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David Graeber Is Gone, But He’s Still Changing How We See History

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The committed anthropologist and anarchist David Graeber may be best known as the founder of Occupy Wall Street (a reputation he worked hard to disavow, always reviewing collective decision-making), but his real legacy is probably his academic work.

A star in the field of anthropology, Graeber is suddenly rejected by Yale in 2005 After teaching to 17 years (most likely, Graeber suspects, because of his politics). Graeber has written paradigm-flipping works such as 2011‘s Religion: first 5And000 years, which addressed a fundamental problem with Adam Smith. In recounting how cultures have run through credit, money, and the economics of gifts, the book calls into question the inevitability — and the iron fist — of capitalism today. In fact, in May 2018 meeting with in these times Dayton Martindale Associate Editor About Graeber’s 2018 the book, nonsense jobsThe folly of much of today’s work, said Graeber, suggests that capitalism was It quickly turns into something that might not even be capitalism…although it could be just as bad.”

This book tour will be Graber’s last. He died unexpectedly in September 2020, pancreatitis. It was 59. Just three weeks ago, Graeber announced to archaeologist David Wingro that their book, which they had been writing for a decade, was complete. The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity Autumn chest 2021 It soon made it to the New York Times bestseller list. Her thesis – that freedom and democracy are not, in fact, the new and exclusive invention of European colonial settlers – inspired such headlines as, What if everything I’ve learned about human history is wrong? “

in these times He spoke with Wengrow, a professor at the University of London’s Institute of Archeology, about how one would support such claims, and why it might have been. Kind of nice” to live in Mexico in the fourth century and what he wants people to remember about his assistant and friend David Graber.

Jessica States: blew everything up It presents a new, rich and diverse history of Progressive ideas have appeared in all kinds of societies. You’re talking about social housing, for example, which In This Times tends to portray early on 20yInvention of the century. How do you say, Yes, what we see in the year 300 In Central America is social housing?

David Wingro: One might suppose that the idea of ​​social housing—a bit like the abolition of slavery—is an idea that took a long time before anyone could conceive of doing it and that arises out of moral and ethical concerns in very modern European culture and media. But this is not true. We have examples in the book not only of social housing but of non-agricultural groups that embrace and then abolish slavery.

If you pick up a record book on the Maya and Aztecs, you will see pyramids and sculptures of kings doing bad things to their enemies and subjects. But the consensus is now forming that this very important early city 100And000Teotihuacan goes another way through the years 250300. They effectively close the so-called Temple of the Feathered Snake and stop erecting the grand monument. This is a complex, multi-ethnic, and multilingual settlement with communities coming into the city and its founding neighborhoods, from Chiapas, the Gulf Coast, or even the Maya lowlands. At about that time, all the resources and labor of the citizens are redirected abroad in building these apartment complexes placed in a highly planned network across the city. When archaeologists began investigating these buildings, they called them palaces only because they are beautiful.

JS: When I read that part I remember thinking, I don’t mind living in one place.

DW: It was rather cute. There is always a central courtyard. Then there are the homes for a small number of nuclear families. So you might end up with 150People who live privately but around this common space, with very nice drainage facilities, plastered walls, often beautifully decorated with murals (which end up today in art galleries), etc. And they are just one story. Something that looks to our eyes like a rather beautiful villa. And the whole city is covered with this. The apartments seem to have a fairly standard plan, but each one is also a bit crooked. So we are not talking about some kind of regressive criteria. It’s something more human in a way.

There were clearly differences in wealth within the city – some considerably larger and nicer. But none of it matches the standards of anything like a palace or an elite residence. The whole thing is very different from that standard picture of an ancient city in Central America.

So archaeologists had to either conclude that everyone lives in a palace or that no one lives in a palace. Either everyone was a king, or no one was a king.

The answer should be along the lines of how this community has so consciously directed resources to provide what today would be considered a truly excellent standard of living on an urban scale.

It is sometimes suggested that this is a runaway anomaly and that the long-term history of the region follows the most common pattern of hierarchy, inequality, and ownership. But there is in fact a very diverse assortment of polity in these Central American cities: some have a whole set of kings in situ; Some are more like a pyramid. All of these powerful neighborhood councils seem to have a reasonable degree of autonomy, which indeed continues into the Spanish colonial era, such as barrios.

Then there is this wonderful state of a city-state called Tlaxcala.

JS: This was my favorite section of the book! With ritually abused politicians.

DW: Yes. Tlaxcala is the city where Cortes was found20 And 000The warrior allies go to Tenochtitlan to overthrow Montezuma and the Aztec Triple Alliance. He could not have succeeded without their help.

