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How to Change the Course of History
#1
A further elaboration of David Graeber and David Wengrow's earlier Farewell to the Childhood of Man.

https://www.eurozine.com/change-course-human-history/

It's pretty interesting, and I don't have a problem with rethinking the stage theory of social evolution. Some hunter gatherer groups were stratified societies, some almost state-like. And many early agricultural societies and even most early cities were actually egalitarian. If that's what the evidence indicates, I'm fine with it.

The claim that agriculture in and of itself represents the downfall of man (i.e. Jared Diamond) seems to be on shaky ground now.

One thing I have a problem with is where Graeber states:
"it’s very difficult to imagine eliminating ‘inequality’. In fact, it’s not obvious what doing so would even mean, since people are not all the same and nobody would particularly want them to be."

Well, not quite sure what he means here. I don't think anyone (except right wing ideologues) are arguing that since people are not the same (in some ontological sense?), therefore equality is difficult, or a pipe dream. How do mobile foragers manage to create equality? Who is arguing that people are the same? Who wants everyone to be the same? Why would everyone have to be the same in order to achieve equality? Makes no sense.

(I'm arguing with Graeber about this  in the comment section under the name 'Ju/'Hoansi)
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#2
Thanks a lot for posting this. I hope more people will contribute to this thread, as I think this is one of the more important current developments for people interested in anti-civ to consider.

Anarcho-primitivism tends to present a very dualistic view of "wildness & anarchy" and "civilisation & hierarchy", which I think has been on shaky ground… well, forever. And they then, often, conclude from this that we need a return of wildness and anarchy, because that's our human nature. (This type of "human nature" concept has been abandoned by anthropology for decades, and dismantled in philosophy for centuries.) This is in my view clearly a retarding way to go about arguing against civilisation. It retards the argument, because it's saying "we're meant to X, therefore Y is bad" — a clear-cut employment of the naturalistic fallacy, rather than saying "Y hurts us, so what are we gonna do about it?"

I would like to hear other anthropologists & archæologists evaluate and critique this work, because the article is written in a very bombastic manner. As fascinating as I find it, it may be very wrong in many places.

Some of my own notes follow.

«[T]he first cities were often robustly egalitarian» — maybe. What does "egalitarian" mean? How is it quantified and/or qualified? It is also weird how they write this as if it is unproblematic, only to spend a great deal of the article complaining about "inequality" as a term.

Their critique of supposing the question «what is the origin of social inequality?» is good and enlightening. But then they go on to write about inequality (and this is what Odin is criticising too) in a way that is, as far as I can tell, merely empty rhetoric. They write that «the real political message conveyed by endless invocations of an imaginary age of innocence, before the invention of inequality [is] that if we want to get rid of such problems entirely, we’d have to somehow get rid of 99.9% of the Earth’s population and go back to being tiny bands of foragers again. Otherwise, the best we can hope for is to adjust the size of the boot that will be stomping on our faces, forever, or perhaps to wrangle a bit more wiggle room in which some of us can at least temporarily duck out of its way.» Well, two things: a) according to whom? b) it does not seem to me to follow from the authors' rhetoric that these people (maybe strawmen?) they refer to are wrong.

«Abandoning the story of a fall from primordial innocence does not mean abandoning dreams of human emancipation – that is, of a society where no one can turn their rights in property into a means of enslaving others, and where no one can be told their lives and needs don’t matter.» More seemingly empty rhetoric. Why does it not mean that we have to abandon "dreams" of human emancipation (if I had any)?

What follows is a large rant about Rousseauian conceptions of our history, with cheap ad hominems at e.g. Jared Diamond. (The chauvinism of science pointed out in Feyerabend's writings apply to the social sciences too.) Unfortunately I recognise this rhetoric all to well from David Græber. Even in direct (not in-person) interactions with him, he has been a bully. This is very regrettable, as I do not have the desire to correspond with a bully, regardless of how knowledgeable they might be.

But when they get to Moriss, they have some interesting points to make again. «Let us leave Morris’ prescriptions aside but just focus on one figure: the Palaeolithic income of $1.10 a day. Where exactly does it come from? Presumably the calculations have something to do with the calorific value of daily food intake. But if we’re comparing this to daily incomes today, wouldn’t we also have to factor in all the other things Palaeolithic foragers got for free, but which we ourselves would expect to pay for: free security, free dispute resolution, free primary education, free care of the elderly, free medicine, not to mention entertainment costs, music, storytelling, and religious services? Even when it comes to food, we must consider quality: after all, we’re talking about 100% organic free-range produce here, washed down with purest natural spring water. Much contemporary income goes to mortgages and rents. But consider the camping fees for prime Palaeolithic locations along the Dordogne or the Vézère, not to mention the high-end evening classes in naturalistic rock painting and ivory carving – and all those fur coats. Surely all this must cost wildly in excess of $1.10/day, even in 1990 dollars. It’s not for nothing that Marshall Sahlins referred to foragers as ‘the original affluent society.’ Such a life today would not come cheap.»

They move onto (correctly) clarifying that Rousseau's state of nature was every bit as much a thought experiment as Hobbes's state of nature was.

Then some talk of seasonality (see https://anti-civ.net/showthread.php?tid=4).

