Sunday, September 06, 2020

David Graeber (1961 - 2020) On Usenet A Long Time Ago

I first became aware of David Graeber as a poster on Usenet back in the 1990s.

Many people who have succeeded in this world have no interest in conducting honest discussions. I found some places where one could have cheerful talk, including with harsh disagreement. And I found other places not so much. I probably fit in with the latter.

Sometime in November 1998, a thread arose, "A Donaldism for David Friedman". David Friedman is Milton's son and also promotes plutocracy under the guise of 'liberty'. The thread was about how participants should treat other posters who continually lied and said others secretly wanted to set up a totalitarian dictatorship where they could kill those who disagreed with them. Graeber was not having any of this:

[Dan Clore wrote:]
David [Friedman] wrote:
His basic thesis is that most of the people who claim to be left anarchists are really leninists, or something similar, who mask their views because their true views are unfashionable. If he can demonstrate it about Chomsky, who has the virtue of having written lots of stuff over a long period of time, and if, by forcing people on line to defend Chomsky, he can demonstrate it about them, he can discredit (at least) online left-anarchism--as a movement, and perhaps as a theory. That tactic doesn't appear workable applied to you, since you seem to have no particular interest in defending Chomsky, but it might work for those who do. And, given his beliefs about left-anarchism, it seems to me that it is a reasonable tactic.
Unfortunately for Jimi's "basic thesis", Chomsky has a long historical record in print of attacking Marxism-Leninism and state socialism in general -- including the 1960s, when it was much, much more "fashionable" than anarchism / libertarian socialism. That fact that empirical evidence disproves Jimi's thesis only seems to make him believe in it all the more rabidly: draw what conclusions from that you will.

I am beginning to finally understand what Friedman means by "reasonable". He appears to apply the term only to whether one's actions are consistent with one's premises, and rational in the sense of logically coherent. He does not appear to feel that premises themselves can be unreasonable. One could presumably start from the assumption that David Friedman is indeed a purple-assed baboon and that he ate one's grandmother and as long as one's techniques of argument are consistent with this premise, one is not an unreasonable person.

The question is whether he realizes this  can only confuse everyone else because just about everyone else does not define "reasonable" in this  way. "Reasonable", for most people, implies among other things an ability to compromise, to accomodate other points of view... "Reasonable" implies you are _not_ a fanatic who starts with wild unfalsifiable accusations, not that you have correctly concluded that, if your opponents are evil monsters, then making wild unfalsifiable accusations is best way to make them look bad.

I put forward to Mr. Friedman, then: if you are really a reasonable person ("reasonable" in the common sense, not in your own specialized sense) you will stop using the word in this way because it is obviously deceptive. It allows you to constantly insist to people who do not know you are using the word in a highly idiosyncratic, specialized sense that obvious fanatics who never compromise on anything are "reasonable", and people who are not fanatics and interested in accomodating different points of view are not. At the very least you can shift to a word like "rational". "Reasonable" is an important word with a very rich history and your usage is, to my mind, and I think to others,  just a horrible  perversion of it.


It is very difficult to navigate Google's version of the Usenet archives.

I thought Debt: The First 5,000 Years quite interesting. I probably recall it badly. I learned that money first emerged as the second-hand trading of promises in communities where everybody knew everybody. It was not a matter of solving a problem of the lack of the double-coincidence of wants in a barter system. These debts became more formal, more rigid, when communities became more hierarchical, more structured. The introduction of coins, as tokens, came about when you had outsiders, like an empire's soldiers visit, and they had no interest in participating in a village community as an equal. Debts periodically got out of hand, and a jubilee would be declared. (Yes, I know, Graeber was mistaken about Apple. I know several entrepreneurs who have started their own high tech companies.)

I was vaguely aware of Graeber jeopardizing his career at Yale with his support of the union for graduate students, his organizing role in Occupy Wall Street, and his move to London. I read his essay "Bullshit Jobs", but have yet to read the book.

This post is totally inadequate for an appreciation of him.

Update: Benjamin Balthaser in Jacobin, Michael Hardt in Jacobin, Malcolm Harris in the Nation, Sam Roberts for the New York Times, Nathan Robinson in his Current Affairs, Rebeccca Solnit in the Guardian, and many in the New York Review of Books.

1 comment:

Regina Chris said...

I think that his posthumous reputation will be rather positive. I know that this is little consolation for having died so young...