David Graeber’s debt – last 5000 years

when you do think of debt is sin.. the question is – which one is the sinner..

if you are in a situation of inequality.. way to make victim seem like the one to blame – is to frame it in debt.

since 70’s – theory: all social problems can be solved through debt

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original (2011) update version(2014)









book links to amazon

notes/highlights (from reading what’s available on amazon page):

(after talking about the dishonesty and the compound interest ridiculousness – ie: debts had already been paid back 3 or 4 times)….but there was a more basic problem: the assumption that debts have to be repaid


for several days afterward, that phrase kept resonating in my head. “surely on has to pay one’s debts.”…. the reason it’s so powerful is that ti’s not actually an economic statement: it’s a moral statement.


the very fact that we don’t know what debt is, the very flexibility of the concept, is the basis of its power. if history shows anything, it is that there’s o better way to justify relations founded on violence, to make such relations seem moral, than by reframing them in the language of debt – above all, because it immediately makes it seem that it’s the victim who’s doing something wrong…… for thousands of years, violent men have been able to tell their victims that those victims owe them something. if nothing else, they”owe them their lives” (a telling phrase) because they haven’t been killed.

nowadays, for example, military aggression is defined as a crime against humanity, and international courts, when they are brought to bear, usually demand that aggressors pay compensation…… yet…. third world debtor nations are almost exclusively countries that have at one time been attacked and conquered… often the very countries to whom they now owe money.


but debt is not just victor’s justice; it can also be a way of punishing winners who weren’t supposed to win. the most spectacular example of this is the history of the republic of haiti – the first poor country to be placed in permanent debt peonage. haiti was a nation founded by former plantation slaves who had the temerity not only to rise up in rebellion, amidst grand declarations of universal rights and freedoms, but to defeat Napoleon’s armies sent to return them to bondage. france immediately insisted that the new republic owed it 150 million francs in damages for the expropriated plantations,…..the sum was intentionally impossible … and the resultant embargo ensured that the name”haiti” has been a synonym for debt, poverty, and human misery every since.


so what is the status of all this money continually being funneled into the us treasury? are these loans? or is it tribute? in the past, military powers that maintained hundreds of military bases outside their own home territory were ordinarily referred to as”empires,” and empires regularly demanded tribute from subject peoples. the us govt, of course insists that it is not an empire – but one could easily make a case that the only reason it insists on treating these payments as “loans” and not as “tribute” is precisely to deny the reality of what’s going on.


arguments about debt have been going on for at least 5000 yrs. for most of human history, at least, the history of states and empires – most human beings have been told that they are debtors.


as the great classicist Moses Finley often liked to say, in the ancient world, all revolutionary movements had a single program: “cancel the debts and redistribute the land.”


arguments about who really owes what to whom have played a central role in shaping our basic vocabulary of right and wrong. the fact that so much of this language did take shape in arguments about debt has left the concept strangely incoherent. after all, to argue with the king, one has to use the king’s language whether or not the initial premises make sense.


most money spent on wedding/funeral – which had to be borrowed. ie: bride was security of loan. so after wedding night.. became ruler’s concubine for a couple months till he got board.. then off to nearby timber camp – for 1-2 years as prostitute to work off father’s debt. then return to husband (paraphrase)… this seems shocking, outrageous even, but Galey does not report any widespread feeling of injustice. everyone seemed to feel that this was just the way things worked.

pluralistic ignorance

here we come to the central question of this book: what, precisely, does it mean to say that our sense of morality and justice is reduced to the language of a business deal?…. how do we speak about them (debts/obligations) when our language has been so shaped by the market?

