david & david on stupid savage

Graeber and Wengrow on the Myth of the Stupid Savage – dec 2019 – 65 min video


Great little lecture about inequality and social development by David Graeber & David Wengrow 


Original Tweet: https://twitter.com/JambyBray/status/1299305528657506305


notes/quotes from video:

2 min – w: what we propose to talk about is the importance of dialogue in human history

g: title – stupid savage came from – work on rousseau.. were originally going to write on social ineq and more we realized.. weird question to even be asking.. assumes primordial innocence and ineq comes out of that.. last 200-300 yrs.. people have gotten variations on same narrative of rousseau.. we wanted to create alt narrative.. and why asking this question to begin with.. actually.. was for a contest.. the joke was.. he didn’t win.. i found all other essays.. same as many arguments today..

4 min – g: fascinating to me.. here we have a society where no one had walked into a room where they didn’t know where everyone ranked.. one of more hierarchical societies one could imagine.. why did they think social ineq had an origin at all.. it doesn’t go back to bible.. adam and eve.. adam outranked eve.. there’s hierarchy

but here this essay question.. everyone just assumes primordial equality and something changed.. what was it..

so we started off asking how that came about.. and found what rousseau changed was not the idea of the noble savage.. which is a dubious concept.. by racist thinkers as way of making fun .. but idea that they had something to teach us (not because of something out there that they knew) but because of something they didn’t know.. that they were somehow innocent creatures.. rousseau even argued that people in a state of nature have no imagination.. can’t project into future.. happiness based on.. they’re complete simple mindedness.. and that was actually a new idea..

6 min – g: and that in turn made me reflect on the idea of political self consciousness.. and i thought we’d start talking a little about that

g: we have a notion that somehow what makes humans human is the fact that we are self conscious.. that can reflect on nature of our reality/situation.. and that that has both individual/social manifestation

g: if go back to cartesian dualism thought.. defn of self reflection is what makes us sentient beings diff from animals and that notion of self consciousness is simultaneously reflected in the idea that society itself can/should at least ultimately become self conscious.. the ideal of evolution was seen as getting us to a point of self conscious ness.. whether philosophical (hegel) or embodied in actual control of existence (marxist and other socialist thinkers)

8 min – g: on scientists saying self consciousness lasts 7 seconds.. rest of time on auto pilot.. which explains (a lot).. but there is an exception to that which is largely when you’re talking to someone else.. so in convo/dialogue you’re actually can maintain consciousness for very long periods of time.. which is way you need to act like talking to someone else when trying to work out a problem

2 convers as infra

self-talk as data

g: so actually consciousness is a social phenom.. so rather than self consciousness being this incredible achievement.. that we eventually have.. most ancient philosophers assume that.. they start w dialogues.. conversations about thinking about how you can be come a self conscious individual.. which is the kind of a person descarte assumes we start as.. even though we’re not

g: so socialist consciousness. in most of world history.. is assumed your starting point.. and individual consciousness is something you may one day achieve

instead we flip that over and .. today.. we see that the very idea that we could create a society.. is that it takes huge amounts of historical evolution to get to..

10 min – w: we came at these general issues thru some very specific parts of evidence.. we just began to realize how peculiar the starting point of the question really is.. in so far as it assumes that there was something else.. in order for social ineq to have an origin

w: so looking back at the origins of the question we found interesting things.. these trends of thought really are about self conscious political behavior.. what would most of human history look like if we wrote it from the starting assumption that people always had and exhibited that kind of self conscious awareness of their own political arrangements

11 min – w: there’s a sort of paradox here.. if read evolutionary biologists/theorists.. like christopher boehm who’s book hierarchy in the forest.. is quite explicit about this.. that this is precisely what makes human politics diff from politics of say chimps et al.. is what he calls actuary intelligence.. which what i think he means by this is the fact that we can imagine what another kind of society might be like..

a nother way book

so imagine a group of hunter gatherers who can picture what might transpire if they didn’t make fun of the very skilled hunter who brought down the ideal catch that day.. or if they didn’t share out the meat and other resources from the hunt in an equal sort of way w/o prejudice toward those who actually engaged in it

