Interview with David Graeber on Democracy in America

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By Lynn Parramore, a senior editor at Alternet. Cross posted from Alternet

We think we know what democracy is. But do we? Anthropologist David Graeber burst into national consciousness in 2011 with the Occupy movement he helped to spark. The author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years has written a daring book about democracy in America: its origins, its opponents, and its chances of happening today given the stranglehold of the wealthy on our economic and political systems. Part reflection on Occupy Wall Street, the first major stirring of democratic spirit in the living memory of many, and part journey through the questions and tensions surrounding an admittedly difficult concept, Graeber's The Democracy Project: A History, A Crisis, A Movement is a welcome inquiry from an intriguing public intellectual. In the following interview, he discusses some of the major themes of the book.

Lynn Parramore: How has the Occupy movement illustrated and shaped your notion of democracy? What changes sparked by Occupy can be seen now in our political and economic systems?

David Graeber: I was first introduced to new forms of radical democracy in the global justice movement back in 2000, and that certainly transformed my own sense of political possibility. Most of us who were involved at the time felt we had finally come up with a powerful revolutionary formula: to begin to create institutions that could exist in a free society (that is, one that wasn't based on systematic violence or the threat of violence to create order), to juxtapose that to the profoundly undemocratic structures of power that currently exist… Of course then came 911 and the war on terror, and the terms of engagement for American social movements changed dramatically. We felt we were nipped in the bud.

Finally, in 2011, a new generation of young activists — helped out, certainly, by people like me from the last time around, but actually surprisingly few — managed to pull it off, briefly, on a mass scale. I think it's thrown open an almost kaleidoscopic sense of possibility, from alternative banking systems and mutual aid projects to communal assemblies as a potential form of self-governance. We have no idea yet where it all might lead if the democratic culture we're trying to build really does take root. The main thing Occupy did was to throw open the imagination, to get us to start thinking on a scale and grandeur appropriate to the times.

LP: You note that democracy was contested during America's founding. Who were the proponents of democracy and how did they manifest their views?

DG: Actually, there were almost none. In the writings of the patriots and leaders of the revolution, word "democracy" was used almost interchangeably with "anarchy" or even "mob rule." Everyone opposed it. By democracy, they meant, either rule through popular assemblies like in ancient Greece — which they saw a little during the big mobilizations they called out during the revolution — or by extension, any system where ordinary people held the power of governance themselves. So it wasn't really contested among the political classes. They were uniformly opposed to it. You just have to read the opening remarks of the constitutional convention of 1789: it begins, 'we have a problem. There's far too much democracy in this country. State constitutions cannot contain it. We need to set up something stronger.'

Still, it seems that ordinary people would use it sometimes, almost for shock value, the way some people in the 19th century started calling themselves anarchists, or in the 20th, queer. It's very hard to reconstruct the history. For me, the most revealing record we have is a letter by one Gouverneur Morris, whose family basically owned the Bronx, describing his reaction at witnessing a mass meeting he and the other pro-independence politicians had called out in New York in 1774 to discuss a tax boycott — it ended up in a long debate over whether the new country should have a "democratic" constitution — the ordinary tradesmen and mechanics who attended seem to have actually used the word, and seem to have argued for it using all the classic allusions the gentry were used to employing. "The mob," he wrote, "begin to think and reason!" He was horrified. We could try banning schoolteachers, he said, but that would never work. So he decided he wasn't for independence after all.

There were a few radical writers like Tom Paine who did use the word "democracy" from early on, but the first official use was by Jefferson and Madison when they founded the "Democratic Republican" party — which is clearly just some sort of PR trick, since Jefferson himself never uses the word "democracy" at all in his own writings. But the person who really transformed the language was Andrew Jackson. He ran as a "democrat" and it was so effective that over the course of the 1830s, everyone started calling themselves that. So basically the Republican system that was set up to contain democracy itself got renamed "Democracy."

LP: You describe something called the "democratic unconscious" as a kind of shadow political idea that has been present in America since the beginning. What is it and why has it been associated with violence and criminality?

DG: Well, when you say "associated" I think you have to ask, by whom? I think if you want to look at the ethos of individualism, egalitarianism, of democratic improvisation that does seem to mark the American spirit from early on, you have to got back to the very first settlers. It's quite interesting. At first, the settlers called themselves Englishmen, Dutch, or Frenchmen, it was the Indians they referred to as "Americans." They only really started calling themselves "Americans" when they started acting more like Indians. You see the Puritan fathers complaining about this all the time, how fathers are abandoning "severity" and acting like Indians, not beating their wives and children, talking back to their betters… And then of course there's the presence of the frontier itself, and all the places just outside state control, where people often from very different backgrounds met and had to make something up in a hurry. I call them spaces of democratic improvisation. At first there were a lot of these, any many in surprising places. Some have suggested that one of the earliest really democratic institutions were pirate ships. Pirate captains mostly couldn't give commands except during chase or battle; otherwise everything was decided by majority vote. But of course one can well imagine how the educated gentry viewed such spaces.

LP: Why is the financialization of capitalism such a powerful anti-democratic force? Is any kind of capitalism compatible with democracy?

DG: I suppose it depends on how you define either term. In the book, I make the argument that, if we see "democracy" as an ideal, a form of collective problem-solving rather than a battle of conflicting interests, then you can't really reconcile that with vast inequalities of wealth. The founders were actually pretty perceptive on this — though their conclusion was that since they wanted to maintain vast inequalities of wealth, they didn't like democracy.

As for financialization, well, we tend to talk about that as if it's all very abstract. More and more profits are derived not from making or selling anything, but pure speculation, as if these Wall Street types have figured out a way to whisk wealth into being simply by saying that it's there. In fact what it really means is that financial interests collude with government — which they've basically completely bought out, at this point — to enforce policies that reduce more and more Americans into debt. The reason it's so anti-democratic is that it changes the role of government itself, which is increasingly becoming merely the legal cover and muscle behind debt and rent extraction, for a very small group of the super-wealthy who play by a completely different set of rules. This in turn changes ordinary Americans' basic perceptions of their relation to government and other key institutions of our society. Most people no longer see themselves as "middle class" precisely because they no longer feel those basic institutions are ultimately on their side.

LP: Obama has just proposed to cut Social Security and Medicare as part of his budget. How does this action reflect your view of the people's will and its reflection in our political system?

DG: Well, clearly, it demonstrates that what people actually want has almost no bearing on what elected officials do. If it did we'd have single payer, which was supported by something like two thirds of the US public. In fact it wasn't even considered. Now, all this is quite in keeping with the fact that government is becoming a mere extension of financial interests but what fascinates me is the compliance of the educated classes, and what pass for opinion-makers in this country. No one seems to see any of this as particularly scandalous. The media in particular seem to have abandoned any notion that "democracy" has anything to do with popular will; they see it as an institutional structure, a system of checks and balances, operating through laws — so if properly constituted authorities just change the laws, making most forms of bribery legal, for example, by relabeling it "lobbying" — then that's not a threat to democracy, that somehow is democracy at work. This is why I think going back to that original history is so important.

LP: You make the intriguing statement that in order to break out of the money and politics trap, the left ought to take its cue from the populist right. What do we need to understand from them?

DG: Mainly that people resent being told they're selfish greedy bastards who care only about material self-interest. Progressives always ask why working-class people tend to vote Republican even though it's so obviously economically disadvantageous. I think the reason is that the Democrats aren't much better, but the Republicans at least tell them that they're noble. They are good people willing to undergo austerity for the good of their grandchildren. They are patriots. They are people of faith. The Democrats say "well, we think you're basically in it for yourselves, everyone is. So are we. So we don't have to give you very much, we'll keep most of the goodies for the professional elites and Wall Street types who fund us — but you should go along anyway because a little is better than nothing." I think right-wing populists hate the "liberal elite" more than economic elites because they've grabbed all the jobs where you get paid to do something that isn't just for the money — the pursuit of art, or truth, or charity — and all they can do if they want to do something bigger than themselves and still get paid is join the army.

The one thing that really impressed me about Occupy was how so many of those who got involved, or even more of those who supported it from afar, were in the caring and helping professions. Which is not a huge percentage of our workforce: teachers, social service providers, medical workers… And that's what they were saying too "if you want to do a job where you do good in the world, where you take care of others, they'll put you in so much debt you won't even be able to take care of your own family." We need to start from that and think about what work is and why people do it, what an economy is even for, and the fact that a society that punishes people for trying to be decent human beings is profoundly inhuman.

LP: You favor consensus democracy with collective deliberation and equal participation. How can that operate at a large scale? What's wrong with majority voting with rights?

DG: Majority voting tends to encourage maximizing the differences between people, rather than encouraging compromise, creative synthesis, seeking common ground, which is what consensus is designed to do. Majority voting also invariably needs some sort of coercive mechanisms of enforcement. Don't get me wrong, nobody's talking about absolute consensus, like they used to do, where just one person can block everything and there's nothing you can do about it. Consensus is just a way to change proposals around until you get something the maximum number agree on, rather than our system, say, where practically 48-49 percent of voters each time always ends up crushed and defeated. And yes, when you get up to a larger scale, you can't just rely on assemblies or spokescouncils. It does make sense to decentralize as much as possible. Consensus only works if you don't have to ask for it unless you really have to. But as for scaling up: there are any number of possibilities.

One I've been studying up on of late is sortition. Through much of Western history, it never occurred to anyone that elections had anything to do with democracy — they were considered aristocratic. The democratic way of choosing officials, if you had to do it, was lottery. Give people basic tests for sanity and competence and then let anyone who wants to throw in their name have an equal shot. I mean, how can we do much worse than a lot of the people we have now? Sortition would be more like jury duty, except non-compulsory. But there are all sorts of other possibilities.

LP: Is democracy possible in America? If so, what might it look like?

DG: It's possible anywhere. But it would take enormous changes in our economic and political assumptions. Myself, I'm less interested in mapping out a constitution for a truly democratic society than creating the institutions by which people can collectively decide for themselves what it might look like. The one resource in the world that's absolutely not scarce at all is smart, creative, people with ideas we'd never have thought of. Solutions are out there. The problem is 99 percent of those people spend most of their lives being told to shut up.

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  1. Paul Tioxon

    I am glad to see David here again and again, see that he is writing expansively on democracy. Here are some of the tactics of suppressing democracy. I love it when polls are attacked as some sort of insidious foreign influence. One of the original high minded ideas behind actually asking the public what they thought or what they wanted in terms of policy choices or laws passed or problems solved was to hold elected officials in check by means other than the ballot. It is no surprise that voting once a year does not mean the public is in control of any government decision making in a meaningful way. Polls that are take between elections puts pressure on elected officials by letting them know what people think.

    Today, there are all kinds of politically slanted polls, but the idea that a politician can stand before the media and declare that he does not pander to the polls, to what people are saying they want or don’t want is a huge slap in the face. Declaring a solemn vow to stand on principle and not acknowledge the people speaking through polling, as if polls were some howling noise from the un-silent malcontents. The dismissal of the will of people outside of the voting booth, you know you’ve heard over and over again, “The only poll I pay any attention to is the poll that counts, every November” is an expression of pure contempt for direct communication from the citizenry on a specific course of action.

    Building participatory democracy, in a democratically controlled republic is something that can actually come to pass with the internet and the social media. But at some point, it comes down to increasing direct control over the mechanism of state. Whether or not you are an anarchist, a mutualist co-operator or concerned in your own way, the real politik of dealing with the state is vitally important.

    One step forward in democratization would be elimination of the electoral college and elimination of congressional districts with one person getting one vote for each congressional rep for each state. In PA, I would get to vote for 18 different candidates, not 18 times for one person running, but I could vote for 18 reps, one vote for each congressperson allotted to my state. There might be a field of a 100 candidates, but the top 18 vote getting candidates would go to DC. This would open up the 2 party monopoly in Congress. It used to be that state legislators choose who would go to the US Senate, but a Constitutional amendment changed that to direct election. Mark Twain was involved in that bit of Progressive Era Reform. It is time take down the gerrymandering non-sense and the electoral college crap as well. If we can build consensus on that, maybe we can operate consensus on a larger scale for other key issues, such as making the market mechanism serve the republic, not have the state be a profit making asset for the 1%.

    1. nonclassical

      “Of course then came 911 and the war on terror, and the terms of engagement for American social movements changed dramatically. We felt we were nipped in the bud.”

      Just as need to confront fascism, WW II, pushed aside national debate upon worker’s rights, unions, rapacious capitalism…

  2. Richard Kline

    There are many interesting points to take up from David’s remarks. To consider one, I’m unconvinced that ‘democracy of decision’ will ever be functional in large human aggregates. But I’m not convined that this is nearly as important as the sensitization of individuals and the public to the ‘democracy of compliance.’

    By ‘democracy of decision’ I mean an active input to decisions reached by all who care to participate. This can be terribly unwieldy even with a few _dozen_ individuals, as Graeber is well aware in his remarks, both practically and theoretically. Any study of voluntariy communitarian societies indicates this problem, in conditions where most everyone wants their system to function. Delegation of administration seems inevitable. Yes, decentralizing decision-making, funding, and actual participation as much as possible _is_ highly desirable, a point Graeber does speak to in passing. The real Left in general and Anarchists in particular have always stressed this. There is a limit to how much this can be done. The real alternative of huge numbers of small, sovereign econo-politcal aggregates has occurred many times in history—with a major downside: endemic war and stasis, together with outright tyranny in many small locales easily dominated by a ruthless few. The advantage of large political aggregates is a degree of internal security and infrequency of armed violence, so long as functional overall rules and more or less just dispute resolution (i.e. laws) hold. The larger point being, a certain cession of ‘personal democracy’ seems an inevitable trade-off for overall stability.

    It doesn’t matter whether the ‘stubborn 3%,’ with whom I tend to find myself personally, _ever_ agree to that trade-off because most people will so agree, on the historical evidence. The weight of the larger polity enforces outward conformity, regardless of ones utopian perspective. This happens at all scales of social aggregation, it’s not just a function of ‘the inertia of mass ass’ in a phrase. Families aren’t generally democratic. Kin groups were seldom democratic; conformity was expected, and the views of elders always were given inordinate weight, perhaps with justice but often not and regardless contra ‘democracy.’ There is the entire further issue of dominance as a _healthy_ ordering function in aggregations of social animals as well. Dominance functions to _minimize physical confrontation_ and maintain group unity. Everyone has a place, it’s just that some are given more weight and some less. That’s overtly anti-democratic but directly functional if a prime goal is for the group to not simply stay together but act together. Social groups simply do not function ‘democratically’ in an _absolute sense_ even if consensus is often tacitly enforced, a latter point to which I’ll return.

    There are many downsides to the delegation of authority in groups, of course. Individuals have a tendency to exploit the occupation or influence of a decision node. Sometimes, they think they are ‘doing the right thing’ and it all goes bad. Then too, some simply loot, act with gross prejudice, or enforce their caprice or malice upon the many. Sortition doesn’t necessarily get around this. Acton: “Power tends to corrupt.” Putting untested individuals in powerful situations doesn’t always work well. In politics, we at least have a track record, so that even if that demonstrated record is one of prejudice and corruption the biases of the individuals can be anticipated. [In that respect, everything Obama has done was baked into his record, it’s just that people didn’t want to believe their own lying eyes.] Random individuals in power are no guarantee of better or worse stewardship—but they _are_ a guarantee of blind grab at a pig in a poke.

    One is looking most probably then at a certain cession of ‘democracy of decision’ in return for physical security and a degree of personal liberty to pursue ones own interests; in return, we face the hazards of ‘the deciders’ who even in trying to do well often do ill—and they don’t try to do well any too damn often, nor the less so the more there is lying around to loot. What to do? That is where the ‘democracy of compliance’ comes in. While the deciders may decide we all have a degree of latitude in how much we comply with the decision promulgated. This is a feature much under-stressed in theory regarding democracy in societies. We place far too much emphasis on the decision phase and far too little emphasis on the cooperation phase. Yes, decisions create facts on the ground. Ideally, truly bad decisions are prevented and a few useful decisions are pushed to enactment. Even in the best case, though, good decsions, valued systems, and institutions can all go off the rails just by the context changing. What we really control is how much we comply, regardless of the worth of the policy or ‘law,’ irrespective even of our understanding of such.

    Yes, control. The real pressure is in the degree of compliance and non-compliance individuals and smaller groups put forward to the decisions and systems of the deciders. Even in totalitarian systems, noncompliance has been rife, the sand in the crankcase effect. And in more or less democratic republican systems, there is tremendous latitude for non-compliance, or partial compliance. To me, it is ‘the democracy of compliance,’ or the power of the weak in a parallel and very evocative phrase, by which individuals and groups of good will may best apply pressure, influence ‘facts on the ground,’ shape the space for decisions not yet made. Power must be reminded often, in things large and small, that our consent is not a given; that our ability to obstruct is at least as costly to power as any overt action to disrupt; that consent given to policies of power does not come for nothing given in return; that compliance is always conditional and can be withdrawn as an act of policy by the many at any time.

    We might best be struggling less for permission to speak and organizing more for an articulated and conditional willingness to comply. Democracy, to the extent to which we will practice it in our lives, lies less in what we say than in what we do.

    1. diptherio

      Excellent points, Richard. We may be able to get away with having imperfect decision making processes (which they all are) if non-compliance or partial-compliance is allowed, so maybe that’s what we need to be pushing for.

