doe as anarchist history (article)

via nika dubrovsky fb share.. article about david graeber and david wengrow‘s dawn of everything.. calling it the anarchist history of humanity:

graeber anarchism law et al


“We quickly determined we had no idea what we were actually going to do,” he recalled. And yet it was this freewheeling collection of anarchists, Zapatistas, and squatters that formed the organizational seed of Occupy Wall Street, an explosive movement that held Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan for two months, made headlines, and set off more than 200 occupations globally.

occupy movement

What was the occupiers’ one demand? They never said. And as they practiced a leaderless form of democracy, there was no one to say. The movement did have a slogan, “We Are the 99 Percent,” 

99 and 1

Graeber had become a free-range thinker specializing in questions of hierarchy and value but interested in virtually everything. 

Yet these are socialist-style successes. What of the protest’s anarchist origins and principles—its governance by general assembly, working groups, and “spokes councils”? Occupy was more than a plea for financial regulation; it was also a stunning display of how much hell utopians sleeping in tents could raise. For Graeber, those utopians’ nonhierarchical forms of organization, not their indistinct demands, were what really mattered. Most people, he wrote, “have been taught since a very young age to have extremely limited political horizons, an extremely narrow sense of human possibility.”

what we really need is a means to undo our hierarchical listening

Their idea of democracy is limited to voters electing rulers, and they struggle to imagine free people collectively managing their own affairs. Zuccotti Park’s leaderless decision-making showed what that might look like.

oi.. yeah.. need: non hierarchical listening.. decision making is unmooring us as much as voting et al.. any form of democratic admin

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity is a work of dizzying ambition, one that seeks to rescue stateless societies from the condescension with which they’re usually treated. Yet it succeeds better in uprooting conventional wisdom than in laying down a narrative of its own. The result is a book that is both thrilling and exasperating, showcasing the promise and the perils of the anarchist approach to history.

Many early societies, Graeber and Wengrow note, lacked states as we would recognize them.

Why didn’t early humans construct durable hierarchies? The conventional and oft-repeated wisdom is that they simply lacked the capacity. Life then was a primordial soup of politics, a sea of anarchy. “Civilization” evolved only in time, the first halting steps taken by the handful of societies that managed to spawn cities, mint coins, and erect temples. These early coalescences of order, we tell ourselves, are the success stories.

Sympathy for civilization is baked into our terminology.

yeah that.. huge

jensen civilization law et al

So why do we take large monuments as the measure of a society’s achievement? Shouldn’t we rather take them as evidence of something having gone horribly awry?

In our obsession with order, the authors contend, we write off most prehistoric and ancient peoples as essentially children. We treat their lack of strong states as a failure, so that vast spans of humanity’s time line appear to be populated by dim-witted ancestors who couldn’t figure out how to establish cities, plant grain, or build tombs for their rulers. What we rarely consider is that they might have chosen to fashion their societies as they did—that they might have contemplated creating states and thought better of it.

not to mention carhart-harris entropy law et al

Our forebears crafted their societies intentionally and intelligently: This is the fundamental, electrifying insight of The Dawn of Everything. It’s a book that refuses to dismiss long-ago peoples as corks floating on the waves of prehistory. Instead, it treats them as reflective political thinkers from whom we might learn something.

to me.. all of history has been in sea world.. any form of m\a\p creates/sustains/perpetuates it

Graeber and Wengrow are thus keenly interested in the institutions that these ancient peoples created. Humanity before agriculture, they argue, was not an endless file of primitive egalitarian bands but a “carnival parade” of “bold social experiments”: cities without rulers, fishing societies with slaves, foragers with long-distance social coordination.

Our ancestors were inventive, Graeber and Wengrow insist, because they had options. Without territorial states hemming them in, they could slide in and out of social configurations more easily. They might visit a neighboring society that arranged its affairs differently. Or they might, like the Cheyenne and Lakota, enjoy a seasonal rotation: a strong central government during the buffalo hunt, then a dispersal into small autonomous bands when it ended.. with a keen sense of all the possibilities beyond inequalities, armies, and kings

still not beyond finite set of choices

so why states.. Give people enough time, goes the theory, and they’ll form durable hierarchies, because states are the big-boy pants of politics. The Dawn of Everything rejects that view and instead offers hundreds of pages of people thoughtfully avoiding states, subverting them, or replacing them with alternatives.

just not alts deep enough for legit change

Confronting the statist theory that durable hierarchies are inevitable, Graeber and Wengrow cede no ground and fight at every corner.

