there never was a west

24 pg pdf [] which is ch 11 – (p 329-374) of possibilities .. same via anarchist library [] – (2007)

by david graeber..

rereading for m of care – jun 16 (329-337)

m of care – jun 16there never was a west – p 1

m of care – jul 21there never was a west – p 2&3

m of care – aug 4there never was a west – p 4

m of care – sept 1there never was a west – p 5

We’ll start with the first 9 pages (p. 329-337), in which David offers a crushing and original critique of Huntington’s theses.

notes/quotes (pdf/possibilities page numbers):


Does it refer a form of governance (a mode of communal self-organization), or a form of govern ment (one particular way of organizing a state apparatus) ? Does democracy necessarily imply majority rule? Is representative democracy really democracy at all? Is the word permanently tainted by its origins in Athens, a militaristic, slave-owning society founded on the systematic repression of women? Or does what we now call “democracy” have any real historical connection to Athenian democracy in the first place? Is it possible for those trying to develop decentralized forms of consensus-based direct democracy to reclaim the word? If so, how will we ever convince the majority of people in the world that “democracy” has nothing to do with electing representatives? If not, if we instead accept the standard definition and start calling direct democracy *something else, how can we say we’re against democracy—a word with such universally positive associations?

anarchy after leftism.. anarchists against democracy.. any form of democratic admin et al

let’s try a legit *something else.. something every soul already craves.. ie: a nother way.. where we org around legit needs


the need to maintain *some kind of mechanism—whether these be North American-style “facilitation,” Zapatista-style women’s and youth caucuses, or any of an endless variety of other possibilities—to ensure that the voices of those who would normally find themselves marginalized or excluded from traditional participatory mechanisms are heard..t

huge huge huge

need (and now have the means for): a means to undo our hierarchical listening (currently/always.. no voices have been legit heard ie: maté trump law, public consensus always oppresses someone(s), none of us are free, et al).. we all need detox first

Some of the bitter conflicts of the past, for example, between partisans of majority voting versus partisans of consensus process, have been largely resolved, or perhaps more accurately seem increasingly irrelevant, as more and more social movements use full consensus only within smaller groups and adopt various forms of “modified consensus” for larger coalitions. Something is emerging. *The problem is what to call it. Many of the key principles of the movement (self-organization, voluntary association, mutual aid, the refusal of state power) derive from the anarchist tradition. Still, many who embrace these ideas are reluctant, or flat-out refuse, to call themselves “anarchists.” Similarly with democracy. My own approach has normally been to openly embrace both terms, to argue, in fact, that anarchism and democracy are—or should be—largely identical. However, as I say, there is no consensus on this issue, nor even a clear majority view.

*the problem is.. that it is still missing it.. still not listening deep enough.. to hear us (five p essay)

It seems to me these are tactical, political questions more than anything else. The word “democracy” has meant any number of different things over the course of its history. When first coined, it referred to a system in which the citizens of a community *made decisions by equal vote in a collective assembly. For most of its history, it referred to political disorder, rioting, lynching, and factional violence (in fact, the word had much the same associations as “anarchy” does today). Only quite recently has it become identified with a system in which the citizens of a state elect representatives to exercise state power in their name. Clearly there is no true essence to be discovered here. About the only thing these different referents have in common, perhaps, is that they involve some sense that **political questions that are normally the concerns of a narrow elite are here thrown open to everyone, and that this is either a very good, or a very bad, thing. The term has always been so morally loaded that to write a dispassionate, disinterested history o..

*decision making is unmooring us law

**problem isn’t who they’re open to.. problem is.. these are whalespeak questions

..It seems to me that there’s a reason why the word “democracy,” no matter how consistently it is abused by tyrants and demagogues, still maintains its stubborn popular appeal. For most people, democracy is still identified with some notion of ordinary people collectively managing their own affairs.. If democracy is simply a matter of communities managing their own affairs through an open and relatively egalitarian process of public discussion, there is no reason why egalitarian forms of decision-making in rural communities in Africa or Brazil should not be at least as worthy of the name as the constitutional systems that govern most nation-states today—and, in many cases, probably a good deal more worthy

any form of democratic admin.. keeping us from us.. keeping us in sea world


I will be making a series of related arguments and perhaps the best way to proceed would be to just set out them all out right away (makes 5 pts):