Then "transitions" are problematised. This is insightful, I think. «[I]t no longer makes any sense to use phrases like ‘the agricultural revolution’ when dealing with processes of such inordinate length and complexity. Since there was no Eden-like state, from which the first farmers could take their first steps on the road to inequality, it makes even less sense to talk about agriculture as marking the origins of rank or private property.» And further: «‘civilization’ does not come as a package. The world’s first cities did not just emerge in a handful of locations, together with systems of centralised government and bureaucratic control.»

«Once the historical verdict is in, we will see that the most painful loss of human freedoms began at the small scale – the level of gender relations, age groups, and domestic servitude – the kind of relationships that contain at once the greatest intimacy and the deepest forms of structural violence. If we really want to understand how it first became acceptable for some to turn wealth into power, and for others to end up being told their needs and lives don’t count, it is here that we should look. Here too, we predict, is where the most difficult work of creating a free society will have to take place.» Now this reads almost like anarcho-primitivism. Lets wait until the verdict comes in before we talk as if it has. And let's decouple said verdict from where we are looking at present.

The major insights (as nominated by me) are then a) pre-civ was a lot more nuanced than it is typically presented, and b) there is no clear-cut "transition" into civ. Seasonality is interesting in itself, but perhaps we can keep that to the thread which discusses their paper on precisely that phenomena. Ultimately there are however problems with this work.

A minor one is the bombastic tone of it. Is any of this actually new? It doesn't seem like that to me. They are surveying it, putting it together, and communicating it—good. But it's not quite the fundamental revolution they are formulating here.

A related but much bigger one is that after reading it I am tempted to simply ask: "so?" Aren't we still where we started? Civilisation is messed up, and the height of freedom seems to have been pre-civ — albeit a bit more nuanced pre-civ, wherein not everyone was free and happy. To be specific: there is absolutely nothing in this work that convinces me that an industrial mass society (or even an agrarian society) that doesn't hurt us, and the planet, is at all possible.

I look forward to more scholarly work from Græber and Wengrow, but I find their political work less than impressive.
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#3
I agree, and well, here we run into the problem of what we mean by civilization and where do we define its origins.

Graeber and Wengrow contend that some if not many H-G bands were not egalitarian, and that some of these bands were rather state-like. They argue that the transition to agriculture does not represent some kind of Fall from grace for humanity, and that the first farming communities were actually still quite egalitarian, the same for many of the first cities. They don't support this with any evidence in this Eurozine article, but this article is only meant as a popular overview of the forthcoming book they are working on together. So I guess we will have to wait for the book to see their homework.

So we need to ask, does civilization begin with the very first efforts at plant cultivation (i.e. domestication) as Zerzan feels to be the case? Or does it begin with the shift towards dependence on agriculture? Or does civilization begin with the first cities? Or does it begin with the first states? Or does civilization simply begin with any form of dominance hierarchy and social stratification?

I think we need to remain open minded and let these questions percolate within us.
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#4
I think that their work may end up pointing towards dynamic life. The seasonality paper as well as this article leads me to the impression that static life is a key issue. Sedentism is of course the big bad wolf here, but there's lots of other things to consider here. E.g.
  • short-lived, task-orientated, leaders based on natural influence, vs. an elected long-lived government;
  • the community looking out for each other, maybe having a rotating-members group that pays especial attention at night and so on, vs. the modern police force with more or less permanent and protected employees;
  • being able to go to whomever you'd like to learn from, vs. the school system, &c.
There seems to be a case against static life here. I'm looking forward to their book, to read it for this angle.
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#5
I have not formed an opinion yet, but a few days ago even before i read this post i was reading this other article which i think is connected.

How Hunter-Gatherers Maintained Their Egalitarian Ways
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#6
Quote:How Hunter-Gatherers Maintained Their Egalitarian Ways

Despite the bad press, we proletarians are by and large a peaceful, egalitarian community also. The same cannot be said of the bourgeoisie who seem incapable of existing without war and inequality.
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#7
(Tue, 10 Apr 2018 20:08:50 +0000, 08:08 PM)KyXen Wrote:
Quote:How Hunter-Gatherers Maintained Their Egalitarian Ways

Despite the bad press, we proletarians are by and large a peaceful, egalitarian community also. The same cannot be said of the bourgeoisie who seem incapable of existing without war and inequality.

And how you(proletarians) maintain your egalitarian ways, within and with others ?
Central comity resolution ?
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#8
We have no competition with one another, therefore no need to maintain our egalitarian ways.

The proletariat is an organic whole but not one with a central organ, assuming there is no god.
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#9
Unless you by "proletariat" mean something impenetrable that I don't know about, then the proletariat most certainly competes—and frequently too. And most of the ones I know (all of them?) would happily concede their role as proletariat for bourgeoisie relaxing—and no wonder.
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#10
JZ talks about it again this week: https://archive.org/details/AnarchyRadio04242018

He disagrees. Perhaps no surprise there. But it's good to hear different perspectives. And the fact that it's still talked about a lot indicates how important this discussion actually is. Also see the Wolfi thread I made: https://anti-civ.net/showthread.php?tid=333.

Primitivism is being challenged, and I think that's great. It means that primitivism needs to rise to said challenge. And, regardless of whether it succeeds or fails, good discussion, and new angles, should come out of it.
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