Standard history tends to tell a story Guns, spores, and steel,” which Europeans show and presumably all natives dazzled with gunpowder, metal weapons, and the strange animals they called Deer because they’ve never seen a horse before. and they go, Can you tell us what to do?

But there are letters from Cortes to the King of Spain where he describes Tlaxcala. And he’s very frank, because he’s been running across the Americas finding kings everywhere and trying to get them to his side. This is the person who knows the king when he meets him. He explains that he can’t find one in this place. And every time he tries to get them to make a decision, they fire him for weeks at a time during their deliberations. He says it is very similar to one of the Mediterranean republics, such as Venice or Pisa.

Then David Graeber and I stumbled upon a really great resource, written in 16y Century by the Spanish scholar Francisco Cervantes de Salazar. It was funded by the colonial government in Mexico, shortly after the conquest, to interview who would have been the sons or grandsons of notable figures in Tlaxcala. It contains actual records of discussions in the council about whether to enter into cooperation with the Spaniards. Some of them are quite funny – remarks about Europeans for being sloppy, unhealthy, and obsessed with gold. They have these horrific animals that will eat everything if we let them in. These people were way ahead of anyone in Spain at the time in terms of the things we consider progressive politics today. They had a well-developed political representation system that was fully functional.

And they had ways of making sure that politicians didn’t brag about themselves. Another source, Friar Toribio of Benavente, describes the process of joining the Council of Tlaxcala. Going through this truly horrific period of self-starvation, bloodshed and torture, all these rituals are very difficult. It starts with being mistreated in the town square. Everyone goes out and abuses you. Everything is designed to flatten the ego, so that you become a civil servant in the true sense of someone in the service of the population. It is exactly the opposite of what we expect from politicians now.

JS: This part gave me fantasies of putting Donald Trump on the scene.

DW: It’s like a government where everyone was Tony Bean. Can you imagine?

JS: Another big topic of the book is the extent to which the indigenous peoples of North America influenced the European Enlightenment – another written fact of history.

DW: There has been a highly developed tradition of participatory democracy and debate that has been widely noted by European observers. For example, Jesuit missionaries were terrified of the Iroquois and Algonquian peoples they encountered. These are the people who do not give or take orders, and that was a deep problem for the Jesuits. Because if you’re trying to evangelize people, you traditionally start with the Ten Commandments. Now, how do you explain the Ten Commandments to people who don’t take orders?

Europeans described these societies as free’– which wasn’t a compliment, but was supposed to be kind of horrible, almost animalistic. Another thing that horrified the Jesuits was that they had neither courts of law nor prisons. But the Europeans admitted that their crime rates were much lower.

JS: The book is a great comprehensive history of the kind that people like to try to make holes in. What is the reception he gets in this field?

DW: The book will be subject to scrutiny. We are often far from our comfort zones. But interestingly, at David’s insistence, we have published some of the basic arguments in highly respected and peer-reviewed international journals. We’ve been out there giving talks, getting feedback, receiving criticism, and responding to criticism. Some are very fun.

piece came out in Journal of Human Evolution in a 2019subtitled Foragers do not live in small communities. It refers to our first piece.

I see receptivity not only to our work, but to a whole body of research. I think this will produce something of a paradigm shift in the next few decades. There will be more interest in the evolution of indigenous political systems, which also means a return to literature that was marginalized in the past. 20 or 30years, including researchers who themselves are of indigenous origin, which we draw attention to in the book.

At the very least, I hope the book makes it more difficult for people to keep repeating bad history, this idea that freedom and democracy only come as part of a bargain with colonialism and genocide.

JS: What do you think of the popular reception so far? Do you think David would have been happy?

DW: I think he would have been satisfied because the reception was generally positive. I feel that some of the reviewers might have been expecting a more political or politicized trajectory, which is something we deliberately strayed from – in fact it was David who was backing down. Reviewers want to talk about David’s occupation and politics, and you can find those things in the book, but that’s not the type of book. It is a book for everyone. It is not a book for a particular circuit.

Jisoo: You have a nice introduction to how your voice and David’s voice are combined in the course of this10general cooperation. Is there anything you want to share about?

DW: I was out for coffee with Astra Taylor this morning, talking about David, and one thing came to mind that was unfamiliar about him. I’m not an activist, but if I feel strong, I’ll march in every once in a while. I think David was exceptional in the sense that in all the years I’ve known him, he’s been involved in many different causes and movements — Extinction Rebellion, Global Justice, Labor at one point — and I never once remember him until trying to hold me to his standards or being critical because I I did not participate in some actions. I think this is an exceptional personality trait that many politically active people lack. There is a moral judgment You must, you must. David wasn’t really like that.

And I think that’s one of the reasons why he was able to speak to such wide audiences. It was part of this basic commitment to social liberties.

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