the democracy project
(2012) by david graeber
reading after this (found 1846 pg pdf – linked to image – online):
see my book the democracy project (2012) my own chosen title for it was, ironically, ‘as if we were already free’ but in the end, i wasn’t free to dictate my own title
The city authorities, however, had decided that we would never have another zuccotti
occupy wall street ness.. were we really that close? dang.. so much i didn’t (and still don’t) know
Soon large signs were banned. Then anything made of cardboard. Then came the random arrests. The police commander wanted to make clear to us that, even if he couldn’t arrest all of us, he could certainly arrest any one of us, for pretty much any reason, at any time.
The officer in charge seemed to be making a point: even at the very birthplace of the First Amendment, he still had the power to arrest us just for engaging in political speech.
starting p 28 – the improv speech he (david) gave
34 (still the speech)
“Nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution does it say anything about America being a democracy. There’s a reason for that. Men like George Washington were openly opposed to democracy. Which makes it a bit odd we’re standing here under his statue today. But the same was true of all of them: Madison, Hamilton, Adams … They wrote explicitly that they were trying to set up a system that could head off and control the dangers of democracy, even though it was people who did want democracy that had made the revolution that put them in power to begin with. And of course, most of us are here because we still don’t think we’re living under a democratic system in any meaningful sense of the term.
let’s be bold and question the responsive ness of democracy.. for legit free/alive human beings
There’s nothing that scares the rulers of America more than the prospect of democracy breaking out.
really? i think a democracy breaking out is what keeps perpetuating the state we’re in .. meaning – it’s not deep enough
And if there is a prospect of that, if anyone are heirs to those who were willing to take to the streets to demand a Bill of Rights, it’s pretty much come down to us.”
(speech ends p 39)
Before that moment when Lopi pushed me on the stage I hadn’t really been thinking of Occupy Wall Street as rooted in any grand tradition in U.S. history. I’d been more interested in talking about its roots in anarchism, feminism, or even the Global Justice Movement. But I think in retrospect, what I said was true. After all, there’s something strangely incoherent about the way we’re taught to think about democracy in America. On the one hand, we’re constantly told that democracy is just a matter of electing politicians to run the government. On the other, we’re aware that most Americans love democracy, hate politicians, and are skeptical about the very idea of government. How can all these things be true? Clearly, when Americans embrace democracy, they can only be thinking of something much broader and deeper than mere participation in elections (which half of them don’t bother to vote in anyway); it has to be some sort of combination of an ideal of individual liberty with a notion, so far unrealized, that free people really ought to be able to sit down together like reasonable adults and govern their own aʃairs. If so, it’s hardly surprising that those who currently govern America are so afraid of democratic movements. Taken to its ultimate conclusions, the democratic impulse can only lead to rendering them entirely unnecessary.
most americans aren’t anarchists.. however much they dislike govt.. very few would really support dismantling it.. but this may be because they have no idea what could possibly replace it..
most americans have been taught since a very young age to have.. an extremely narrow sense of human possibility… this is why so many.. at occupy et al.. felt .. as if entire sense of what was politically possible had transformed overnight
this then is not just a book about occupy, but about the possibility of democracy in america.. even more, it’s bout the opening up of the radical imagination that occupy allowed
what they don’t understand is that once people’s political horizons have been broadened, the change i s permanent.. hundreds of thousands of americans (and not only americans) now have direct experience of self org, collective action and human solidarity.. this makes it almost impossible to go back to one’s previous life and see things the same way.. a revival of the revolutionary imagination.. that conventional wisdom has long since declared dead
everyone involved recognizes that creating a democratic culture will have to be a long term process.. we are talking about a profound moral transformation after all
yeah.. i think it’s more about uncovering morality (or whatever you want to call it) that’s already there.. just rna’d/cancered/intoxicated.. and uncovering can be done in the blink of an eye (if simultaneous)
we need to let go of demo ness.. so that we can turn this on a dime.. for (blank)’s sake
argument i’ll be making.. what’s being called great recession merely accelerated a profound transformation of the american class system that had already been under way for decades
the growing sense that institutional structure are not really there to help.. is a direct consequence of the financialization of capitalism..
what financialization has really meant is collusion between govt and fin institutions to ensure that larger/larger proportion of citizens fall deeper/deeper in debt..t
it becomes increasingly unclear what the diff between fin power and state power really is.. this is of course precisely what we were getting at when we first decided to call ourselves the 99%.. t
1 – the beginning is near
it’s only in the light of the sense of possibility occupy opened up that everything else i have to say makes sense..t
occupy movement ness
on using the talking ness of cab drivers to get 10s of 1000s of people to show up for cairo protest
and then on finding out equip used to torture when arrested was made in the usa.. ‘you don’t forget something like that’ – and on cia involvement.. ie: tactics of protestors
marisa holmes.. one of most gifted activists i have ever met
marisa at m of care – jan 22
everyone in activist community had come around to the idea of prefigurative politics: the idea that the org form that an activist group takes should embody the kind of society we wish to create..