12 min – w: they can sort of imagine what kind of society they might be living in if they didn’t make fun of exceptionally talented individuals and therefore they build their own society on the basis partly on imagination

w: but.. paradox.. when he and other relaters actually talk about what happened in human history.. it’s almost as if they don’t want to explore the implications of their own hypothesis.. because what he writes quite explicitly .. is for most of human history.. at least in political terms.. nothing really happened.. people lived in these small egalitarian bands of foragers, hunters, foresters, gatherers for 100 000 plus years.. then there was the origins of agri and then came the 6, 7, 8 or however may great civilizations w their alpha male pharaohs/kings/leaders and ..

13 min – w: as we all know.. this is effectively the story in outline that rousseau was telling 250 yrs or so ago.. now to me as an archeologist this is very interesting.. would it not be very bizarre and fascinating if all the efforts of me and all my archeologist colleagues to actually dig down into the traces of what humans got up to.. just happened to conform perfectly to what some swiss philosopher imagined might have been the case in 1754.. wouldn’t that be an extraordinary coincidence

14 min – w: and in fact.. that is roughly .. the sort of consensus .. when you read big history type books.. it’s very much the impression you get

w: it’s also .. we’re quit convinced.. wrong.. to say this.. in almost every respect.. and a lot of what we’ve been doing for the last several years is a lot of detailed empirical (observation rather than theory) work.. actually looking at what the evidence tells us now .. and other ways to conceptualize it

human history ness et al

black science of people/whales law

g: because it’s very easy to say it’s all wrong.. you could do that in about 20 pages.. but if you want to say what actually happened.. it’s an enormous amount of work because essentially.. it’s not just that people don’t write for people inside their specialties.. they don’t write for people outside their subspecialties.. there’s an enormous work (worth?) of synthesis that just nobody’s been doing

15 min – w: and the reactions to that has been quite instructive.. because ..it’s quite hard to find an archeologist or even harder to find a social anthropologist these days who openly says.. ‘yes i am a social evolutionist.. i believe that human societies evolve and go thru these stages from simple to complex’

g: yeah.. and then if you study anthropology.. do an intro anthropology course you get rid of the evolutionists in the first lecture.. first there’s the guys who are really dumb.. ‘nobody takes that serious anymore’.. and then you take the structural functionalists as a sort of more worthy idiot opponents.. but in fact..

w: yeah.. and we take it at face value.. when people tell us they’re not evolutionists.. we assume they’re not.. however.. every time we seem to propose an interpretation of some body of archeological/anthropological evidence that goes against the assumptions of a kind of notion of social evolution.. we seem to get in all sorts of trouble..

16 min – g: people freak out

w: yeah.. not with the evidence.. the evidence in some ways.. i mean maybe it’s worth giving a few small ie’s.. of a taste at least of what we’ve been up to

w: so for ie: very striking that if you go back to the earliest concrete evidence we have of how human societies are org’d .. you can’t really say much about the first say 200 000 yrs.. because all we’ve got are these great expanses of time in which there might just be various small scatters of flint tools and the odd tooth or skull or something.. but if we go back to roughly the time of the last ice age.. 20-30 000 yrs ago.. particularly in europe.. simply because europeans have been practicing archeology for a very long time w a lot of resources.. there is actually enough evidence to say something in outline about what human societies were like..

17 min – w: and what we find in those cases is really nothing like these sort of boring abstractions that you get from evolutionary theory.. which tell us we ought to be expecting small scale.. vaguely egalitarian.. societies.. actually what you see concretely in the archeological evidence.. are things like these extraordinary burials.. which in any other context one would interpret as princely or regal.. i mean individuals buried w huge amounts of personal wealth/ornamentation/regalia.. and so on.. we see architectural structures that are clearly diff from everyday dwellings.. implying some sort of public building