.. money’s capacity to turn morality into a matter of impersonal arithmetic.. to justify things that would otherwise seem outrageous or obscene.

when one looks a little closer, one discovers that these two elements – the violence and the quantification – are intimately linked.

the way violence, or threat of violence, turns human relations into mathematics will crop up again and again over the course of this book. it is the ultimate source of the moral confusion that seems to float around everything surrounding the topic of debt…. still lies underneath the essential fabric of institutions today … we’re no longer capable of even perceiving (freedom, morality, sociality) because we can no longer imagine things any other way..


there’s nothing new about virtual money. actually, this was the original form of money.


the one thing all these misconceptions have in common, we will find, is that they tend to reduce all human relations to exchange, as if our ties to society, even to the cosmos itself, can be imagined in the same terms as a business deal. this leads to another question: if not exchange, then what? in chapter five, i will begin to answer the question by drawing on the fruits of anthropology to describe a view of the moral basis of economic life; then return to the question of the origins of money to demonstrate how the very principle of exchange emerged largely as an effect of violence – that the real origins of money are to be found in crime and recompense, war and slavery, honor, debt, and redemption.


for a very long time, the intellectual consensus has been that we can no longer ask great questions. increasingly, it’s looking like we have no other choice.

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debt via wiki

ch 2 – In fact, our standard account of monetary history is precisely backwards. We did not begin with barter, discover money, and then eventually develop credit systems. It happened precisely the other way around.

ch 3 – In other words, the battle between state and market, between governments and merchants is not inherent to the human condition.

ch 4 – To tell the history of debt, then, is also necessarily to reconstruct how the language of the marketplace has come to pervade every aspect of human life—even to provide the terminology for the moral and religious voices ostensibly raised against it.

One might even say that it’s one of the scandals of capitalism that most capitalist firms, internally, operate communistically.

ch 5 – In fact, communism is the foundation of all human sociability. It is what makes society possible.

exchange is about equivalence.

If we insist on defining all human interactions as matters of people giving one thing for another, then any ongoing human relations can only take the form of debts.

ch 11 – We could no more have a universal world market than we could have a system in which everyone who wasn’t a capitalist was somehow able to to become a respectable, regularly paid wage laborer with access to adequate dental care. A world like that has never existed and never could exist. What’s more, the moment that even the prospect that this might happen begins to materialize, the whole system starts to come apart.

so does that mean you don’t see a money\less world..?

ch 12 – By the end of World War II, the specter of an imminent working class uprising that had so haunted the ruling classes of Europe and North America for the previous century had largely disappeared. This was because class war was suspended by a tacit settlement. To put it crudely: the white working class of the North Atlantic countries, from the United States to West Germany, were offered a deal. If they agreed to set aside any fantasies of fundamentally changing the nature of the system, then they would be allowed to keep their unions, enjoy a wide variety of social benefits (pensions, vacations, health care …), and, perhaps most important, through generously funded and ever-expanding public educational institutions, know that their children had a reasonable chance of leaving the working class entirely. One key element in all this was a tacit guarantee that increases in workers’ productivity would be met by increases in wages: a guarantee that held good until the late 1970s. Largely as a result, the period saw both rapidly rising productivity and rapidly rising incomes, laying the basis for the consumer economy of today.

What is a debt, anyway? A debt is just the perversion of a promise. It is a promise corrupted by both math and violence.


the education project via Matthew Jacobson – interviewing Andrew Ross:

51 min  – 1 million student debtors default every year

i think of myself as a home owners rather than a house debtor


ferguson – modern debtors prison on democracy now – feb 2015 – (video)

3 arrest per household in ferguson.

2nd revenue for city


student debt

Astra et al – and strike debt:

You are not a loan.

Strike Debt is a nationwide movement of debt resisters fighting for economic justice and democratic freedom.

rolling jubilee:

The Rolling Jubilee Fund is a non-profit 501(c) (4) organization with the exclusive mission of buying and abolishing debt. 100% of the money raised goes to the process of buying and abolishing debt (a process that includes some associated costs such as paperwork, accounting, and legal fees). The volunteers managing the fund receive no compensation. In the interest of transparency, a full accounting of funds received and spent is reported on our website.

For updates about the Rolling Jubilee, read the Strike Debt Blog.