2 – why did it work
from marisa’s video-recording.. over and over she heard same story: ‘i did everything i was supposed to.. worked/studied hard; college.. now unemployed w no prospects and $20-50 000 in debt’
stories like this struck a chord w me since i had been spending much of that summer giving lectures on the history of debt.. i tried to keep my life as an author apart form my life as an activist.. but i found it increasingly difficult.. since every time i’d give a talk .. at least one-two would approach me afterward to ask about the prospects of creating a movement over the issue of student loans..
in my writing – on the intense moral feelings it (debt) involves.. the feelings of shame, disgrace and violent indignation from being told effectively, that one is the loser in a game no one forced one to play..
on being led to believe that they have no choice but to pursue higher ed in america, which means one effectively begins one’s life as a debtor. and to begin one’s life as a debtor is to be treated as if one already lost..t
strike debt et al
ie: of women getting phd – but then having 80 000 debt… and only way to get enough cash to have any hope of getting out of this.. being an escort..
debt is not only hardship but degradation..
the manager of one website that specializes in matching sugar daddies w those seeking help w student loans/fees estimates he already had 280 000 college students registered..
from article he wrote for guardian at the time ‘just as in europe, we are seeing the result of colossal social failure. the occupiers are the very sort of people, brimming w ideas, whose energies a healthy society would be marshaling to improve life for everyone.. instead they are using it to envision ways to bring the whole system down’
why not do both.. ie: a nother way
malcom harris ‘today student debt is an exceptionally punishing kind to have.. not only is it inescapable.. thru bankruptcy, but student loans have no expiration date and collectors can garnish wages, soc sec payments, and even unemployment benes.. ‘
why youth strike a chord would not have in 67 or even 90?.. perhaps.. because line between students/workers has blurred.. most students turn to paid employment at some point in college careers..
huge proportion of ordinary people’s incomes end up going to feed this predatory system thru hidden fees and esp, penalties.. t
how much of the avg american’s life income ends up getting passed to the fin services industry in the form of interest payments, fines, fees, service charges, ins overhead, real estate finder’s fees, and so on..? ie: the real estate sector has imposed laws making it effectively impossible to acquire an apt w/o paying such a fee..
evicted et al
aside form students, the other group stuck in the debt trap is the working poor
$2 a day et al
americans in either of those overlapping categories – working class and underemployed grads w crippling student loans – are actually paying more of their income to wall street than they pay to the govt in taxes..
we have reached the point where even in the richest capitalist nation on earth.. the system cannot provide min life security, or even basic necessities.. it was hard to escape the conclusion that the only way to restore us to lives of min decency was to come up w diff system entirely
let’s try/code money (any form of measuring/accounting) as the planned obsolescence w/ubi as temp placebo.. needs met w/o money.. till people forget about measuring.. security.. and remember/uncover our deeper/basic needs – so we grok what enough is
on case study in limits of statistical analysis.. it all depends on what you set out to count in the first place
rather.. that you’re even assuming counting is legit
ie: lit & num as colonialism et al
what he saw – was to seek career of care for others.. can’t care for own fam
caring labor et al
asking why ows refuses to create a leadership structure, and asking why we don’t come up w concrete policy statements, is of course two ways of asking same thing: why don’t we engage w existing political structure so as to become a part of it..t
it was only when a movement appeared that resolutely refused to take the traditional path, that rejected the existing political order *entirely as inherently corrupt, that called for the **complete reinvention of american democracy, that occupations immediately began to blossom across the country.. clearly the movement did not succeed despite the anarchist element.. it succeeded because of it
yeah.. i don’t think *this legit happened.. (and part\ial ness is killing us)
the whole project was based in a kind of faith that freedom is contagious..
totally contagious.. as long as it’s legit/total free\dom
we all knew it was practically impossible to convince the average american that a truly democratic society was possible thru rhetoric.. but it was possible to show them..