18 min – w: and it’s very peculiar.. because.. what we don’t find alongside these things .. are any of the usual trappings of a very hierarchical org’d sort of stratified society.. we don’t find fortifications.. evidence for administration.. or centralized storage.. it’s almost as if you have these almost ritualistic pageants of what it might be like to have a king/queen.. and then it comes into archaeological record and it fades out again.. so we started to looking into the literature of what people actually make of this evidence.. which is kind of intriguing.. i think it’s actually boehm who puts it very nicely when he says ‘we seem to be trapped in this endless kind of to and fro between hobbes on the one hand and rousseau on the other’

graeber/wengrow back & forth law

spinach or rock ness and finite set of choices ness

19 min – w: so on the one hand there are these sort of neo rousseau type commentators who basically just ignore all this evidence.. saying ‘it’s basically just inconsequential.. we’re just going to write as if people were living in small egalitarian societies for most of human history’

w: then there’s this sort of hobbesian view which goes quite the other way and says ‘well there must have been ranked/stratified aristocracies.. all the way back to the ice age’

w: actually someone just brought to my attention there’s going to be a big meeting of specialists in paleolithic archeology in france .. which is sort of the spiritual heartland of all this kind of research.. called something like ‘aristocracies in the stone age’ just in a few months time

20 min – w: we don’t really find either of these kinds plausible..

g: for one thing there is the fact that the vast majority of the skeletons that seem to get the regal treatment are giants or hunchbacks or dwarfs.. or otherwise.. physically deformed in some way.. which seems to make it rather unlikely.. that we’re dealing w some kind of deformed aristocracy

w: and also if they were presumably princes.. there’s one famous ie from liguria.. you know archeologists love to give names to things.. so they called this particular burial the ‘eprincipey’ (?).. if he really was a prince in the machiavellian sense.. then presumably he would have got people to do more on behalf then just make very elaborate head dresses out of small shells.. he would have had them form little armies.. or..

g: it reminds one very much of fouchard (?) who had kings come from rituals.. people putting on these theatrical ritual.. sort of performing.. royalty.. before they actually even had it.. in fact ritual was this sort of zone of experiment .. where they played around w diff social possibilities.. and it sounded really wacky when he proposed it in the 1920s.. but the archeological evidence that we’ve got now.. that’s a much more plausible interpretation than the conventional evolutionists that everybody seems they have to play.. it might not be right.. but it’s a lot closer to the evidence

21 min – w: so what we found ourselves doing.. and i think this is one of the advantages of talking to each other from diff sort of training.. is thinking about seasonality..

circadian rhythm et al

because there’s a great literature in anthropology.. that hunter gatherer societies and many other societies.. actually flip and alternate between very diff kinds of political arrangements depending partly on the time of year.. so one will have periods of great econ abundance.. let’s say when the bison/dear/mammoth are coming thru the valleys.. and you’ll have extremely elaborate social measures put in place to ensure that the hunting is successfully completed.. and during those periods.. you might have a very authoritarian political org.. but once it’s all over.. societies changes shape.. marcel mauss (?) actually used the term ‘social morphology’ i think to describe this.. society moves/transforms from very large dense org’s .. often to these precisely described little bands that people often imagine we lived in for most of human history

w: now it doesn’t really take a genius to see that ice age years is bound.. obviously.. to have produced these kind of seasonal variations.. we’re talking about a very diff kind of europe in terms of climate/environ/fauna/flora.. to anything we see around us today.. i mean it was more like serengeti park with forests all along the mediterranean cost.. and then this great summit (?) of tundra.. leading up into the ice sheets.. and then this little refudia/refugia where humans/animals/plants can actually keep themselves going for long periods of time

23 min – w: so putting these two things together.. drawing on decades of careful research by pre historians.. we started to developing the notion that actually what one is seeing w these very elab burials and expressions of hierarchy are exactly that kind of fluidity or flexibility

w: now then we turn to the ethnographic literature.. which allows you to see what it actually might mean in something more like psychological/philosophical terms.. to actually flip your society round.. between two quite radically diff social structures.. which brings us back to the core sort of issue.. about consciousness

24 min – g: right.. because the irony is.. that rather than living in this sort of naive state of not having figured out complex social arrangements yet.. living in these societies which most call a dual social morphology w extreme seasonal variations .. are actually way more self conscious about social possibilities than probably anybody living today.. because they completely shifted social structures every year.. to the extent that people in society often had diff names at diff times of year.. summer/winter names.. belong in diff ritual associations.. have diff settlement/household/kitchens.. everything changed.. and it could change in any number of diff ways.. it wasn’t just.. in one season might have authoritarian.. get together and create king/authoritarian structure and then you disperse and you’re egalitarian bands