1 – Almost everyone who writes on the subject assumes “democracy” is a “Western” concept that begins its history in ancient Athens. They also assume that what eighteenth- and nineteenth-century politicians began reviving in Western Europe and North America was essentially the same thing. Democracy is thus seen as something whose natural habitat is Western Europe and its English- or French-speaking settler colonies. Not one of these assumptions is justified. “Western civilization” is a particularly incoherent concept, but, insofar as it refers to anything, it refers to an intellectual tradition. This intellectual tradition is, overall, just as hostile to anything we would recognize as democracy as those of India, China, or Mesoamerica.

jensen civilization law.. intellect ness.. et al

2 – Democratic practices—processes of egalitarian decision-making— however, occur pretty much anywhere, and are not peculiar to any one given “civilization,” culture, or tradition. They tend to crop up wherever human life goes on outside systematic structures of coercion.

no egal decision making.. need to focus on curiosity over decision making

3 – The “democratic ideal” tends to emerge when, under certain historical circumstances, intellectuals and politicians, usually in some sense navigating their way between states and popular movements and popular practices, interrogate their own traditions—invariably, in dialogue with other ones—citing cases of past or present democratic practice to argue that their tradition has a fundamental kernel of democracy. I call these moments of “democratic refoundation.” From the perspective of the intellectual traditions, they are also moments of recuperation, in which ideals and institutions that are often the product of incredibly complicated forms of interaction between people of very different histories and traditions come to be represented as emerging from the logic of that intellectual tradition itself. Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries especially, such moments did not just occur in Europe, but almost everywhere.


4 – The fact that this ideal is always founded on (at least partly) invented traditions does not mean it is inauthentic or illegitimate or, at least, more inauthentic or illegitimate than any other. The contradiction, however, is that this ideal was always based on the impossible dream of marrying democratic procedures or practices with the coercive mechanisms of the state. The result are not “Democracies” in any meaningful sense of the world but Republics with a few, usually fairly limited, democratic elements.

5 – What we are experiencing today is not a crisis of democracy but rather a crisis of the state. In recent years, there has been a massive revival of interest in democratic practices and procedures within global social movements, but this has proceeded almost entirely outside of statist frameworks. The future of democracy lies precisely in this area.

Part I: On the Incoherence Of the Notion of the “Western Tradition”

I’ll begin, then, with a relatively easy target: Samuel P. Huntington’s famous essay on the “Clash of Civilizations” ..he utged Westerners to understand that theirs is just one civilization among many, that its values should in no way be assumed to be universal. Democracy in particular, he argued, is a distinctly Western idea and the West should abandon its efforts to impose it on the rest of the world:


It seems to me the only way to understand why Huntington creates the list he does is to examine his use of the terms “culture” and “civilization.” In fact, if one reads the text carefully, one finds that the phrases “Western culture” and “Western civilization” are used pretty much interchangeably.

It gets worse. In a later clarification called “What Makes the West Western” (1996), Huntington actually does claim that “pluralism” is one of the West’s unique qualities:


All this gradually set the stage, he says, for the unique complexity of Western civil society. Now, it would be easy to point out how ridiculous all this is. One could, for instance, remind the reader that China and India in fact had, for most of their histories, a great deal more religious pluralism than Western Europe; that most Asian societies were marked by a dizzying variety of monastic orders, guilds, colleges, secret societies, sodalities, professional and civic groups; that none ever came up with such distinctly Western ways of enforcing uniformity as the war of extermination against heretics, the Inquisition, or the witch hunt. But the amazing thing is that what Huntington is doing here is trying to turn the very incoherence of his category into its defining feature. First, he describes Asian civilizations in such a way that they cannot, by definition, be plural; then, if one were to complain that people he lumps together as “the West” don’t seem to have any common features at all—no common language, religion, philosophy, or mode of government—Huntington could simply reply that this pluralism is the West’s defining feature. It is the perfect circular argument.