2011 ish? interview with David – tweeted july 2015 by bruce k – re: jubilee – day after greece votes no.

p1 video:

2 min – societies that don’t have states generally don’t have markets… seem to be side effect of bureaucracy and military

4 min – debt is when you take a promise and turn it into mathematics – can only quantify debt when you’re in a relationship of potential violence

9 min – in a way – transactions shouldn’t be over.. everyone should be in debt..owing to the gods/govt.. a whole nother thing

12 min – money not mainly used to buy things.. rather to ie: arrange marriages

p2 video:

5 min –  on jubilee

8 min – money is not a thing.. just a bunch of promises.. in a democracy.. we can renegotiate..


via data & society databite 39 with Laura Hanna of debt strike

Databite No. 39: Laura Hanna

mission of debt collective: 1\ education empowerment 2\ cultural intervention 3\ collective action

erased 33 mill of ed and medical debt

current campaign – corinthian collective – now corinthian150 and growing.. hit a capacity issue

14 min – it’s a data driven society… for who..

24 min – family doesn’t get what i’m doing at all


Charles Eisentein – aug 2015:

Is debt legitimate when it is systemically foisted on the vast majority of people and nations? If it isn’t, then resistance to illegitimate debt has profound political consequences.


Challenges to these debts cannot be based on appeals to the letter of the law alone when the laws are biased in favor of creditors. There is, however, a legal principle for challenging otherwise legal debts: the principle of “odious debt.” Originally signifying debt incurred on behalf of a nation by its leaders that does not actually benefit the nation, the concept can be extended into a powerful tool for systemic change.


With the nation’s household debt burden at $11.85 trillion, even the most modest challenges to its legitimacy have revolutionary implications.


Since money is essentially lent into existence, debt levels increase faster than the supply of money required to service them.


The problem is that canceling the debts means erasing the assets upon which our entire financial system depends. These assets are at the basis of your pension fund, the solvency of your bank, and grandma’s savings account. Indeed, a savings account is nothing other than a debt owed you by your bank. To prevent chaos, some entity has to buy the debts for cash, and then cancel those debts (in full or in part, or perhaps just reduce the interest rate to zero). Fortunately, there are deeper and more elegant alternatives to conventional redistributive strategies. I’ll mention two of the most promising: “positive money” and negative-interest currency.

erasing the assets?


Matt Taibbi – the divide

Bryan Stevenson – just mercy





@davidgraeber rt


A critical review of David Graeber’s Debt: The emergence of money, or currency?

Interestingly enough, Marx described credit as essentially a person standing in for his money. If Graeber is correct, one interpretation of the evidence may be that we first encounter credit in the form of a person not just standing in for money, but also standing in for currency itself; in effect buyers physically served as their own ‘coin’. In ancient Sumer, you were your own coin back in the day. You were the currency before *currency itself existed.

[earlier: emergence of coins — i.e., *currency or tokens of money.]

The argument Graeber makes in chapter 2 is extremely powerful in terms of making a critical analysis of the category of money. He is essentially describing how money only gradually became this other thing standing over against us, an alien power.


critique of graeber’s debt:

Lastly still other mass societies, possibly where the maintenance of clans, castes or even polycentric associations had become problematic, resorted to the sort of centralized arbitration and accounting that eventually fueled the fires of empire seen thousands of years later in Mesopotamia where Graeber blithely starts his tale.


I think it’s *intuitively obvious that credit and debt preceded currencies focused on coordinating goods. And the introduction of universal metal coinage has both the unmistakable scent of the state’s drive to universalize and the gangster’s need for contextless cash. But the notion that the concerns found in widespread barter only arose as an occasional byproduct of the statist imposition of markets and central currencies as means of accounting is **simply unsubstantiatable. ***Neither Graeber nor I have a time machine and the most relevant particulars to that kind of claim take place before he even begins his story.

what about before your 10 000 years…?

***if neither of you knows it all.. then why is your view *intuitively obvious and his **simply unsubstantiatable..?


In his worst moments he blames mathematics, and indeed elevates it as a comparable evil as you know, loan sharks bludgeoning people to death:

Debt is just a perversion of a promise. It is a promise corrupted by both math and violence.

Of course what’s actually happening is not an issue with mathematics or even arithmetic and quantification, it’s an issue with violently imposed universal simplifications of richly complicated or localized dynamics. The problem is the state and the legalistic impulse that underpins it here, not the innate tendency of human minds to geek out and analyze shit in pursuit of precision and efficiency. Mathematical analysis unto itself in *no way implies oversimplification or misrepresentation.


it’s always a rep.. so always a misrep


The very notion of going back to “square one” strangerhood through repayment, of erasing the accounts containing the context of prior interactions, is only possible when tracking and conveying a particular person’s trustworthiness is impossible, where there are no true currencies available, just dumb commodities like gold that don’t even have a public ledger.

