nika & noam on pirates
I really hope this book becomes everyone’s favorite. @davidgraeber has literally been writing it all his life. He started working on it as a student and he talks about it in his last video.
Noam Chomsky on David Graeber’s Pirate Enlightenment https://t.co/QiGGtiU5Xa
Original Tweet: https://twitter.com/nikadubrovsky/status/1572557433654104067
last video here (w my notes): pirates
notes quotes from transcript [https://artreview.com/noam-chomsky-on-david-graebers-pirate-enlightenment/]:
Nika Dubrovsky speaks to Noam Chomsky about pirate societies, ‘bewildered herds’ and the fragility of the present in the context of the late anthropologist David Graeber’s final book
Graeber, author of Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (2018), Debt: The First 5000 Years (2011) and The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity (written with the archaeologist David Wengrow), died in 2020, but in a wide-ranging conversation for ArtReview, his widow, the artist and author Nika Dubrovsky, speaks with Noam Chomsky, an admirer of the anthropologist’s work, about Graeber’s last project, neoliberalism and democracy, Western empiricism and imperialism, free speech, Roe v. Wade in the US, the war in Ukraine and how Germany’s Documenta art exhibition has barely coped with inviting non-Western artists to direct it for the first time.
One of the left’s foremost thinkers, Chomsky has written major works that include Syntactic Structures (1957), Manufacturing Consent (1988) and, most recently, The Precipice: Neoliberalism, the Pandemic and Urgent Need for Radical Change (2021, with C. J. Polychroniou).
nika: In this book, as in his other writings, David talked about the importance of dialogue. He describes how entire cultural traditions emerge from the creation of new stories and how these traditions are then remade and edited.
need: a means to undo our hierarchical listening .. to self/others/nature
noam: Both in his essay ‘There Never Was a West’, but also in the book about the extensive contributions of Native American thinkers [The Dawn of Everything, 2021, with David Wengrow], Chinese thinkers and others who, as they point out, as David points out, were recognised as contributors at the time, but then wiped from the tradition. It was regarded as just a literary technique or something. But I think he makes it very clear that it was a substantive contribution.
The discussion in ‘There Never Was a West’, about the nature of influence, was quite enlightening. The different ways in which influence takes place, in which it’s interpreted, and – as the tradition is constructed later – is filtered out, as he points out, on the basis of arguments that, if they were applied generally, would wipe out almost everything, including the tradition itself.
there never was a west et al
maté trump law et al
noam: One of the most interesting parts of The Dawn of Everything, I thought, were the sections on the interactions with the Native American philosopher and thinker, and his contributions to how Enlightenment thought was developed by leading figures.
has to be all of us.. everyday..
ND Just before Thomas Hobbes wrote Leviathan, he had seen a play by Charles Johnson, The Successful Pyrate, performed on an English stage. David suggested that this experience with Madagascar pirates may have influenced Hobbes’s political thinking. The very idea that people could negotiate with each other; that power could be organised not only top-down but also horizontally, as it was in many pirate communities, and in some indigenous cultures, came as a surprise to Europeans. David often said that his task was to decolonise the Enlightenment; to change our ideas of what kind of society we would like to live in..t If we rethink our ideas about the Enlightenment, about where it came from, how do you think this will change the public imagination?
NC I think we must pursue more carefully these insights into how that tradition, as he points out, becomes the reconstruction of the past by elite thinkers who reshape it into a particular form. But when you go back to the original interactions, as David did and as they do in The Dawn of Everything, you see that what was filtered to become the accepted tradition is a sharp reconstruction of what actually happened – eliminating many interactions and many kinds of drawing on different voices, different experiences into something that was then reshaped by elite opinions.
on whalespeak ness
ND In the Malagasy society that David lived in for several years and knew very well, dialogue is used as a political tool to shape public space. In your book Manufacturing Consent [1988, with Edward S. Herman], you describe how public space and the public imagination in Western countries is controlled from the top down by powerful ideological institutions.