..the experience of watching a group of a thousand or two thousand people making *collective decisions w/o a leadership structure, motivated only by principal and solidarity can change one’s most fundamental assumptions about what politics or for that matter, **human life, could actually be like
*not deep enough.. ie: decision making is unmooring us law
public consensus always oppresses someone(s)
if we exposed enough people around world to these new forms of direct democracy and traditions of direct action, that anew, global democratic culture would begin to emerge.. but as noted .. we never really broke out of the activist ghetto: *most americans never even knew that direct democracy was so central to our id
*because it’s not..
if we go with something legit central to our id (ie: maté basic needs).. that knowing/grokking ness is already in 8b people.. and not really an id in sense we think of it.. because it’s not static.. changes everyday..
all you’re saying is a legit means.. just focused on wrong essence (ie: not decision making.. rather curiosity over decision making – alive ness vs responsive ness)
(after long section of obama and presidents and promises for once in office).. w obama.. status quo did indeed remain intact.. no part of the system was shaken up..
on main reasons ows worked.. its very radicalism.. kicked off by anarchists et al.. its refusal to recognized legitimacy of existing institutions.. was at the heart of its appeal
anarch\ism et al
why do the human stories revealed on the we are the 99% tumblr never seem to make it to the tv.. how did we arrive at a situation where political classes seem unwilling to even talk about the kind of issues and positions ordinary american actually held..
yeah.. we do need a means to undo our hierarchical listening. .
but a huge piece to that is listening to self.. in order to detox us.. because the above comments are ie that we are holding onto institutions that are not natural/conducive/helpful/healthy to human being ness. . ie: why talk about issues that perpetuate the situation we’re in
(after long section on global fin system being based on us military).. the real working of the system are almost the exact opp of the way they are normally presented to the public..
a revolutionary movement does not merely aim to rearrange political/econ relations.. a real revolution must alway operate on the level of common sense..
on what’s already in us.. and if so.. can turn on a dime
in most of the world.. people talk about america as the home of a certain philosophy of political life, which involves among other things.. that we are basically econ beings: that democracy is the market, freedom is the right to participate in the market, that the creation of an ever growing world of consumer abundance is the only measure of national success.. in most of world this has come to be known as ‘neolib’.. in america we never really sure the world.. we can only speak about such matters thru propaganda terms: freedom, the free market, free trade, free enterprise.. the american way of life.. it’s possible to mock such ideas, in fact, americans often do,.. but to challenge the underlying foundation requires radically rethinking what being an america even means..it is necessarily a revolutionary project.. it is also extraordinarily difficult..
yeah.. not really.. if we are quiet enough to legit see/hear what humanity even means.. no?
most of us left dumbfounded, unable to imagine that anything else could possibly exist.. one might object here: didn’t ows begin by challenging the role of money in politics.. and resistance to working w/in existing political structure.. but one might also object: in most parts of world, challenging the role of money in politics is the quintessence of reformism, a mere appeal to the principle of good governance that would otherwise leave everything in place.. in us however, this is not the case.. the reason tells us everything about what this country is and what it has become
question 6 – why is it that in america, challenging the role of money in politics is by def a revolutionary act
is it? seems it’s still assuming so much of the structural violence
on system being based on money/bribery.. and on george orwell’s ‘you know you are in the presence of a corrupt political system when those who defend it cannot call things by their proper names.. ‘
in other words, the discipline of econ does not exist to determine what is the best policy. we have already decided on the policy. economists exist to come up w scientific sounding reason for su doing what we have already decided to do; in fact, that’ show they get paid.. been true for some time.. but remarkable thing is that increasingly.. their sponsor were willing to admit this..
by gathering together in the full sight of wall street and creating a community w/o money, based on principles not just of democracy but of mutual caring, solidarity, and support, occupier were proposing revolutionary challenge not just to the power of money but to the power of money to determine what life itself was supposed to be about.. it was the ultimate blow not just against wall street but against that very principle of cynicism of which it was the ultimate embodiment. at least for that brief moment, love had become the ultimate revolutionary act..
not surprising then.. that the guardians of the existing order id’d it for what it was, and reacted as if they were facing a military provocation
question 7 – why did the movement appear to collapse so quickly after the camps were evicted in november 2011? (much of it media hype.. ie: chaos; dissolved; criminalized; homeless;.. et al.. but most claims (except 2) dissolve moment one examines them..
rebecca solnit countering: ‘while camp in existence, crime went down 19% in oakland.. just by giving people hope and meals and solidarity and conversation’.. needless to say no newspaper headlines proclaimed this
what was really happening here.. 1\ global 2\ police fbi et al egging on .. instigating violence.. false stories..
trial of the chicago 7 et al
we are talking about appearances.. to say a movement seemed to shrivel up is not to say that it actually did..
