posts tagged: anarchism

David Graeber has spent the last decade challenging the line drawn between scholar and activist. While many academics fancy themselves “radicals,” the anthropologist professor has been an active participant in anarchist and anti-authoritarian groups and organizing. Graeber has used his skill-set as an anthropologist to compile ethnographic data—far away from the classroom and campus, to be sure—regarding the contemporary anarchist movement in North America; the results were published in 2009 as Direct Action: An Ethnography. David Graeber is the author of several books, including Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology and, most recently, Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Graeber currently teaches social anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London. Below, Graeber discusses his latest book, the concept of debt in detail, and how his involvement in the anarchist movement sparked his interest in the history of debt.

Alex Bradshaw: Your latest book, Debt: The First 5000 Years, explores the origins of debt. What were some of the implications for communities and individuals when debt became a significant factor in people’s lives?


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I’m coming to believe that like many other terms ‘human’ holds simultaneously liberating and oppressive definition and potential. There is a sense in which the human category is fluid, describing beings with whom your own being finds deepest resonance. Then there is the biological species category Homo sapiens sapiens. These two categories are conflated by the shared term ‘human.’ While the former is defined by its subjectivity and contingency, the latter is demarcated by its objectivity and rigid certainty.

When one argues that the human prefers the human she may think of herself as appealing to an invariable reality (or law), when in actuality she is merely expressing the existence of empathic affinity—the seeing of oneself (to varying degrees) in the other.

For some the human being is of a small subset of Homo sapiens sapiens, for others it extends well beyond the same.


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Human Rights as a concept of universal freedoms and securities to which every homo sapiens is entitled, regardless of biological, economic, or political prerequisites, stands at odds with the core characteristics of the capitalist system. Perhaps the most exemplary illustration can be witnessed in the treatment of healthcare systems. The contrasts between the capitalist model as seen in the United States and the humanist model viewed through the diligently anti-capitalist Chiapas are stark; If Chiapas is a living, entangled, and inclusive representation of the possibilities for health, then the US system is its morbid, segregated, and discriminatory counterpart. The commodification of healthcare creates death, not the “right to life, liberty and security of person” proposed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


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The past century has been coined by scholars as “the century of genocide.” An estimated 50–60 million people have been killed in conflicts that can be classified as genocides. Many have observed that the development of the nation-state and the industrialization of killing has led to increased violence. However, few have examined the violent roots and effects of the processes that claim to prevent domination and promote peace. The United Nations, neglecting to address and act to resolve its own place in modern, rationalized violence, demonstrates its ignorance of power relations through the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.1 By authoritatively defining and ranking violence, the UN Convention, itself a product of 20th century bureaucratization, perpetuates and permits violence and reinforces the state-sovereignty that frequently effectuates crimes of genocide.


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I’m not a big fan of the self-deprivation – which often presents as puritanical and ascetic –often associated with New Year’s resolutions, unless they involve giving up… self-deprivation. The following five points – what I see as ways to make anarchism/ anarchy sexier, more practical, and in the here-and-now – do not serve as an arbitrary set of resolutions for a most heterogeneous of social/ political movements. Rather, they are my own aspirations and hopes for the anarchist movement in the New Year.

If they’re not your own hopes and aspirations, please add to this conversation. That is to say, I would love to hear others’ thoughts on what they would like to see anarchism become in 2011, and in the future.

The 2000’s have been a mixed bag for this movement that seeks to alter globalization. Of course 9/11/01 radically shifted the direction – and changed the dynamics, while slowing the momentum – of a movement that started the 2000’s still coasting off the fumes of Seattle ’99. We could consider 2011 as a time to reconsider what anarchism is, jettisoning the useless, and building on the valuable and useful and imaginative aspects.

I. Be nice to each other


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