In short, for the notion of “civilization,” in the sense used by Huntington, to really make sense, civilizations have to be conceived basically as traditions of people reading one another’s books. ..Western culture is not just a collection of ideas; it is a collection of ideas that are taught in textbooks and discussed in lecture halls, cafes, or literary salons. If it were not, it would be hard to imagine how one could end up with a civilization that begins in ancient Greece, passes to ancient Rome, maintains a kind of half-life in the Medieval Catholic world, revives in the Italian renaissance, and then passes mainly to dwell in those countries bordering the North Atlantic.. Once they became enshrined in new, democratic institutions, they began to worm their way into ordinary citizens’ social and political common sense. Finally, their proponents saw them as having universal status and tried to impose them on the rest of the world. But here they hit their limits, because they cannot ultimately expand to areas where there are equally powerful, rival textual traditions—based in Koranic scholarship, or the teachings of the Buddha—that inculcate other concepts and values.

jensen civilization law.. intellect ness.. people telling other people what to do


But its almost impossible to find a political, or philosophical, or social thinker on the left or the right who doubts one can say meaningful things about “the Western tradition” at all. Many of the most radical, in fact, seem to feel it is impossible to say meaningful things about anything else

Parenthetical Note: On the Slipperiness of the Western Eye


Recognizing all of this creates a terrible problem for anthropologists: if the “Western individual” doesn’t exist, then what precisely is our point of comparison?

World-Systems Reconfigured


If so, what we are used to calling “the rise of the West” is probably better thought of, in world-system terms, as the emergence of what Michel-Rolph Trouillot (2003) has called the “North Atlantic system,” ..created through almost unimaginable catastrophe; the destruction of entire civilizations, mass enslavement, the death of at least a hundred million human beings. It also produced its own forms of cosmopolitanism,.., a history of mutinies, pirates, rebellions, defections, experimental communities, and every sort of Antinomian and populist idea, largely squelched in conventional accounts, much of it permanently lost, but which seems to have played a key role in many of the radical ideas that came to be referred to as “democracy.” This is jumping ahead. For now, I just want to emphasize that rather than a history of “civilizations” developing through some Herderian or Hegelian process of internal unfolding, we are dealing with societies that are thoroughly entangled..t

but too.. that are currently (have been to date).. in sea world.. so.. we have no idea what legit free people are like..

ie: thurman interconnectedness lawwhen you understand interconnectedness it makes you more afraid of hating than of dying – Robert Thurman 

Part II: Democracy Was Not Invented


The explanation I would propose is this: it is much easier, in a face-to- face community, to figure out what *most members of that community want to do, than to figure out how to change the minds of those who don’t want to do it. Consensus decision-making is typical of societies where there would be no way to compel a minority to agree with a majority decision; either because there is no state with a monopoly of coercive force, or because the state has no interest in or does not tend to intervene in local decision-making. If there is no way to compel those who find a majority decision distasteful to go along with it, then the last thing one would want to do is to hold a vote: a public contest which someone will be seen to lose. Voting would be the most likely means to guarantee the sort of humiliations, resentments, and hatreds that ultimately lead the destruction of communities. As any activist who has gone through a facilitation training for a contemporary direct action group can tell you, consensus process is not the same as parliamentary debate and **finding consensus in no way resembles voting. Rather, we are dealing with a process of compromise and synthesis meant to produce decisions that no one finds so violently objectionable that they are not willing to at least assent. That is to say two levels we are used to distinguishing—decision-making, and enforcement—are effectively collapsed here. It is not that everyone has to agree. Most forms of consensus include a variety of graded forms of disagreement, The point is to ensure that no one walks away feeling that their views have been totally ignored and, therefore, that even those who think the group came to a bad decision are willing to offer their passive acquiescence.

*double speak.. exclusive.. whalespeak

**same song in regard to legit free people.. any form of democratic admin.. any form of m\a\p.. same song

[more notes on this section from first reading.. see possibilities page or bottom of this page]


This in turn might help explain the term “democracy” itself, which appears to have been coined as something of a slur by its elitist opponents: it literally means the “force” or even “violence” of the people. Kratos, not archos. The elitists who coined the term always considered democracy not too far from simple rioting or mob rule; though, of course, their solution was the permanent conquest of the people by someone else. Ironically, when they did manage to suppress democracy for this reason, which was usually, the result was that the only way the general populace’s will was known was precisely through rioting, a practice that became quite institutionalized in, say, imperial Rome or eighteenth-century England.