Yet it should be obvious that such situations are not a product of quantification!

i’d say.. yeah it is.. of measuring transactions to/and validating people…

The impulse seen in the use of coinage to dismiss rich context or make declarations about the objective comparative value of incredibly complex and situational things like favors is clearly sloppy at best and dangerous as hell at worst. But that’s completely different from using a measuring cup when loaning your neighbor rice (or gold) so there’s no lingering misperceptions, disagreements or wasteful default biases.


Artificially simplifying universal norms are only sustainable when there’s coercion backing them on some level. The issue is whether debts are enforced through the violent suppression of contextual awareness or the *voluntary maximization of it through reputation, trust networks, and risk conveyance. By the time there are kings, chiefs, governments, oligarchs, or central committees remotely capable of revoking debt, things have obviously gone too far and the whole system can be assumed rotten. But the imposition of universal simplifications certainly doesn’t satiate anyone’s drive for precision and informed agency save the rulers, indeed it acts to suppress precision and complex analytic depth at play in our relationships and calculations with regard to one another. The sort of debts Graeber conveys are not, as he puts it, the collaboration of violence and math but rather the suppression of math by violence.

nice.. *voluntary compliance.. aka: violence of the worst kind.. or perhaps just of the largest … quantity..


Where *measuring, modeling or keeping accounts of things inherently implies hostile or untoward intent. In this inversion of any sane or coherent ethics vigilance itself becomes suspect. We cannot afford to examine, measure or analyse our social or interpersonal dynamics too closely because that way lies sociopathy!

oy… why is kevin sharing this

no.. just *measuring..transactions in order to validate people..

ie: host-life-bits  to model.. document.. leave a trail.. but not to measure/validate/judge…


And many of the passions we develop free of survival concerns involve a great deal of complexity and coordination of scarce goods. So long as human beings have dreams and desires in a finite environment there will be coordination and calculation problems to be solved. While the extent of the possible is vast there are limits; you can’t shuffle around loaves and fishes under some cups and magically end up with more loaves and fishes.

totally missing point.. no? debt isn’t talking about not coordinating.. there’s no need for this measuring/owing transactions in order to coordinate..

again.. let’s try this: hosting-life-bits via self-talk as data


While there’s much to critique on many levels to current norms of currency (and the surrounding economic, political, and cultural context), double-incidence of wants is a real phenomenon with important implications. *The value of currency of some form in facilitating the cosmopolitan mass society we so desire clearly outweighs the dangers.

again .. there’s *no need for currency ness in order to facilitate transactions..


My British syndicalist friends obsessed with policing the borders of mutualism and individualist anarchism might gasp to hear me suggest it but, ***in the absence of physical violence or a broadly coercive context like capitalism, *voluntary agreements should be free to involve interest in recognition of subjective costs. Because when **reputation is the only enforcement mechanism the state’s mercenary coinage is not positioned as the ultimate good, instead goodwill is.

neither *voluntary agreements nor **reputation work.. which has baffled us.. and closed our eyes to possibilities for years.. but today.. we have the means to work past that..

so i’d say something like: ***in the absence of violence or a context in any way coercive.. (ie: any public consensus oppresses someone).. voluntary connections..should have nothing to do with interest/credit/measuring..

To remove violent enforcement from the equation puts an immediate release valve on any potentially metastasizing power relations and grounds people directly in their social context. The main benefit and promise of mass society is having more degrees of freedom with which to respond to cancerous social forms. If usury or wage labor were to completely overrun a society and catalyze a shift from centrifugal tendencies on wealth to accumulative ones we’d surely consider that society a failure. *But interest, like credit, often reflects and models important realities of uncertainty and subjectivity that we’d be likewise insane to always ignore.

yeah.. rather than ignore it.. let’s just make it/them (interest/credit/et al) irrelevant..

ie: stop measuring transactions


*Unless we all retreat to the most tame of land projects and meditation regimes anyone seeking to build a freer society will need to adopt market forms to some degree.

ok… let’s do that..

a nother way where everyone is doing something else.. so we have no need of inspectors of inspectors measuring the inspectors..

for (blank)’s sake

and by the way – our energy – isn’t scarce..


