have powers during specific rituals, but eventually they maintained their enforcement power throughout the entire buffalo hunting season. At first, the clowns were thought to symbolise divine forces, Gods or fools or evil-spirits, but eventually they became regular community officials. By the time the practice spread to the plains, per Robert Lowie’s description, the Crow police were not clowns, just police (Lowie 1948; Graeber & Wengrow 2015). The Crow police maintained an unequivocal authoritarianism in the absence of anything resembling a city or state. Remarkably, these police units would be disbanded yearly only to be reformed the next season. Police power consistently rotated within the tribe, a different clan serving annually. For Graeber and Wengrow, the seasonal transformations of tribal organisation are evidence of intentional choice, political experimentation, and social flexibility. Seasonality allowed for the shifting of power relations and the chance to renegotiate social relations. Arbitrary power was tolerable so long as it remained arbitrary. A systemic form of rule would transform temporary and ritual practices into lasting, institutional power, without respite or hope for further discussion

graeber/wengrow back & forth law

The clown police and Crow police are evidence of “provisional police powers” (my phrase). Non-state, seemingly egalitarian, societies resorted to occasional, and eventually regular, policing practices. There are several conclusions that we can draw from this history.

First, policing begins in ritual. If police power is termittent and discretionary then it can be discontinued. Their powers are derived from our acceptance. We must not accept policing as a universal human condition or elementary structure of human existence. Rather, an abolitionist anthropology begins with the contention that policing is a decisively human creation, a clownish one at that..t That police first appear as clowns, as fools, as evil incarnate, played by beggars and social outcasts, demonstrates the dangers and absurdity of their limited powers. The appearance of the clown police is meant to illustrates the ridiculousness of giving people such powers..t To play with Graeber and Wengrow’s wording, “the first police may well have been play police!”. Their playfulness, though, ceases to be amusing once they start killing people. The imitation and subversion of power is superseded once it can no longer be questioned. Rituals form institutions. Short-term agreements become irreversible rules. Put powerfully by Graeber and Wengrow: ‘If “the state” means anything, it refers to precisely the totalitarian impulse that lies behind all such claims, the desire effectively to make the ritual last forever’ .. t (Graeber & Wengrow, 2021a, p. 430)

graeber make it diff law et al


Scandalously, Graeber has taken to accusing the French anarchist Pierre Clastres of plagiarising the American anthropologist Robert Lowie. Both argue that non-state societies design their social and political relations to prevent the emergence of a systemic power of command. Contemporary societies no longer wield a countervailing set of powers that constrain police power. Abolition is such a counterforce. Abolitionists propose a competing set of myths that undermine the mythical foundations of authority. While equipping those monstrous forces outfitted in riot gear with clown suits and water pistols is preposterous, the abandoned police stations in Madagascar are living examples of authority stripped of its majesty. Killer cops have been playing police for far too long. A future world without police might thereby require evidence of their historical ruin, the burned husks of their inoperable stations preserved as monuments signifying their newfound inability to kill, a bad omen warning against any attempts to reinstitute that power

The second important conclusion that we can draw is that policing has no natural origins. Rather, police forces presume superiority by play-acting as supernatural. Clowns are not just amusing, they are terrifying. They are intended to evoke laughter but laughing at them is firmly forbidden. By donning the apparel of clowns, they transform their status within their communities and imitate metahuman beings. Gods originally held the power to command and order society before that power was appropriated by humans. The foundation of states and police are made possible by their claims to mythic and divine powers. This is the argument of Graeber’s model: ‘the “declownification” of sovereignty’ (Graeber & Sahlins, 2017, p. 397; see Figure 2). What this means for those of us who are no longer faced with clown police but riot police, is untangling the supernatural, mythic, magical, fetishised status that police presume in our present societies.

Is not the cosmological role of police in American culture due, in part, to their glamorisation by the media and Hollywood as superheroes?