      I imagine the “we all have to play be the same rules,” argument would be deployed by the opposition, as well as the “law and order” argument, but arguing for low-or-no penalties for non-compliance (at least for victimless crimes), might be able to pick up enough libertarian and contrarian supporters from the “right” to be politically viable…idk. It would sure make life less anxiety-inducing for us 3%ers…

    2. JEHR

      Just reading all of these great responses to the post makes me think that there really is another way of looking at the problem so that great disfunction becomes a beginning for innovation in re-creating democracy. Scrap the old; bring in the new. Just hearing all these ideas makes me think that something new will be created out of this world-wide mess that we have now.

      1. Montanamaven

        Yes I heard Alexis Goldstein of Occupy the SEC talking about a better way to keep corporations honest than regulation. Have the board of directors have worker representation on them. Like Germany. In other words, bring democracy into the workplace.

        1. Susan the other

          And even beyond labor. Let every region on the planet have its vote. I’d go for the local organic model of a beneficial environment for the local bacteria. And also for the local politix. (maybe redundant but still sensible) Long live your local bacteria. They are you. If democracy only serves to sanitize, emulsify and wipe away your organic fingerprint, forget it. Dump destructive democracy before it dumps you. I really want my democracy to be down and dirty. Sweaty, sunburned, delicious, and beautiful. Go tell that to the TPP.

    3. Johnny Fraudclosure

      I keep hearing ‘tyranny of the majority’ in your submittal, although I didn’t have time to specifically read it.
      “There is a limit to how much this can be done”
      What limitations have we assumed? Technology has already made the poor arrangement that we traditionally refer to as “representative democracy” obsolete. Look at all of us typing our time, energy and thoughts into blogs.

    4. nonclassical

      It doesn’t matter whether the ‘stubborn 3%,’ with whom I tend to find myself personally, _ever_ agree to that trade-off because most people will so agree, on the historical evidence.

      Richard-as you know therefore, those who “control historical documentation”, control decisions…all effort must be dedicated to TRUTH, and it’s compartments, “transparency, oversight, accountability”…

      TRUTH is more and more visceral-all medium for expression of, are being taken control of…including at a minimum, the last 3 presidencies…

      The ONLY way out of this reality is realization $$$$ is NOT $peech-rather, $$$$ is PROPERTY, and it is ILLEGAL to “give” political contribution of PROPERTY to influence “the people’s” government-legislative proces=TRUTH!

      As even Reagan budget director David Stockman stated last month, political campaigns must be financed PUBLICLY, and without influence of LOBBYISTS…

      1. Richard Kline

        So nonclassical, public campaign spending was the debate topic in 10th grade for me in 1974. I was for it then and remain for it, and it’s symptomatic of the flaccidity of the American body politic that this hasn’t been meaningfully pushed for. All the liberal opportunists amongst us think their personal endorsement/vote counts, whereas the radicals who get no audience understand that it’s structures which win or lose. Opportunistic individualism did well in the 80s and 90s but has gotten it’s face kick in from the 00s on, now that the oligarchy has gotten around to eating their lunch, too.

    5. traveler

      Oh yes! Resistance on an obstructive level can be very effective.

      But docility and quiet grumbling in the face of ‘authority’ is inculcated at an early age as part of ‘the plan’.

  3. RanDomino

    Graeber continues to be utterly, embarrassingly, and confusingly wrong on Consensus. I wonder if he still thinks they did it right in OWS?

    He has the purpose right but not the process. It’s true that Consensus means working together instead of making a decision and forcing the minority to go along with it, but he’s wrong about how that would actually play out. The key part of Consensus is that it’s only really possible to have a non-hierarchical, non-bureaucratized conversation with a small number of people- somewhere around 5-20; this is also the ideal size of an Affinity Group.

    What if you need to make a decision involving more people? Keep in mind, that accounts for probably 95% of the decisions anyone will routinely make- in living situations, meals, work, event planning, etc, you’re usually going to be making the vast majority of decisions as a small group. Still, sometimes it’s necessary to include more people in a single decision. For them, the first step is identifying how those people are already organized as small groups- this is where OWS fell down. It was based on this idea of ‘mass,’ which is to say ‘everybody in a big amorphous blob,’ which is the idea behind electoral politics and beloved by Marxists- because there’s no internal organization in a mass, leaders are able to take power.

    Mass is not compatible with Consensus. First you have to have internal organization, based on everyone’s small groups. So let’s say we have 100 people- maybe there are already 10 small groups of 10 people each. They can make a decision using Consensus internally but it wouldn’t work if 100 people try to sit down and talk (I should know; I’ve been in several situations like that and it’s a mess, and Occupy often had to resort to voting and misusing the Block). Instead, each of those 10 groups can send a delegate to what’s called a Spokescouncil. Delegates are only allowed to report what their group has decided, to receive the decisions of the other groups, and to request and give information- they aren’t representatives, meaning they’re not empowered to make decisions themselves. Delegates fill in for larger numbers of people in a regular Consensus conversation; this also encourages concise points and efficient arguments since they may have to be relayed by someone else.

    Multiple tiers of Spokescouncils can account for even more people. One tier might be an apartment building, small town, or workplace; two tiers might be a neighborhood in a larger city, an entire small city, or a small supply chain; three tiers might be an entire large city, a rural region, or an industry; four could be a continent; five could be the entire planet.

    This model of Consensus also suggests an organizational strategy, namely Federation, with an emphasis on decentralization since each affinity group, collective, or small federation could be expected to be part of multiple larger federations.

    1. banger

      I think you are right about consensus. Certainly the method used for the OWS movement had theatrical value but as a means of achieving consensus or anything else it was pure garbage.

      The left consistently undermines itself by avoiding organization, planning and discipline. The left plays politics like a basketball player who can’t dribble. No wonder the left, though a sizable minority, can’t even assert the power of numbers–the left is less than the sum of its parts–consistently.

      Also, it’s good you’re thinking about these things and I like where you’re mind is going. However, I think we tend to put the cart before the horse. Before effective organizing can occur and affinity groups established there has to be a cohesive interacting community–and there is no such thing. For example, I live in the South and here people are organized by old kinship ties, tribal ID and, usually, church. Churches take care of their own and offer help to members who have troubles—you aren’t alone if you are part of a church. What does the left offer? Not much. The left in America has no ground, no source of security and belonging. The old Civil Rights movement worked in the South because black people were united through the church through living a life that often put others first and where you could count on the fact you were not alone.

      I’ve seen directly how people in other societies who are closely tied by kinship and ritual take care of each other so they can handle disaster that most Americans would not be able to handle. How can people in extreme poverty in slums around the world live and even celebrate their lives–through doing what human beings are meant to do–connect!

      The main dilemma the progressives in this country face is that they criticize the “individualism” of the right yet they themselves live as individuals first and then somewhere down the lines they are part of some vague grouping known as progressives, liberals or leftists.

      We can theorize all we want but unless we deal with the very real issue of community (yes, I’m a communitarian) there is NOT even the remotest chance that progressive values will be seriously entertained in the American political system as can be seen by the history of the last few decades.

      1. Ché Pasa

        Right. This is exactly right.

        Without community, it’s nigh unto impossible to operate on a consensus model. Anyone who’s been involved in the formation of intentional communities knows that it can take years for the process to mature, and even then, there may be more failures than successes.

        What Occupy did was open a lot of people’s eyes to possibilities they’d never been exposed to or considered. There was (and still is) a tremendous effort to establish communities within the Occupy framework. Some of them have endured and might well continue indefinitely if left to their own devices.

        To Westerners in general and Americans in particular, this is all new territory which they have little or no familiarity with. Consensus and democracy — however you want to define them — are essentially alien concepts. Finding out how they work and how they fail is still a matter of discovery.

        I think it became painfully clear that the underlying problem with the Occupy experience was the lack of community and coming to grips with how difficult it was to form and sustain community under often extremely hostile circumstances.

        David seems to be trying to move the discussion and consideration forward, but he’s probably the first to admit he doesn’t have all or even most of the answers.

        1. banger

          I don’t think Occupy did anything but open the imagination. As a movement if failed spectacularly–which actually is cool. What people discovered is the sheer joy of the collective–it had to fail, btw, because Americans are retarded about community–they just aren’t familiar with it or what it takes to sustain it. I’m an old timer and I know all about how difficult community building is–we just aren’t culturally build for it. It takes a desire to live first for the community and only secondarily to pursue private interests. There’s no alternative to this and leftists in this country have no way to know how to deal with that.

          But damn, it feels good–it’s like having a party that goes on for days. But like all parties, it ends when the building phase starts–we will have to be able to endure that building phase and all the ego issues that come up–if you’ve ever been part of such a collective you’ll know what I mean.

          1. jake chase

            Community has never worked in America for several reasons. First, it is always organized around authoritarian bullshit, as in religion and family, with the result that the brightest and potentially most useful people throw up their hands and secede as quickly as possible. Second, opportunities for individualism have always abounded: cheap land, education, technology, criminality, flimflamery, toadyism, adventurism, etc. Third, individualism is heavily supported by myth and the only opposition comes from religion, which continues with doctrinal absurdity and thus abandons all credibility. I read the stuff about organizing on this blog and my reaction is you guys are one hundred years behind Big Bill Haywood and he has been dead one hundred three years.

            The best possible basis for organization remains a renewed and redirected labor movement, one serving all working people, not just elite trades. The last labor movement sold out the general working population and limited itself to extortionate demands first on behalf of a hard hat elite, later on behalf of a civil service bureaucracy dedicated to avoiding work and accumulating vacation time. The hard hat unions degenerated into corruption, crime and phony patriotism dedicated to suppressing political dissent. The battle will be all uphill and nothing important is likely to be accomplished in the lifetime of anyone now capable of reading this, since the status quo is readily maintainable by financial jiggery pokery and propaganda feeding the fantasies of the masses.

            IMHO, all of you should spend more time reading up on how people managed during the Great Depression. That is where the 95% is headed, excluding only those who manage to maintain employment in The Predatory Machine.

          2. banger

            @Jack Chase

            Indeed I’ve done considerable reading on the Depression and the labor movement and yes that ought to be the center of the struggle. But here’s the point—we’ve had communities and we know how to do it–the culture of narcissism (consumer culture) has paralyzed us–community is normal and we’re hard wired to it–but “sinister forces” keep us from it, aka black magic of the wizards of PR and advertising. Need counter-spells.

      2. RanDomino

        This is a very good line of thinking. One thing we can do is remember that “solidarity” is not a state of being, but an action- we engage in solidarity by acting to help each other. An entire strategy is suggested by the praxis of Seattle Solidarity Organization, for example, which uses the “solidarity unionism” model of the IWW to help people win fights against small businesses even if there isn’t a formal, union, against landlords, even against banks.
        One way I’ve heard it put is, “form gangs!”

    2. David Graeber

      And where do I say we wouldn’t need spokescouncils?

      Most of us Global Justice Movement veterans assumed that the General Assembly model was a crazy experiment, because of course we’d need a spokes for larger groups. As it happened the GAs worked ok for the camps, since there was a face-to-face community and immediate things that clearly had to be done, but once the camps were broken up all the problems we predicted did set in and everyone came to agree a different model was needed.

      Of course a spokes is a way of doing consensus. There have been successful spokes with thousands of people. And assemblies of probably hundreds can work well by consensus as well if people have experience doing it – as I and many others have witnessed in many parts of the world. But for really large groups and of course distances there are other structures that have to come into place.

      If you’re going to go accusing people of embarrassing themselves in public, you might at least try to make sure you don’t embarrass yourself – you know, by checking to see if what you accuse them off has some slight relation to what they actually say or think.

      1. RanDomino

        Okay, sorry for being so aggro about it, but it seems like everything I read about you and Consensus sets me on edge. Yes, I know, “Consensus is a principle, not a process,” but process determines whether or not principles are fulfilled. I mean, for example, what you say about the Block seems to be a major reason why people continue to think it’s a veto- when in fact it’s a declaration that a proposal will cause a split, which is the most wonderful part of Consensus IMO and why it’s and federation are the only kind of decision-making process and organizational system that make sense for an anarchist society; and what a contrast with the current “whether you like it or not” political arrangements, in which people are forced into nonsensical political arrangements based on what territory some dead white guys conquered or bought 150 years ago.

        As far as I know you’ve never said not to form Spokescouncils, but I’m not aware of you ever suggesting them in the context of Occupy. For someone who’s so influential, that seems like a major omission. Spokescouncils and federation not only complete the puzzle of Consensus, but they also sketch a vision of Anarchist organization in a way which makes sense, sticks to principles, and is plausible enough to make a convincing argument that, yes, it actually can work.

        1. David Graeber

          Well a block is used as both – that’s kind of an unresolved issue. There is indeed a principle in many groups that a block ought to be based in a group’s principles of unity, or, in the absence of those, at least relate to it’s basic purposes of being – that is, you can’t say “what, meeting at 3 PM?! I hate afternoon meetings! I block!” – unless you can make a case that having the meeting during working hours excludes working people and is thus discriminatory or somesuch. But it’s true there’s also the “I would leave over this” principle. Usually in practice there’s not much difference between them, since people rarely leave groups over things they don’t feel are basic matters of principle. And pretty much ever consensus training I ever went to in the GJM put it as either. I tend to emphasize the question of basic principles because I think it’s a problem that a lot of groups don’t feel they have to clarify their basic principles and it encourages irresponsible blocking.

          As for the spokes issue, I wasn’t aware I’d weighed into it one way or another in my written work. I talk about consensus but I rarely talk about GAs, I think I wrote once about them, as a wild experiment that (at the time) seemed to work, and to be honest it never occurred to me that talking about consensus would be interpreted as meaning not using a spokes model, since the two really developed together, have always been used together, and I’d never suggested anything else. I always supported the creation of spokes in New York, and have supported getting it revived since. To be honest you seem to be projecting things into me a little. Admittedly, a lot of people do that. When I came out with that piece emphasizing principles over binding formal rules, I got a lot of responses – there was one on the super hateful anarchistnews page – saying “well, nice he says so now, considering he was the greatest advocate of consensus as binding formal rules.” It did occur to me to challenge that person to come up with even one example where I ever said anything about consensus being a set of formal binding rules – since none exist. And I’ve very often said the opposite. In fact, my entire explanation of why consensus, rather than voting, is always employed in systems of democratic decision-making that operate in the absence of state authority (other than in military situations) is just that: it’s the only system that works when you can’t compel anyone to go along with “binding” decisions they don’t like. But there was no point. People just get these ideas in their head of who you are and what you’re about and they simply won’t believe you if you tell them otherwise.

          1. RanDomino

            “that is, you can’t say ‘what, meeting at 3 PM?! I hate afternoon meetings! I block!'”

            But that’s the thing- you CAN say that. And then the rest of the group could consider you to be nuts or irresponsible, reject the Block, and show you the door. A group’s principles of unity are one thing, but each participant in a group also has principles for being they are part of that group. If the group’s actions are in conflict with a member’s reasons for being part of the group, they SHOULD Block.

            “As for the spokes issue, I wasn’t aware I’d weighed into it one way or another in my written work.”

            That’s what I’m saying. Spokescouncils and federation go along with Consensus and all three are necessary to have a cohesive system. So when you only talk about one, I think it creates the wrong impression, which is that anarchists are wishy-washy dreamers and that Consensus is a nice idea but doesn’t actually work- which is, of course, completely false.

            “there was one on the super hateful anarchistnews page”

            95% trolling, 5% cops, 25% more trolling. (and 30% is posts by emile)

            “To be honest you seem to be projecting things into me a little.”

            Maybe, and if so then I’m sorry, but if you think so then don’t take it personally since those of us who are doing so are not talking about you but rather your representation as a public intellectual.

          2. David Graeber

            Well you know the only place I have actually written about organizational issues in any detail is in the Direct Action book and there I talk about spokes councils all the time. I just can’t figure out why someone would read “consensus” as “not spokes councils.” Consensus is a process of decision-making. Spokes (and federations) are forms of organization in which one uses consensus proess – or, if one prefers, some other. It’s like saying I believe in driving on the right side of the road and people therefore assume I am endorsing only using cars and never trucks.

          3. RanDomino

            Spokescouncils aren’t a TYPE of Consensus, they’re an ASPECT of Consensus- if we intend for anarchistic organization to be the common practice of humanity, at least.

    3. nonclassical

      wrong, sir-having attended OWS, those involved could not formulate TRUTH-what had actually been perpetrated, to conduct economic destruction…which has been HIDDEN-it is difficult to believe this TRUTH could be hidden from 350 million people-but it is continuation of LIES, politically, economically, militarily..

      it is TRUTH that leads…abstract as this may appear to you…

  4. Richard Kline

    Graeber: ” . . . [B]ut the Republicans at least tell them that they’re noble.” Really? I must have missed that one, and I’ve been watching 50 years.

    I quite differ with David on this point. The conservative elite has never coddled up to the conservative working class so far as I hear them talk, or told them that they’re ‘noble.’ The alliance of the two has other bases in my view, though yes, it is a real alliance. The working class as I can see it in the main believe quite deeply in the narrative of sin and redemption. It is deeply entrenced in Western society, but frankly one finds this in _most_ societies. Conservatives generally believe in sin and redemption, and thus there is considerable emotional resonance across class lines. What I have heard played on the great organ of propaganda for decades now is “Rule the sinners with the rod.” And the conservative working clas L-O-V-E-S this narrative. And “We’re in this crusade ‘together.'” Of course, said working class believes that some sinners are worse than others; that they themselves are redeemable, not least because of their (relative degree of) whiteness and their willingness to acknowledge that they are sinners too. Unlike those irredeemable [others] who won’t acknowledge that and lack an acceptable coloration anyway. It’s a ‘noble crusade,’ to them, but the elite and the fodder have different agendas on who’re Officers and who are Other Ranks in that.

