Against His-Story, Against Leviathan! chapters one and two discussion

Submitted by Tequila_Wolf in readingclub (edited )

(length: approx. 18 A4 pages, can be found in the anarchist library)

Hey all!

So a small few of you said you'd be interested to read along with me on this. I ended up enjoying it and am hoping to find the time to read more. I think what I'll do is post individual thoughts (and sometimes just interesting quotes) as comments so that they can be replied to directly in each comment thread if anybody wants to do that. Obviously you can start up your own comment threads too :)

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Comments

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Tequila_Wolf OP wrote

The whole anti-work section was quite cool and it fed in well with the section that expressed how authority might emerge in times of scarcity (with the building of the water systems and certain elements of religion). Reading that I found myself really thinking that anarchists must have a critique of civilisation, and that it is so very clearly not just capitalism and the state and identity-based hierarchical systems that need dismantling. The whole idea of the “foreigner” as the person who is excluded from political life rings true for me in relation to all forms of oppression.

They way he complicated the progress narrative as racist and included Marxists in that narrative was cool and I thought very accessible.

Finally also the idea that the Leviathan makes no contracts and that there was never a stage where people originally went into it willingly was just nice to read and something that feels intuitive for me, but perhaps that’s because I’m anarchist.

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Tequila_Wolf OP wrote

Quote:

"The Marxists see only the mote in the enemy’s eye. They supplant their villain with a hero, the Anti-capitalist mode of production, the Revolutionary Establishment. They fail to see that their hero is the very same “shape with lion body and the head of a man, a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.” They fail to see that the Anti-capitalist mode of production wants only to outrun its brother in wrecking the Biosphere.
Anarchists are as varied as Mankind. There are governmental and commercial Anarchists as well as a few for hire. Some Anarchists differ from Marxists only in being less informed. They would supplant the state with a network computer centers, factories and mines coordinated “by the workers themselves” or by an Anarchist union. They would not call this arrangement a State. The name-change would exorcize the beast.”

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existential1 wrote

I had this bit bookmarked as well. It really hits the point that "a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet", or "the state by any other name would oppress just as harshly". I feel like this argument that he uses and then keeps up is a very strong critique of many forms socialism and some of anarchism.

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selver wrote

Excerpt from Gelderloos Worshiping Power: An Anarchist View of Early State Formation:

Far and away the best anarchist description of state formation is Fredy Perlman's Against His-story, Against Leviathan!* Perlman is writing myth, this is the strength and limitation of his essay, but in many ways he hits the nature of state formation on the head, providing a convincing historical, structural, and psychological explanation for the development of states. On both a factual and mythical level, the greatest weakness of his argument is its unitary intent. He tries to portray a single event of original state formation, explaining all other states as consequences of the Mesopotamian experience. Here more than anywhere else he contradicts the factual record and gives us a myth that is profoundly unhelpful, the Pandora's box of state formation, an evil that once unleashed cannot be be contained.

*Perlman, when he declares he is not an anarchist, does so in direct contrast to contemporaries of his who declare themselves anarchists but do not live up, in Perlman's eyes, to the anarchist ideal. Perlman, meanwhile, consistently champions anarchy and anarchism.

Interesting that Perlman's eccentric myth actually came closer to the facts than other radicals, when compared to the anthropological record.

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existential1 wrote

I particularly enjoyed the last two paragraphs of the first chapter and the first through third of the second. Too long to quote here without being burdensome, but it really brought up two things for me.

  1. The notion of how language displays just how disconnected we are from that original sense of being and interconnected-ness. It really connects with me in terms of the current fossil-fuel crises throughout north America and how indigenous communities have phrases that perfectly describe how important water and the land is that are things you literally never hear in English outside of these moments when they're translated from people who aren't as far removed from the land as a community.

  2. The attack on the logic that Civilization itself is unarguably "progress" in terms of a better state of being that is inevitable because of its inherent betterment of all.