Graeber and Wengrow (2021a) charge that: ‘Social science has been largely a study of the ways in which human beings are not free’ (p. 498). The theory that drives their new history of humanity is that pre-modern politics was a crossroads for self-conscious experimentation. Our ancient ancestors, in both small and large communities, were perfectly capable of political choice and, crucially, they had many more possibilities from which to choose. To go alongside their three elemental forms of domination, Graeber and Wengrow propose three forms of human freedom: the freedom to move, to disobey, and to reorganise social relations. Today, there is no exit from a globe fully controlled by police.. t forces. We dare not disobey them. Their only law is force. Most importantly, humans have lost the ability to fundamentally alter the terms of our social contract. There is no choice but the unfreedom of police domination. An abolitionist world begins with disobedience despite the consequences. For Graeber, the most vital human freedom and political choice is the power to imagine different futures and alternative worlds..t

graeber and wengrow freedom law

Police: An ethnography

Activists understand the nature of police intuitively. They confront them on the streets and are forced to interpret their behaviour. Graeber calls this *process ‘imaginative identification’ (2007, p. 405). Those in subordinate and vulnerable positions regularly put themselves into the minds of their oppressors. Graeber’s involvement in the global justice movement gave him first-hand experience of police. The final three chapters of Direct action (2009) are a continuation of the arguments he developed in On the phenomenology of giant puppets (2007). The last third of the book is less an ethnography of direct action and the global justice movement than a study of the police they confronted on the streets. Graeber reveals that his interpretation of the police remains a frustrated one. Such an admission alludes to the mysterious nature of police that has been a common theme within police studies ever since Walter Benjamin referred to them as formless, nowhere-tangible, all-pervasive, and ghostly (Benjamin, 1978)

*interpretive labor

direct action an ethnography.. et al


What is new and original about Graeber’s interpretation of police? And what importance might it hold for the struggle against police that has roused so many? Police hostility directed at puppet activists is a captivating theme. It is not intuitive why police would spend their energy on disrupting non-violent, relatively harmless, certainly fanciful, puppeteers. Unravelling this mystery reveals a larger conspiracy. Puppet activists challenge the symbolic order which police defend and enforce..t By asking their audience to imagine otherwise, puppeteers are more of a threat than the black bloc. One prefigures a world without police; the other justifies it Graeber’s account of the policing of the global justice movement is of historic importance for the contemporary movement against police. Given that the police are the principal antagonists of Graeber’s memoirs, it is worth asking why they were not the targets of more concerted movement opposition. The police waged street battles in defence of the IMF, WTO, Wall Street, and the Republican and Democratic parties. Global capitalism is dependent upon the force of armed bureaucrats. .. t However, the lasting message of the global justice and Occupy movements was centred around structural adjustment programmes and economic inequality, not the need to demilitarise, disarm, defund, and disempower local, national, or global police forces. Graeber’s essay demands a retelling of this history, one that reveals a closer affinity with abolitionist movements than commonly believed. This history holds valuable lessons for leftist social movements. So too, recent events have revealed the limitations of prior social movements and the need for police-centred social movement strategies


Observation 1: Police are partisans in a covert war against society

Graeber follows the critical theory tradition in describing police as partisans in a covert war against society. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels described the liberal political order as a ‘more or less veiled civil war’ (Marx & Engels, 1972, p. 483). French post-structuralists invoked Carl von Clausewitz’s famous dictum that ‘war is the continuation of politics by other means’..t (Clausewitz, 1984, p. 87) to invert it into a new adage ‘politics is the continuation of war by other means’ (Foucault, 2003, p. 15; Deleuze & Guattari, 1

Graeber recalls his experience with the global justice movement with a variety of war metaphors. The tear gas launched upon protestors is analogous to chemical warfare (Graeber, 2009). The street battles resemble war zones. Ya Basta! are deployed as hoplites The police form security perimeters and protestors man communication and medical stations. There are both casualties and lines of retreat. Afterwards, everyone excitedly rehashes their war stories. It would be a mistake to dismiss this as metaphorical. Direct actions and confrontations with police follow unstated laws of war. There are rules of engagement for both sides. An important stipulation is that street actions remain a limited and not total war.. t

stopped copy pasting entire pages .. rest will be bits and pieces

Whereas police violence is considered a priori legitimate, even non-violent acts by protestors like non-cooperation or breaking windows is coded as non-peaceful

Police required the imagery of war to justify their appearing ready for war. The policing of the global justice movement bears the hallmarks of a covert war.