25 min – g: the famous ie marcel mauss’ seasonal variations of the eskimo came out in 1902.. pointed out that they actually had authoritarian bands.. little patriarchal units during summer.. hung out together.. had common property and giant wife swapping orgies .. and all sorts of fun.. but we really can’t predict.. other societies would have police.. w actual coercive powers to enforce rules arbitrarily.. but for only 2 months a year.. and the group that would get to do it any particular year would always rotate.. so would never be same people 2 yrs in a row.. but then they go become scattering bands where they resolved everything by consensus.. so by the evolutionary .. sort of classic: band, tribe, chiefdom, state.. hierarchy that archeologists/anthropologists still imply.. you have a group that half the year.. very bottom of the scale and half the year the very top.. state for 2 months because they had separated group.. political monopoly.. use of force.. then they went back to being like bands again

26 min – w: again.. it’s very hard to find anyone who will say.. ‘i believe that human societies evolved from bands to tribes to chiefdoms to states.. most anthropologists will just laugh in your face and just say ‘we did away w all that rubbish generations ago’.. and same by and large goes for most archeologists.. but when we started publishing on this topic and presenting it.. and saying . . look it’s really interesting .. these are groups that seem to flip between almost a band and a state on an annual basis.. the kinds of reactions we got were really well.. ‘you’re getting this all wrong.. you’re blowing this out proportion.. it doesn’t really affect the large story of human history’

27 min – g: ‘those aren’t really monumental architecture.. they’re just big huts’

w: ‘maybe we can just all them complex hunter gatherers’ – so that one still retains the possibility of talking a simple to complex trajectory until you start farming

w: you know another ie of same sort of thing.. we got very interested in the ethnography of the west coast of n america.. where you have these very extensive distributions of non farming populations.. hunters.. gatherers.. fishers and so on.. going all the way down from the nw coast of what is now british columbia.. alaska.. all the way down to california.. and reading our way into this lit.. one thing kept really striking us about this which was the issue of slavery

28 min – w: now rousseau .. in the famous discourse says slavery comes w agri/farming.. and presumably he’s got things on his mind like slave plantations and ancient roman slavery and so on.. and this is something that i think most people trained in our subjects are aware of.. the phenom of slavery among non farming populations .. and actually the classic ie is precisely that of the indigenous societies of the nw coast.. who are known to have kept slaves who were actually hereditary slaves in their households.. which were org’s on these highly stratified aristocratic sort of lines..

gare enslavement law et al

w: what nobody seems to be interested in up till now.. is why this practice of keeping slaves seems to sort of fizzle out and stop as you head south into what is called now.. broadly speaking.. the area of coastal california..

29 min – w: in fact.. we found this extraordinary paper from 1951 by goldschmidt.. which nobody’s read.. it’s got a very strange title.. something like ‘contribution to ethical/philosophical sociology’.. which tells you very little about it’s content.. but it’s about these californian foragers who live next door to the highly aristocratic slave keeping fishermen of the nw coast.. and what goldschmidt.. he was a student of albert kreber (?) i believe.. what he argues point for point is that these californian hunger gatherers actually had a kind of work ethic .. which is remarkably similar to what marx’ paper classically described as the protestant work ethic of central/northern europe as a kind of spiritual/ethical foundation for the rise of capitalism..

either way.. i think going back to hg as ie is still like studying whales in sea world (aka: we have no idea what legit free people are like)

30 min – w: but this is all going on in forager societies in california right adjacent to these other guys .. who seem to have a moral/ethical political system that is precisely the opposite

g: yeah .. one society complete inversion/rejection of the values of the other

marsh label law et al

w: and the really striking thing was that we couldn’t find a single ie of a historian/ethnographer/archeologist.. actually saying ‘so.. how did it end up this way.. w two almost diametrically opposed political systems among hunter gatherers living along the same stretch of coast line’

31 min – w: and the reason for this is basically.. that all of these groups.. regardless of the really quite profound differences between them tend to get shunted into a single category of complex hunter gatherers.. it doesn’t matter what they get up to.. enslaving each other.. rejecting slavery .. having abolitionist movements.. somehow there’s something going on that says .. as soon as you see a cob of corn or a wooly sheep.. all of this counts for nothing..and we reset the whole clock of social evolution back to zero.. which again.. sounds very evolutionary .. right..