(all on why/not occupy was successful).. in one of great ironies of history, the invocation of spirit of gandhi and king became prime mens of justifying the newfound militarization of american society.. in a way that would surely have left either man.. astounded/horrified.. occupy is an extraordinary nonviolent movement.. it may well be the most non violent of its size in american history.. and this despite the absence of peace codes, marshals, or official peace police.. yet .. has it ever been treated as such? instead.. the handful of windows themselves became a moral crisis..
(out put of occupies) series of debtors assemblies.. by time of writing.. strike debt, invisible army. rolling jubilee, et al
in one year.. occupy managed to both id the problem – a system of class power that has effectively fused together finance and govt – and to propose a solution: the creation of a genuinely democratic culture.. if it succeeds, it is likely to take a very long time.. but the effects will be epochal
3 – ‘the mob begin to think and to reason’ – the cover history of democracy
on democracy, anarchism, constitution et al
ie of pirates
ie of indians
democracy, then, is not necessarily defined by majority voting: it is, rather, the process of collective deliberation on the principle of *full/equal participation.. so diverse collection of participants.. w urgent need to improvise some means to reg their common affairs.. free of a preexisting overarching authority..
in a way the anarchist id w this notion of democracy goes back a long way.. and the interchangeability of the two words
while democracy gradually became something everyone felt they had to support (even as no one agreed on what precisely it was) anarchy took the opposite path, becoming for most a synonym for violent disorder..
anarchists thus envision a world based on equality and solidarity, in which human beings would be free to associate w one another to pursue an endless variety of visions, projects, and conceptions of what they find valuable in life..
anarchist society – any form of org.. limited to ones that that could exist w/o anyone having the ability, at any point, to call on armed men to show up and say ‘i don’t care what you have to say about this; shut up and do what you’re told’
i like to call myself a ‘small a’ anarchist.. less interested in figuring out what sort of anarchist i am than in working in broad coalitions that operate in accord w anarchist principle: movement that are not trying to work thru or become govt; movements uninterested in assuming the role of de facto govt institutions like trade orgs or capitalist firms; groups that focus on making our relations w each other a model of the world we wish to create.. in other words, people working toward truly free societies..
hard to figure out exactly what kind of anarchism makes the most sense when so many question can only be answered further down the road.. would there be a role for markets in a truly free society? how could we know?
2\ if we create a way to ground the chaos of 8b free people
i myself am confident, based on history, that even if we did try to maintain a market econ in such a free society.. that is one in which there would be no state to enforce contracts, so that agreements came to be based only on trust – econ relations would rapicaly morph into something libertarians would find compoeltley unred=cgonizlage, and would soon not resemble anything we are usted to think o fas a market at all..
but who knows.. maybe i’m wrong.. i am less interested in working out what the detailed architecture of what a free society would be like than in creating the conditions that would enable us to find out
we have little idea what sort of orgs.. techs.. would emerge if free people were unfettered to use their imagination to actually solve collective problems rather than to make them worse..
even deeper than that.. ie: legit free people wouldn’t be obsessed w problem solving like we are.. they would be more attuned to the non hierarchical listening (to self/others/nature) that completely changes our focus.. from ie: defense/response.. to .. offense/living/being
but the primary question is: how do we even get there? what would it take to allow our political/econ system to become a mode of collective *problem solving rather than, as they are now a mode of collective war
what it would take? letting go enough of control.. which includes.. thinking/assuming human being ness is about *problem solving.. collective problem solving .. et al
imagine if we – that’d do it
in the us.. consensus rather than majority voting has often been used by grassroots organizers who were not explicitly anarchist..