NC Ed Herman, who passed away recently, was the prime author of that. He was a specialist in finance and taught at the Wharton School. He was interested in the institutional structure of the media and how basic institutional factors lead to the shaping of the information system that’s created. We slightly differed on that, I should say. My own feeling is that while all of that is important, I don’t think it’s very different from the general intellectual culture. *My own work has mostly been, actually, on elite intellectual culture, which doesn’t have those same institutional pressures, but nevertheless leads to a version of reality that’s not very different from what comes out of the media system..t
yeah.. any form of m\a\p
The phrase ‘manufacturing consent’, of course, is not ours. That comes from [American political commentator] Walter Lippmann. Also Edward Bernays, the main founder of the public relations industry. The two of them were members of Woodrow Wilson’s Committee on Public Information, the first major state propaganda agency, the so-called Creel Committee, which was designed to try to turn a pacifist population into raving anti-German fanatics as the Wilson administration moved into the war.
Both Lippmann and Bernays were very impressed by the success in creating a fabricated version of atrocities and so on, which in fact did change opinion dramatically. Lippmann called this technique ‘manufacturing consent’, which he called a new art in the practice of democracy. He thought that’s exactly the way things should work.
As David points out in his text, elite opinion has always been radically antidemocratic all the way through. Democracy is just regarded as ‘mob rule’, as Lippmann put it; the responsible men have to protect themselves from the roar and trampling of the bewildered herd. Lippmann, incidentally, was the leading liberal public intellectual in the twentieth century, a Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy liberal. But he was reflecting the general liberal conception of how the public has to be put in its place as spectators, while the serious guys – us – do the work of running society in the public interest.
This is almost universal. It’s not just in the media. People like Reinhold Niebuhr [an American theologian] and Harold Lasswell, one of the pioneers of modern political science. Bernays went on to be one of the founders of the public relations industry, which devotes hundreds of billions of dollars a year to these efforts to control opinion and attitudes. But it’s all based on the same conception that the public is a bewildered herd, stupid and too ignorant for their own good… ‘The Men of the Best Quality’, as they called themselves, must subdue the rebel multitude..t
The same thing shows up in the American Revolution a century later. David points out it’s a deep part of the Enlightenment. One of the striking points that he makes in the essay is that these concepts of human rights, Enlightenment, justice and so on, appeared in what’s called the West only at the time when they came into confrontation with other societies and cultures. In the whole long period before that, nobody ever bothered with such things. That can’t just be an accident. And I think we see it right through history, in a way, back to Aristotle’s Politics.
Actually, in the current regression, major figures in the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, are saying they want to rethink those decisions that establish freedom of speech, like Times v. Sullivan. We may go back to the tradition, just as we’re doing with the revision of Roe. These are very tenuous achievements. We have to struggle for them every minute.
nika: War is also a dialogue, but a masculine one, where the instruments of communication are reduced exclusively to violence. For the characters in David’s book, however, the war ends in Assemblies, which restore complex human conversations..t If we think about our current situation, what is most striking is the insistence on the abandonment of all dialogue and any exchange of opinions.
what we need most/first: a means to undo our hierarchical listening
noam: But NATO, meaning the US, just decided that doesn’t matter. We’re going to continue to insist that everything be settled by violence, not by negotiations. No dialogue. It’s probably the most important part of the NATO Summit, and it’s consistent with what US policy has been. No discussion, just force.
we need to move past even discussion/negotiation ness
ie: curiosity over decision making ness
imagine if we just focused on listening to the itch-in-8b-souls.. first thing.. everyday.. and used that data to augment our interconnectedness.. we might just get to a more antifragile, healthy, thriving world.. the ecosystem we keep longing for..
ND You are a prominent scholar who has worked in Western academia for many years. I know nothing about academia except that David thought it was conservative and almost reactionary, and wrote extensively about it. Perhaps the very idea that it is possible to substitute dialogue with others for direct violence while preserving democracy and freedom within our own space is shaped and supported by the Western academic community.
NC My academic life has been for 70 years at the elite institutions: Cambridge, Mass; Harvard, MIT, others like them, Oxford and so on. All the same. Ideas of this kind can scarcely penetrate. They are immune to consideration of the fact that the system that they were embedded in is based on violence and suppression. The theories that are developed, like international relations theory, completely miss much of this.
The security of the population is almost never a consideration in formation of government policy. Security of elite interest, yes. Not security of the population. In fact, this shows up very dramatically if you look at contemporary documents. Take the NATO Summit again. The phrase ‘rules-based international order’ occurs repeatedly, over and over again. We have to preserve ‘the rules-based international order’..t The phrase ‘UN-based international order’ never appears, not once. There is a UN-based international order, like the UN charter, but the US doesn’t accept it. It bars all the activities that the US carries out.