32 min – w: so we got this thing published in american anthropologist

g: took some doing

w: took some hard work.. but.. again what seems remarkable is that people weren’t asking this kind of question

g: right.. it’s just not interesting because they’re on one stage.. and what’s important about them is the fact that they don’t farm.. so the fact that they’re completely diff and very self conscious.. again.. what was interesting to us about this is that it was clearly self conscious

g: we even found a california myth about the people who came and took a bunch of slaves.. and how their society fell apart because they all got fat/lazy.. and eventually the slaves ran off.. and they didn’t know how to make food anymore

w: it was a cautionary tale.. what happens if you keep slaves.. certainly people were thinking about it

33 min – g: yet none of this registers.. the idea that people were living the way they are because that’s actually the way people ought to live and that there’s diff philosophies/ideologies/politics going on in societies.. that these people are actually adults like us.. that they came up w nature of human society and what it could/should be like.. is just considered unthinkable..

w: yeah.. and what we realized in doing this is that we’re coming up against decades of research.. for ie in the field of behavior and ecology.. which .. we’ll try and explain these kinds of differences in other ways.. ie: the californians historically relied on gathering acorns.. whereas guys to north spent a lot of time fishing..

research ness.. history ness.. et al

w: and the assumption is that somehow in the ecology we will find a causal explanation for their social structures.. which is a long way from saying.. we’re talking about people like you and me.. people who can reflect on the kind of societies they live in.. their neighbors live in.. and build their societies and political systems in a conscious fashion

34 min – w: and here’s where we see the link back to rousseau

g: oh.. very good segway.. when i started looking into basically the origins of the question of the origin of ineq.. and this narrative that we are all this kind of naive creatures.. until some idiot goes off and invents agri and then you get private property and we all know what goes on from there

g: when i looked at the origin of why is it the academy of dijon (?) is asking this question in 1752 or 3.. i found a really remarkable story.. which is not much told..

35 min – g: first of all.. the phrase equality and ineq .. weren’t used in middle ages at all.. wasn’t an issue.. nobody talked about it.. concept of eq/ineq.. talked about in mathematical terms..

w: italian phd actually.. 2 guys

g: yeah.. they did a word search.. and discovered basically until the 1500s nobody uses these words .. at all

g: and it really comes in w natural law theory.. w discussions of .. what do we make of societies in the new world.. which presented a problem.. legally actually.. a lot of this stuff came out of a legal problem.. of .. was it ok to conquer people who had never heard of jesus and there fore could never had been said to reject christianity.. that was the basic problem they had legally.. it’s easy if they’re infantiles (?).. but if they’ve never heard of christianity at all.. conquistadores would make this declaration.. ‘you have 10 min to convert’ in latin.. but legal scholars back home were not impressed by this.. anymore than we would be.. these were legal justifications .. so hotly debated.. led to what we call now human rights.. do people have rights just by existing at all.. that you could violate by attacking them..

rights ness

36 min – g: what rousseau did.. the question was.. how do you establish what those are.. so need to look at the simplest societies.. and this is why they became fascinated w societies they thought were egalitarian .. because they were seen as an almost plasmatic stuff of which sociality comes from

37 min – g: you find people who seem to have no religion/state/writing and so forth.. what do they have.. what do people minimally think they owe each other.. in that primordial state and you can start getting at the kind of basic ground rules of what theory of human rights can come from..

g: so talk of equality came out of that.. but what was really interesting.. and what really drove the convo much more than the kind of legal theories from which it started.. was they actually started talking to people in the world and those convos made a huge impact on the earth.. and this is where almost a kind of a.. the only way i can describe it is a kind of covert racism.. whereby you’re always ascribing such racism to the european observer that you assume that they paid absolutely no attention to what anybody was saying to them.. and therefore.. you don’t have to pay attention to what anybody was saying to them.. and so any statement/opinion attributed to a a non western person can be written off as some savage trope.. they didn’t really say that.. so you don’t have to actually think about what they actually might have been thinking/saying

