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ziq OP wrote (edited )

It's fascinating to me that Graeber has very deliberately ignored troves of modern evidence to push his ideological dogma.

His book is immediately obsolete because it contradicts with an ever-growing mountain of scientific proof, yet somehow it's being praised as fresh, exciting abject truth by people who I can only assume are enthralled by the way his revisionist history provides handy cover for their own ideological attachments; extractive-industrial lifestyles.

Seems extremely counter-productive for anarchists to make what's essentially a "humans are naturally oppressive" argument and to deliberately ignore, dismiss and even castigate the countless examples of people who lived and in many examples continue to live in non-hierarchical cultures. Almost seems like an extension of colonialist attitudes, erasing indigenous cultures in the name of 'progress', but what do I know.

**The short story is that early humans were puny primates. To survive, they had to learn to share meat and vegetables, to share childcare and to share sexual joy. To do this, they had to discipline would-be bullies and transcend the dominance hierarchies of their primate ancestors.

And for at least 200,000 years, they lived in egalitarian societies where men and women were equal too.** [...]

In these societies no-one has power over anyone else. Key to this is the absence of wealth or surplus.

People move regularly. No one owns more than they can carry, with a child on the other hip.

Bands are not bounded. People change groups all the time, and everyone has real or fictive kin in several other bands. When tension builds over food, sex or anything else, someone moves.

This means neither women nor men are trapped, and in these societies, there is no regular patterns of gendered inequality. And the ability to restrain bullies is an another important pattern among recent hunter-gatherers.

Graeber certainly studied the shit out of all this science and decided to ignore it all and write a giant tome that fixates on a few inconsequential, isolated cultures in prehistory that had hierarchical lifestyles and pretend all of human development revolved around them, when all the science shows us we would have never evolved into humans if not for our anarchic underpinnings, which gave us the advantage we needed to survive, prosper and out-compete apes that prioritized domination / subjugation in their cultures.


purplebeetroot wrote

So far I only read the first couple of pages of his new book so can't yet have my conclusions settled. They wrote in the beginning that cultural development was diverse. They gave examples of societies with strict hierarchies and those who lived opposing such. They argued that some aim for stories that either try to focus on "hierarchies are human nature" or how primitive society would be utopia alike and that both is wrong. Did you read the book?


ziq OP wrote (edited )

I've almost finished it. Reading it makes me annoyed because of how wilfully dishonest and manipulative it is, so I can only take a few pages at a time.

His entire argument is that agriculture / civilization / cities didn't create archy and archy was commonplace before those things. That there were cities and farms without domination and gatherer-hunter bands that were authoritarian and so that proves we can't make any conclusions about the effects of civilization on the planet.

What he's really doing is cynically poisoning the well in several ways, in order to attack and discredit anticiv ideas and to convince us civilization doesn't have to be destructive.

His tales of cities that weren't hierarchy-domination based only register if your conception of hierarchy is completely warped to a Chomskyist level. They absolutely bred hierarchy and domination (and ecocide) and his romanticising of those cities doesn't change that. Democracy doesn't make a city not harmful and even if some cities can be relatively egalitarian at first, cities become more and more hierarchy-based the longer they exist because they run out of land and resources to exploit while the population constantly increases, eventually giving rise to class, private property, policing, government and scarcity. There are no cities that haven't eventually a) collapsed or b) turned into police states. Hierarchy's an ongoing process and just fixating on the years before the power became ingrained and everything went to shit is ridic.

His assertations that certain pre-agricultural peoples could be hierarchy-based is inconseqential when looking at thousands of years of history. It's like saying we shouldn't generalize about nazis because a handful of nazis did some nice things. A few isolated examples are not structural - they don't change the reality that pre-agricultural society on a global level was overwhelmingly free of widespread hierarchy and domination and certainly global ecocide and desertification.

A case study that declares a 99.9% success rate should be ignored because of the 0.1% failure rate is completely asinine.

His claim that agriculture didn't lead to the invention of private property is the most bogus thing of all. Even if in some instances it didn't happen right away, it did happen soon thereafter. It's inevitable that the people who have the most fertile lands are going to dominate society and become powerful. Pointing to a brief period before private property was established in certain agricultural societies doesn't prove agricultural society doesn't create private property. Again, a delayed effect in certain isolated examples doesn't mean agriculture didn't inevitably result in private property. We can see how things ended up just by looking around us.