Problems arise when we lose sight of the roots of our reasons for utilizing markets

problems (ie: markets) arise when we lose sight of the roots of our reasons for living..


When people start *fetishizing the act of exchange as a foundation for ethical analysis–internalizing strategic oughts as full blown motivations unto themselves–danger arises.

Graeber has a complicated and tumultuous affair with the notion of **reciprocity throughoutDebt‘s pages

ok.. i agree with this **reciprocity ness (not us).. but not that people living ethically naturally come to ought ness..


Graeber inherently blocks himself from anything more robust or potent than the most mundane casual kindness.

“From each according to their abilities to each according to their needs” is nice as a very abstract guiding light but when applied to any non-trivial particulars it rapidly falls apart. Human needs are simply **unfathomably complex.

oy… *most mundane causal kindness..

wouldn’t want to trust people.. to be kind..  trust and kindness would be our most robust/potent.. if we could only let go.. which is why we haven’t yet

**complex indeed.. that’s what tech.. perhaps blockchain.. can avail for us.. while we.. stop measuring transactions..


Measuring exactly whose desire is greater or more of a “necessity” is not just an impossibility but an impulse that trends totalitarian. The *closest we can get in ascertaining this in rough terms is through the decentralized expression of our priorities via one-on-one discussions and negotiations. The market in other words.

*not any more..

that is just not true any more.. if it ever was..

Communism through praxis rather than the attempted omniscience of committees and general assemblies. But a communism in which individuals must proactively stand up for themselves and give voice to the desires and complexities that only they have access to. A communism in which whenever our knowledge of another person’s needs and preferences grows hazy we solve the calculation through a conversation of comparisons with our own. A communism in which we are constantly looking for opportunities to build *trust (through tests like exchange and loans) outside our immediate circles so that our conversations can spread wealth faster and dynamics of distrust can be countered.

*that’s not really trust.. that’s judgment.. and why we haven’t yet

trust is 100% or not.. ie: are you human..ok..i trust you and we need you with the dance..


In contrast to the communist potential of the market Graeber’s notion of *Everyday Communism in which “no accounts are taken” is capable of sliding by in only a tiny region of possible circumstances. I don’t know about you but a communism that’s only maintainable through our **ignorance of details sounds awfully unsatisfying, and certainly unstable.

*not true.. anymore.. we can do this for 7bn today..

**not ignorance of details (ie: host life bits .. way more details)

you .. and most of all us.. don’t grok it.. which is why we slam it.. and don’t try it..

science of people ness is eating us alive.. ie: ignorance of possibilities

Granted, we all instinctively relax a bit at the prospect of any relief from the constant stressful calculations we’re forced to preform under capitalism, where precarity disrupts our thoughts with a blaring hyper-awareness of every last penny, every last contact, every last risk. But *that trauma shouldn’t lead to overreaction in blind pursuit of carthesis.

agree..  but rev of everyday life isn’t blind pursuit of catharsis (guessing he means this).. what we are living now is..

we need to listen deeper to.. we all instinctively relax a bit at the prospect of..

too much.. is killing us

The problem is not that *accounts are taken, that **relationships are mapped, or ***trust flows established more rigorously, but that we are forced to pay constant attention to a small and crude subsection of these.

*the problem is that exactly..

**relationships can be mapped.. but only for info.. for trail connections

***if you have to establish trust.. it isn’t trust

That our other desires and preoccupations–some involving extraordinary attention to detail–are suppressed. The problem is not the availability of tools and knowledge, but the infrastructure that denies us a choice in them. Keeping accounts of all the details of our interactions with extraordinary degrees of precision, or merely being able to, do not equate always paying attention to those details. As *active minds with desires we will always geek out and stress out about things, and the coordination of goods will always remain one.

*unless we give gershenfeld sel a go..

all you’re claiming is in regard to science of people… you/we have no idea..