    Where do liberals fit in? “There’s no such thing as sin, it’s all about money.” A liberal skepticism regarding sin is just exactly what leads the conservative working class to despise them. Because without sin and confession that conservative working class is screwed. If it’s all about money, no Great Leader will ever redeem tham and they’ll stay stuck in the muck plucking for a buck with all the other-colored ducks. And that is just an intolerable thought; it’s easier to vote out the messengers. Liberalism is soft on sin. The conservative working class _needs_ sin so they can get redeemed from the shyte to which others are to be condemened. Hence, the first problem is ‘the liberals,’ as the conservative elite is only to ready to remind their inferiors on the Great Crusade to incinerate the hindmost (first, the rest will come later).

    I could extend that thought, but that’s enough. I will say, though, that the flirtation of those on the Left with the {putative] ‘better organization’ of those on the populist right is pernicious, daft, and in the end self-defeating. The populist right has had a degree of visibility because its narratives align with the convervative elite, who’ve made a little media space for them and cast a few coins their way. The populist right continue by any perspective to be about ‘some are saved’ no matter what else they are after. Is that really a narrative one on the Left would endorse _for any reason_? I think not. Whether working class, middle class, or oligarchy, a conservative perspective orients toward ‘some not all,’ ‘sin is everywhere,’ ‘a redeemed few are fit to lead,’ and ‘confess or be damned.’ I can’t see where those perspectives have any place in a just community organized for all, which from where I see it is what the Left moves toward, however haphazardly.

    Now it _is_ a problem that the working class in the West remains deeply attached to a ‘some not all’ narrative. It’s worth bearing in mind that the Left _never_ orignated in the working class, and had no initial base in any peasantry. While the origins of the Left are debatable, they certainly began amongst the educated classes, typically but not always the educated better off middle class. Left politics did become conflated with working and laboring class solidarity activism whose roots are somewhat different. But typically, as I read it, Left communalism only prospered by grafting onto _and replacing_ radical religious activism. Because it was necessary to replace, or at least repress, the ‘sin and redemption’ narrative for the working class. None of this is any reason for the present Left to try to copy the populist right with their ‘sin and redemption narratives’: that is absolutely the WRONG thing to do, if you’ve followed me this far folks.

    Talking about inequality, the contempt of the oligarchy for the law, a program to enserf working people with debt, a government who wastes the patriotism of the many on blowback colonial adventures in the interests of the oligarchy: These are the points to organize around among many. Because they are grounded in the truth, and the truth of them speaks to the injuries of the many perpetrated by the few.

    1. Massinissa

      Clearly I agree to throw out the ‘sin and redemption’ rhetoric.

      But is it possible for a new left to speak in more moral terms? To come up with some new left populist morality that might be appealing to these types of people? To talk about morality without the whole ‘sin and redemption’ schtick at dividing and conquering?

      Or is the left doomed to be looked upon as somehow ‘less moral’ because theyre less acceptive of the current hierarchy?

      1. Richard Kline

        So Massinissa, conservatives are about sin, liberals are about opportunity, radicals are about justice. The critique of the left has _always_ been a moral critique, from the first word.

        I wouldn’t say that the difficulties of the Left can be boiled down to any pithy remarks I might make here. But there are two points which come to mind. The first is that the critique of the Left has become excessively identified with _personal_ justice—‘justice for this’—as opposed to economic justice for all. There are many injustices in this world, to be sure, and if one of them is standing upon your own toe, or the neck of your most closely identified community, than ‘justice for this’ is obviously pressing. The effect can become, and more often can be made to seem to become, factionary. The conservative working class has been optimized to see radical organizing as ‘justice for some,’ and those some often competitors down the economic scale. This has always been a problem, of the poor being played off against each other, but the Left has been to a degree too pre-occupied with particular justice rather than community justice. Nothing is that cut and dried, sure, and having to already struggle against the weight of an indifferent to unjust sytem those on the Left only have so much time and effort to set the record and the issue straight. The working class does not have the impression that the Left is doing anything for them, though, and that is failure of those on the Left to communicate too often, it seems to me.

        Secondly, the Left has been successfull tarred as opposed to opportunity. “Opportunity for all” has been propagandized successfully into “hold back the rest” even where this is not true. Many in the working class want opportunity just like anyone else. Getting the message that they’re to go to the end of the line while a bunch of others ‘go first,’ even where that is not an accurate description, makes a very caustic impression. The Left has been too intent on laying the blame for past injustice to successfully propagandize ‘opportunity for all.’ I’m not even convinced that the Left _cares_ about opportunity at all; it’s certainly not their/our bread and butter as it were. And this indifference seeping over to hostility has been very costly.

        The Left has a communication problem it can be seen. What we want to talk about most isn’t necessarily what others in society most want to hear. The Left in the US but in a lot of Europe too has become incomeptant on postive propaganda, at framing what the issue of concern is, why it matters to all, and how to approach said issue from an action and policy standpoint. In consequence of the Left’s inability to communicate anything but their own ‘one true thing,’ the Left is completely defined by what _others_ say about it, i.e. ‘in it for some’ and ‘anti-opportunity.’

        It’s bizarre that the moral struggle of the Left proceeds even while the rest of society sees them as a ‘special interest.’ And yes, the propaganda of the Right has certainly fed into that. Incompetent communication and a distant engagement with economic justice _for all_ are self-injuries which the Left must correct amongst themselves. Perfect democracies amongst a handful of true believers put no chicken in the pots of the working class. If the Left can’t get that or doesn’t care we’ll keep talking to each other only for another generation. About justice, natch.

        1. Richard Kline

          So Massinissa, I didn’t really answer your question; I’ll take another tack at that.

          From my perspective, the economic interests of the working class and the truly wealthy certainly diverge, as several commentors have emphasized in this thread. As per my first comment up above, however, the social valuations of the two often _converge_. They agree that sinners are ‘the problem,’ and that punishment or redemption in the instance of confession are the solutions. What is necessary then, is to spotlight the economic sins of the rich and so make dissonant the putative social alliance knit up between them.

          I don’t think the Left can outbid the rich for a ‘noble crusade against sinners’ which would attract the morally sensitized working class. Making the hypocrisy and gross criminality of great wealth inescapably obvious can neutralize the standing of the wealthy to inveigh against ‘those sinners,’ though. How the ‘sins of the rich’ are presented matters a great deal. The Left at present wants to tell me that ‘the rich are bad for mothers of color.’ This is certainly true from a policy standpoint, but a ‘justice for some’ argument which will only drive the conservative poor closer to the rich or ad least to inaction. Demonstrating ‘they’re thieving liars’ _in general_ is a stand against the economic sins of the rich which gets inside the valuation loops on the conservative end of the public. The Left wants to tell me the Koch brothers are buying elections, faking science, and buying media propaganda. All of that is demonstrably true, but will carry very little weight with the ‘noble crusaders’ of the working class. Demonstrating that the Kochs rip off public monies through sweetheart deals and misplaced public assets sold by Koch cronies while the Kochs at the same time are howling ‘damn all those chiseling sinners on the public payroll’ is more the way to go. It is the hypocrisy and doing what they condemn others for which will matter to the moral working class, to me. The moral failings of the Kochs’ position and so forth are what will hit home even if to the Left it is the injustice of the anti-labor program which gets the fire going.

          The economic injustice, perversion of government process, and deliberately inflicted inequality of the great wealth must be cast in broad moral terms to matter to much of the working class. The moral failings inherent in the acts of the rich aren’t that hard to document, but have to be framed properly for the economic injustice in them to trump the putative moral standing of the anti-sin rich.

        2. banger

          Your comments today have been interesting. But I think you misunderstand the problem of the left as it stands today. All power stems from community and the ability of that community to come together to do things that benefit that community. The left does not have community at its center. Compare the Civil Rights movement in the South and the Labor movement at its height to the Occupy or the anti-war demonstrations during the lead-up to the Iraq War. The former had, at its center a fierce solidarity where suffering was shared and giving up was not even considered—why? Because if someone were in trouble their communities supported them, healed them, nursed them, made sure they had support in their lives–people in successful movements felt they belonged to something holistic. If I am homeless, hungry, you might help me today but what about next month? Who will support my family when I’m in jail and so on. Solidarity, connection creates synergy so that the group becomes much more than the sum of its parts. Today’s left is much less than the sum of its parts–because if I get my head bashed in by cops do I have a guarantee that the movement will cover my expenses? No I don’t. If I lose my job because of my political beliefs–will the movement take care of my family? Not a chance. We on the left don’t take care of our own and we have no real communities.

          The euphoria of the Occupy movement was that these people came together and formed something like a real community for awhile–and this is the way human beings are supposed to live! Screw the meetings and all that–but what made it magical was the connections and the possibilities of connections in the midst of hostility. Why, and I’m asking you, do you suppose that progressives cannot organize outside such difficult situations into communities when it’s so cool to do it? Why are American leftists so hostile to leaders, to community itself? I will tell you why. Because the American left is deeply a part of the culture of narcissism as the libertarian right. Each of us wants to do what we want to do–personal liberation trumps any kind of common struggle as point out. American leftists, I’ve found (and I go back to the 60s), don’t like community and don’t like hierarchy. I believe they’d just as soon see climate change destroy the earth than actually spend time really organizing to help us all come to sanity. I’ve tried everything I know–organizing, talking, writing and the big sticking point for everyone is commitment, solidarity and long-term planning. Virtually no one on the left wants to put his or her little American dream on the line for a movement. Nobody working in corporations or in government (where I spend much of my worklife) is willing to risk his/her promotion, job for principle. The ruling elites know this and bank on it and they are ALWAYS right. So called progressives jump when the whip is cracked. No one, for example, dares mention the assassinations of the 60s that clearly were carried out by either government or armed gangs acting for the government. Progressives will not and are psychologically incapable of questioning these events or any other suspect events because they are afraid of being “discredited” by the authorities.

          And this brings me to the second reason the left is inept and moribund–cowardice. Believe it or not part of the reason the populist right has so much contempt for leftists is that we lack character and the courage of our convictions.

          1. jake chase

            As I think anyone will confirm who has ever served in military enlisted ranks, practically everyone (without regard to intelligence or education) understands our system is complete bullshit. They also understand that an overwhelming majority (pretty much exclusing only criminals) are willing collaborators who will perform just about any task which brings personal reward, and they consider those who do otherwise little more than suckers and dreamers. By and large, they shrug and collaborate themselves, justifying this behavior on economic grounds and family needs. Can you really blame them?

          2. Richard Kline

            Yes, I do blame them, jack. But I understand their perspective very well, and you state it accurately in my view. When you have nothing and the system is on your back, a little collaboration has a lot of worth. That’s not irrational at all for those down the ladder of wealth, opportunity, and commitment in society. And it is the inertia of mild collaboration which is the greatest bar to change, even more than the outright repression of the wealthy, as the latter understand very well (they hire the best advice, after all).

      2. F. Beard

        But is it possible for a new left to speak in more moral terms? Massinissa

        Start by reading the Bible. Then you’ll discover that many conservatives are, in fact, sinning against what they profess to believe in. Usury, for example, between fellow countrymen is forbidden in Deuteronomy 23:19-20. Oppressing the poor is condemned. Theft by dilution (the way our banking system works) is condemned.

        1. Alejandro

          Notice how the issues aren’t framed as left and right…but as heaven and hell-wisdom and folly.

        2. banger

          Yes, most conservatives read their Bible very selectively but at least they refer to it as something solid and they could be convinced by leftists to read those parts their pastors don’t want them to read (although some do, even in the South). What the left has trouble with is being credible to the cultural right. As long as leftists act like individualists but profess collectivist or even communitarian values they will not be believed. For a moral stance to be credible it must be moral–and the left accepts no moral code that I know of–or at least nothing that is carefully articulated except “do your own thing” well, Jamie Daimon does his own thing–he’s all for personal freedom and, I would guess gay marriage, abortion, equal rights for women and may even like Bruce.

          1. Alejandro

            Yeah, I can see how Jamie might skip leviticus 25. We’re way past that fifty year benchmark.

          2. Richard Kline

            So banger, the Left will never ‘be credible to the cultural Right.’ Nor should it. The valuation terms of the right—sin—have no traction in any other social milieu. To be credible there, the Left would have to accept sin as a basic concept and work within that. Well sin isn’t, we shouldn’t and we won’t. The fact that the cultural Right believes, well bullshit to be blunt, is on them; there is no primacy which should be granted to that belief system, however much it’s valued in that demographic strata. Unless one were to take a purely manipulative propaganda standpoint, and I would argue against that—faking a common belief in sin—as immoral.

            Given antithetical worldviews at the outset between the cultural Right and the cultural Left, what is to be done? My larger point just above is that pointing out the _internal inconsistencies_ in the perspectives and alliances on the cultural Right strike me as the way to go for the cultural Left. Not in a critical, ‘you idjits’ fashion but in straightforward informational ways and reportage. The right-leaning working class rubbing up against the hypocritical and extractive right-acting elite makes no sense _within the frame of reference of the cultural Right_, so putting that dissonance before them is the optimum way to disrupt that alliance.

            The cultural Right is unlikely, as a bloc, ever to back a culturally Left program, so it’s pointless to try to coax them over in a bloc. Shaking them loose from an alliance which adds heft and votes to the money of the oligarchy is more to the point.

          3. F. Beard

            but at least they refer to it [the Bible] as something solid and they could be convinced by leftists to read those parts their pastors don’t want them to read banger

            Yep. Romans 13:1-7 is probably not too popular in some parts.

            But Romans 13:8 (“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; …”) should have put banks out of business in the Bible Belt.

      3. Goin' South

        Check out Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed for an exploration of the role morality might play in an Anarchist society and how that conflicts with the whole Anarchist enterprise yet sustains it.

        1. Richard Kline

          ‘The Dispossessed’ has had a greater impact on me than any other work of fiction. A rich text of the imagination, and yet a complex philosophical view as well; so rare.

          1. Goin' South

            I wish David would drop by and engage in this thread. You raise a number of interesting questions. I’d love to hear his response.

            The last time he came by NC, it turned into a very interesting thread.

          2. Richard Kline

            So Goin’ South, agreed, it would be good for David to weigh in. He may not have been tipped a post here was going up. Someone else will have to parse the fine points if he does at this point, I’m late to bed already.

          3. David Graeber

            Yeah I only just noticed because every day or two I check out Naked Capitalism just to see what’s up here.

          4. Lambert Strether

            Richard: You might also like the wonderful Woman on the Edge of Time, by Marge Piercy. IMNSHO it’s the other credible prefigurative political novel, besides The Disposessed. (I’m using “prefigurative” to avoid Utopian.)

            * * *

            Also too, as I keep saying: “There are not very many of The Shing” (LeGuin, City of Illusion).

          5. Richard Kline

            So Lambert, I’ve never gotten around to ‘City of Illusion’ and likewise I’ve kept meaning to read Peircy, but haven’t (I quit reading fiction for many years, poetry was so much more interesting.) Those are good shout-outs for summer reading this year, maybe.

          6. Lambert Strether

            @Richard Kline City of Illusion is not perhaps quite in the top grade, but it contains a superb set piece where the hero crosses a North American continent that, under Shing rule, has reverted mostly to wilderness, reminiscent of crossing the Gobrin ice. I was thinking of the Marge Piercey book when Shulamith Firestone died recently; Woman on the Edge of Time is a feminist utopia when all that work Firestone et al did comes to fruition, a few centuries from now; except it’s not really a utopia because the very existence of the new society is still contested; and all the protagonists are very human and have character flaws, and aren’t just mouthpieces for philosophical statements. There was some interesting work done back in the 70s….

          7. RanDomino

            “Don’t you feel that News from Nowhere is very much of the 19C, and not, er, of the 21st?”
            Other than a few technological differences, the current day is hardly different than 120 or even 1,200 years ago. It’s a flawed book in many ways, but if it is a better idea to present a vision rather than a program, it’s more successful than anything else I’ve found. The way the ‘guides’ carry themselves is highly inspirational, and I think it’s that attitude of dignity that we would do well to focus on and try to rebuild, for both individual and social reasons.

            1. Lambert Strether

              Interesting. I agree on vision. People give their lives for visions, not programs, perhaps? On dignity, I’m reminded of the pictures of the Civil Rights marchers in dress clothes.

    2. Wat Tyler


      “Graeber: ” . . . [B]ut the Republicans at least tell them that they’re noble.” Really? I must have missed that one, and I’ve been watching 50 years.”

      I am guessing you are not a Southerner.

      Here are three highly conservative institutions that give meaning and identity to the working class and deliver their votes to the GOP. There are undoubtably others.

      1) Fundamentalist religion
      2) Country music
      3) NASCAR

      The best understanding of why the white working poor votes Republican is presented in the humorous book “Deer hunting with Jesus” by the late Joe Bageant. Highly recommended.


      1. neo-realist

        Make race #4–The conservative movement’s attacks on African Americans and civil rights have been a serious money shot to eliciting white working class americans support for electing conservatives, e.g., the Helm vs. Gantt campaign commercial “You needed that job, but they had to give it to a minority”.

      2. banger

        Always great to hear good words about the late great Joe Bageant. I recommend him to y’all.

      3. Richard Kline

        So Wat, I’m a Left Coaster in every respect (could heave a baseball out my window and hit salt water). I understand your points well; my argument is subtlely but significantly different.

        I don’t believe that the conservative oligarchy (not all of it is conservative by any means) tell the conservative working class that ‘they are noble.’ I think the elite tells the conservatives of Other Ranks that their _cause_ is noble, while the other ranks tell _each other_ that they are noble for supporting ‘the cause.’

