to have is to owe

by david graeber (2010).. 11 page on kindle via anarchist library []


It is significant that, since Hammurabi, great imperial states have invariably resisted this kind of politics. Athens and Rome established the paradigm: Even when confronted with continual debt crises, they insisted on legislating around the edges, softening the impact; they eliminated obvious abuses like debt slavery and used the spoils of empire to throw all sorts of extra benefits at their poorer citizens (who, after all, provided the rank and file of their armies) so as to keep them afloat. They did all this in such a way as to fend off any challenge to the principle of debt itself. The US has taken a remarkably similar approach: eliminating the worst abuses (e.g., debtors’ prisons), using the fruits of empire to provide subsidies, visible and otherwise, and, recently, manipulating currency rates to flood the country with cheap goods from China. Never has the governing class allowed anyone to question the sacred principle that we all must pay our debts. That principle has recently been exposed to be a flagrant lie. As it turns out, we all don’t have to pay our debts. Only some of us do.


Theories of existential debt always end up justifying—or laying claim to—structures of authority..t What we really have in the idea of primordial debt is the ultimate nationalist myth. Once we owed our lives to the gods who created us, paid them interest in the form of animal sacrifice, and, ultimately, paid back the principal with our lives. Now we owe our lives to the nation that formed us, pay interest in the form of taxes, and, when it comes time to defend the nation against its enemies, pay back the principal with our lives. This is a great trap of the twentieth century: On the one side is the logic of the market, which insists that we don’t owe one another anything. On the other is the logic of the state, which insists that we are born with a debt we can never truly pay. In fact, the dichotomy is false. States created markets, markets require states, and neither could continue without the other.

graeber violence/quantification law et al

The true ethos of our individualistic society may be found in this equation: We all owe an infinite debt to humanity, nature, or the cosmos (however one prefers to frame it), but no one else can possibly tell us how to pay it. All systems of established authority—religion, morality, politics, economics, the criminal-justice system—are revealed to be fraudulent ways of calculating what cannot be calculated. *Freedom, then, is the ability to decide for ourselves how to pay our debts.

great points.. but that defn of freedom is also fraudulent way of calculating us (which cannot be calculated).. any form of m\a\p