Similarly Graeber’s exhalation to delude ourselves into assuming infinite persistence (in relationships, in societies, etc) is obviously *incredibly dangerous and conducive to oppressive situations.

* you mean like what we’re living now..?


Indeed my greatest critique of “everyday communism” is that it doesn’t go far enough in rejecting the ethic of reciprocity.

agree with that..

obligation ness

but spending time on your other critiques make us miss this one.. the one that’s killing us.. because we can’t let go.. and trust.. us..

The internalization of the useful strategy of exchange or tit-for-tat into a core motivating obligation is a cognitive error with nasty consequences. In short reciprocity would be recognized and denounced by millennialist rebels throughout history as a respecter of persons; it differentiates the world according to who has done what for us personally rather than who could best benefit. This is fine for many strategic considerations but awful as a motivational framework. Empathy and compassion are not strategic, they are prior to strategy. They’re what set the goals. The oughts of ethical motivations arise when our identity, our selfhood becomes blurred across time and space. To future versions of one’s “self” who’d be irritated if today one didn’t take out the trash, but also to other fountainheads of creativity and inquiry embedded in different contexts, different bodies. It’s not that we in some sense owe them, it’s that we in some sense *are them.

nice.. *i know you ness.. and one ness..

[is this the same man/author as above.. whoa]

Albeit subjectively closed from their full context. Such oughts are not external obstacles or dynamics but direct expressions of our selfhood. Our communist motivations precede the realm of strategies and market exchanges, and will on occasion overwrite the heuristics we adopt in those contexts. As in the case of “intellectual property” where there’s no reason to persist in strategies adopted to deal with actual scarcities.

Graeber is not unaware of the dangers to reciprocity as an idea and he tries to stretch it as far as the concept can go without breaking, but what he conjures as an idealic reciprocity in a broad sense is still not enough:

What is equal on both sides is the knowledge that the other person would do the same for you, not that they necessarily will.

This falls dramatically short of empathy as a foundation for an ethical outlook in two respects, 1) it requires knowledge of the other person’s motivations and 2) it restricts my obligation to merely those who share the same ethos as me. Now I’m not saying that those aren’t strategically important considerations. But most of us would fight to save people from genocide regardless of whether our ethnic or social circles overlapped enough for us to know a damn thing about their motivations. And we’d fight to save them if even we knew they wouldn’t do the same for us.



Graeber is on the verge of canonizing the present generation’s mistakes in which the anarchist decides to play realist by valorizing anti-intellectualism, social capital, and reciprocity.


It’s not enough to merely identify that there are currents of a better world coursing through our veins. We’ve long known this. What should preoccupy us is less what has worked in the past, but what else is possible going forward. Graeber, like all academics, trapped in the land of liberals and sneering marxist dinosaurs, is loathe to commit or substantively consider beyond the most shallow of prescriptions: Abolish the debt. Well of fucking course. Even Chomsky starts to look radical from that position.

so what’s your other way..? sounds like it’s bundled in moneys.. when what we need most is enough money  (temporary placebo) to not think about money long enough.. to disengage form it.. completely…. we don’t need new rules on how to live with it


Engaging with what is possible–and how to work backward from there to attacks on the existing–requires an analysis deeper than clustered associations from anecdotes. I would love to see left market anarchists and radicals more broadly seriously take up the challenges raised in Debt.

look here: a nother way

What would currency look like in a freed society?

no currency.. (a system of money in general use in a particular country)

We don’t know, but it’s safe to say it would no more look like the current economy with US treasury notes replaced by silver coins than businesses in the absence of the state would look like Walmart.


There’s been a paucity to our imaginations here too. And mapping out the possibilities, much less learning through praxis which array best meet our situational needs, is sure to be a huge task.

or not.. let’s try a.. deep/simple/open task.. for/with all of us..

then the rest… is explaining ie: bitcoin ness as our imaginative future.. where did the guy against reciprocity go..?


Bitcoin has merely used mathematics to extend the number of parties to such consensuses while freeing our brains to remember and think about other things. (Interestingly this ease has also facilitated an explosion of social gifting which currently constitute the majority of Bitcoin transactions.)



