david on discovery
david graeber on discovery
via david wengrow tweet:
“This is a big project really. It’s full of slightly outrageous provocations.” If you haven’t read it, @RachaelKiddey interviewing @davidgraeber in 2016 is wonderful and captures exactly where we were at that time with #TheDawnOfEverything https://t.co/neOgDEZXkb
Original Tweet: https://twitter.com/davidwengrow/status/1419735688858292224
notes/quotes from interview [https://www.isrf.org/2020/10/02/an-interview-with-david-graeber-2016/]
In a way, that’s how we know people are human, is not what we know about them but what we can’t know about them. They have a potential to surprise us! In a way, that is what constitutes their human reality.
let’s put it this way, that the idea that knowledge and power are basically the same thing is extremely comforting to the egos of those who have a lot of one and none of the other! I read extensively on the relation of power and structural blindness and stupidity, which is not as much explored, because it’s not as interesting. However, you can make the argument that this is more socially important in the long run. Power makes you stupid. You don’t have to know things, so you don’t..t
The people who are on the bottom of the hierarchy have to know what’s going on, but the people at the top don’t.. everyone else has to scramble to make sure the guy doesn’t get fired, by figuring out what actually happened and addressing the problem.
interpretive labor et al
The third book that I’m working on is also co-written. There’s an archaeologist named David Wengrow. We are writing a book on the origins of social inequality. Essentially the argument of the book is that everybody talking on the subject is using knowledge that was state-of-the-art about a half a century ago. They’re using 60s archaeology and 60s anthropology, unsurprisingly, considering that neither anthropologists, nor archaeologists, have been writing for anybody outside their own disciplines since the 60s—or even their sub-disciplines usually. So we are going to do it. We’re going to catch people up-to-date because essentially everything we know is wrong..t People still keep saying, ‘Oh, you know, for most of history people lived in little bands of 20-40 people which were completely egalitarian, but, you know, as soon as you get larger you can’t do it.’
rat park et al
This is the conventional story: Once you’ve got agriculture, you’ve got private property, so you get inequality from that, and then when you get cities you get a surplus, you get a ruling class that essentially grabs that surplus, you get government bureaucracies managing things because it’s too large to self-organise, but you also get high culture.’ So that’s ‘civilisation’. It comes as a package. That’s kind of the basic story that everybody assumes is the background to the narrative. The problem is none of those things are true. Zero! Many hunter-gatherer societies actually turn out to be extremely unequal, but only seasonally. They would go back and forth: One part of the year they’d be egalitarian, another part they’d assemble into micro-cities and do the exact opposite of what they were doing in other times of year. They would create hierarchies and tear them down again. So then the question is not, ‘Where did inequality come from?’ but how did it get stuck in one modality?
The other interesting thing is the egalitarian city phenomenon which nobody talks about. In many of the earliest cities we know about, the very first in Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley civilisation… there’s just no evidence for a ruling class or even significant differences of wealth and power at all. The only large structures are things like giant public bath systems or things that are obviously for everybody; and it’s quite the same in some of the civilisations that are only being fully explored now, like Tripolye in Russia, Moldova, Ukraine, where the cities were actually larger than Mesopotamia at the time, but again, no huge temples or palaces, no houses bigger than the others, but a series of circles: houses set in circles, circular clusters of houses set in circles…
So early cities usually go through a stage of extreme egalitarianism before anything else happens. Unfortunately, it’s always just before the appearance of writing, so we don’t know nearly as much about these cities as we’d like to. But they clearly existed at the very beginning, and it means the conventional narrative of ‘civilisation’ is simply wrong
RK: That’s really interesting. It chimes with my experience of being involved with squatting. There would always be a first amazing month – people would help one another, do things for free, no arguing etc. – *then there reached a critical point where the market and hierarchy intervened. Someone did something that made someone else think, ‘Okay, well if you’re going to finish the sugar then I can use that paint,’ and then before you know it, the same rules and inequalities existed inside the squat as did in the outside world.
Getting back to Tripolye though, these communities—with their round, egalitarian houses—did they keep it up for hundreds of years? How did they do that? Is there really no evidence of social inequality at all?
DG: That’s what’s so interesting: none we’ve found. One of the things that we’re working on is the idea that we’re looking in the wrong place. Maybe it’s not obvious because the inequalities are emerging on the small scale, not the large ones. Everybody has got this obsession of scale now, ever since Dunbar maybe—or ‘scalar stress theory,’ as it’s called—emerged, it’s the explanation for everything. It’s funny because when I was in college the pendulum had swung the other way: they used to say old Stalinists like Karl Wittfogel believed that oppressive states emerged in the Middle East from the need to manage irrigation works—it was basically a functionalist argument—but that we’d since learned from doing actual fieldwork that, no, in most places local people still manage complex irrigation themselves without any need for bureaucrats.
That’s all gone by the boards now. It’s like it never existed. The received wisdom is back to the functionalist logic that as soon as things get big and complicated, local, decentralised, participatory structures can’t handle it, so we need some big bad state to run things for us. That’s absolutely false.
So why then do inequalities eventually emerge in early cities? I’m playing around with an idea I call ‘inequality from below.’ After all, there might be a lot of examples of egalitarian cities in history, but it’s a lot harder to find egalitarian households. So it actually is gendered domestic stuff we have to be looking at, the emergence of forms of bonded labour—even slavery—from unequal domestic relations, and how forms of inequality start to bubble up from there.
Anyway, David Wengrow and I have just written up a draft of a piece which will introduce some of these concepts.
DG: This is a big project really. It’s full of slightly outrageous provocations. For instance, we’re working on a theory that the enlightenment actually began in North America in the 1300s.
Then these Europeans come over and say, ‘Oh look, noble savages. They’re egalitarian and individualistic and at one with nature. They must have always been like that.’ This becomes a very important thought of European political thought, of course: Eastern Woodlands Native Americans are seen as the very model of egalitarian individualism from which later Enlightenment thinkers took inspiration. But they saw it as natural. Primordial innocence of some sort. In fact, if you look at the history, what really happened is first the emergence of state-like hierarchical societies, then, those urban civilisations collapse, and a few generations later the Europeans show up and basically find this bunch of hippies. It never occurs to them that there might be some connection—that this might be some sort of self-conscious political ideology.
RK: How do we know that what we think we’re ‘discovering’ isn’t actually just ‘recognising’ ourselves in Others?
DG: Exactly, ‘they’ have similar problems and political ideologies. We just have to learn how to look.
ie: a nother way
part\ial ness.. as if already free ness.. seems to be keeping us in a broken feedback loop.. keeping us in the tragedy of the non common.. keeping us in sea world.. where we have no idea (and no ie’s) of what legit free people are like..