That some early farming communities were "free of rank and hierarchy" is again a whitewashing of history. It took time for civilization to evolve all its foibles. Power-hierarchy doesn't spring up overnight, it's an unending process to subjugate and dominate us. I keep making the same point because Graeber insists on using the same tactic again and again: Ignoring the cumulative result because a tiny sample for a brief, brief moment appears to be semi-attractive before inevitably imploding. It's like saying burning fossil fuels is good because the planet wasn't yet a desert in 1910.

He constantly points to isolated experiments (cities, farming societies) that broke with the overwhelming norm across 99.9% of the planet at the time, paints them with a romantic brush and claims they prove civilization doesn't have to be authoritarian.

But here we are, in the final stage of this brief civilization experiment, and all I see is sand, mass extinction and global alienation.

He's selling false hope to terminal patients.


ziq OP wrote (edited )

Graeber and Wengrow describe the Calusa as ‘a non-agricultural people’. But as they acknowledge, the Calusa fisherfolk were the dominant group in a much larger polity.

All the other groups were farmers, and they paid tribute to the Calusa rulers of large amounts of food, gold and enslaved European and African captives. That food enabled the Calusa elite, and 300 full-time warriors, to live without working.

This is one of the most infuriating things they do. They equate what are essentially lords / billionaires with 'non agricultural people'. It's not like billionaires get their hands dirty farming, they make the peasants do it. If the Calusa and their private army force other people to farm the land for them, they're still agricultural people. They're eating farmed food.

And if they have to reach this desperately to invent examples of oppressive 'non agricultural people', it shows just how rare such a beast was.

The other examples they used were essentially fish farmers. They harvested giant crops of fish on lands they had sole control over, preserved it and ate it / traded it all year, using the excess to build hierarchy and subjugate others. They were part and parcel of civilization for all intents and purposes, just without needing to grow crops because they owned the fisheries.


deeppurplehazedream wrote

I read it a while back. The main thing I thought they were arguing against was the hegemonic narrative that agriculture always ends in hierarchy. I watched a YouTube guy channel is called What Is Politics that seems pretty critical as well. For me, not too deep in archeology/anthropology it was ok. My impression was they were trying to reach a broad audience- not just anthropology specialists and anarchists..

In any case, I’ve been trying out a thesis that even if all that humans have ever had is hierarchies, anarchy still makes a good case for the future as a goal and critique of the past and present.


ziq OP wrote

The fisherfolk of the west coast were not the only ‘complex foragers'. There are other examples around the world. But it is notable how few there were. Moreover, archaeologists have found none older than 7,000 years before present, and no evidence of warfare before 14,000 years ago.

This is also an important point. They found these few isolated examples of hierarchical pre-civilized (but not really) peoples, but they know there's zero evidence that there were any archy-based non-agricultural cultures more than 7000 years ago. So there was a huge, huge stretch of time where, as far as anyone knows, humans truly were anarchist and uncivilized without exception, all across the globe. This gets completely ignored somehow.


purplebeetroot wrote

Thanks for your thoughts. I gonna bookmark it and reread it after being done with reading the book. The book was praised very well, and so my hope was high set.
It's a shame he died. I would have loved to read correspondence between them and critiques.


bloodrose wrote

how wilfully dishonest and manipulative it is

This makes me think I shouldn't read it but only read the critiques of it. I'm not as street smart about manipulative tactics as I would like so it is best for me to avoid manipulative rhetoric from the jump.


halfway_prince wrote (edited )

Damn i'm interested that your takeaway (referring to all your comments in this thread) being so different from mine.

my personal reflections are more broadly along the lines of humans constantly balancing an equilibrium of freedom/equality with hierarchy/inequality and self regulating. Kind of like the inverse of entropy, humanity is constantly tending toward domination/power structures of some kind, but we were able to effectively self-regulate for a long long long time and not have comprehensive omnipresent hierarchy be the norm until recently, and more importantly - those power structures were not necessary for society to grow and evolve and develop.

i guess i just don't see where that is inconsistent with anarchy in general. obviously it may be antithetical to certain western anarchists theories of human sociology, not every theory of anarchy ever anarchy more broadly.