38 min – w: these people were basically sub puppets .. so monetescue or lavantone.. somebody writes a dialogue w a savage.. what they’re actually doing is supposedly having dialogue with themselves.. but avoiding going to prison etc.. by putting it into the mouth of a savage so called person they have invented.. it’s incredibly patronizing

g: and it’s fascinating that’s it’s absolutely assumed by everyone.. with the exception of scholars who are themselves native american.. who say.. no.. a lot of these arguments are the kind of arguments people would have made .. and that whole debate is sort of suppressed..

history ness.. research ness.. black science of people/whales law.. oi

39 min – g: but if you look at what actually happened.. and i took the french enlightenment because that’s the one that leads up to rousseau.. it’s absolutely clear what’s going on .. you could reconstruct the whole thing..

g: starting in 1600s you have jesuits writing reports from what’s now quebec and which are just incredibly popular.. the jesuit relation.. 112 volumes of this stuff.. like everybody bought them.. extraordinarily popular and widely debated.. and one of the things which was always in there.. and attracted the most attention.. were the critiques of indigenous people of french/european society.. which almost always took the same form

40 min – g: the interesting thing is that at first they weren’t explicitly about egalitarianism .. at all actually.. they were mainly about freedom and mutual aide.. the usual accusations were.. ‘first you guys don’t take of each other.. you’re just mean and hyper competitive..’.. but the other one was that.. ‘you’re a bunch of slaves.. you follow orders all the time’.. read typical quote from 1642.. always going on about how these are the freest people on earth.. which they didn’t prove at all..

41 min – g: one of the interesting things when you read this lit is this sort of reversal.. because we’re taught to think of this as.. this is the western gaze.. the europeans are kind of us.. and they’re observing these exotic people you can’t completely understand.. but in fact when you read it.. it’s the indigenous people are making pretty much all the arguments that we would be making.. if we met a bunch of jesuits

42 min – g: ie: on freedom.. because nowadays you can’t be against freedom.. so the usual line is personal liberty and individual freedom.. ‘you can’t build a society entirely on that.. there’s limits because it wouldn’t work in practice’

g: the jesuits were exactly the opposite.. nobody every takes orders from anybody else.. they completely refuse it.. don’t use punishment of criminals even.. and it actually works pretty well.. and there’s less crime here than there is in france.. but it’s terrible in principle.. i mean ‘how are they going to learn the 10 commandments if they never command each other.. giving orders is necessary .. it’s a moral good’.. so it’s exactly the opposite of the opinions that most people would have today

telling people what to do ness

g: however.. people read these accounts and they were very impressed..

43 min – g: the interesting thing is the debate at first was entirely about liberty.. and you can trace over time as indigenous people.. diplomats start visiting the cities.. like montreal, ny, being sent on delegations to france.. and came back to report.. essentially started doing an ethnography of european society.. when they understood what was going on.. this discourse gradually shifted from freedom to a ..simultaneous (one on freedom never went away) .. emphasis on equality

g: and i think the reason why at first they didn’t really care about differences of the properties in their own societies .. there was really no way to turn differences of property into power over anybody else.. so it never really occurred to people.. ‘i have more corn/beans.. but why does that mean i can give anybody orders?‘.. it just didn’t make any sense w/in the terms of their own society..

44 min – g: when they figured out european society is differently org’d.. they gradually shifted to critiques of ineq and money in particular.. and this really comes to the fore the most in the writings of a guy named baron lamontone (?).. who was an impoverished french aristocratic family.. joined army at 17.. he’s a great source because he’s a free thinker who hated the jesuits.. so his line was like ‘the indians tell me what they really think about these guys’

45 min – g: he became particular friends of a gentleman by name of cantieronk (?) who was basically the ambassador in charge of dealing w the europeans.. turns out this guys was utterly brilliant.. had been to france to meet louis 14th himself in diplomatic mission.. and he’s constantly outsmarting the europeans diplomacy.. people would come from miles to hear him speak.. even if disagreed.. et al.. lamontone probably took notes on a lot of these things