The readers of Graeber’s previous work will recognize this provocative style; he was a wildly creative thinker who excelled at subverting received wisdom. But he was better known for being interesting than right, and he would gleefully make pronouncements that either couldn’t be confirmed (the Iraq War was retribution for Saddam Hussein’s insistence that Iraqi oil exports be paid for in euros) or were never meant to be (“White-collar workers don’t actually do anything”).

oh my

so missing the point

nothing can be confirmed..

In The Dawn of Everything, *this interpretative brashness feeds off our lack of firm knowledge about the distant past. When only potsherds remain, **conjecture can run wild. Graeber and Wengrow dutifully acknowledge the need for caution, but this doesn’t stop them from dismissing rival theories with assurance. It’s hard not to wonder whether this book, which zips merrily across time and space and hypothesizes confidently in the face of scant or confusing evidence, can be ***trusted.

*that is the point.. there is no firm knowledge.. oi

**as it should be

***ha.. we have no idea what we mean by trust.. intellect ness.. sinclair perpetuation law.. et al.. is killing us.. keeping us not us

Certainly, the part closest to my area of expertise raises questions. In arguing that people hate hierarchies, Graeber and Wengrow twice assert that settlers in the colonial Americas who’d been “captured or adopted” by Indigenous societies “almost invariably” chose to stay with them. By contrast, Indigenous people taken into European societies “almost invariably did just the opposite: either escaping at the earliest opportunity, or—having tried their best to adjust, and ultimately failed—returning to indigenous society to live out their last days.”

oi to expert in the room ness..

daniel immerwahr @dimmerwahr:

Big if true, as they say, but the claim is ballistically false, and the sole scholarly authority that Graeber and Wengrow cite—a 1977 dissertation—actually argues the opposite. “Persons of all races and cultural backgrounds reacted to captivity in much the same way” is its thesis; generally, young children assimilated into their new culture and older captives didn’t. Many captured settlers returned, including the frontiersman Daniel Boone, the Puritan minister John Williams, and the author Mary Rowlandson. And there’s a long history of Native people attending settler schools, befriending or marrying whites, and adopting European religious practices. Such choices were surely shaped by colonialism, but to deny they were ever made is absurd.

all history ness.. research ness.. as non-legit.. loaded.. whalespeak

Perhaps this misstep doesn’t matter. Graeber and Wengrow can indulge in outsize claims and pet theories because they don’t need to always be right. The Dawn of Everything aims to shoot holes in the myth of the inevitable state, to deflate the notion that advanced societies can’t function without leaders, police, or bureaucrats. The 700-page book is a hail of bullets; if only some hit the target, that’s enough.

what is right? who’s determining that? you’re missing the point..

history ness is killing us.. all non-legit if about whales in sea world.. come on mr ed

what we need is ie: 1 yr to be 5 again.. to let go of that hard won order/intellect ness

Statists believe that overarching hierarchies are both natural and desirable. Graeber and Wengrow energetically attack that position, but the big question still looms: If states aren’t inevitable, why are they everywhere? This question becomes even more of a stumper if, like the authors, you attribute a great deal of agency to non-state peoples. The more thoughtful and capable you take them to be, the harder it becomes to explain how they all came to live in the sorts of societies they ostensibly wouldn’t have chosen.

oi.. because .. hari rat park law et al

Two popular history-of-everything writers, Jared Diamond and Yuval Noah Harari, have an answer. The sequence of farming, private property, war, and states was a trap, they write. Humans entered it without realizing they wouldn’t be able to leave, and for most of history, all they found was despotism and disease. The agricultural revolution was thus “the worst mistake in the history of the human race,” as Diamond asserts, or “history’s biggest fraud,” as Harari does.

oh my

yuval noah harari..