not deep/free enough
ie: public consensus always oppresses someone(s)
1236 – ch 4 begins
4 – how change happens
if there is one rule that always applies to civil resistance, it is that there are no strict rules.. movements work best when they best adapt themselves to their particular situations.. the best demo process depends on the nature of the community involved, it’s cultural/political traditions.. the number of people taking part, the experience level of the participants.. and of course.. what they are trying to accomplish.. tactics have to remain flexible: if movements don’t constantly reinvent themselves.. they soon shrivel and die
one common problem facing new groups is how one chooses a decision making process to begin with..t
so.. let’s let go of that.. decision making is unmooring us law
the key political question then has to be: how to reopen this space.. t.. occupation
ie: cure ios city
ch 5 start 1603
5 – breaking the spell
what is a revolution
revolutions are thus planetary phenom.. but there is more.. what they really do is transform basic assumption about what politics is ultimately about.. in the wake of a revolution, ideas that had been considered veritably lunatic fringe quickly become the accepted currency of debate.. t
until 1968 most world revolutions really just intro’d practical refinements: franchise, ed, welfare.. 68 was a rebellion against B, conformity, of anything that fettered the human imagination.. a project for revolutionizing not just of political/econ life, but every aspect of human existence.. as a result.. in most cases.. the rebels didn’t even try to take over the apparatus of state; they saw that apparatus as itself the problem
since the 80s freedom has come to mean the market and the market has come to be seen s identical w capitalism.. the ironies are endless.. ie: while new free market ideology has framed itself above all as a rejection of B, is has in fact been responsible for the first admin system on planetary scale (imf, world bank, wto, ngos et al)
in retro.. i think later historians will conclude that the legacy of the 60s revolution was deeper than we now imagine.. and that collapse of soviet union in 91 far shallower..
normally when one challenges the conventional wisdom that the current econ/political system is the only possible one – the first reaction you are likely to get is a demand for a detailed architectural blueprint of how an alt system would work, down to the nature of its financial instruments, energy supplies and policies of sewer maintenance.. t
next.. one is likely to be asked for a detailed program of how this system will be brought into existence.. t
historically.. this is ridiculous.. when has social change ever happened according to someone’s blueprint? ..t
models can only be thought experiments.. we cannot really conceive the problem that will arise when we start actually trying to build a free society.. what now seem likely to be the thorniest problems might not be problems at all
exactly.. taleb center of problem law et al
2\ if we create a way to ground the chaos of 8b free people
myself, i am less interested in deciding what sort of econ system we should have in a free society than in creating the means by which people can make such decision for themselves.. this is why i spent so much of this book talking about democratic decision making.. and the very experience of taking part in such new forms of decision making encourages one to look on the world w new eyes
but perhaps.. not new/fresh enough.. if we’re still binding ourselves w the assumption that decision making is what we org/live around..
again.. decision making is unmooring us law.. we need to let go of that (just like all the assumed problems you talked of above) and try 8 bn daily curiosities over decision making as our org.. as our infra
pieces of conventional wisdom that surely need challenging: money, debt, work for pay, value creating labor, bureaucracy, reclaiming communism
here we have the most difficult challenge of all, but as long as we’re at it , why not go for broke..
i’ve made this argument repeatedly before and it’s a simple one.. all it requires is to stop imagining communism as the absence of private property arrangements, and go back to the original defn: ‘from each according to their abilities to each according to their need’.. if any social arrangement grounded and operating on such a principle can be described as communism.. all of our most fundamental understandings of social reality completely change..
global re\set.. everday
just putting things this way seems startling but it’s really very commonsensical..
the reader can perhaps get a sense now of the overall direction i have in mind.. we area already practicing communism much of the time.. we are already anarchists, or at least we act like anarchists, every time we come to understanding w one another that would not require physical threats as a means of enforcement..
it’s not a question of building an entirely new society whole cloth.. it’s a question of building on what we area already doing, expanding the zones of freedom, until freedom becomes the ultimate organizing principle..
yeah.. i don’t think that sync will ever (at least not in even long distance future) happen/dance.. and.. since we have the means today to org via freedom from the get go.. let’s try that.. ie: 2 conversations
i actually don’t think the tech aspects of coming up w how to produce/distribute manufactured objects is likely to be the great problem, though we are constantly told to believe it’s the only problem.. t
the problem isn’t lack of imagination.. the problem is the stifling system of debt/violence, created to ensure that those powers of imagination are not used.. t
yeah.. that.. so again to the means to undo our hierarchical listening
i may be wrong.. mainly i’m interested in creating the condition where we can find out.. t
things i’d like to see: politically – consensus sans circle mtgs et al; economically – life security that would allow people to pursue kinds of value they want
it is often remarked that you can conceive equality in two ways: either by saying 2 things are precisely the same.. or by saying they are so diff there’s no way to compare them at all
it’s the latter logic that allows us to say that since we are all unique individuals.. it’s impossible to say any one of us is intrinsically better than any other..
the human imagination stubbornly refuses to die.. and the moment any significant number of people simultaneously shake off the shackles that have been placed on that collective imagination, even our most deeply inculcated assumption about what is and is not politically possible have been known to crumble overnight..t
ie: cure ios city