46 min – g: lamontone came out with memoirs.. called book of dialogues (w catieronk).. was instant best seller.. translated into all e languages.. everybody read it.. play inspired by it that ran for 20 yrs.. cultural phenom

47 min – g: and every single enlightenment thinker.. wrote an imitation of this book.. and the funny thing is that all writers assume that (?) was a made up character.. so would say ‘best book ever..’ then write their own .. not citing .. saying they made it all up

48 min – w: and this process of denial.. is very old.. some of jesuits.. up to present day..

49 min – g: so everyone writing long lit crit type pieces about enlightenment.. of course these are made up.. but inspired by jesuit lit.. and it all comes to a peak .. smoking gun.. so glad i found this.. by a woman named (madame goveni?)

50 min – g: it later comes out as first book that suggested the idea of the welfare state.. she says at one point ‘why not take a little bit of everybody’s and just distribute it.. it would be a lot more rational’.. which is fascinating.. because nowadays you constantly read people saying.. ‘this idea of the incas having some kind of welfare state is a projection of european categorism to them’.. well actually.. might be the other way around

w: she is the best known female writer in europe at the time

g: and this book is considered something of a feminist milestone.. because first book where female protagonist doesn’t either marry you or die at the end

51 min – g: but be this as it may.. she has a problem.. gets ripped off w first edition.. has to change it around a little for 2nd edition she’s actually going to get some money on.. the books a best seller.. so we have these letters she sent to all her friends ‘ok i’ve got to change it around a little.. what should i do’

g: one of them goes to turgot ..one of great founders of econ theory in like 1751.. right before rousseau is writing.. and we have turgot’s response.. he says.. ‘all this liberty/equality stuff is kind of dangerous.. i mean we’re all for liberty/equality.. but i think you should have your character gradually realize over the course of the book that this is appropriate to a certain level of social development.. imagine there’s foragers.. farmers.. complex political system.. stages .. and each stage have more complex division of labor and our wealth/disparity is based on a greater division of labor which means we can’t have as much freedom and equality as we would in a society where everyone is equally poor’.. so basically.. he comes up w evolutionism.. and he’s the guy who then next year gives a speech on the concept of progress.. he basically made it up.. and he comes up with the four stages of development .. which a year later is taken up by adam smith.. (w: scottish enlightenment).. yeah.. and so .. this is it.. this is like the smoking gun.. where it comes from

52 min – g: the very idea of social evolution based on means of livelihood.. (which wasn’t considered all that important before this).. was essentially concocted as a direct response to the indigenous critique of the ineq’s of european society

53 min – w: so it’s neutralizing the idea that these people couldn’t in any way have anything valid or questioning to day about europeans.. because they are effectively trapped w/in a particular mode of subsistence

g: if you look at rousseau.. he’s writing 2 yrs later.. this is what everybody’s discussing in the essential circles he’s in.. so what does he do.. he synthesizes these two positions.. evolutionist position and indigenous critique position.. and he does both.. so he comes up with this first fusion ‘well yes.. this primordial state where we were virtually free/equal.. and that’s cool.. but then of course.. social evolution sets in and we lose it.. but some day we might get there again’ (para of rousseau)..

54 min – g: so basically by synthesizing these two opposed positions.. he essentially invents leftist discourse.. but he does so by relegating the critique to these naive/innocent/stupid people.. who have insight just because they don’t know anything.. they don’t have the social complexity which comes to ruin us – in weird way serve both right and left.. (first essay that he won.. this second one he lost)..

g: so this is what rousseau did.. he put the two together and we’ve been stuck with this crazy synthesis of these two contradictory positions ever since

w: and the really insidious part about it is not the idea of the noble savage.. actually there is no noble savage in rousseau’s discourse.. because his stated nature involves creatures which are like humans but actually lack any sort of philosophy at all.. because what they can’t do is project their own lives into the future and imagine themselves in other states.. they’re constantly inventing thing s and chasing their own tails.. or rushing headlong for their own chains.. as he puts it.. ‘they invent agri/cities but they can’t see the consequences’

g: they’ve got no imagination

i’m guessing we don’t either until we let go of ie: history ness.. research ness.. science ness

david on science of people


1\ undisturbed ecosystem (common\ing) can happen

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

55 min – w: exactly.. so we’re talking about this idea of political self consciousness.. sort of receding as one goes further back in time..