Graeber and Wengrow recoil at this explanation. Were our ancestors truly doltish enough to tumble, one after another, into the same trap? More important, they’re wary of Diamond’s and Harari’s fatalism, of the suggestion that State Street runs only one way. In Graeber and Wengrow’s rendition, agriculture was, like everything else, a considered and revocable choice. The Dawn of Everything thus tells of people “flirting and tinkering with the possibilities of farming”—taking it up, putting it down—without thereby “enslaving themselves.”

Yet somewhere, something did go “terribly wrong,” Graeber and Wengrow admit. People went from creatively experimenting with kings and farms to getting “stuck” with them. That metaphor—being stuck in states rather than evolving to them—is useful, in that it suggests people might get unstuck. It captures Graeber and Wengrow’s sense that there is no natural progression from leaderless bands to sophisticated hierarchies.

So, again, how did states take over? What’s exasperating about The Dawn of Everything is that it never really answers the question; at most, it offers quick hints and hypotheses. The loss of physical mobility seems important—people’s inability to leave societies they dislike. So does the tendency of bureaucracies to become impersonal and uncaring. Still, blaming durable hierarchies, as Graeber and Wengrow do, on “a confluence of violence and maths” does not settle the issue.

well.. graeber rethink law.. sinclair perpetuation law.. et al

we need to let go of any form of m\a\p

Perhaps the two were leaving this for a later volume, but it’s not clear that they want to give an answer. To do so would be to offer a grand historical narrative, to explain—as Diamond and Harari do—how humanity moved permanently from one thing to another. Yet Graeber and Wengrow seem almost allergic to the idea that there’s any natural sequence in social arrangements. There’s “simply no reason,” they write, to believe that societies require more leadership or bureaucracy as they grow.

graeber unpredictability/surprise law

The effects of that contention on their narrative are profound. Once you’ve thrown out the notion that there’s some law or pattern governing the development of societies, it becomes hard to tell any overarching story. The Dawn of Everything is thus less a biography of the species than a scrapbook, filled with accounts of different societies doing different things. That is very much on purpose; for Graeber and Wengrow, early history doesn’t march from A to B but instead wanders like a Ouija pointer all over the alphabet.

yeah. that..

haven’t read/gotten book yet.. and i’m sure i’ll have issues.. but that is important ie: no story sans whalespeak

march vs wander.. yeah that.. we need to let go

So are our wandering days over? Not according to Graeber and Wengrow: They believe we can still wriggle free from states. There’s something embarrassing, they acknowledge, in the thought that we could have been living differently this whole time, and thus that “enslavement, genocide, prison camps, even patriarchy or regimes of wage labour never had to happen.” Yet their upbeat conclusion is that “even now, the possibilities for human intervention are far greater than we’re inclined to think.”

our only problem is not letting go enough to see.. what legit free people are like..

and it has to be all of us for the dance to dance.. ie: a nother way


1\ undisturbed ecosystem (common\ing) can happen

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

This is anarchism’s heady promise: Break people out of their stupor, show them the alternatives, and they’ll take the hint. You occupy the park not to push for policies (what was their one demand?) but as proof of concept, to demonstrate what a society free of domination looks like.


problem is that we haven’t yet offered a legit alt.. one that is org’d around legit needs.. again ie: a nother way

Similarly, an anarchist history, at least in Graeber and Wengrow’s hands, isn’t the story of change over time but a high-spirited tour of political diversity. It’s a chance to lay out the options, with little sense that population growth or new technologies have pushed any of them permanently off the table. Humans lived without states before, thus they can do so again. Because, ultimately, the point isn’t what happened, but rather all the possibilities that remain

yeah.. see i don’t resonate with this.. i think we’ve always had the structural violence of a state.. any form of m\a\p.. so to me.. none of our history is about legit free people


looking for nika’s tweet on this article found this (her asking tiago for non paywalled link – which i have above) and responded:

“This is anarchism’s heady promise: Break people out of their stupor, show them the alternatives, and they’ll take the hint.”

Original Tweet:

need: a legit alt

has to be for everyone.. or the dance won’t dance..

this is why we keep perpetuating myth of tragedy & lord..

aka per @dimmerwahr:

interpretative brashness.. conjecture run wild.. ballistically false.. better known for being interesting than right.. et al