        Those distinctions may seem minor, but they’re not. The conservative elite does not accept the conservative of lower classes, but tolerates them conditionally so long as they are active in ‘the cause.’ The strategy from that perspective is motivational manipulation of the working class to ignore the crimes and hypocrisy of the oligarchy in hope of gaining money and class advancement through personal endorsements won from the rich for particularly activist ig-nobles. The class relationship is actually _reinforced_ thereby. That has utility at the lower end, btw, because only some are redeemed, which is what is believed there anyway, with each scrabbling against all to get the rich man’s nod.

        What I mean in the conservative working class telling each other that they are noble is that the worldview is reinforced thereby as a counter to the manifest evidentiary discrepancies of the ‘sin and redemption’ narrative. And btw, most of the cultural institutions you mention—evangelical Christianity, NASCAR, the NRA—are maintained by the cultural working class for the cultural working class: they are self-generated rather than implemented from above. You’ll notice that the conservative elite aren’t heavily involved in patronizing those activities, for instance, outside of some evangelical activism by portions of that demographic. The conservative cultural elite spends much of its time dodging taxes, finding ways to boost public assets up on jacks for personal profit, and funding bogus ‘think tanks[sic]’ to vomit propaganda for dearly held and profit-shaping public positions they believe and want advanced, letting the pointy-headed Other Ranks run around and have their shindigs on their own.

        (A pretty jaundiced tone in my remarks, but it’s not really a very pretty picture even if painted with a finer brush, so I can’t be bothered to be measured in my remarks. Watching conservative rurals parrot climate change denialist crap directly against their own interests sets my mind’s teeth on edge: I happen to think said rurals are smarter than than, and it’s a bit heartbreaking to be proven wrong decade after decade.)

    3. nonclassical


      repubLIEcons $ub$titute ME$$AGE for TRUTH..and $tay “on me$$age”…take the $$$$ out of it, and what remains is TRUTH..

      ..and as for those who pontificate upon the “individual” nature of truth being “different” for different individual, such assertion itself rests upon the pillars of TRUTH..can’t assert ANYTHING, if there is no TRUTH…(having debated repubLIEcon advocate upon this issue-they end all participation when confronted with this logic…

  5. allcoppedout

    David is onto something in a very general sense. When one looks at anything in historical context it turns out our dominant and cherished “understandings” are frankly bollox squared. Joseph Heller got there with Catch

  6. allcoppedout

    oops – 22 and Picture This. Our alleged democracy hardly beats the way social mice live.
    Sortition is part of the answer, but the main thing would be in limiting leadership in time with a compulsory return to ordinary status.

  7. allcoppedout

    We would do better if we looked at how insects achieve consensus. Its pretty nasty, varying from high pitched shrieks to death for the non-conformists.
    Our current society is based on barking insanity. One lot of us is supposed incapable of work for others (doing our bit) unless motivated by want, the other motivated by having massive surplus and gambling for more and more at the expense of everyone else. Many parasites give their hosts the ‘idea’ that the sky will fall without them. Current democracy looks like a cell taken over by a virus.
    The model we have followed is Scottish. I don’t mean Hume or Adam Smith. I think of ordinary people breaking backs picking seaweed from beaches in Argyle This is then burned to make a gunpowder constituent for Napoleon’s armies. The profits are then wasted by the absentee landlord on prostitution and gambling in London. Later, the broken backs have to fight Napoleon.
    I wouldn’t nit-pick what David writes. I hear a lot of it ‘down the pub’ – something I hope he’d take as a compliment. Overall we lack the information to make sensible decisions about how we live. It would be interesting to see his approach extended into questions and potential answers on how much work we need to do, how we could organise in anarchy and so on. How might we live without coerced motivation? What life is taken away from us by being cogs in the wheel turning up for work in a world in which basics are achieved in perhaps 10% of all we call work? How does democracy work at all against the non-democratic? What happened to the debate about democratic foreign policy? What ‘piercing shrieks’ prevent human rationality?

    1. Richard Kline

      ‘Down the pub’ has good common sense when it decides to use it. And good common sense matters a great deal more than adequate information—because good common sense knows it is under-informed and so cautious in action and looking for a few useful facts.

      Insects are not social animals as that term is understood, although they do function in societies. Comparisons there can be intellectually interesting—I do find your remarks interesting—without necessarily yielding valid generalizations.

      I would start your list of ‘what abouts?’ from a different standpoint though, and it is one missed also in the remarks David chose to make for Parramore’s interview. Not everyone is prepared to function in a democratic fashion; some are not sane; some lack empathy at a level which is pathological. These folks act in their own interests as they perceive them, and yes they can organize, quite well at times. Schemes of participatory democracy never seem to reckon with this absolute condition; what is to be done about those of ill purpose? I don’t mean this in the manner or a policing issue but of an organizationally functional issue. We aren’t simply talking about hostile others but of hostile affines.

      One function of society is to systemitize the containment of aberrant behavior. This is one of the functions of dominance and layers of authority, aberrant behavior has inherent buffers against propagation. Things can break down of course, and do. Still, that is the function of ‘constituted authority,’ compliance as mutual security. Systems of no government at all have existed at many times in human history; they can go very, very, wrong. Easily. Absolute democrats seem always to shirk this particular discussion, because coercion is, well *BAD*. There is an article of faith that if one has to discuss something with everyone bad ideas and the bad actors behind them will get magically weeded out. Sad to say that’s not how things work. Those individuals don’t go away. Often they don’w walk around with a t-shirt on telling everyone who they are. When splendid philosophy meets the fine point of a knife, the air goes out of the ambitions at least.

      Many schemes of complete participatory democracy ever strike me as bodies without skin and so organisms with few barriers to the sepsis of the malefic. Hey, it’s a reality that some will deceive, cheat, steal, and abuse, and our notions of ‘a better system’ have to reckon with _that_ social reality from the outset. Systems of ‘better government’ seem to me to need to reckon with exactly _why_ government is constituted. Sure, there are many reasons, and many purposes, but collective security against members _of_ the group is one; it is probably the most important one.

      1. allcoppedout

        I agree almost entirely Richard. My general point is we could do with a more anarchic phase in our discussions to break up the assumptions that block change – but such deconstruction needs sensible, co-evolving notions of future building. I tend to see biology as a probe into our own ‘history’ – not to make us more animal but to raise awareness of false claims about rationality. Biology excuses very little in human behaviour – the only example I can think of was a chap who abused children as a result of a brain tumour – abuse that stopped when it was removed.
        Amongst animals one can cull the leaders – the general finding is the replacements do the same thing and the system doesn’t change. And that the components of leadership are held across the group and held back by existing leaders. There is perhaps a book of argument from such observations to tenuous assertions greedy human super-leaders are inevitable or necessary.
        Gramsci had common sense as almost hopeless, distinguishing good sense from it. When 93% of communication is non-verbal one has to wonder quite what we are doing writing books and articles and what the form itself makes us miss (Idols of the Theatre etc). When I watch/listen to television news and politicians talking I hear a lot of common sense ‘elevated’ into undergraduate-speak – truly dreadful – so much so I feel the people involved a wearing argument like clothes. Down the pub the good sense tends not to be expressed in argument – often disdain, disgust and alienation.
        Your point on democracy needing to be designed against those lacking empathy and so on (my general term is bandits) is good and something we need to get an intellectual grip on. My guess is the form here is “future memory” and that some aspects of strategic management might help. We are almost certainly designing something people will be disinterested in – the Athenians had to be whipped into the political arena – by slaves whose whips branded shame with purple dye.

        I expect any system would need leadership – termites and social spiders seem to evade having leaders though – but would this be of the forms we have known or that presented in toadie business school books? It should be something open to our design, including its control. Anthropology has revealed tribes that treat leaders with derision and ridicule. Barbara Kellemann’s ‘The End of Leadership’ is informative on the bull we swallow on the topic.

        People cheat. I cannot say, hand on heart, that I would have done a better job than Hitler, Stalin, Mao (vast list of CEOs) – maybe leadership changes humans as severely as Clown fish (where there can be sex change) – and now my head fills with Tony Blair described as Margaret Thatcher in drag!
        I may disagree on the value of information – most professions bull us – like the Church with Latin, the law with legal Latin (sort of French) and language itself is barely logical. We are so bad at language that sociopaths are better than normal people in conning us to belief. Good sense may help us see through bull – but many people, probably most, are conned by men wearing dresses, silly hats and swinging incense even though we have films like the brilliant Uruguayan ‘The Pope’s Toilet’.

        1. Richard Kline

          So allcopped out, undercutting rationalist arguments for social structures is excellent work. I only encourage you to keep at it. And your citation of Gramsci’s distinction between common sense and good sense is valuable, and one I’ll remember. (I agree with that point, btw.)

          “Amongst animals one can cull the leaders – the general finding is the replacements do the same thing and the system doesn’t change.” Yes, studies on this have been fascinating. What we see is that for the kinds of animals studied, dominance hierarchies are profoundly ingrained so that these simply re-constitute new occupants for expected roles. Take out the alpha leaders, cull the under dogs, no matter: the group will simply thrust the nearest actors into the full roles. Surely some of this retained social structure is socialized im members as they grow up. The evidence suggests biological support as well, however, or at least complicity. For example, remove the alpha in a group and the testosterone has been identified to rise in the nearest actor so that they _behave_ more alpha. I don’t want to suggest something as firm as, say, “The existence of an underclass is socially inevitable,” even if what we see amongst some social animals suggests such a bias. Human behavior has a good deal of lability, so nudging people away from the ordering structure is possible even if a tendencey remains. And so on.

          That leads me to a further point: Much of what passes for argument about social roles, classes, and structures is complete tosh; rationalist ‘folk etymologies’ to explain observed behaviors, no better. Most arguments are not grounded in _the actual social behavior of animals_ nor do most arguments start from the premise that human beings _are animals_ even if socially complex ones, and that therefore many of the ordering functions in group behavior have just the kind of embedded biases to behavior mentioned in the preceeding paragraph and seen in other social animals. Human social anthropology and social pscyhology is colossally understudied and misconceived, in my view. We could do better, and if we did our concepts of political economy would have far more explanatory utility.

          I doubt that we will ever truly get rid of class. I don’t think we will successfully discourage biological alphas from being themselves should we try; we’ll just drive them nuts. And so on, and so on. We can make society more just using rational methods, but we won’t make the human animal successfully behave in ways not our our nature. Keeping us from killing each other and asking first before grabbing something go a long way—but it’s clear the genus homo sapiens sapiens is still working to get the hang of that!

          And regarding social tribes who treat leaders with derision, this is very important back ground, and I have read and thought about this to a degree. Many nomadic societies, for instance, specifically and enduringly rejected aristocracies and kings in just this way; they were tribal, and standing was kin-based and personal. Institutional superior wannabes were detested, avoided, abandoned, or killed much of the time. There is more than a little reason to infer that THIS type of behavior was the ‘first order’ social organization of early modern human bands; in other words an-archy is the most probable _default_ social order for our genus. Enforced caste/class, violently imposed aristocracies, institutionally elevated ‘theo-archs’ all came later, as varying ways to cope with the social conditions of large numbers living in enforced proximity who couldn’t easily deride the alphas of the largest faction, pull up stakes, and leave.

          Social theory might better begin from perspectives of this kind if it’s ever to achieve anything of substance. Begnning from ‘who were we’ through ‘how do we actually behave’ will lead more functional models of behaviors than will any philosophical utopian constructs, amongst which latter I’d count ‘democracy,’ bless it’s chatty heart. But that’s a lot of work—and most are too busy making money to take interest! I’d been interested in this kind of theory very much 20 years since, and while I remain interested I’ve enough other projects to advance I’m likely not going to get to this one. . . . A pity.

          1. Jonas

            A book I read recently shed a lot of light.


            It shows that people (even people that society typically discounts as unintelligent) are very good at game theory and have been for years (100k+). Most of the tribal social structures attempt to impose egalitarianism, in realistic, game theory type terms. They make modern economic/political theory look laughable in their simplistic assumptions. It’s only when we shifted to sedentary agriculture, and people couldn’t move away, there was a large surplus and money was invented, that these mechanisms broke down.

            Now we operate through our laws, philosophies and utopian myths, but those underlying power dynamics are still there as instincts. If you want to shift those abstract society back to a more egalitarian form, you have to understand how those instinctive impulses work, or you end up with infeasible systems.

            I think this is a great field of study. The part that’s missing from the Boehm book is after we all shifted to predominantly hierarchy societies, how the game theory systems work. How the Hierarchs defeated the Egalitarians so to speak. Money has to be a big part of it, and Graeber’s book on debt is quite informative, but I think there’s a lot of research that can still be done.

    2. nonclassical

      …”consensus” IS, after all, Socraic “dialectic” TRUTH…processes for discovery of, substituted today by conservative ME$$AGE..

  8. from Mexico

    Very insightful discussion by David Graeber.

    Modernism, liberalism and capitalism are spent forces, and it’s certainly time for man to take the next step in his cultural evolution. Personally, I’m very hopeful that democracy can be taken to its next level.

    I have doubts, however, whether this can or will occur in the West. In the United States, for instance, this would require the nation to turn its back on its national mythology. What are the chances of that happening?

    Lawrence Goodwyn summs up the problem as being one of

    the inability of twentieth-century humanists of various ideological persuasions to conceive that authentic political sustance might originate outside such acceptable intellectual sources as the progressive, capitalistic, middle classes or the European socialist heritage…

    The result is self-insulation: the popular aspirations of the people of the “third world” in the twentieth century have easily become as threatening to modern Americans as the revolt of their own farmers was to goldbugs eight years ago… The resulting unpopularity of Americans puzzles Americans. The policies themselves, however, are not debatable within the limits of public dialogue sanctioned in modern America. Under such constraints, the ultimate political price that Americans may be forced to pay for their narrowed cultural range in the twentieth century has emerged as a question of sobering dimension.

    –LAWRENCE GOODWYN, The Populist Moment

    1. banger

      I agree with you on going to the next step. I think we have a genuine chance of achieving something really transcendent perhaps because we have no choice.

      But democracy as we tend to describe it has no future. I think it is a transitional system that will evolve into something more complex and will use AI systems to manage most of our affairs. There is no alternative to this. Right now our system cannot manage anything–we are living on the accumulated laws, traditions, and moral capital form the past and we are running on empty in those areas. It’s either machine intelligence of war and chaos. Much depends on who programs the software.

      1. allcoppedout

        This is my view too Banger. I imagine a world in which a biological machine – built to do mega-processing – starts to tell us the truth – perhaps occupied by an alien force that was waiting around for us to build it.
        We put more management into projects like sports world cups or building a skyscraper than decent living conditions. Democracy is now so screwed there is nothing I can vote for = not even death with dignity, let alone curbing excess pay or for global competition with quality of work life rules or making debt peonage history.

        1. Richard Kline

          If one conceives of democracy as voting, that is true. If one concevies of democracy as acting, that is not true. Democracy has been allowed to decline into ‘representative deomcracy’ and wither further into ritual voting, becoming something that little remembers _actual democracy_ which requires a degee of participation, and is only sustained by a measureof compliance with the decisions reached.

          What we have here is either degenerate democracy or thwarted democrachy, but very little of the real thing remains cut in the behavioral mix. Ritual charades such as Election 2012 in the US, sandwiched between Budget Showdown 2012 and Sequester 2013 are abundant testimony to that present reality.

    2. nonclassical

      .from Mejico-I rarely conflict with your argument-but here is dialectic process for your perusal-contrast these:

      (The subject, 1st century Rome in all its florid, tumescent decadence, is lovingly transformed through Fellini’s comic vision. The self-contained sequences, vignettes really, are not only fair translations into cinema of what is probably the first “novel” in Western literature, they also serve to reflect the fragmentary nature of the surviving evidence of antiquity. Scenes are fitted together like pieces in a puzzle where some of the picture is ultimately lost. This is emphasized by the visual references to broken frescoes, from which the characters seem to emerge and revert back into.)

      Now, “from Mejico”, contrast with this, from Fellini also-next film:

      (So what is Rome, in the end? A city that has died and been resurrected so many times, that it’s fitting to witness the coming end of civilization from there as Gore Vidal says? The vestal virgin and she-wolf, an aristocrat and tramp, a somber buffoon? The unflattering latter is given to actress Anna Magnani, whom Fellini calls the living symbol of Rome–(she died a year after this brief appearance). In the end, I’d say all these things and more.)

      ..what you will find in human history, “from Mejico”, is NOT a “re-invention” of..
      so much as expanding concentric spirals based upon what has come before..and what has come before is very nearly unrecognizable from today’s perspective…yet in the end, not at all “different”…

  9. Working Class Nero

    The interview with David Graeber was thought-provoking and helpful but also a bit vague. Ultimately it seems to me an attempt to deny the most fundamental aspect of politics, that the rich and poor have strongly (but not totally) contradictory economic interests. The major flaw in the Occupy movement is that much of it is directed by Bourgeois Leftists who obviously don’t want their own economic privileges taken away. And who can blame them for that? Since I estimate the real class divide to be the lower 60% (middle, working and poor) vs. the top 30% (wealthy and upper middle class Bourgeois), this means the concept of consensus, even if it’s not absolute, ultimately gives the wealthy a veto on any ideas that threaten their privileged status.

    On political theory, I like to stay somewhat grounded in historic examples. Outside of hunter gatherer and small tribal units, the only example of direct democracy is the Athenian Empire. But of course only 20-30% of the population were male citizens and thus allowed to participate. The rest were slaves, metics (resident aliens), women and children. And democracy meant direct participation in the assemblies or by sitting on popular juries. This meant having that thing called a jay-oh-bee could be a real drag when it came time to vote. And citizenship meant power, and one doesn’t divide power voluntarily. And so Athenian citizenship laws were very strict; just like shareholders in a company don’t want their stock diluted, Athenians certainly didn’t want to grant citizenship to all the barbarians in their midst.