My emphasis on the military origins of direct democracy is not meant to imply that popular assemblies in, say, Medieval cities or New England town meetings were not normally orderly and dignified procedures; though one suspects this was in part due to the fact that here, too, in actual practice, there was a certain baseline of consensus-seeking going on. ..took it for granted that what they called “democracy”—by which they meant, direct democracy, “pure democracy” as they sometimes put it—was in its nature the most unstable, tumultuous form of government, not to mention one which endangers the rights of minorities (the specific minority they had in mind in this case being the rich). It was only once the term “democracy” could be almost completely transformed to incorporate the principle of representation—a term which itself has a very curious history, since as Cornelius Castoriadis liked to point out (1991; Godbout 2005), it originally referred to representatives of the people before the king, internal ambassadors in fact, rather than those who wielded power in any sense themselves—that it was rehabilitated, in the eyes of well-born political theorists, and took on the meaning it has today.

cornelius castoriadis et al


Part III: On the Emergence of the “Democratic Ideal”


When novelists like Victor Hugo and poets like Walt Whitman began touting democracy as a beautiful ideal—as they soon began to do—they were not, however, referring to word-games on the part of elites, but to the broader popular sentiment that had caused small farmers and urban laborers to look with favor on the term to begin with, even when the political elite was still largely using it as a term of abuse. The “democratic ideal,” in other words, did not emerge from the Western literary-philosophical tradition. It was, rather, imposed on it. In fact, the notion that democracy was a distinctly “Western” ideal only came much later. For most of the nineteenth century, when Europeans defined themselves against “the East” or “the Orient,” they did so precisely as “Europeans,” not “Westerners.” With few exceptions, “the West” referred to the Americas. It was only in the 1890s, when Europeans began to see the United States as part of the same, coequal civilization, that many started using the term in its current sense (GoGwilt 1995; Martin & Wigan 1997: 49-62). Huntington’s “Western civilization” comes even later: this notion was first developed in American universities in the years following World War I (Federici 1995: 67), at a time when German intellectuals were already locked in debate about whether they were part of the West at all. Over the course of the twentieth century, the concept of “Western civilization” proved perfectly tailored for an age that saw the gradual dissolution of colonial empires, since it managed to lump together the former colonial metropoles with their wealthiest and most powerful settler colonies, at the same time insisting on their shared moral and intellectual superiority, and abandoning any notion that they necessarily had a responsibility to “civilize” anybody else. The peculiar tension evident in phrases like “Western science,” “Western freedoms,” or “Western consumer goods”—do these reflect universal truths that all human beings should recognize? or are they the products of one tradition among many?—would appear to stem directly from the ambiguities of the historical moment. The resulting formulation is, as I’ve noted, so riddled with contradictions that it’s hard to see how it could have arisen except to fill a very particular historical need.


Part IV: Recuperation


My real point is that one simply cannot lay any of these values down to the one particular moral, intellectual, or cultural tradition. They arise, for better or worse, from exactly this sort of interaction.

And, when later authors write about such ideas, they tend to represent matters as if the ideals emerged from that tradition, rather than from the spaces in between.

So do historians. ..They are, after all, primarily students of textual traditions, and information about the spaces in between is often very difficult to come by. What’s more, they are—at least when dealing with the “Western tradition”—writing, in large part, within the same literary tradition as their sources. This is what makes the real origins of democratic ideals—especially that popular enthusiasm for ideas of liberty and popular sovereignty that obliged politicians to adopt the term to begin with—so difficult to reconstruct. .. When it came time to write about their experiences, they would become featureless abstractions. When it came time to write institutional histories, they referred back, almost invariably, to the Classical world.

lit & num as colonialism et al


The “Influence Debate”


The actual debate ended up turning almost entirely on whether one could prove a direct relation between Iroquois institutions and the thinking of the framers of the constitution. 


Still, Enlightenment theory to the contrary, nations are not really created by the acts of wise lawgivers. Neither is democracy invented in texts; even if we are forced to rely on texts to divine its history. Actually, the men who wrote the Constitution were not only for the most part wealthy landowners, few had a great deal of experience in sitting down with a group of equals—at least, until they became involved in colonial congresses. Democratic practices tend to first get hammered out in places far from the purview of such men, and, if one sets out in search for which of their contemporaries had the most hands-on experience in such matters, the results-are sometimes startling. One of the leading contemporary historians of European democracy, John Markoff, in an essay called “Where and When Was Democracy Invented?,” remarks, at one point, very much in passing: ‘that leadership could derive from the consent of the led, rather than be bestowed by higher authority, would have been a likely experience of the crews of pirate vessels in the early modern Atlantic world. Pirate crews not only elected their captains, but were familiar with countervailing power (in the forms of the quartermaster and ship’s council) and contractual relations of individual and collectivity (in the form of written ship’s articles specifying shares of booty and rates of compensation for on-the-job injury) (Markoff 1999: 673n62