The big struggle with China, ideologically, is that China is insisting on the UN-based international order. The United States wants a rules-based order. The hidden assumption is the US makes the rules. We want an international order, which is basically the mafia. The godfather makes the rules, and everybody else obeys or else. That’s the rules-based international order. And you can demonstrate that that’s the way it works, but you can’t penetrate elite discussion with this. I can talk about my own experience, but it’s just anybody in the same system can talk about it.
ND Sometimes it feels like we’re seriously close to the end of the world. David, however, was an eternal optimist. No matter what was going on, he would say, “Okay, let’s look on the bright side. What can we do? How can we find a way out of it?”
ie: a nother way
He tried very seriously to help [former UK Labour leader Jeremy] Corbyn, but when Corbyn got crushed, David almost fell into a depression for a while. Very soon, however, he focused on the Brain Trust Project, a group of academic and nonacademic activists and artists trying to create an independent thinktank to address climate change. Yet our current situation, the disasters we are facing on such a scale, it is difficult to keep being optimistic.
NC Whatever our personal sentiments are about the likelihood of disaster, we have to maintain the ‘optimism of the will’. There are opportunities, whatever they are, and we have to devote ourselves to them. Take Corbyn. Very significant. I mean, if Corbyn had become prime minister, as it seemed in 2017 that he might very well do, it could be a very different England. Instead of being just a vassal of the United States, which it is, it could have been an independent element in world affairs
It’s based on a real understanding that popular power is just too dangerous to permit. It will threaten elite dominance in all domains and could lead to not only an independent popular-based democracy in England but even to independent moves in world affairs, which would undermine the mafialike structure. Quite a lot is at stake in keeping somebody like Corbyn out..t
ND David vividly describes how the democratic structures of pirate communities were influenced by Madagascar’s traditions. The pirates chose a captain who had full authority over the crew during combat, but not in everyday life.
Many of these pirate traditions are strikingly similar to anarchist practices and are truly democratic, allowing each member of the community to shape the social environment around them, unlike our current ‘democracy’, which is built on institutions that prevent people from access to decisions about how they might live.
need to go deeper.. ie: imagine if we ness
NC As he stressed greatly, you don’t have democracy if representation is of the kind that liberal theorists call for. So take the main liberal theorists of democracy, people like Walter Lippmann, for example, or Harold Lasswell, or others. In this picture, the public has a role. Their role is to show up periodically and cast their weight in favour of one or another member of the elite class that represents power, and then go home and let them run the world but don’t do anything more.
don’t have freedom unless we let go enough..
That’s what’s called democracy. And as David stressed, that has no resemblance to democracy. Democracy means direct participation in decision-making at every level.. t You can delegate responsibility to someone temporarily to carry out or play some administrative or another role.
yeah.. today we have the means.. and the urgency .. for (blank)’s sake.. so go deeper
ND I want to share good news from the artworld, which is also a very powerful institution, very much like an academy, very much built on exclusion and big money, seriously connected to financial capital, taxes and, ultimately, the state. One of the largest art exhibitions in the world, Germany’s Documenta, has been curated by a collective from Indonesia, who are exhibiting almost no artwork or famous artists, in the traditional sense of the word. They invited different collectives, mostly from the Global South.
This is an amazing exhibition, in the sense that it shows not the artistic achievements of some individuals, but the useful, caring and beautiful human practices of different communities.
But then again, as with Jeremy Corbyn, they are now under tremendous attack, perhaps on the verge of being destroyed. The only hope is that, just as with Corbyn, the current exhibition in Documenta can show us a glimpse of another world, as if it were an escape route that could one day save us.
another art world et al
nika: It brought to Germany artists from Bangladesh, Latin America, African countries, and their real stories of fighting for freedom, caring for children, cooking food and so on. They showed us Westerners that most people in the world are, in a sense, better off than we are, despite their lack of the art institutions, if only because a core value of their art is care.. t
ND A friend of mine who lives in the Middle East said: “With horror everyone watches white people kill white people. We’ve been living like this for a long time.”
NC David’s insights into all of this are very illuminating, and it undercuts a lot of conventional thinking..t Also just pointing out the many options that there are for developing more enlightened, more free societies, not just the ones encoded in our artificial traditions, which exclude lots of what happened and reshape the rest into fitting into convenient frames for existing power systems. I think that’s a tremendous contribution..t
Pirate Enlightenment, or the Real Libertalia, by David Graeber, will be published in January 2023