    Actually, one could argue that today’s America in some ways is similar to the ancient Athenian social structure. Only 20-30% of the population has seen their share of wealth and incomes rise over the past thirty years. These would be the same people that NPR, the New York Times, and other elite media organs are aimed at. While perhaps they don’t participate as directly as in Athens, the opinions of the top 20-30% of the population are considered important in present day America. And guess what, these people are quite rightly concerned with maintaining their economic positions in society, everyone has a right to fight for their particular economic interests.

    To me the only historic example of a somewhat fair society has been the social democratic dominated societies of post WW2 northern Europe. To me these are the obvious examples to study and emulate. The problem is any move in this direction would by definition impact the top 20-30% of the population and it is highly unlikely these fine folk are just going to be nice about and it and openly join any consensus to move in this direction.
    Now on to one of my pet peeves that I think needs to be commented on ever time it appears. This quote jumped out at me from the article:

    Progressives always ask why working-class people tend to vote Republican even though it’s so obviously economically disadvantageous. I think the reason is that the Democrats aren’t much better, but the Republicans at least tell them that they’re noble. They are good people willing to undergo austerity for the good of their grandchildren. They are patriots. They are people of faith. The Democrats say “well, we think you’re basically in it for yourselves, everyone is. So are we. So we don’t have to give you very much, we’ll keep most of the goodies for the professional elites and Wall Street types who fund us — but you should go along anyway because a little is better than nothing.

    General Tommy Franks famously called Doug Feith “the dumbest f*cking guy on the planet” for helping push the US into the Iraq War II. I hereby nominate Thomas Frank of “What’s the Matter with Kansas” fame for second place in the stupidity category for his meme that the working class votes against their economic interests by not supporting Democrats.

    Just as Graeber avoids doing in the quote, Frank himself never oversold his claim. It has been a while since I read Frank’s book but in quickly scanning it the only justification I found for his claim that Democrats were the better economic choice was on page 245:

    Democrats are slightly more generous with Social Security benefits, slightly stricter on environmental regulations, and do less union-busting than Republicans

    Recent events on Social Security have shown exactly why Frank deserves such a high place in the political retardation hall of shame.

    On environmental issues it is a bit more complicated. Sure the Democrats may be slightly stricter but is that really in working class people’s economic interests? Yes, working class neighborhoods are more likely to be the victims of industrial pollution, etc, but this long term issue has to be balanced by the immediate question of employment: the potential loss of working class jobs so desperately needed to put food on the table and to stay off welfare benefits. Because as they go around preaching about the environment, at the same time the Democrats are the best advocates for Neoliberal globalization which is sending working class jobs overseas to countries packed pull of cheap labor and not so coincidentally – completely void of environmental laws.

    Besides, much of the Democrats anti-development environmentalism is really just protecting rich people’s property values in posh areas such as along the California coastline, as even filthy rich people George Lucas and The Edge recently found out the hard way. It seems good rich people in for example Marin County and Malibu are keen to have lots more people move into the country; for some strange reason however, they don’t want the huddled masses moving into their rich neighborhoods. Go figure?

    As for union busting, Neoliberal globalization, especially the off-shoring of working class jobs and the mass importation of low-skill labor is the single most important factor in destroying working class unions. What is true is that Democrats support middle class public sector unions more than Republicans. But there is undeniably a portion of the working classes that watched all these nice middle class teachers and public sector workers supporting the Democrats move towards globalization (NAFTA, MFN status China) since they figured their jobs couldn’t be offshored, etc. And besides, those good liberals didn’t really like all those working class Neanderthals anyway. But now the globalization chickens are coming home to roost as middle class public sector unions are under increasing threat and some working class people, perhaps immaturely, aren’t doing much more about it than asking someone to pass them more popcorn.

    And before anyone asks, no I am not saying that Republicans are a better choice for the economic interests of the working class. Such a statement would mean I am stupider than even Doug Feith. No, what I am saying is that within the two party system; there absolutely does NOT exist a vote for working class interests. Nor will mere consensus ever produce one. The only way one gets economic power is by taking it.

    1. DakotabornKansan

      Working Class Nero says: “Recent events on Social Security have shown exactly why Frank deserves such a high place in the political retardation hall of shame” because “his meme that the working class votes against their economic interests by not supporting Democrats.”

      As a Kansan, I have to disagree.

      Asking who is to blame for Kansas voters choosing self-destruction, Frank wrote that liberalism and its failings deserved a large part of the blame:

      “Somewhere in the last four decades liberalism ceased to be relevant to huge portions of its traditional constituency, and we can say that liberalism lost places like Shawnee and Wichita with as much accuracy as we can point out that conservatives won them over.”

      “New Democrats,” – Clinton and the DLC – made “endless concessions on economic issues, on welfare, NAFTA, Social Security, labor law, privatization, deregulation…” and took “great pains to emphasize their friendliness to business interests…As for the working-class voters who were until recently the party’s very backbone, the DLC figures they will have nowhere else to go…Besides what politician in this success-worshiping country really wants to be the voice of the poor people? Where’s the soft money in that?”

      It was, as Frank said, “the criminally stupid strategy that has dominated Democratic thinking off and on ever since…”

      “If there is a lesson for liberals in the Kansas story…It is an utter and final repudiation of their historical decision to remake themselves as the other pro-business party. By all rights the people in Wichita and Garden City should today be flocking to the party of Roosevelt, no deserting it. Culturally speaking, however, that option is simply not available to them anymore. Democrats no longer speak to the people on the losing end of a free-market system that is becoming more brutal and more arrogant by the day.”

      “…along the way the things that liberals once stood for – equality and economic security – will have been abandoned completely, at the historical moment when we need them most.”

    2. banger

      I agree with most of what you say–but Frank’s view of right-wing populism is pretty solid and accurate. His main theme is that cultural values trump economic values for what some call the Yeoman Class. Hard working skilled and semi-skilled workers with minimal education who value, church, morality, honor, courage, toughness and community. The left may offer some vague economic benefits to the working class but they continually, through pursuing anti-communitarian values and forcing a foreign morality on people who prefer to keep is simple (right is right and wrong is wrong–a man is a man and a woman is woman). The left expects the Yeoman Class to suddenly jump into hipsterness in half a generation and that is utterly absurd. Now that class is changing and the youth are very different from their parents–and many, as I observe here in the South, are moving not towards Rush but towards Alex Jones never even considering the progressive left who, to them, are absurd poseurs who believe in nothing–I mean what does the left stand for now? A lot of completely contradictory ideas–how can any sane person who isn’t culturally on the left like me be drawn to the left.

      1. allcoppedout

        I remember from the old cold war days that what was very similar across Soviet Paradise, Mao’s Megalomanic China and our western democracies was the size of the elite in all countries – usually estimated at 15%.
        The assumptions we think in are really dumb. I’ll guess the amount of work we need to get done is 10% – 25% of world GDP. We don’t like work but aren’t dumb enough to say this at job interviews. Who but dummies or the insane would rationally stick us with more work in conditions where we have 75% to 90% of Robot Heaven? I think we should liquidate the rich now – before they reaalise just how few workers they need!

        1. banger

          Well we don’t have the armed force to liquidate the rich. So we have to look elsewhere–perhaps integrate them into a new vision of the world that does not exclude other people, cultures and the living breathing earth and its complex systems. Bottom us power is over. We have to count on the kindness of the people at the top–honestly there is no other choice–we have to see this as something we all do together.

        1. banger

          Alex’s show certainly has a variety of view–I don’t think there’s a show with more variety–from hard, hard, hard right to far left–so at least they’re getting exposed to ideas thy would never find on NPR.

        2. neo-realist

          I’ve come to suspect that Alex Jones, or rather the vilification of Jones’ hyperbolic delivery and his belief in conspiracies under every rock has been used by the corporate media to descredit any kind of belief in conspiracies, even where there are enough facts and circumstances to merit belief.

          Maybe the youth in the south are moving towards Alex Jones because he comes off as the radio version of four loko.

          1. banger

            Alex is the same thing–he’s trying to bring opposites together, as I said–he believes contradictory things–he’s confused–I believe he’s the real thing. I think this is because I have a higher tolerance for lunacy being an old hippy. I knew all kinds of strange ranters and, recently, I’ve been thinking of one of them–he kind of predicted what was going to happen–he said that at this time after (2000) the Antichrist would come–but he was real specific–he said that it wasn’t a dude but a spiritual force–then he would go around and show me the attitudes and actions that reflected that energy–really cool. He was right. We are living at a time of an eruption of pure evil.

            BTW, I disagree big-time with at least half of what the dude says but he’s very Gonzo and I like that.

          2. Lambert Strether

            That’s reminisicent of Rove planting an obviously fake version of a true memo in the Killian Memos/Dan Rather affair, thereby discrediting all the other evidence that pointed to the truth — except on a systemic scale. Rove really had genuis, back in the day, before too much money and too much crime made him stupid.

    3. nobody

      “The major flaw in the Occupy movement is that much of it is directed by Bourgeois Leftists who obviously don’t want their own economic privileges taken away.”

      I do not think that this is true; at least in my city very few participants match this profile. To the contrary, the vast majority were from the bottom 60% and a large share from the bottom 30%.

      1. Lambert Strether

        I couldn’t disagree more. Occupy really did vary city by city. Manhattan was not Washington was not Oakland was not Portland, OR was not Portland, ME. (“Occupations are the laboratory of democracy.” Ha.)

        At least one of the two Washington Occupation had a strong homeless contingent (primary sources correct me, please!) that really enjoyed having the chance to do something useful in the company of others, which isn’t something the shelter system encourages (again, readers, please correct). Hardly middle class.

        UPDATE Adding, I’m agreeing with nobody and disagreeing with the person nobody is responding to.

        1. Timothy Y. Fong

          In Oakland, some of the most enthusiastic and active members of the Occupy camp were the homeless people who had been living in the plaza prior to the occupation. They were also some of the people hardest hit by the police and prosecutors. I know, because I was there.

        2. nonclassical

          …accurate, Lambert, of Seattle…where I carried “Naked Capitalism” “sign”…but ignorance of actual issues was prevalent..

        3. Paul Tioxon

          Occupy Philly camped out on City Hall’s enormous empty plaza until Obama stimulus money began reconstruction. The Plaza named after the great reformer and mayor, Dilworth is also the busiest transit hub for the two main public transit lines that cross the city and intersect at that point. The homeless outnumbered the activists and other supporters from unions, community groups, and colleges. A lot of the homeless were from out of town and came to the city because there are so many more services for homeless people and a little bit better treatment from the city government as a whole.

          The one outstanding hustler that I couldn’t figure out what his politics were, was denouncing the $50Mil that went for transit rehab used by the working class who take subways, trolleys and the elevated trains to get to work and school. The city hall stop is used by 100 thousand or more people everyday and is a filthy dirty, dangerous place that has not seen a penny in improvements in my lifetime, other than the top side plaza, which is really not improvement of the transit space below. It turns out this uber rad denouncer who demanded not to move from city hall and demanded the money not be spent on the rich so they can have a nice lawn and park in front of city hall went on to primary my Dem Congresswoman. He didn’t get a lot of votes. So, as usual, these public events are a mixed bag of the young and inexperienced and the organized and very political and everyone else that wants to show up with no place else to go. The mayor negotiated a permanent spot across the street another great big empty city owned plaza. But the encampment moved with little fanfare and smaller numbers to the site across the street and then just faded away like old soldiers and radicals are want to do.

          I’ll let you know how the rich man’s lawn turns out. It will have elevators so people like me can finally go there. The uber rad should know the rich have a park, it’s called Rittenhouse Square, it’s surrounded by high rise condos in the multi million dollar range, not municipal great empty plaza sitting on top of massive subway exits and entrances. I don’t think the rich will want to sit watch the great unwashed parade back and forth from work.

          1. Richard Kline

            So Paul, that’s a splendid capsule view of an Occupation. I’d love to read a 2-3 page summary of Occupy Philly from you; social history from feet on the ground level.

    4. nonclassical


      you are a candidate for most recent personal project-dissemination of ONE MILLION “Django Unchained” DVD’s or downloadable DVD cover, to be sent to Obama White House..(see video for relationship-though it is poor, message is impeccable): Message=”HOUSE NEGRO” or “FIELD NEGRO”:

      …as Malcolm X returns from grave…(no accident, by Tarantino)…effort is underway to confront bushbama presidency with this message-he will NOT turn Clinton-esque, to profitable “legacy”…he will be FORCED to view his own legacy
      in the “darkness” of Malcolm X “HOUSE NEGRO” dictum…

      Obama has said we must PUSH HIM to respond…his actions define his legacy..DLC bought and sold-“HOUSE NEGRO”.

  10. Ronan Fitzgerald

    Ah yes, historys greatest victim David, living in exile for his politics

    1. Richard Kline

      As opposed to you who can be comfortably anti-social in your own armchair doing nothing with your feet up.

      1. nonclassical

        ..get on board, Richard-“ONE MILLION DVD-“HOUSE NEGRO” or “FIELD NEGRO”
        campaign, to send to confront bushbama White House…(or downloadable DVD cover)..

  11. Jim Haygood

    ‘Financial interests collude with government — which they’ve basically completely bought out, at this point — to enforce policies that reduce more and more Americans into debt.

    ‘It changes the role of government itself, which is increasingly becoming merely the legal cover and muscle behind debt and rent extraction.’ — DG

    Excellent analysis. Too bad he didn’t put a name to the description: the Federal Reserve bank cartel.

  12. Greenguy

    I am always unimpressed by David Graeber’s analysis of modern capitalism and the state. Here he has written a book about “democracy” in the early United States – which has been done before – to tell us that the US ruling class had no interest in allowing the vast majority of non-property owning people to have any say in the process. The capture of some state governments by smallholding farmers who then began to use state government to inflate the currency supply so they could pay off their debts in depreciated currency alarmed the American haute bourgeoisie so much in the late 1870s (along with Shay’s Rebellion) that they wrote a new Constitution in order to eliminate the financial threat posed by radical small capitalist control over the printing press, which the elite saw as leading to destruction of their (creditor) property.

    Graeber seems to replace a good historical materialist, class (ie Marxist) analysis of the situation with something far fuzzier centered around “democracy” which is the most nebulous concept in our political lexicon. Tell us what class is in power and why, and what the socio-economic relationships in the early US are if you want to explain the lack of “democracy” in 1789.

    This extends to Graeber’s concept of democracy-as-consensus or sortition. While there are certain situations in which consensus or sortition are possible, and perhaps preferable, he ignores how consensus tends to amplify the position of the majority (or a determined plurality) and suppress dissent, and it usually has a conservatizing affect on groups. There is nothing wrong with open partisanship or voting within groups, and in fact friendly disagreement over tactics and strategy can help to sharpen and clarify why a group should choose a particular path (or not). In a class society the idea that consensus should be a model for democracy ignores that the ruling class and working class have different interests and consensus cannot paper over the real conflicts that arise from that.

    1. Richard Kline

      So Greenguy, your remarks on the downside of consensus are germane, yes, and I would prefer for Graeber to delve into that to more purpose. Consensus is a conserving strategy in action. Nonconformists do _not_ thrive in that context, and so on.

      Having said that, it seems you miss the point in pressing for consensus in a context of divergent class interests: the effort is intended as noncompliance to the overtly hostile action of the opposing faction. In effect, a lack of consensus is a ‘strike.’ In a context of unequal power and divergent interest one has to find a means to resist, and an incentive to find commonality or at least a quid pro quo. Consensus may do that better than a voting strategy, for example, and that is the larger point.

      1. David Graeber

        Actually non-conformists fit extremely well in functional consensus systems that I’ve seen, because the principle is always combined with extreme decentralization. Consensus is just a decision-making process. It doesn’t say anything about what groups are making the decisions to what purposes. But by its very unweildliness it tends to encourage keeping it on a small scale whenever possible, which is, odd though it may seem, one of its greatest practical advantages.

        1. nonclassical

          “Libertarian” de-centralization does NOT replace Socratic “dialectic”=TRUTH

          1. David Graeber

            I find anyone who feels they have more of a handle on absolute truth than everyone else is usually a very dangerous person. Even if they don’t capitalize it!

          2. nonclassical


            not a student of “history of thought”, of great thinkers? TRUTH IS, David-care to debate that fact? How did “W” take us to Iraq-he claims he told TRUTH. “Dialectic” takes great work-uncovering..which is what dialectic involves. It, by the way, involves a social context-participation….your version was quite abstract…

          3. nonclassical

            ..would be remiss not to mention, David, TRUTH is issue by issue…you intoned

        2. psychohistorian


          We talked briefly in Portland about consensus and I mentioned having used the Delphi Technique and you asked for details and I failed you there until now.

          It is my understanding that it is being used at the UN and I believe within US gov.

          I would like to see an Open Source version of the tool and good process help evolved publicly by the users.

          Thanks for what you do!

    2. Massinissa


      When you said 1870, was that a typo or did you actually mean 1870?

      Because its sounds weird mentioning 1870 and Daniel Shays at once…

    3. David Graeber

      In case you’re interested what I argue in the book is that if we are ever to have a truly democratic society we’ll have to first eliminate class divisions and other forms of social inequality.

      1. nonclassical

        David, would begin to “replace class divisions” with realities=ending ALL campaign contributions-influence of “the people’s” government, AND FULL EDUCATION, through university or vocational equivalent for ALL…for FREE-in order to create fully-educated workforce, AND connection within-“society” well as taxpayers…

        having taught U.S. (18% grad rate-4 year university or vocational equivalent) and Europe (over 70% comparable grad rate), this comparison is totally ignored-emphasis upon “test scores” intended to create winners-losers-majority disempowered cheap labor force…which you wrongly conflate with “capitalism-marxism”…

    4. RanDomino

      I have YET to hear a cogent argument for why Consensus supposedly suppresses minority positions, particularly if it is being compared to voting!