w: there was a book published in 1946 by dutch archeologist. henry frankfort called ‘before philosophy’ which was about ancient middle east.. mesopotamia et al.. but he wasn’t actually arguing that these people didn’t have the capacity for philosophy .. he was simply pointing out that they didn’t have an explicit written tradition of speculative thought like that of the ancient greeks..

56 min – w: so that when they did speculate.. they did it in other ways.. thru images/discourse.. of non human world.. etc..

w: to find the idea that there actually have ever been individuals who didn’t possess any capacity for philosophical reflection.. one has to go thru rousseau.. but of course rousseau is very explicit in saying that.. ‘this isn’t supposed to be history.. i don’t actually believe any of this ever happened’ and he says it very clearly.. he says.. ‘do not take this as a basis for your reconstruction of what actually happened in the past.. this is a thought experiment’

w: and what seems so extraordinary to us is how this ‘thought experiment’ has somehow mutated into what still appears to be the standard meta structure for human history..t

57 min – w: so what we find ourselves doing is sort of fighting on two fronts.. 1\ on the one had trying to re interpret the facts/evidence of archeology and history to try and put together some of the pieces of a new sort of story

w: 2\ but also simultaneously having to go right back to the philosophical roots of the existing story.. so that we’re not constantly sort of pushed back into what seems to be an incredibly powerful myth. and it is a myth.. and one can show it’s a myth in several ways..

so.. what if 2\ we are being pulled back by 1\ any facts/evidence/history

what if we have no idea what legit free people are like because any history is keeping us from imagining a nother way

ie: black science of people/whales law

this is huge..

and we’re missing it

58 min – g: to show the power of this myth.. look at background of people engaging in this critique which was taken so seriously and seemed to have such an enormous impact on european/world thought.. you see that people are still trapped in these turgot style categories.. stages of evolutions based on what you do for your material subsistence.. and that even though it’s not strictly linear.. people can go back and forth.. there’s a ladder.. and placing people along that ladder is what’s really significant about them..

g: the fascinating thing is that because people buy that.. there’s this really obvious thing that’s happening that nobody seems to notice

59 min – g: ie’s supporting – that show basically going backwards on stages.. who made that up?.. and yes.. there was.. a record of that happening.. so again.. enlightenment really came out of these guys (indigenous) more than anybody else.. and to this day.. never occurs to anyone that these people who overthru hierarchies. might have opinions on the subject of hierarchy.. the history is wiped out.. not thinking this is self conscious thought

1:03 – w: and this is what we refer to as the myth of the stupid savage.. because on the one hand there is actually quite a bit of lit on how european societies in the age of reason.. adopted various facets of material culture and cuisine from the new world.. whole idea of smoking tobacco and pipes.. sitting around in silence.. drinking chocolate.. but nobody seems to quite bother asking whether they (yeah.. ha..much like in prep for today.. ) listened to what the people who were smoking the pipes were actually talking about.. which turns out largely to be about constitutional law and various other things that found their way into european thought

1:04 – g: and i thought when we asked about this.. they’d deny.. whatever.. but they were very explicit.. ‘no .. we got this (constitution et al) from native americans’.. but then nobody believes them..


notes/quotes from article:


on day i listened to this 1\ took all day to take it in and transcribe 2\ david g died

next morning.. wrenching


david shares this (on david dying):

David Wengrow (@davidwengrow) tweeted at 2:05 PM on Sun, Sep 06, 2020:
Remembering @davidgraeber


40 min fb live teachout from 2018 – david graeber and david wengrow:

10 min – g: real question isn’t ‘where did the inequality/hierarchy come from’.. but ‘how did we get stuck in one mode’..t

graeber/wengrow back & forth law

because it’s very diff – people aren’t going to be same in hierarchy.. if it gets ripped down half way thru the year

imagine daily