The police are assisted by neutral nongovernmental institutions. The corporate media are not a check upon abusive governmental power but assets in an orchestrated police campaign. The police, for their part, play the role of foot-soldiers in a war undeclared by nefarious forces kept off-screen. This is the secret which cannot be told


Put another way, moral panics are the structural logic that enables political elites to launch police offences

Graeber follows suit by pointing out that ‘maybe six percent of the average police officer’s time is spent on anything which can even remotely be considered “fighting crime”’ (2007, p. 401). Police studies have defined the police mandate as order maintenance, not law enforcement (Bittner, 1974; Neocleous, 2021). This corresponds with Graeber’s (2007) own noteworthy definition: Police are a group of armed, lower-echelon government administrators, trained in the scientific application of physical force to aid in the resolution of administrative problems. They are bureaucrats with guns [my emphasis], and, whether they are guarding lost children, talking rowdy drunks out of bars, or supervising free concerts in the park, the one common feature of the kind of situations which they’re assigned is the possibility of having to impose [quoting Bittner] “non-negotiated solutions backed up by the potential use of force”. (pp. 401-402


That police are not employed for the purposes of crime control is attested to by Graeber’s experiences with the global justice movement. Puppet activists do not commit any crimes. Most demonstrations are entirely legal. Police, though, freely attack and arrest all those involved. Most charges are later dropped and police never face any sanction for wanton brutality, ‘for the very reason that police know activists will never be prosecuted in a criminal court, there are few limits to police behavior’ (Graeber, 2009, p. 448). The police do not maintain a general, public order, but intervene on behalf of a specific order, on orders. The most revealing moment, but sadly never elaborated upon, of Graeber’s account of the police’s anti-puppet crusade is when he fields answers to the question: why do police hate puppeteers? Max Uhlenbeck contends: ‘Obviously, they hate to be reminded that they’re puppets themselves’ (Graeber, 2007, p. 393). The function of police is political. They are partisans. They wage a covert campaign and utilise overt violence on behalf of a political and economic system and against civil society. Police reveal the masked authoritarianism at the heart of all liberal democracies. Police enforce an absolute non-equivalence of the state in its relation to society. The political power of the police rests in their unique capacity to wield violence in defence of state interest.


In his chronicle of the Occupy Wall Street movement, at a moment of group indecision, Graeber (2013b) put this challenge most eloquently: Nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution does it say any- thing about America being a democracy… Men like George Washington were openly opposed to democracy. Which makes it a bit odd we’re standing here under his statue today… most of us are here because we still don’t think we’re living under a democratic system in any meaningful sense of the term. I mean, look around you. That SWAT team over there tells you everything you read need to know. Our government has become little more than a system of institutionalized bribery where you can get hauled off to jail just for saying so.

Observation 2: The global justice and Occupy movements were more focused on police power than commonly assumed

Graeber and his movement partners wanted to see the WTO, IMF, and World Bank abolished. ‘They did not wish to see those institutions reformed’ (2009, p. 354). In Graeber’s ethnographies, there are multiple references to the abolitionist movement, lengthy discussions about anti-racist organising strategies, police and prison practices were focal targets, and the policing of the movement is the driving narrative focus and theoretical puzzle to be solved

even our focus on abolishing.. cancerous distraction


Graeber’s reply, in turn, reveals the difficulty of conflict resolution and harm reduction. Police cannot be so easily replaced by a peace police (a contradiction in terms)

need to quit trying (spending time/energy) on replacing/refusing/abolishing things and try something legit diff


Observation 3: Hollywood cops play the same role in contemporary U.S. American culture as Gods or spiritual forces in the state of nature

Graeber is fascinated by the political power of magic. The disappearance of the police in Madagascar was replaced by widespread belief in spiritual forces. Neighbours got along due to fears of curses or superpowers. Graeber’s ethnographies include elaborate interpretations of premonitions and spells. Witches are notable political actors. Graeber’s debate with Viveiros de Castro is precipitated by Graeber’s rereading of the African tradition of fetishes. Non-state societies are ruled by beliefs in Gods and spiritual forces. Metahuman beings are the abstract power that maintains the social and political order. For Graeber, politics is animated by myths and illusions. Police power is one such myth. Originating as a ritual practice, policing is now predicated upon its enduring necessity.