As a matter of fact, the typical organization of eighteenth-century pirate ships, as reconstructed by historians like Marcus Rediker (2004: 60—82), appears to have been remarkably democratic. Captains were not only elected, they usually functioned much like Native American war chiefs: granted total power during chase or combat, they were otherwise were treated like ordinary crewmen. Those ships whose captains were granted more general powers also insisted on the crew’s right to remove them at any time for cowardice, cruelty, or any other reason. In every case, ultimate power rested in a general assembly that often ruled on even the most minor matters, always, apparently, by *majority show of hands.

m of care – mar 7 – on pirates w rediker

*public consensus always oppresses someone(s)

ll this might seem less surprising if one considers the pirates’ origins. Pirates were generally mutineers, sailors often originally pressed into service against their will in port towns across the Atlantic, who had mutinied against tyrannical captains and “declared war against the whole world.” They often became classic social bandits, wreaking vengeance against captains who abused their crews, and releasing or even rewarding those against whom they found no complaints. The make-up of crews was often extraordinarily heterogeneous. . It was the perfect intercultural space of experiment. In fact, there was likely to be no more conducive ground for the development of new democratic institutions anywhere in the Atlantic world at the time.


This is not to say that pirate practices were likely to have influenced democratic constitutions. Only that we would not know if they did. One can hardly imagine things would be too different with those they ordinarily referred to as “the American savages.”

Colin Calloway (1997; cf. Axtell 1985) has documented just how entangled the societies of settlers and natives often were, with settlers adopting Indian crops, clothes, medicines, customs, and styles of warfare; trading with them, often living side by side, sometimes intermarrying, and most of all, inspiring endless fears among the leaders of colonial communities and military units that their subordinates were absorbing Indian attitudes of equality and individual liberty. .. .. that ordinary Englishmen and Frenchmen settled in the colonies only began to think of themselves as “Americans,” as a new sort of freedom-loving people, when they began to see themselves as more like Indians. ..The colonists who came to America, in fact, found themselves in a unique situation: having largely fled the hierarchy and conformism of Europe, they found themselves confronted with an indigenous population far more dedicated to principles of equality and individualism than they had hitherto been able to imagine; and then proceeded to largely exterminate them, even while adopting many of their customs, habits, and attitudes.


Traditions as Acts of Endless Refoundation

Throughout this essay, I’ve been arguing that democratic practice, whether defined as procedures of egalitarian decision-making, or government by public discussion, tends to emerge from situations in which communities of one sort or another manage their own affairs outside the purview of the state. The absence of state power means the *absence of any systematic mechanism of coercion to enforce decisions; this tends to result either in some form of consensus process, or, in the case of essentially military formations like Greek hoplites or pirate ships, sometimes a system of majority voting (since, in such cases, the results, if it did come down to a contest of force, are readily apparent). Democratic innovation, and the emergence of what might be called democratic values, has a tendency to spring from what I’ve called *zones of cultural improvisation, usually also outside of the control of states, in which diverse sorts of people with different traditions and experiences are obliged to figure out some way to deal with one another. Frontier communities whether in Madagascar or Medieval Iceland, pirate ships, Indian Ocean trading communities, Native American confederations on the edge of European expansion, are all examples here.

*still coercive.. if any form of m\a\p

**we need to get out of the zone of sea world first.. we have no idea what legit free people are like


Actually, I would suggest that this process of democratic recuperation and refoundation was typical of a broader process that probably marks any civilizational tradition, but was at that time entering a phase of critical intensity.


But it seems to me questions of authenticity are of at best secondary importance. Such traditions are always largely fabrications. To some degree, that’s what traditions are: the continual process of their own fabrication. The point is that, in every case, what we have are political elites—or would-be political elites—identifying with a tradition of democracy in order to validate essentially republican forms of government. Also, not only was democracy not the special invention of “the West,” neither was this process of recuperation and refoundation. True, elites in India started playing the game some sixty years later than those in England and France, but, historically, this is not a particularly long period of time. . The temptation to trace democracy to some particular cultural “origins,” though, seems almost irresistible.


In fact, if my argument is right, what these authors are doing is searching for the origins of democracy precisely where they are least likely to find it: in the proclamations of the states that largely suppressed local forms of self- governance and collective deliberation, and the literary-philosophical traditions that justified their doing so. 