      1. Dave

        I think Goin’ South meant just what he wrote. And I agree with him.

        The founders were right. (unless one wants mob rule) Those who vote must have a constructive interest in the society, otherwise it will self destruct.

        To me, the ideal democracy is the corporate model. More shares, more votes. Voters should be allowed a number of votes directly based on their tax contribution. Possibly one vote per $1,000.00 in income taxes paid the preceding year? Otherwise we have rule by the “takers”.

        1. Eclair

          Nice. We’d have people lining up and clamoring to pay more taxes so they could have more votes. Deficit eliminated overnight.

          Of course, when the rich got control of the government, they could then eliminate taxes for themselves and change the rules of the game. Oh …. wait ….

        2. Wat Tyler


          But what about us poor retirees who don’t pay much tax now but did for decades? Perhaps voting “shares” could be based on cumulative tax payments over ones life. No reason to disenfranchise someone who is out of work for a short period.


          1. nonclassical


            at some point in ameriKa (K-street) there must be a quantum leap originated in generations…a non-“fully educated” society must become integratedly FULLY EDUCATED…

            rather than intended to create “winners-losers”-majority mediocrity=cheap labor force…

            realize-European model trades full education for payback in public healthcare, service, etc, etc…(wife is a nurse there-I taught there)

        3. Goin' South

          Let me make clear that I don’t agree with you. That sounds like the worst idea imaginable. Money and wealth do not determine the value of human beings.

          My comment is directed toward an old argument on the Left among us anti-Capitalists about whether we need authority and some Moses or Mao to lead us out of the “free market” desert, or whether we can let the means reflect the ends–equality–and trust in the kind of democracy Graeber espouses.

          1. Lambert Strether

            @Goin’ South I’m very much on the pre-figurative side (especially since that has, at least, not been proved out, and it’s certainly a not implausible view that the revolutionary vanguards of the 20C have been proved out). [I may be using that idiom wrongly…)

            That said, it’s not clear to me that no heirarchy is possible, as opposed to a drastically flattened one. Power curves are a function of certain network structures that look a lot like social networks. I’d also prefer, if there is to be heirarchy, that it be visible, disclosed. I’m not sure it has to be much more visible than the old-timers in an AA meeting, though. (AA being my model for a radically decentralized and yet very effective prefigurative body…)

          2. Goin' South

            Re: Lambert—

            My guess is that we’d be better off dropping the whole discussion about “hierarchy” and focus on specifics. Ran’s discussion above of “delegate” vs. “representative” highlights a helpful distinction. In my view, the former is much preferred over the latter. Also, Graeber’s suggestion of sortition rather than election may lead somewhere. Role rotation is another one.

            Still, Graeber is insistent about consensus and that shouldn’t be lost: humans coming together to work out mutually acceptable solutions rather than interest groups slugging it out over who wins. That re-orients us in a useful way, I think, though it can also sound creepily like the holy “Founders” using their coded language to diss democracy.

        4. Massinissa

          Dave, are you being sarcastic, or are you being completely serious?

          More money more votes? So the rich can exploit the system MORE to their advantage?

          Great idea…

          1. Dave

            Yes I am serious. I admit, the idea is probably too simple. Compare it with what we have now though. Very few to none of the actual voters have an actual knowledge of the candidates. All they know is what they have seen on TV or other media. Basically it is a popularity contest based on appearance and deception. Often veracity and competence are inversely proportional to eloquence and charisma. Even if they have met the individual, what do they really know about him or her? Then compare it to what folks are taught these days through the mass media and public education. The system reeks of entitlement and only good outcomes regardless of effort or ability. Simply put, folks are very happy to get and take something for nothing, feeling that it is their due.

            At least the corporate model has some relevance to reality rather than the fantasy of mass entertainment. A prosperous businessperson or professional generally has to provide a valued service or product at a reasonable price in order to stay in business. Customers are volunteers who can choose to go elsewhere if they please.(with the exception of the medical industry) These affluent individuals usually need at least an element of financial and social sense in order to survive and prosper. Those who have real world experience and contribute the most to society will then have the greatest voice. Perhaps this might raise the general level of competency in government?

            As Wat pointed out, there are complicating factors. I’m sure that there are many more than the issue of limited income in old age.

          2. Massinissa

            And letting an ignorant banker voting in his self interest having the vote equivalence of a few dozen college professors would improve our democracy HOW exactly?

          3. Massinissa

            “Those who contribute most to society will have the loudest voice”

            Each school teacher contributes a shitload more to society than Jamie Dimon or Tom Cruise. Having more money does NOT mean you contribute more to society, thats an absurd claim.

            MLK Contributed more to society than almost anyone, and he was never rich.

            The terms you are thinking in are so simplistic as to be horrific.

    1. diptherio

      Yeah, and Occupy brought out the ugly in Marxists, from my experience. Once it became clear that our group was not about having leaders, and sincerely interested in consensus process (which we freely altered to suit our circumstances), they became supremely butt-sore. You see, they already had it all worked out in their heads what needed to be done, and they were upset to find that other people weren’t willing to simply do what they told them to. Eventually, they stopped showing up, to no one’s great disappointment.

      Graeber is right, in my estimation; building institutions that allow and encourage democratic participation is an immediate need. Most of us have forgotten how to interact with one another outside of hierarchical power relationships. Occupy was OJT (on-the-job training) in actual democracy for many of us, and we can thank Graeber, along with many others, for that experience.

      1. banger

        I’m not a Marxist but I disagree with you. Occupy ended up being a complete bust because it did not accept hierarchy and therefore organization. Hierarchy need not be oppressive if people are bound by a common purpose and are willing to be a team. Like in sports, different positions require different abilities and attributes. What Occupy was about, in the end, was chaos and if dried up like rain in a desert. This is why, after an initial success, support died with the majority who may have sympathized with some of the goals but didn’t like the chaotic style despite relatively neutral media coverage

          1. banger

            Many mainstream media people were very friendly and willing to hear us out. Some made cheap comments but compared to what I’ve seen in the past the media coverage was pretty good. When the anti-war movement of the 60s started–now that coverage was savagely negative–yet the movement grew and grew because we f—-ng meant what we said–we weren’t taking no for an answer–Occupy took no for an answer and dissolved.

          2. Lambert Strether

            Oh, relatively neutral compared to reasonable expectations. The comparison of Occupiers to vermin (hence, to be exterminated) didn’t make it out of the right wing fever swamps to become pervasive. (I’m sure there are counter-examples, but all I can say is that I quaffed vast drafts of media coverage and didn’t see the coverage tip over into full fledged strategic hate mangement. I think Occupy did a great job with press and public relations, and that’s a really important lesson and a big success. Not to say the whole movement wasn’t immediately infested with Democratic leeches, but that’s a separate story, IMSHNO.)

        1. Goin' South

          Banger, since it’s season appropriate, let me try a baseball analogy.

          I’ve always admired teams, especially in small markets, that have the patience to build from the farm systems and the draft instead of plunking down big bucks on a two-year contract for some hot shot who’s supposed to carry the team to the playoffs on his shoulders. It make take longer, but it may last longer as well, and is much more satisfying.

          Relying on hierarchy is a shortcut that ends up leading nowhere.

          Are we Americans very good at democracy? Skills used to be more widely distributed when more people belonged to bowling leagues, volunteer fire departments and churches run under a voters’ meeting model. Even if one believes, as I do, that we have instincts built toward mutual aid and consensus, those instincts require instruction and practice like any other natural skill that must be developed. The task is made even more challenging by our socio-economic system that does its best to turn us into passive consumers choosing between Coke and Pepsi.

          But I don’t see how you arrive at a society where everyone has a real say about the direction of their lives and their communities by relying on hierarchy.

          1. David Graeber

            This is precisely it. In fact, most Americans are terrible at democracy, for the obvious reasons that (a) they have no experience practicing it, and (b) they live in a society that encourages them, in a thousand ways, to assume that people are basically unreasonable and would never be able to work out problems like mature adults even if they did have the opportunity.

            You can’t create a culture of democracy overnight, but OWS started a process that began with the usual cycle of exhilaration that direct democracy could work at all, followed by frustration at the discovery that like all good things it isn’t actually going to be that easy, but which, if it is to have lasting effect, will have to continue for many years to come. You don’t transform habits and practices, assumptions and moral codes, in a few months or even one or two years. You have to get serious about these things and put some work into it.

            I take comfort in the fact that I know these things can work because I’ve seen what it’s like in places where people actually do know what they’re doing. It’s not that people in Madagascar, or Chiapas, etc, are smarter or more patient or wiser than we are, it’s not that they live in small communities where everyone loves each other (actually, in small communities, lots of people hate each other), it’s just that they grow up doing this stuff so they know how. Largely because they no one bothers to stop them, because they have no real power to effect things in the world anyway. No one bothers to propagandize them to convince them that humans are evil and we can’t trust each other. But if we can begin to build those same skills and understandings in the very center of the world power system, the results would be indeed be revolutionary.

          2. banger

            Yes, people are instinctively collaborative–but our culture has almost bred it out of us. We find it very difficult to do for very long–that’s been my experience from being involved in the movement in the sixties and in my experience in my work life.

            Even if we weren’t living in the culture of narcissism, we still need hierarchy, division of labor–people skilled at managing and people skilled at solving complex problems that can’t manage others–that was always me. I have never seen a non-hierarchal team do anything or accomplish anything other than have an endless series of meetings that turn into, yes, pissing contests. People rely on knowing where they fit within a social arrangements and pecking orders are as important as our natural sense of wanting to cooperate.

            We have a problem with hierarchy because we don’t trust people at the top because the qualities that bring people to the top are destructive and evil. In societies where honor and courage are honored leaders just fall into it and are the living embodiment of that culture. If you’ve ever experienced a culture where dishonor is worth than death you will know what I mean.

          3. banger

            @David Graber

            Read what I answered–yes, we’ve both had similar experiences with cooperative ventures but I can assert to you, as I said, that the reason the Chiapas or other communities can succeed to a certain degree, as the Civil Rights movement did in the South (and in the South mainly) is because the leader were part of the community and were a direct expression–in their person of the values and moral purpose of those communities.

            If we on the left want to influence political events (and we must) we have to establish tight communities–not just a weekend jaunt in a park or a week here and there–I’m talking about total emmersion–where you work, where you eat, where you raise your children and where you celebrate–if the left wants to be communitarian which is the essense of Occupy (or should have been) then it has to live those communities every day–not go to work for the man after your sabbatical, don’t go get a loan from a bank to buy a house etc. One thing I do know is that most of us could be able, if we trusted each other (and really we don’t) to build our own businesses to make a living for ourselves and feed and house some of the poor. I can assure you if that happened a lot and I mean a lot of people would take notice–I see diasatisfaction everywhere right now–this is the time!

          4. Goin' South

            Re: Banger’s last comment:

            Beautifully stated and couldn’t agree more.

            There are times, however, when people of disparate backgrounds can come together to form the kind of communities you describe.

            I was fortunate enough to hear Staughton Lynd describe how SNCC worked during the Mississippi Freedom Summer, particularly in response to the killing of their three comrades. As they realized that their three friends, declared missing, were probably dead, they gathered and sang “Kum Ba Yah.” (He went into a brief digression how he hated how that beautiful song was now used to symbolize foolish naivete.) First, they needed to respond directly to the fact of the missing students. Stokely Carmichael and another man, whose name I cannot remember, volunteered to go.

            Then the group needed to decide what to do about the schools and registration drives planned for the summer. Bob Moses spoke. He said that he understood if people decided not to go. It was obviously very dangerous. Their families would be worried sick, etc. But Moses said he was going, and would be there for anyone who still wanted to go. Nearly everyone in the room, mostly white college students, decided to go.

            No motions. No votes. Solidarity. A strong sense of community. An underlying spiritual component. And mutual trust, not “I trust you to handle the checking account” but “I trust you with my life” kind of trust.

            That was the soil from which consensus grew.

            (It was such a powerful experience that Staughton still found it difficult to tell the story. I count myself very fortunate to have heard it.)

        2. Timothy Y. Fong

          It was all about the tyranny of structurlessness.
          As Jo Freeman wrote, over 40 years ago:
          “Contrary to what we would like to believe, there is no such thing as a structureless group. Any group of people of whatever nature that comes together for any length of time for any purpose will inevitably structure itself in some fashion. The structure may be flexible; it may vary over time; it may evenly or unevenly distribute tasks, power and resources over the members of the group. But it will be formed regardless of the abilities, personalities, or intentions of the people involved. The very fact that we are individuals, with different talents, predispositions, and backgrounds makes this inevitable. Only if we refused to relate or interact on any basis whatsoever could we approximate structurelessness — and that is not the nature of a human group.
          This means that to strive for a structureless group is as useful, and as deceptive, as to aim at an “objective” news story, “value-free” social science, or a “free” economy. A “laissez faire” group is about as realistic as a “laissez faire” society; the idea becomes a smokescreen for the strong or the lucky to establish unquestioned hegemony over others. This hegemony can be so easily established because the idea of “structurelessness” does not prevent the formation of informal structures, only formal ones. Similarly “laissez faire” philosophy did not prevent the economically powerful from establishing control over wages, prices, and distribution of goods; it only prevented the government from doing so. Thus structurelessness becomes a way of masking power, and within the women’s movement is usually most strongly advocated by those who are the most powerful (whether they are conscious of their power or not). As long as the structure of the group is informal, the rules of how decisions are made are known only to a few and awareness of power is limited to those who know the rules. Those who do not know the rules and are not chosen for initiation must remain in confusion, or suffer from paranoid delusions that something is happening of which they are not quite aware.”

          1. from Mexico

            Very interesting. Thank you for the link.

            Have you seen Adam Curtis’s All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace? He seems to make the same case that Freeman does.

            It seems like stucture is a double-edged sword. Some is absolutely necessary, but too much can be suffocating.

            Have you read Amitai Etzoni’s The New Golden Rule: Community and Morality in a Democratic Society? He is a communitarian who argues that communitarianism tries to hit a happy balance between repressive structure and radical individualism.

          2. from Mexico

            Also, it seems in my reading of history that structure and hierarchy always work best when they are merit-based. People want material prosperity and they want safety and security, so they seek out leaders who can deliver these.

            Merit seems to degenerate pretty rapidly, however, into claims of divine right, nobility and inherited privilege, and merit takes a back seat.

            Societies also become pathological, feeble and decadent, in which case psychopaths, sociopaths and other assorted characteropaths rise to positions of leadership. This is what I perceive to have happened in Europe and the United States, these societies exhibiting rather advanced symptoms of social pathology.

            But even societies which are not pathological always face two daunting challenges:

            1) Punishing high-producing individuals who do not share enough, and

            2) Punishing low-producing individuals who do not produce enough

            Punishment in the sort of small groups in which man evolved ranges from shaming and ostracization, to physical punishment, and ultimately to banishment. The consequence of banishment is death, for even the most exceptional high-producing individual dies rapidly when separated from the group. A couple of very informative books to read on this are Moral Sentiments and Material Interests and Evolution for Everyone.

            1. Lambert Strether

              I wonder if the Commentariat could come up with a canonical example of a hierarchy that “worked.” There might need to be several, at different scales.

          3. Richard Kline

            So lambert, military organizations are the best examples of hierarchies. Some of them work very, very well—for their intended purpose. Consider the Mongol toumans of the first generation. Hyper-success. The Army of Alexander ‘the Great’ was an unstoppable force. Napolean’s Grand Armee was superb, until he attritted it out.

            Army’s of course are often extremely bad at governing, the operational requirements of which are antithetical to their own internal order. They don’t bother about governing too much, since it works for the first generation to simply put a gun to the head of the locals and say, “Give us all your virgins and grain harvest.” By the third generation, the descendants don’t know how to get it done, though, and often get it in the neck.

            And as a reply to the comments about ‘the best hierarchies are driven by merit,’ that is demonstrably untrue. I would say that the function of many early society hierarchies was to find ‘the lucky son’ and put him at the top, i.e. the person with the ‘hvarna,’ or divine grace; or simply ‘luck.’ In other words, leadership was selected on the basis of purely magical thinking rather than capacity. This is much of the basis for kingship, by the way, the idea that a particular descent lineage is ‘blessed lucky,’ and that that luck will trickle down. . . . I didn’t say that human beings were _smart_ about this.

            Here again we see a rational, and hence hyper-modern viewpoint that ‘meritocracies matter.’ Meritocracy is a political invention of the liberal middle class. Whether it works or not is beside the point, it’s designed for the political advantage of the educated but property poor demographic in the face of entrenched, propertied, upper class advantage. The working class believes in ‘grace and luck,’ and so doesn’t put too much stock in ‘merit.’

      2. Andrew Watts

        This is the problem with those activists who preach the gospel of consensus politics. Their intransigent attitude alienates any individuals (or groups) that don’t kowtow to their strict line. This is a huge obstacle to the formation of a political coalition that has the potential to change the landscape. Any coalition will be comprised of diverse interests that share common goals. The unwillingness of consensus based activists to compromise makes them ineffectual as well as unfit partners in any coalition.

        The evolution of the abolitionist movement in the United States is informative. In the beginning most abolitionists were unwilling to compromise in what they saw strictly as a matter of absolute principle. When they discovered that their cause could be furthered by appealing to self-interest both in it’s individual and collective forms they began to rapidly gain in influence in the two-party political system. This gain in influence saw the abolitionist Liberty Party grow into the pro-labor Free Soil Party. The principles of free-soilism eventually became a founding plank of the Republican Party. Which eventually brought about the success of abolitionism.