david on magic


For Graeber and Wengrow, the first attempts at large-scale administration of sovereign violence are the historical origins of political evil. ‘It’s the additionof sovereign power, and the resulting ability of the local enforcer to say, “Rules are rules; I don’t want to hear about it” that allows bureaucratic mechanisms to become genuinely monstrous’ (Graeber & Wengrow, 2021a, p. 426). I would like to take this comment a step further. The modern state becomes genocidal at the moment in which vigilante and bureaucratic violence is valorised as a form of heroism. The Hollywood Movie Principle laid the groundwork for an insidious form of police authoritarianism. The fictional depiction of authoritarian desires and fears justifies the impunity of police violence in the real world. The license to kill is the political imaginary that animates a homegrown fascist movement within the United States.

Thesis 1: The police abolition movement is a global social movement against a fully-formed global police network


As stated by CIA agent Robert Komer: ‘The police are in many cases a far more effective and immediately useful counter-subversive instrument than the military’..t (Kuzmarov, 2012, p. 12)

structural violence vs overt ish violence

One of the great successes of an earlier generation of transnational activists was the abolition of the Office of Public Safety (OPS) in 1974 (Schrader, 2016). The OPS was the government programme responsible for foreign police assistance. Such assistance resulted in untold disappearances, torture, killings, and mass murder. Despite abolition, global policing has intensified in the decades since. The New York Police Department, a municipal force employing over 50,000 officers, maintains permanent stations in London, Lyons, Hamburg, Toronto, and Tel Aviv. Over ten thousand U.S. police officers have received advanced training in Israel through the Law Enforcement Exchange Program. The post-Cold War international security environment is typified by transnational criminal networks, private military contractors, peace-keeping operations, and security-sector training operations (such as the decades-long, now failed, U.S. American mission in Afghanistan).

oh my.. structural violence as hidden overt ish violence.. jeremy scahill – dirty wars et al


Differences between police and military forces remain pertinent, but so too does their blending. Police see themselves as acting without rules. Torture, indefinite detention, and leadership decapitation revealed an increasing willingness by U.S. military forces to violate international law and liberal norms.. It is necessary to identify the special role of the United States in creating and sustaining global police networks, in claiming the right to act as a global policeman, but local, regional, transnational, and private police forces exist most everywhere. All one has to do is cross a heavily policed border to see vastly a different manner of policing.. After all, foreign police forces, historically and quite consistently, have committed massacres and atrocities both with and without the permission of the global hegemon.

The prelude to the European Debt Crisis was the police killing of Greek 15-year-old Andreas Grigoropoulos. The Arab Spring began with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor subject to repeated police harassment. The first protests of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution targeted National Police Day. Both the European Debt Crisis and the Arab Spring inspired the Occupy movement; however, their origins in police violence have been written out of the traditional retelling of these histories.


A fully-formed global police network is terrifying precisely because of the assertion of full-spectrum control and totalising domination. Everywhere bureaucrats with guns enforce state authoritarianism on behalf of a global capitalist system. The struggle against U.S. police is therefore also a struggle against a global policing. Abolitionist Angela Y. Davis has posited the need for ‘movement intersectionality’ (2016, p. 141). As summarised by Ashley Bohrer and Andrés Fabián Henao Castro (2019, p. 151): ‘If one follows the Israeli Occupation far enough, one finds oneself on the streets of Ferguson or in Standing Rock.’ Movement intersectionality entails solidarity with the victims of police violence everywhere, in France and Nigeria, Israel and the Occupied Territories, Honduras and Brazil, the Philippines and China

Thesis 2: A strategic goal of the police abolitionist movement is undermining police mythology

perhaps will undermine.. but not deep enough to set us all free

The ultimate protagonist of Graeber’s essay On the phenomenology of giant puppets (2007) is the magical, imaginative powers of activist puppeteers. Enormous papier-mâché puppets are non-threatening, fantastic creations. They are intended to illustrate the *promise of democracy, the human capacity to reorganise our social and political relations. The **mythic power of puppets lies in imagination: the power to make people believe that another, better world is possible. Puppets attempt to break the spell that the capitalist order holds over us..t So too, police power can only be maintained by widespread social acceptance. To break the spell of the capitalist order it is also necessary to break the spell of police authoritarianism. While riot police man the barricades, authoritarian myths impose cultural barriers to social change..t Police authority is an imagined barrier that precludes the possibility of unpoliced alternative worlds. Police mythology holds that there is no alternative to police violence. Breaking the spell of police authoritarianism is thus an ideological effort to overcome the figurative, imagined walls that prevent social progress