Part V: The Crisis of the State

We ‘re finally back, then, where we began, with the rise of global movements calling for new forms of democracy. In a way, the main point of this piece has been to demonstrate that the Zapatistas are nothing unusual.


This is a nice idea. Mignolo calls it “border thinking,” He proposes it as a model for how to come up with a healthy, “critical cosmopolitanism,” as opposed to the Eurocentric variety represented by Kant or Zizek. The problem though, it seems to me, is that in doing so, Mignolo himself ends up falling into a more modest version of the very essentializing discourse he’s trying to escape

Democracy, in turn, did not emerge from anybody’s discourse. It is as if simply taking the Western literary tradition as one’s starting point—even for purposes of critique—means authors like Mignolo always somehow end up trapped within it.

In reality, the “word that political hegemony imposed” is in this case itself a fractured compromise. If it weren’t, we would not have a Greek word originally coined to describe a form of communal self-governance applied to representative republics to begin with. It’s exactly this contradiction the Zapatistas were seizing on. In fact, it seems impossible to get rid of. Liberal theorists (e.g., Sartori 1987: 279) do occasionally evince a desire to simply brush aside Athenian democracy entirely, to declare it irrelevant and be done with it, but for ideological purposes, such a move would be simply inadmissible. After all, without Athens, there would be no way to claim that “the Western tradition” had anything inherently democratic about it. We would be left tracing back our political ideals to the totalitarian musings of Plato, or if not, perhaps, to admit there’s really no such thing as “the West.” In effect, liberal theorists have boxed themselves into a comer. Obviously, the Zapatistas are hardly the first revolutionaries to have seized on this contradiction; but their doing so has found an unusually powerful resonance, this time—in part, because this is a moment of a profound crisis of the state.


The Impossible Marriage

In its essence, I think, the contradiction is not simply one of language. It reflects something deeper. For the last two hundred years, democrats have been trying to graft ideals of popular self-governance onto the coercive apparatus of the state. In the end, the project is simply unworkable. States cannot, by their nature, ever truly be democratized. They are, after all, basically ways of organizing violence. The American Federalists were being quite realistic when they argued that democracy is inconsistent with a society based on inequalities of wealth; since, in order to protect wealth, one needs an apparatus of coercion to keep down the very “mob” that democracy would empower. Athens was a unique case in this respect because it was, in effect, transitional: there were certainly inequalities of wealth, even, arguably, a ruling class, but there was virtually no formal apparatus of coercion. Hence there’s no consensus among scholars whether it can really be considered a state at all


It is in this context that I might suggest that the anarchist solution— that there really is no resolution to this paradox—is really not all that unreasonable. The democratic state was always a contradiction. Globalization has simply exposed the rotten underpinnings, by creating the need for decision making structures on a planetary scale where any attempt to maintain the pretense of popular sovereignty, let alone participation, would be obviously absurd. The neo-liberal solution, of course, Is to declare the market the only form of public deliberation one really needs, and to restrict the state almost exclusively to its coercive function. In this context, the Zapatista response— to abandon the notion that revolution is a matter of seizing control over the coercive apparatus of the state, and instead proposing to refound democracy in the self-organization of autonomous communities—makes perfect sense. This is the reason an otherwise obscure insurrection in southern Mexico caused such a sensation in radical circles to begin with. Democracy, then, is for the moment returning to the spaces in which it originated: the spaces in between. Whether it can then proceed to engulf the world depends perhaps less on what kind of theories we make about it, but on whether we honestly believe that ordinary human beings, sitting down together in deliberative bodies, would be capable of managing their own affairs as well as elites, whose decisions are backed up by the power of weapons, are of managing it for them—or even whether, even if they wouldn’t, they have the right to be allowed to try. For most of human history, faced with such questions, professional intellectuals have almost universally taken the side of the elites. It is rather my impression that, if it really comes down to it, the overwhelming majority are still seduced by the various ugly mirrors and have no real faith in the possibilities of popular democracy. But perhaps this too could change.

if we let go enough.. to see






notes from first reading from possibilities page:


11 – there never was a west: or, democracy emerges from the spaces in between

seems i’ve read this before.. but can’t find it.. skimming

maybe one of these: theory of value; fragments of an anarchist anthropology; dead zones of imagination; ..?

rereading for m of care – jun 16 – notes here: there never was a west


Part I: On the Incoherence Of the Notion of the “Western Tradition”

convo w s


Part II: Democracy W as Not Invented

I began this essay by suggesting that one can write the history of democracy in two very different ways. Either one can write a history of the word “democracy,” beginning with ancient Athens, or one can write a history of the sort of egalitarian decision-making procedures that in Athens came to be
referred to as “democratic.”