Even the most advanced tool can’t intuit our needs,

no.. but we can tell them.. ie: self-talk as data

or, for example assume a threat

gershenfeld sel

or trust model for us.

assuming trust …that is exactly what we have to do.. otherwise it’s not trust..

We have to declare our ever changing preferences and contextual considerations, we have to make decisions, we have to actively judge.

yes. let’s do that.. rev of everyday life.. host life bits.. as our data to connect/coord us

And it’s here that the issue of what exactly do we want to pay attention to arises. Markets can exist only wherever attention is placed. And some people feel deeply annoyed when huge amounts of attention is placed in areas by others that they don’t want to likewise pay attention to. What should we have markets in?

should we have markets..?

What should we calculate with precision? How can we, in wildly varying situations, mediate between those who for various reasons want to obsess over a dynamic and those who would rather not give a fuck?

like this: a nother way

These are questions often cloaked in combative, reactive rhetoric, but are worth bringing to the fore.


I think this summary of Graeber’s is supremely illustrative of the mistakes creeping into his account:

All human interactions are not forms of exchange. *Only some are. Exchange encourages a particular way of conceiving human rela­tions. This is because exchange implies equality, but it also implies separation. It’s precisely when the money changes hands, when the debt is cancelled, that equality is restored and both parties can walk away and have **nothing further to do with each other.

*only some are.. and those are unnatural..

exchange ness

**not good thinking

Yet there are no such thing as unseparated human beings!

exactly.. and that’s what exchange does.. separates us

Every human relationship is deeply predicated upon separation. Until *brain-to-brain technology matures and radically scales up the bandwidth of our potential communication even the closest of lovers face strong limits from the subjectivity inherent to individual existence.

i do think we’re *there.. close enough anyway.. if we try hosting life bits.. as the day (aka: not partial)


Further, the notion that “equality is restored” wildly ignores what social currency was about imperfectly declaring: standing and trustworthiness, realities that don’t have to be hierarchical and assessments thereof that don’t have to be collectively managed. When the neighbor returns precisely one cup of rice and maybe a little more as agreed on, that doesn’t have to cancel the relationship, it can *enhance it by proving trustworthiness. I am freeing you to have agency in your association with me, so that our friendship might be richer for the knowledge that we are not bound by material considerations.

yeah.. *nice thought.. but it doesn’t do just that.. ends up.. where we are now..

Only with such knowledge can we be capable of developing real affinities. A consensual society should be built off knowing we can reconfigure our social relations *at any moment.


That their substance lies not in ossified roles or identities but in empathy.

In an understandable but dangerous rush to paint a clean picture David Graeber ignores a host of other possibilities and paints an all-too-cute historical progression and taxonomy in which all human societies mix different degrees of hierarchical, communistic, and market oriented dynamics. But markets, in his tale, are primarily a confused state of affairs in which any permanence or substance to human relations is dissolved and everything is quantified. And the unquantified, unexamined, unmapped ignorance of communism is bliss.

I disagree.

Whatever moralistic language may sometimes cling to them, markets themselves are not rooted in cultural confusion but in inescapable material and game theoretic realities. Currency resolves an important issue in mass societies and while it can have problems they can be solved with more mathematical nuance not less.


We should be incredibly suspicious of valorizing alternatives like Maussian gift economies that embrace interpersonal power dynamics rather than working to negate them. And Graeber’s communism-as-a-deliberate-state-of-ignorance hardly serves any better. If we really care about one another, if we really want to build a freer world from an orientation of empathy and compassion, if we’re really concerned about the crystalization of hierarchies, we owe it to ourselves to be maximally vigilant, to seize every tool at our disposal and remain unpetrified of exploring root dynamics.

quit saying root..  you don’t seem to mean it

ha.. author: William Gillis

twitter bio:


Physicist, anarchist, transhumanist. Really into exploring the roots of things and expanding degrees of freedom. “Radically uncool.”

It is the interplay of desire and math that ultimately shapes what is possible, not sweeping historical impressions or awkward taxonomies of cultural dynamics. Debt: The First 5,000 Years is an exhilarating storm of anecdotes and with many insightful themes, but it flounders in many respects when it seeks to draw lessons from history.

The past is no cage for the future.


Lidy Nacpil