*not democratic admin.. rather.. org around legit needs

**yeah that.. but needs/begs to be beyond democracy ness.. beyond any form of m\a\p


The repression of non-violent activist puppeteers is contrasted to the free movement afforded black blocs. For Graeber, this is a strategic order of police command. Puppets prefigure a world without police, while the black bloc confirms the need for police. The targeting of activist puppeteers reveals the covert war by police upon democratic social movements. A political ontology of imagination confronts a political ontology of violence and finds only unremitting force. The criminalisation of non-violent tactics compels social movement actors to use more militant tactics. However, militancy is a limited, tactical response to police brutality. According to Graeber, only the political powers of the imagination, the capacity to change deeply entrenched common sense, is a durable strategy for democratic social movements..t

actually needs to go beyond (unjustifiable) strategy ness and democracy ness

graeber rethink law et al

*Graeber puts forward a theory of change dependent upon changing people’s minds. For social movements to be successful in diminishing the political power of the police they should **focus their strategic efforts at undermining the mythical foundations of police authority. Graeber heroically believes that social movements have the capacity to undermine the symbolic and mythological order of things, to break through the imaginative wall that the police order holds over us. This is the crux of Graeber’s strategic summation. It is the only place in the text where he offers any recommendations on how to confront the political power of the police. I have always been struck by the grandiose and hopeful, overtly abolitionist, vision that Graeber lays out: ***police will simply melt away if we just stop believing in them

*rather an uncovering.. of what’s already on each heart.. ie: itch-in-the-soul ness et al

need 1st/most: means to undo our hierarchical listening to self/others/nature so we can org around legit needs

**imagine if we listened to the itch-in-8b-souls 1st thing everyday & used that data to connect us (tech as it could be.. ai as augmenting interconnectedness as nonjudgmental expo labeling)

***as will all the things (any form of m\a\p).. this is not ridiculous

Police are neither necessary, nonpartisan, nor worthy of heroic veneration.


If police play a role as metahuman beings within political life, it is imperative to expose them as social monstrosities. However, just as useful, is making them appear stupid and ineffectual. Mocking police as clowns is no joking matter. My point is that political imaginaries are one tool amongst many. Political *education, to mention one example, or satire, to include another, are similarly capable of challenging common sense beliefs. **The political power of the imagination is necessary but not sufficient for social movement success..t

*oi.. any form of m\a\p

**we have no idea what legit free humans.. imagining/listening to itch-in-the-soul could do/be/create.. perhaps not ‘social movement success’.. but perhaps 8b legit free people.. the dance

imagine if we listened to the itch-in-8b-souls 1st thing everyday & used that data to connect us (tech as it could be.. ai as augmenting interconnectedness as nonjudgmental expo labeling)


1\ undisturbed ecosystem (common\ing) can happen

2\ if we create a way to ground the chaos of 8b legit free people

Thesis 3: Police have overwhelming power, the political power of the police remains intractable, be it resolved that the police will not just melt away


This (bs jobs) is the only of Graeber’s book in which police make no appearance, an absence I find vexing.. . Police are literal goons

bs jobs from birth et al

Police are closely related to the gangster. Both are types of violence work. However, police officers are duty-bound to use fraud and deception, and their work is definitively a form of wage labour. The hitman might abide by a code, but they are aware their actions cause personal and social harm. Cops act dishonourably, but most claim that their work is necessary for the public good. These contradictions are telling. Police are a borderline case that undermines Graeber’s theory. Abolitionists have cause to describe police work as unnecessary and detrimental, and Graeber would agree with them, but his theory provides no adequate way of explaining how or why.