        1. RanDomino

          If it hadn’t been for the Civil War, I suspect that the militant abolitionists like Harriet Tubman and John Brown would have either inspired or directly organized a large-scale slave revolt sooner or later.

      3. Massinissa

        As a more-or-less orthordox marxist (I read Marx, Marx, and.. Mostly just Marx), Im going to have to agree with Diptherio, and disagree with you, honestly. When I attended Occupy Atlanta, I didnt give a damn that there were no leaders. If anything, that was part of the appeal!

        Maybe by ‘marxists’ you mean Stalinists and Maoists. Theres a difference, you know.

        1. banger

          Sure, but so what–a few days here and there and nobody needs leaders–we all pitch in things run smoothly for awhile we all get high on the connection–but then what? My experience is that it doesn’t last and I was part of a radical collective once upon a time–it didn’t and couldn’t last for a dozen reasons. In fact even when we were all equal we weren’t we just had the ideology that we were. People are not functionally equal–in worth, yes absolutely–because practical affairs are the tip of the iceberg of reality–but when pursuing practical affairs particularly when you battle the man you have to be ready and prepared.

          1. Massinissa

            I agree with you completely banger. The decentralization of Occupy, while appealing, was almost certainly its central drawback.

            But I was mostly just objecting to the idea that ‘Marxists’ always want Mao types to lead us. I felt a bit insulted. Alot of marxists and socialists have more in common with Eugene V Debs or George Orwell than Stalin.

          2. RanDomino

            Hierarchy may be functional in the short-term, but sooner or later the interests of the empowered will diverge from the base, and the base will find itself internally disorganized.

        2. diptherio

          Sorry, didn’t mean to use such a broad brush. At our encampment, the only self-identified Marxists we had acted this way. That was my experience. They came as a group, tried to take over, got frustrated and left.

          For the record, I don’t have any problem with Marx (apart from that dictatorship of the proletariat thingy) or you Mass. In the future I will try to check the sweeping statements (lifetime project, dontchaknow?)

          1. banger

            Hey listen, Marxists can be very annoying–if you have the stomach to read and Marx (not a very good writer despite some brilliant ideas) your liable to be a bit wild-eyed. I prefer Doestoevski–but anyway…..

          2. Richard Kline

            So diptherio, I know exactly who you mean, but there’s a misconception. You’re talking about the Revolutionary Communist Party type ‘Marxists’ [sic]. They’ve changed their name, but the same clique popped up at my occupation. They’re a cult. Yes, yes, their religion is a bizarre rendition of extreme, pseudo-Left politics rather than the Book of Morman or whatever, but labels aside, they’re a cult. Their ‘Marx’ is as phoney as their beards, what they’re after are recruits and personal power. This crew and their descendants shows up at _any_ large political action in major cities, shoves their way up to the front with their microphones, and starts leading chants so that they can give orders. Occupy simply shed them like water off a duck’s back, and it riled them no end.

            Real marxists aren’t anything like that, and are extremely unwelcome in that clique. Yah know, folks who’ve actually read the political theory involved and unsterstand the arguments for and against the evidentiary base and analytical constructs involved.

      4. nonclassical


        Occupy problem was partly “process”…substituted for INFORMATIONAL TRUTH..
        education of VICTIMS of Wall $treet economic disaster should have been front and center…

  13. Dan Kervick

    “Democracy” is a Greek word, and “Republic” is a Latin word. The founders tended to be enamored of all things Roman and virile. They used “democracy” when they wanted to disparage popular government, and “republic” when they wanted to praise it. But in the ancient world the similarities between the early Roman republic and the Greek democracies were much greater than the differences.

    Also, America wasn’t founded by the “Founders”. It was founded by a few million people. Those people had been building democratic institutions with amazing alacrity before the war of separation and they continued doing so after the war, despite various reactionary attempts by some of Our Illustrious Founders to limit them. The American people have created and astounding number of popularly elected legislatures, assemblies, councils, boards, town meetings, civic organizations and governmental organizations, mostly staffed by people from the communities that elected them, and known by the people who elected them.

    One of the greatest frauds that has been perpetuated in contemporary America is the libertarian lie that America is not a democratic nation but a “Republic” in some sense that is supposed to contrast with that. But a person has to be blind to be unaware of the profusion of massively democratic governance in the US. One thing that was immediately obvious to foreign visitors to the US in the 19th century was the instinctive democratic spirit of the American people animating its profusion of democratic institutions. That was immediately obvious as well to all of the immigrants to the United States from countries lacking these institutions.

    This libertarian propaganda has an insidious purpose. If you convince people that democratic institutions don’t exist, then of course you will discourage them form attempting to organizing to acquire places in those institutions and to take charge of directing them. Libertarians hate democracy, because they think every individual is sovereign, and they hate the fact that they might be governed by their fellow-citizens. Words like “share”, “community”, “government” etc. fill them with dread and are threats to the insulated and stubborn egos.

    Democracy is about running things. It is not just about your freedom to talk, or your freedom to assemble or your freedom to bitch and rant. It’s not about mystical flows of mysterious energies into the “common will”. It is about taking concrete steps to directly participate in the concrete acts of governance that determine the future, and to set up practical institutions of governance that to the greatest extent possible distribute the hard work of governance among the entire pupulation.

    1. banger

      Technically we were founded as a Republic modeled after Rome not Athens. After Jackson we became more of a Democracy. My view is that Roman-style Republic has a balance where the people as a whole have a say but the patricians are the main rulers of the society. In Roman history, whenever the patricians became too oppressive the people would rise up and make things very difficult for them until they moderated their behavior–it was a back and forth struggle according to Livy–but it was always thought that the elites had the time and the virtue to rule as long as they were for the common good. Julius Caesar was a kind of ideal–he represented Republican virtues–the upper-class faction he represented believed in doing what was right for the people as much as possible without totally taking power away from the elites–Julius was particularly the enemy of some of the noveau-riche who ruthlessly exploited the lower classes by systematically swindling them out of their property. Julius was the JFK/RFK of that time. That Republic ended on an assassination as die ours in 1963. We are well into Empire now so discussions about whether we are a democracy or a republic just don’t matter.

    2. nonclassical

      right Dan,

      as opposed to bought and sold government processes-end ALL campaign contributions=influence of “the people’s” government-legislation…

      1. Dan Kervick

        That isn’t enough. Campaign contributions are just a tiny part of the way organized, concentrated wealth controls our society.

      2. nonclassical


        completely Libertarian concept-and untrue-once again, Canada ended campaign contributions years ago-no influence of led to no economic meltdown.

        Also, German minister (we lived in Germany), asked how Germany could advance in mere 3 years, solar power to level forecast to take 15 years, replied,
        “Germany conducts PUBLIC FINANCING of campaigns”…

        no more abstract assertion in further response, alright??

        1. Dan Kervick

          There is a lot more wrong with modern America and Europe than the potential for financial meltdown. That’s juts a symptom.

        2. nonclassical


          Now you have conflated your argument against ending ALL campaign financing,
          with “what’s wrong with American and Europe that led to financial breakdown”..

          again, it was DEregulatory legislation (Omnibus Bill during Clinton, which Texas repubLIEcon Senator Phil Gramm planted in-Gramm-Leach-Bliley) greatly involved in Wall $treet’s ability to gamble-create derivatives based upon “securitized mortgages”, etc, etc..

          Without manipulated, bought and sold legislation and DEregulation of legislation, economic disaster (to respond to your dissembled change of subject) could not have taken place…

          good reason for NEW legislation Wall $treet banks are at this moment attempting to avoid…

  14. John Regan

    Graeber is now on staff at the LSE, which might be surprising to some who see the “elites” as being uniformly evil and impervious to reason or justice.

    I love Graeber’s mind and many of his thoughts on these subjects, but I am struck by the resort to academic anthropologists’ opinions on matters that plainly pertain to the law, and specifically the rule of law, while at the same time almost no lawyers are heard on the matters.

    Other than me. But I have a very small audience.

    In any case, for whatever it is worth, my thoughts on the Graeber phenomenon:

  15. EmilianoZ

    Sortition… I think Nassim Taleb calls that “simulated annealing” in “Anti-fragile”. I can’t remember if he provides any examples of this being practiced anywhere.

    He seems to say that the Romans practiced some kinda “simulated annealing” for certain decisions. They would kill some goose, look at its entrails and try to divine the right way to go. In effect, the decision would be random. I had always chalked that up to superstition but for Taleb that was “simulated annealing”.

    1. David Graeber

      Sortition was widely used in ancient Greece and also Renaissance Italy. For a good primer, check out: Oliver Dowlen, “The Political Potential of Sortition” (2008)

      1. John Regan

        William F. Buckley used to say that he would rather be governed by any 100 people chosen at random from his list of National Review subscribers than any other selection process he could think of.

        I think sortition is an excellent idea, BTW. I might prefer a limited constitutional monarchy, but I confess I haven’t thought it through at this point.

        One thing I often have said, though, is that giving people powerful positions because they want them has got to be the worst idea ever. Wanting power over others is an obvious disqualification for having it.

        1. banger

          I believe Buckley said that he would rather be ruled by the first 100 people in the Boston phone book than the entire faculty of Harvard–frankly I agree with him. But maybe he said what you wrote as well.

          1. Richard Kline

            Yeah, well the first 100 folks are by definition wearing a-hats. And they get called first all the time, so they probably have an inflated opinion of their opinion. I’d recommend the _last_ 100 folks in the phone book, if it comes to that. They NEVER get called on, and so are likely to be really eager to do a good job and not fall into shame.

          2. David Graeber

            That was the one I heard. Though I suppose the first 100 starting on page 100 would be ideal.

    2. EmilianoZ

      Taleb actually mentions another sort of random selection in relation to the Romans, some kinda negative sortition. It’s “decimation”. If a battalion behaved badly in combat, one 10th of it would be selected randomly and put to death.

      It seem deeply unjust, but the alternative, letting someone choose, could be even worse. For instance, putting that in the present context, if decimation were practiced for the financial collapse, you could think that at least a handful of those randomly chosen for punishment would be the the real perps. But if we let the Obama administration do the choosing, we can be sure that absolutely none of the real perps would be selected. Decimation is deeply unjust, but more just than politically motivated selection.

      I can see a lot of similarities between David Graeber and Nassim Taleb. Taleb rates extreme decentralization as anti-fragile. In “A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse”, Graeber wrote about the supposed lack of alternatives to capitalism:

      “When has social change ever happened according to someone’s blueprint? It’s not as if a small circle of visionaries in Renaissance Florence conceived of something they called “capitalism,” figured out the details of how the stock exchange and factories would someday work, and then put in place a program to bring their visions into reality.”

      This is very important. It’s an invitation to “tinkering” rather than trying to conceive a masterplan first. That’s one of the main themes of Taleb’s book. You can only learn by making, by trials and error.

      1. Richard Kline

        Decimation was actually a merciful expedient. Executing an entire unit for gross failure was preferred on strictly draconian grounds ‘to encourage the others,’ but the manpower couldn’t always be spared. But all in the unit were equally at fault for failure, so designating individuals for exemplary punishment was seen as grossly unfair. Hence a semi-random selection procedure was the compromise between ferocity and justice.

        The French Army well into modern times used lot as a valid slection mechanism for group punishments in exactly the same way, up to and including exemplary executions. It was seen as the most just method. This is actually expressed in an excellent but neglected film, Kubrick’s ‘Paths of Glory,’ which revolves around a trio selected for exemplary punishment for a unit failure in the First World War. One is selected by lot, but the other two are selected for discriminatory and criminal reasons. Watching that process (only part of the film’s narrative), it’s easy to understand why selection by lot was deemed valid as the least unfair. Everyone has the same chance at the short straw . . . .

  16. Eureka Springs

    I think the best issues OWS raised awareness about are we live in an anti representative oligarchy corporate fascist (neoliberal) country/world.

    And get money out of politics. Which was immediately co-opted into fecklessness by the likes of public citizen and move to amend. (Bless their hearts)

    We in the US have got to wipe out the corrupt bribe based anti representative ways of our political and electoral process… without pause, distraction, apology.

    This should start with a series of focused constitutional amendments – move to amend process, but not with the move to amend org itself. Too mysterious to be anything but veal pen.

    Focus the amendments in something along these lines:

    Establish citizen direct democracy with the ability of voters to amend the constitution.
    Establish proportional representation with multi party access, public only party through campaign finance.
    No corporation or foreign entities should ever be able to fund or lobby a party, campaign or to amendment process.

    1. Dan Kervick

      It’s impossible to get the money out of politics without getting the economic inequality out of society. The liberal illusion is that you can erect a wall of separation between wealth and politics, and have a viable democratic society in the midst of vast inequalities in economic power and unlimited scope for the private accumulation of wealth. But money talks and always will. If people want a more democratic form of government they need to build a more equal society.

      1. nonclassical

        Dan-Canada ALREADY got the $$$$ out of politics-NO corporate campaign or union campaign contributions-didn’t suffer parallel Wall $treet economic disaster…

        1. Banger

          Two radically different situations. Guess what the difference is? The stakes are infinitely higher in Washington which attracts every major league hustler in the world. Even a scent of taking money out of politics and the oligarchs will field a million bloggers, PR, people, dirty tricksters, muscle and presstitute in the mainstream media to shoot the idea down. And they’ll have unlimited budgets too because Washington is the capital of the Empire.

      2. nonclassical


        FDR-Pecora investigation-legislation, holding economic system from disaster for 50 years, was no “liberal illusion”…was it??

        Try “Wall $treet-A History”, by Geisst, before you formulate an answer, or dissemble further…

  17. Hugh

    We live in a kleptocracy. That is the first reality we need to come to grips with. We can not improve it. We can not reform it. We can only replace it with something different.

    Kleptocracy is formed by the alliance of rich and the elites. The elites run the kleptocracy for the rich who pay and reward them for doing so. Again the rich and elites can not be improved or reformed. They too can only be replaced with something different.

    These replacements mean, whether we are comfortable with the idea or not, revolution. The choice still remains with us, however, whether this revolution concentrates on violence and blowing things up or on rebuilding our country, its institutions, and our society into something we want.

    Both the Tea Party and Occupy were signals of discontent with things as they are. Both were first steps and like most first steps failed, and for similar reasons. Neither had a clear program and neither did the reaching out and organizing to create a mass movement. The rule of mass movements is that they must keep building and expanding, until they reach a critical mass where they can directly implement their program, or they dissipate and fade into irrelevance. This is what happened to the Tea Party and OWS. They both were relegated to niches. It is also what happened during the Great Depression when change did not come from the people but rather by elites responding to the people in order to save their own positions and capitalism. “Pragmatism”, compromise with the powers that be sounds oh so reasonable (and none of us want to be called unreasonable, do we?), but it is also the chief way a mass movement at the point of victory can destroy itself. An injustice is addressed, but the system that produced that injustice, and will produce it again, is left in place.

    A movement’s program must be clear, concise, and simple. It must not only be about what we are against, but more importantly what we are for. It must not be just a list, but contain a vision of what we want.

    Similarly, the movement must speak to more than our individual interests. There is in almost all of us a desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves. But that desire does not brook betrayal or being taken for granted. Participation must be real. I have said before that no mass movement in this country will be successful until it can enlist white males. And a movement can only do this by actually listening to them and their concerns and making them an important part of the movement.

    Finally, the movement must convert its social power into political power. It does this by choosing members for political office dedicated to the movement’s program out of its own ranks, not “sympathetic” elites.

    We have seen so many movements fail, or fail after some initial successes. This is not rocket science. The roadmap lies before us. It is mostly common sense and draws itself. All we need to do is follow it.

    1. Banger

      Ok, my takes is more oligarchy than kleptocracy–but we can say that these elites are criminal in nature. I see more disaffection today than at any time in my memory and I think radical change is a possibility but if it come it will come based on the populist right–they certainly have the numbers and the energy even if it is very confused.

      The source of power lies in strong community which is why the Montgomery bus boycott worked and Occupy did not. Ad hoc communities have no staying power. We need to emphasize bonding with each other and forming something but the fact is nearly all people on the left in the U.S. (and increasingly in Europe) are not sympathetic to communitarianism or collectives–everybody wants to be free and independent so as to pursue private interests first and then down the scale of importance making fun of the Yeoman class like John Stewart likes to do and maybe doing some political work and blogging or justngiving money to NGOs. The left in America is no serious or even better humorous. That is why no matter how hard we honk our horn people who don’t share our culture turn us off.

    2. nobody


      On January 13, 2013 at 6:06 pm you wrote:

      “I do not like the way Krugman plays a fairly standard Establishment role of both decrying our jobs crisis and whittling down its true dimensions to almost nothing.”

      Similarly, I do not like the way you say that Occupy failed because it didn’t have “a clear program” and didn’t do “the reaching out and organizing to create a mass movement.”

      If Occupy failed, it failed first and foremost because it was brutally, violently, and lawlessly repressed, and internally subverted.

      If Occupy failed, the secondary reason it failed is the failure of those who stood on the sidelines and so quickly bought into hostile propaganda to rally in defense of the freedom to assemble and urgent need — as Cathy O’Neil put it – to come together to “figure it out…talk about it…understand it / and why it is failing.”


      If there is to be “a vision of what we want,” we need to have the freedom to come together as a “we” and listen to each other to figure out who “we” are and to share our very particular insights and knowledge about the reality we are living in together.