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Tequila_Wolf OP wrote

What are people’s thoughts on Perlman’s relation to Positive Evidence? It comes up quite a bit, and I understand how he’s doing a critique of our projection of our world of what is going on when trying to understand other culture’s worlds, but I’m not sure if there’s more to that. I thought it was good though and I liked how it was tied to racism, because it often feels like the greens are terrible at that. That said, I suspect a lot of the people Perlman engages are people who also fail to evade racism and shitty assumptions about the societies they consider.

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Tequila_Wolf OP wrote

His section on Matri-archy and complicating it was interesting; if I understand correctly he seems to imply that our interpretation of matri-archy as an hierarchical system is a flawed projection of our present understanding, and that archies refer “to government, to artificial as opposed to natural order, to an order where the Archon is invariably a man”.

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Tequila_Wolf OP wrote

Quote:
“Our professors talk of fruits and nuts, animal skins and meat. They point to our supermarkets, full of fruits and nuts. We have an abundance our ancestors didn’t dream of, Q.E.D. These are, after all, the real things, the things that matter. And if we want more than fruits and nuts, we can go to the theater and see plays; we can even sprawl in front of the TV and consume the entire world-wide spectacle. Hallelujah! What more could we want?”

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Tequila_Wolf OP wrote

Readability:

I found it quite hard to get into because of Perlman’s style; especially the first few pages with all the quotes of poems. Fortunately it gets easier quite quickly.

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TheLegendaryBirdMonster wrote

Yeah, I only read the first chapter for now, but the text itself is quite itself is fascinating. Sometimes it felt like old legends, Sometimes it felt like he translated the text to toki-pona and back again, but in a good way.

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Tequila_Wolf OP wrote

Reference points for Perlman:

I haven’t heard of about half of these he reference people (Turner, Toynbee, Drinnon, Jennings, Camatte, Debord, Zerzan, Melville, Thoreau, Blake, Rousseau, Montaigne, Las Casas, Lao Tze) , and I’ve only really looked into and read a little of Lao Tze, Debord, Camatte, and Zerzan.
Camatte seems to come up repeatedly as a kind of ex-marxist person engaged in these questions and he’s very interesting for me. It’s interesting to see Debord on this list, I only really know him wrt The Society of The Spectacle, and I don’t think of that as a book critiquing civilisation.

There’s also Pierre Clastres, who I feel like would be a great person to read, starting with Society Against The State.

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selver wrote (edited )

You mentioned the anti-work section in another comment, one of the most memorable passages for me when I read this was:

If the !Kung visited our offices and factories, they might think we’re playing. Why else would we be there?

I think Diamond meant to say something more profound. A time-and-motion engineer watching a bear near a berry patch would not know when to punch his clock. Does the bear start working when he walks to the berry patch, when he picks the berry, when he opens his jaws? If the engineer has half a brain he might say the bear makes no distinction between work and play. If the engineer has an imagination he might say that the bear experiences joy from the moment the berries turn deep red, and that none of the bear’s motions are work.

...

Our ancestors — I’ll borrow Turner’s terms and call them the Possessed — had more important things to do than to struggle to survive. They loved nature and nature reciprocated their love. Wherever they were they found affluence, as Marshall Sahlins shows in his Stone Age Economics. Pierre Clastres’ Society Against the State insists that the struggle for subsistence is not verifiable among any of the Possessed; it is verifiable among the Dispossessed in the pits and on the margins of progressive industrialization. Leslie White, after a sweeping review of reports from distant places and ages, a view of “Primitive culture as a whole,” concludes that “there’s enough to eat for a richness of life rare among the ‘civilized.’” I wouldn’t use the word Primitive to refer to a people with a richness of life. I would use the word Primitive to refer to myself and my contemporaries, with our progressive poverty of life.

And I get very strong Debord vibes from that. Debord often contrasted a poverty of abundance, or a society of survival, with life. The abundance of material goods in the welfare state not making up for the alienation, the theft of life. Perlman writes about a lot of the same fundamental alienation that the SI were writing about. I'm not sure what Debord's stance was on primitive societies, but I know that Vaneigem wrote about them being based in material survival. If they were anti-civ at all, it was not in looking backwards at past ideal societies, but in looking at communism as the solution to an alienation & poverty that always existed.

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