Police are bullshit! Their work is based upon myths and lies. They habitually cause more harm than good. For Graeber, none of this is sufficient. His original definition of pointless, unnecessary, and detrimental work loses its meaning as soon as he refines his definition to be based upon subjective belief. Bullshit, at least for Graeber, is in the eye of the beholder

not in the eye of the beholder.. in the eye of the one doing it.. per his defn.. completely diff than calling something bs

endnote 20: Graeber fails to provide a great explanation why the mafia hitman is not a bullshit job. The focus on honour and wages is erroneous. The obvious answer is that the mafia hitman finds their work purposeful because the labour they perform is essential for their employers.

that is just what he said thought.. per his defn.. has to be bs to the one doing it.. ?


Stupidity is the result when structural violence meets actual violence. on utopia of rules

structural violence is actual violence.. ?

utopia of rules backwards

Bureaucrats compel obedience based upon threats that police can always be called upon. *Structural violence is thus an imagined form of violence but conditioned upon the ever-present possibility of actual violence...t Police are the expression of bureaucracy in its most essential form..t Bureaucrats outfitted, not with rubber-stamps and filing cabinets, but with guns and prisons cells. Violence is the ultimate non-discursive deed and, as Graeber is one to suggest, the preferred weapon of the stupid.

*to me.. and as david has said.. even worse actual violence that it’s hidden (diff than imagined)

If the function of police is to maintain order, this refers to a capitalist and racial order that is a fundamentally stupid and unnecessary order. Bullshitjobs are bullshit because they serve bullshit system

yeah.. but david narrowed the defn in his work/surveys.. et al..


Neocleous illustrates why this is not the case: ‘What was once medical police became “social health” and then “the health service”; what was once the police of poverty became “welfare” and then “social security”; what was once the police of the market was handed over to organs with names such as “the Food Standards Agency”; what was once the police mandate for street cleaning was handed to municipal and health authorities.’

Caring for the public welfare is often considered a supplemental governmental responsibility, whereas violence the state’s essential prerogative. Stupidly, police consume a vast proportion of municipal, state, and federal budgets.

Police will not just wither away


The power to imagine otherwise is to render the possible.t It remains conceivable that enough people can be convinced to give up their allegiance to police, to stop believing in them as non-negotiable solutions to social problems. Once again, for Graeber, the onus is upon our subjective beliefs. *Personal or public opinion, however, is no match for systematic coercion. .t Capitalism and authoritarianism do not require our belief in their enduring reality; their legitimation is enforced by literal goons. **Police institutions will not just evaporate. I argue here, via some very tenuous conclusions, that Graeber puts too much significance on the political powers of the imagination..t Alternative or imagined worlds are enticing and fascinating, indeed romantic, but ***the whack of a police baton is an assured reminder that we are trapped in this world,.t an actually existing totalitarian nightmare

*we have no idea.. we’ve not yet let go enough to see.. today we have means for global detox.. that would be an exponential we’ve yet to see/imagine

**this thinking is why we haven’t yet tried to let go enough to see..

***oh my.. what a sad statement.. not trapped.. there is a nother way to get out


*Abolitionists plan police obsolescence. Mutual aid networks and transformative justice organisations are growing in number and impact. Actually-existing-abolitionism is revealed by the presence of counter-institutions wielding social power in the shadows of the state. Life-affirming associations devoted to harm reduction, care work, and mutual accountability are promoted as empirical evidence in the here and now that dreams of future worlds freed of oppressive institutions are not inconceivable. Despite the theoretical cleverness, abolition is equally reliant upon the use of political imaginaries. For radical transformation to be made credible, imagining alternatives is both a goal and strategy. There is a growing awareness that police institutions are irredeemable and cannot be so easily amended. However, the unreasonableness of police is not the basis for their disappearance. **To put this differently: imagining alternative worlds without police does not make our heavily policed world any less present. As Graeber contends in the concluding sections of On the phenomenology of giant puppets (2007, p. 410), this is the ‘anarchist problem’, a problem that persists continually. ***There are plenty of believers amongst us; the problem is that the non-believers are the ones holding all the guns..t

*justice.. aid.. still same song.. abolition focus focuses us on same song.. need to try something legit diff.. gershenfeld something else law et al

**but actually trying it would.. ie: a nother way

***to me.. problem is that we don’t know (haven’t tried to address) the deeper problem.. one that every soul already craves.. including any currently holding guns (or whatever) – gershenfeld something else law et al

It is my argument that his research and activism were more attentive to police than commonly assumed.