      1. Hugh

        Both OWS and the Tea Party got people’s attention. But neither came up with a program that large numbers of people could sign on to. In the case of the Tea Party, this was because too much of it was rejectionist, pro-corporate, and rejectionist of many of the groups it needed to grow. As for OWS, it took a perverse pleasure in not having any clear program. From a movement point of view, this was suicidal, and you can hardly blame people for not signing on without knowing what the program was.

        As for OWS being attacked, any attempts at establishing a movement which challenges the powers that be in the current kleptocracy is going to be attacked. It comes with the territory. This is why growth, organizing, and movement building are so necessary. It keeps the powers that be off balance and on the defensive. Any action they could take could blow up in their faces because by trying to attack the few they might end up offending the many. This is also why a clear program is important, because an attack on a few demonstrators is not just an attack against people, it becomes an attack on the justice and decency the movement’s program embodies. Again it blows up in the faces of the powers that be. Look to the Civil Rights movement if you don’t believe me.

        1. Ché Pasa


          I’m sure you understand that those same Powers That Be learned powerful lessons of their own from their experience with the Civil Rights Movement — among other widely popular though not necessarily mass movements — and so long as they feel threatened by such movements, they will never let them be successful again.

    3. nobody


      “We live in a kleptocracy… the Tea Party and Occupy… this country…”

      NC’s readership and commentariat is a commuity of people who live in or are citizens of six of the seven continents, if not all seven. If “we” live in a kleptocracy, it’s a global kleptocracy. Think globally, act globally.

  18. kevinearick

    Bridge Construction & Demolition

    The History of empires is the history of demographic ponzies supplanted by bridges to easily exploitable resources, and natural replenishment following human viral replication and associated die-offs. Lack of geography and ineffective empire technology has eliminated the ponzi and exploitation economies as the means to further fuel the current virus. That leaves death, through disease, pestilence, war, and starvation. Or, we could bring the economy into equilibrium with nature, like every other stable critter on the planet.

    Empires employ money backed by military technology as a positive feedback mechanism to fuel growth, printing to pull demand forward and lock future generations into the empire status quo, with the resulting debt, issuing the credit debt as current income through congressional corporate misdirection to define the social caste system. The more behavior reinforces the empire mythology, the greater the income debt, and the greater the impetus for each social strata to create artificial barriers to entry and exit, each competing internally and externally, for debt. Monetary expansion and austerity are simply reward and punishment to ensure empire ponzi debt participation.

    The dumber the empire gets, the greater the barriers become, the more circulation contracts, the more the majority denies, the more imbeciles are promoted as scapegoats, the more desperate circumstances become, and the more insane the propaganda becomes in the education system. The majority is trying in vain accordingly to protect its position with nearer term decisions, and the only choice it accepts net, among bad choices, is a single global economy, eliminating marriage as an alternative, with an increasingly pronounced bipolar response, in an artificial feast and famine economy of increasing income disparity.

    Empires are specifically designed to implode if you allow them to run on auto, because all the resistors can do is copy, paste and re-order, what is now called best-business-practice. In the meantime, labor prototypes bridges to the future and is distilled out accordingly. Love cannot exist within an empire, but an empire cannot live without labors of love.

    The empire is an inverse implicit battery, with many motors / resistors / corporations requiring human circulation, made of the majority, immobilized by its own behavior, as derivatives in time. Individuals traveling through the system ‘electrify’ it, and may adjust R, C, and L, resonance, to tune in and out perception. Labor begins from the to-be. Capital attempts to maintain the as-is.

    Real investors, those remaining few capable of reaching threshold catalysis, to transform capital as required, will not accept currency debt, or PM, from failed cultures, and all the nation/state empires have failed. All those artificial barriers to entry and exit represent an implicit battery, that must be reconfigured, and empire time is running out. Like flies at the end of season, the bridge will fail, along with the middle class it supports globally.

    There will not be one global economy, for reasons which are becoming readily apparent, even to the majority; there will be many global economies. The majority can exhaust itself through replicative breeding or war, printing money to feed artificial consumption credit until discharge. At the end of the cycle, Navy will be a utility regardless, and the accompanying technology may be rolled out directly as production or beginning with the final act of war. Careful with whom you choose to declare war.

    Labor cannot tolerate taxation beyond 10%, or government control of its development, and will defer to family investment accordingly. You cannot own your family, but you do have inalienable property and liberty rights in the investment, along with continuing provision, as all of History attests.

    An empire is like the gauntlet in First Knight. Be prepared to meet your maker and account for yourself at all times. If majority’s government chooses to cross the line with Family Law to enforce jurisdiction over the future, regardless of its convenient identity, adjust the gauntlet to turn on itself, like a dog on its stupid master. First you isolate the floors, then you remove the circulation supports, and then you let nature take care of the rest.

    You have the as-is and the to-be. How you get there is up to you. The Internet is simply an abutment vortex, for a bridge to nowhere, unless you see what the majority cannot. Historically, the majority simply replaces the heads of the hydra as required to preserve itself, wh-s and their n-rs wherever you go, chasing government money into every crevice. They cannot listen, because they simply do not have the capacity to reach your frequency, and adding monkeys with ladders doesn’t help. All politics is local, aggregated. Adjust gravity accordingly to suit your development.

    Empires are for single people, and their civil marriages, never-neverland. The barriers to employment are coming down, the easy way or the hard, you decide, “ children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or of husband’s will, but born of God…I send you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

    1. nonclassical

      …follow the $$$$….”government”, and “labor”, are NOT where it coagulates..we live in corporatocracy…where $$$$ buys and sells labor, government…quite obviously….

  19. nonclassical


    ….allow government to function without $$$$ intrusion=bought and sold legislation…were you paying attention during bushit?? What did you think when
    bushitters allowed credit card co lobbyists (2004) to write new bankruptcy laws??

    ..I told all my friends, millions of AmeriKans were going to go bankrupt…

  20. Calgacus

    our system, say, where practically 48-49 percent of voters each time always ends up crushed and defeated.

    What optimism! More like 80-90%.

  21. cripes

    As fond as i am of consensus, and averse to authoritarianism, there is no form of government in which i can imagine 9/10ths of the population forming a democratic, or equitable, mode of governing with the 1% and their 9% retainers. No, after five millennia of exploitation and worse, they must be eliminated, at least in the sense of their class power, if not as individuals. But who am i to say? Even then we face the persistent tendency of new elites to form over the crusted scab of the dying elites, reproducing the whole disgusting spectacle all over again.

    1. RanDomino

      Consensus and Anarchism imply use-based ownership of property, which makes capitalistic concentration of wealth impossible.

  22. Jim

    My bet is that we currently exist in an historical situation of deepening crisis that demands a questioning of all of our most cherished assumptions—if we are to find our way out.

    Consequently it is fascinating to me that, for example Richard Kline, in a portion of his commentaries, essentially implies that some questioning of scared assumptions (especially around the apparently never-ending progressive/left deification of the national State-even in its present condition of complete corruption) or simply heretical thoughts of unorthodox political re-alignments—is really out-of-bounds.

    He argues at 4:26 A.M. (maybe its the hour) that “…I will say though that the flirtation of those on the left with the putative/better organization of those on the populist right is pernicious, daft, and in the end self-defeating.” He goes on to add that “ none of this is any reason for the present left to copy the populist right with their sin and redemption narrative, this is absolutely the WRONG thing to do.”

    (Talk about Richard giving us an example of what is considered sin by the apparently secular conformist Left)

    What exactly is going on here Richard?—why the apparent fear of even the suggestion of exploring an alliance between those on the populist right and those on the more populist/anarchist left—both of which seem, at a minimum, as interested in decentralization(one of the State and one of the Corporate Structure) and also both groupings also seem open to a significant weakening of the power of our out-of-control national security and foreign policy apparatus.

    I would strongly favors such explorations, if for no other reason than I have never bought into the assumption (as apparently you have) of the eternal validity of the modern state as the agency through which well-intentioned and wise professionals rationally apply logical procedures in complex public and private bureaucratic organizations to serve the public weal.

    Nor have I ever bought into the assumption(as apparently you have) that the nation-state is the most appropriate vessel to maintain modern communities—rather than local/municipal, regional or other sub-national forms of of federation or confederation.

    1. LifelongLib

      Small communities (and even states) are too vulnerable to takeover by economic/political strongmen and thugs. In the absence of a national government, who’s going to tell George Wallace to get his ass out of the schoolhouse door, or arrest the local Mafia don?

    2. tomk

      I didn’t understand Richard as arguing against exploring an alliance. He just argued against copying the Right’s sin and redemption narrative.

  23. nobody

    @David Graeber

    1. “You know something? Fuck this shit. They advertised a general assembly. Let’s hold one.”


    2. A few months ago you tweeted, about OWS: “anti-capitalism is the message.”

    3. My response: “Fuck this anti-capitalism shit. You advertised a 99% movement. Let’s have one.”

  24. skippy

    Gross simplification incoming…

    Until – us – figure out the dispersion of the *Grain Paradox*… its going to be a bear pit affair.

    To think our species and by extension so many others – survival – is dependent on the ramifications of a seed… in antiquity.

    Skippy…. Graeber thanks for your efforts wrt this.

  25. Dan Kervick

    “Anti-capitalism” isn’t the name of anything very substantive. It inherits all the vagueness of the term “capitalism”, and then it adopts a stance of mere dissent toward this vaguely defined enemy. It’s time to move on to the articulation of a clear positive agenda that uses terms besides “anti”, “non-“, “de-“, “un-” etc.

    The American left has a giant socialism-sized hole in it’s brain as a traumatic after-effect of the Cold War, McCarthy, the perversion and collapse of the Soviet bloc and the oppressive state communisms of the 20th century. People on the left are all still living in mortal terror of the scourges and persecutors of the socialist tradition, and compulsively amputate every political or mental growth that gets to close to it. This is a self-mutilating, doomed outlook.

    There is at least 500 years of proto-socialist and socialist thinking out there. Most of it consists of some of the most human end uplifting thought that human beings have every had and has nothing to do with gulags, vanguards, dictatorships of the proletariat, re-education camps, Borg collectives and absorption by Body Snatchers. Most egalitarian and “progressive” reforms people have ever imagined or proposed were embraced and elaborated by some socialist thinker of the past. It’s all in there. Read it, think about it, and if you find something or someone in need of defense in that tradition, defend it. Don’t deny it like Peter denied the author of the Sermon on the Mount.

    Modern libertarian and radically individualist thought is the lingering trauma of political terror. It’s a sad and peculiarly American phenomenon that stems from the US being the frightening and fraught battleground of Cold War ideological warfare. It’s a manifestation of the paranoid style wrought by ideological oppression and threats of torture and violence, a way of thought that pushes each person into the lonely corner of his own absurdly “self-reliant” ego, wandering in a narcissistic mirror-wasteland panicking about being absorbed into the “collective”.

    Stop being terrified of socialism.

    1. RanDomino

      That kind of thinking will result either in socialists remaining at the fringes, or forced compliance (and the correlating gulags, vanguards, dictatorships of the proletariat, re-education camps, Borg collectives and absorption by Body Snatchers).

    2. Dan Kervick

      I write too fast and post without reviewing. Should be:

      “… some of the most humane and uplifting thought that human beings have ever had …”

    3. nonclassical

      David-true, to a degree…or one could peruse Adam Curtis’, “The Mayfair Set”- “Pandora’s Box”…

      (then, “Century of Self”, and “The Trap”)…

    4. Malmo

      If the collective promotes social and economic equality, then fine. If it miserably fails at that end, then to hell with it. So the question begs itself–how do we get to collective justice in a polarized nation. By force? Exterminating all the “individualists”?

      1. Dan Kervick

        There is no “collective”. That’s just the paranoid libertarian/Ayn Rand scare word for “cooperation” or “sharing”.

        We get to where we want to go by having political fights and winning them – mostly the old fashioned grind of organizing, building movements, and transforming the power of the movements into electoral power.

        1. Malmo

          There absolutley is a collective ethos in virtually all societal arrangements. It is generally a good thing too. Collective identity can be synthesized with individualist tendancies. They aren’t mutually exclusive. Beleive it or not most people aren’t rabid ideologues. The only question to most people is what be the size and scope of said arrangements? Some people desire a large centralized apparatus. Others desire greater local autonomy, and a lesser role for the bureaucratic levithan. Totalists, either way, are few and far between. Someone who fears a bulging centralized monolith is no quack. Like it or not these skeptics are by far the majority report, and very few of these resisters to the giant state are libertarians or anarchists. Fear of so called libertarians and anarchists taking over the whole damn thing is the more irrational fear.

        2. RanDomino

          When grassroots organization leads to winning elections, the grassroots organizing dies, and then the electoral power gets corrupted. Government is the grave of movements.

  26. nobody

    (esp Hugh, Banger, and David Graeber)

    “The cure, of course, is to fix the root bad design. If you get it right, the change will ripple thru all the subsidiary designs and simplify them, possibly by making them go poof… Just as a matter of interest.”

  27. William Falberg

    Everything you say is true except you’re looking for one-size-fits-all, simple solutions, from the same central planners and central bankers that created this mess. They’ll never solve any of it because they’re not motivated to change what’s worked for them so long and so well. Governments are incredibly complex systems in which nobody is really responsible because they’re separated and shielded within their respective bureaus. Corporations are equally complex bureaucracies, equally shielded by layers of separation from responsibility.

    Incorporated entities, both public and private, share that single trait of being responsible, and having inordinate power, without holding any of its constituents personally responsible. Governments claim responsibility to The People and corporations claim responsibility to “the stockholders” but since legal entities feel no pain, they can’t be punished. In either case there is no *personal* executive responsibility and such institutions only serve the interests that sponsor them.

    Given that corporations now sponsor the government too, major policy decisions of the sort you’re advocating will only happen if the top bureaucrats at the most centralized institutions, both public and private, decide such action is in the best interest of their common sponsors.

    Who, then, serves the un-incorporated citizen, entrepreneur, and small business community that the central planners are planning on? Who serves the other half of the economy; the part that makes all the smaller but much better/smarter business decisions on a daily basis? Who serves the “invisible hand” wisdom of a true, free, non-monopolized market?

    It’s not so much the politicians’ or executives’ lack of wisdom that’s corrupting the system; it’s the system’s lack of political and executive responsibility that’s corrupting the society . Our constitution was intended to prevent the sort of centralization that led to Britain’s empire of private trading companies acting as colonial governments (East India Co.) . The Republic was meant to decentralize power among the states. The federal government was separated into three branches to avoid centralization. States were divided into counties, etc; all to avoid the evil stupidity of over-centralized bureaucracy . Church was separated from state. Corporations were not mentioned because they assumed we’d know better than to permit their proliferation. But we didn’t, did we. Now we can see what evil centralized banking can bring but are helpless to stop them without amending the constitution to re-define the terms of incorporation. ALL incorporation.

    28th Amendment (The Constitutional Emergency Amendment)
    Corporations are not persons and shall be granted only those rights and privileges that Congress deems necessary for the well-being of the People. Congress shall provide legislation defining the terms and conditions of corporate charters according to their purpose; which shall include, but are not limited to:
    1, prohibitions against any corporation;
    a, owning another corporation,
    b, becoming economically indispensable or monopolistic, or
    c, otherwise distorting the general economy;
    2, prohibitions against any form of intervention in the affairs of government by means of;
    a, congressional lobbying
    b, electoral sponsorship or advocacy
    c, educational sponsorship or publication
    d, media news reporting
    3, provisions for;
    a, the auditing of standardized, current, and transparent account books
    b, closing the FRB and the establishment of state-owned banks
    c, civil and criminal penalties to be suffered by corporate executives et al for violation of the terms of a corporate charter.

    Optional: (or possible 29th amendment)
    The 16th Amendment to the United States Constitution is hereby repealed and Congress shall re-write the U.S. Code to reflect the changes embodied herein.

  28. Miguel

    David Graeber is 100% right about the populist right being able to capture working people (in particular white working people).

    But the U.S. left (be it anarchist, social democratic, socialist, non-Leninst communist, etc) has failed on TWO fronts. It has failed to capture the white working class, AND it has failed to capture the poor non-white working/under class (in particular, it has failed to reach the black ghettos).

    Many blacks in the ghettos sympathize with Occupy, but most I speak to are upset at it since they say that they’ve been hit the hardest for over a century, and only now when unemployment hits the white middle class does it become an issue to organize and protest about.

    Remember many in the Ghettos (due to racism in the society) have been forced into the underground economy. They won’t protest capitalism the same way whites will because MANY blacks (but not all) have been excluded from that “capitalism”.

    In my opinion, Occupy should have at least have made a few simple demands (with no leader of course). The polls now show the population no longer see Occupy as favorably as before.

    For example, if Occupy had demanded an end to stop and frisk in NY, then many in the NY Ghettos would have seen it as a real force for change. If Occupy had demanded a rise in minimum wage to the tune of $15-$20 an hour, then many white (and non-white) working people would have jumped right in. The private sector is sitting on mountain loads of cash. Believe me, business would have HATED such a demand.

    The reason Obama got people’s hopes up was because the population was hoping that he would make the state work for THEM.

    We haven’t pushed the state to it’s limits, so people will still want changes via the state. That’s not to say we don’t stop being Anarchist, but we need to actually see what the population wants. According to polls, the population would like more social spending from the state, among other things.

    That’s not to say we play the game of support politicians, etc. But we should make demands that the populations wants to improve people’s lives. If we can do that, no amount of private power propaganda can affect people like it did 80-100 years ago.

    If Occupy had made demands, it would have been a lesson to the people about what Democracy can achieve, because thanks to a century of U.S. propaganda, the concept of democracy has been beaten out of people’s heads in the U.S.. Many anarchists tend to act like the population was never bombarded by the most effective propaganda system in the history of human existence. Just some food for thought.

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