Normally, we tend to assume the two are effectively identical because common wisdom has it that democracy—much like, say, science, or philosophy—was invented in ancient Greece. On the face of it this seems an odd assertion. Egalitarian communities have existed throughout human history—many of them far more egalitarian than fifth-century Athens— and they each had some kind of procedure for coming to decisions in matters of collective importance. Often, this involved assembling everyone for discussions in which all members of the community, at least in theory, had equal say. Yet somehow, it is always assumed that these procedures could not have been, properly speaking, “democratic.”
The main reason this argument seems to make intuitive sense is because in these other assemblies, things rarely actually came to a vote. Almost invariably, they used some form of consensus-finding. Now this is interesting in itself. If we accept the idea that a show of hands, or having everyone who supports a proposition stand on one side of the plaza and everyone against stand on the other, are not really such incredibly sophisticated ideas that some ancient genius had to “invent” them, then why are they so rarely employed? Why, instead, did communities invariably prefer the apparently much more difficult task of coming to unanimous decisions?

deeper.. would legit free people feel the need/desire for public/collective decision making

The explanation I would propose is this: it is much easier, in a face-to-face community, to figure out what most members of that community want to do, than to figure out how to change the minds of those who don’t want to do it.

this is the big issue for me.. has to be all or it is oppress\ion ing someone

public consensus always oppresses someone(s) et al

Consensus decision-making is typical of societies where there would be no way to compel a minority to agree with a majority decision; either because there is no state with a monopoly of coercive force, or because the state has no interest in or does not tend to intervene in local decision-making. If there is no way to compel those who find a majority decision distasteful to go along with it, then the last thing one would want to do is to hold a vote: a public contest which someone will be seen to lose. Voting would be the most likely means to guarantee the sort of humiliations, resentments, and hatreds that ultimately lead the destruction of communities.

any form of democratic admin.. killing us

As any activist who has gone through a facilitation training for a contemporary direct action group can tell you, consensus process is not the same as parliamentary debate and finding consensus in no way resembles voting. Rather, we are dealing with a process of compromise and synthesis meant to produces decisions that no one finds so violently objectionable that they are not willing to at least assent. That is to say two levels we are used to distinguishing— decision-making, and enforcement— are effectively collapsed here. It is not that everyone has to agree. Most forms of consensus include a variety of graded forms of disagreement. The point is to ensure that no one walks away feeling that their (348) views have been totally ignored and, therefore, that even those who think the group came to a bad decision are willing to offer their passive acquiescence.

imagine if the point could be that they (legit free people) didn’t feel compelled to come together in a group like/for that in the first place..

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..

what the world needs most is the energy of 8b alive people

Majority democracy, we might say, can only emerge when two factors coincide:
(1) a feeling that people should have equal say in making group decisions, and
(2) a coercive apparatus capable of enforcing those decisions

this section via convo w s – democracy part she has it as 257 – on my pdf pages it’s 346-348


throughout this essay, i’ve been arguing that demo practice, whether egalitarian dm, or govt by public discussion.. tends to emerge form situations in which communities of one sort or another manage their own affairs outside the purview of the state.. the absence of state power means the absence of any systematic mech of coercion to enforce decisions.. tends to result either in 1\ some form of consensus process 2\ majority voting.. demo innovation.. has tendency to spring from cultural improv.. all of this has very little to do w great lit traditions seen as pillars of great civs.. just actual genealogy impossible to reconstruct.. the very process of recup tends to scrub away the more exotic elements or integrate them into familiar topoi of invention/discovery.. vs .. searching for origins of democracy where would least likely find it (368/362)


on who ‘the people’ might be.. in other words ‘the people’ must be evoked as the authority behind the allocation of violence..


for most of human history, faced w such questions.. professional intellectual shave almost universally taken the side of the elites

it is rather my impression that, if it really comes down to it, the overwhelming majority are still seduced by the various ugly mirrors and have no real faith in the possibilities of popular democracy. but perhaps this too could change




.. along with “ON KINGS” (2017, with Marshall Sahlins), it’s one of two major writing projects David (somehow?!) completed while we were working on #TheDawnOfEverything. Here’s “never was a West” (3/3)

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