What this essay does argue is that Graeber, as a famous social movement figure, is an informative interlocutor for a comparative-dialectical analysis of the waves of protests in the early decades of the twenty-first century. The global justice movement, Occupy Wall Street, and the re-emergence of democratic socialism provide a **valuable set of lessons for social movements fixed upon diminishing the political power of police.

*i wouldn’t say that is his gift to us.. (if it even his a good description of him)

**to me.. how could someone who says this (graeber model law) be about lessons.. be about people telling other people what to do.. be about any form of m\a\p


Joel Olson’s anarchism exhibits a *commitment to abolition that Graeber’s lacks. Their differences are significant. Olson advocates for **race-centred social movement strategies, including a focus on institutions, such as police, that are structured by racial dominance. The Love & Rage slogan ***“Governments don’t fall by themselves!” is a stark contrast to the performance of insurrection without the corresponding intention or strategy to precipitate the real thing.

*again.. to me.. this is a cancerous distraction anyway..

**cancerous distraction

***they would if ie: gershenfeld something else law et al

*Movement building is necessary to broaden the political base, create cross-identity alliances, and **grow organisational capacity. Movement building provides tangible victories in a durable war of position. Increased competence and power enable social movements to act as dual powers within society, more effectively challenging the state and police for legitimacy. It would be unfair to say that Graeber is uninterested in movement building. He is largely famous for his success as a movement builder. However, ***by putting the emphasis upon consensus-building and the use of political imaginaries, forming power is disregarded. ****Graeber’s hope that police will just melt away is contingent upon endless discussions and mass acceptance of political alternatives. It is the height of *****foolhardy optimism to rest a theory of change upon the hope that police will unilaterally disarm. Joel Olson’s hope (2009), in contrast, is that ‘the scene might just build a movement

*perhaps to broaden political base and create cross id alliances.. but not to set 8b people legit free..

**need 1st/most: means to undo our hierarchical listening to self/others/nature so we can org around legit needs

***to me.. forming power (as well as consensus) is cancerous distraction

****or.. just on org-ing around something so deep 8b people already crave it..

*****oi oi oi .. this is not ridiculous.. gershenfeld something else law

(gershenfeld something else lawneil gershenfeld at 9 (of 11) min talk on edge site: [http://edge.org/conversation/personal-fabrication]:

9 min… on pentagon trying to improve defense:

….possibly one of the best/most significant impacts of tech is not a better weapon to win a war but tech that gives people something else to do.  .. there will always be bad people that want to use best available means to shoot at each other but the roll of tech in giving everybody else something else to do – as a cost benefit trade off – may be one of the best military investments – and the generals got that.. but not clear what office in the pentagon is the office of preventive technology

freeing us – all – up to be usefully/happily preoccupied


The general assemblies of the Occupy encampments were directly inspired by anarchists, such as Graeber. However, their defeat, largely through the police repression, exposed a valuable lesson. The political power of the 1% remains invulnerable without a *class of political leadership and a set of public policies aimed at dispossessing them of power..t

*cancerous distractions.. need gershenfeld something else law


The political power of the 1% remains invulnerable so long as police power is overwhelming.. t

rather as long as we don’t org around legit needs that 8b of us already crave.. none of us are free if one of us chained (to 1% ness.. to guns.. to whatever)

My pessimism should not be mistaken for defeatism..t

but the ongoing ‘this is ridiculous‘ ness (by whoever) is defeating us.. is keeping us from trying something legit different

graeber make it diff law et al


The abolition of police remains impossible via liberal democratic means..t


need: a nother way sans any form of democratic admin.. sans any form of m\a\p

Imagined futures are the last refuge for those who cannot reason with a world gone mad. *The imaginative wall that Graeber, and so many others, have sought to overcome and tear down is a mystical revolutionary fantasy. There are real walls. They have names and addresses. They house armaments and prisoners. It requires no magic to make them crumble and wither away. **We know their melting point because we have burned them down before and will do so again.

oh my.. what a statement.. *this sounds like a case of graeber fear of play law

**exactly.. and we’re still here.. missing it