Tag Archive | David Graeber


I ran across a brief interview with avowed libertarian entrepreneur Peter Thiel in MIT Technology Review titled, Technology Stalled in 1970:

The way some pessimists put it is that all the low-hanging fruit has been picked. I would argue that there was never any low-hanging fruit; it was always of intermediate height and the question was, were people reaching for it or not? I’m frustrated because I think technology is progressing slowly, but I’m optimistic because I think it could be going a lot better.

Apparently Thiel has a new book out. I was reminded me of all the flak I got when I blogged about Joseph Tainter’s suggestion that innovation is not characteristic of human history and that we have reached an innovation trough. (For Tainter’s talk on innovation, see the last several minutes of youtubes Part Three and all of Parts Four and Five.)
I news-googled Thiel and found a recent NY Times article about a debate between him and anthropologist and anarchist David Graeber:

… as it happens, the event was conceived less as a cage match than as a friendly meeting of contrarian minds, both of whom happen to think — in seeming contrast to most people in the world — that our supposed age of dizzying innovation is actually an era of technological and intellectual stagnation.

“I find it interesting that Peter and I agree very strongly about 20 percent of everything, and probably disagree just as strongly on the other 80 percent,” Mr Graeber said in an interview before the debate. “But the stuff we do agree on is the stuff no one else agrees with us about.” …

Once upon a time, [Graeber] said, when people imagined the future, they imagined flying cars, teleportation devices and robots who would free them from the need to work. But strangely, none of these things came to pass.

“What happened to the second half of the 20th century?” Mr. Graeber asked. His answer is that it was deliberately short-circuited by a “ruling-class freak-out,” as “all this space-age stuff was seen as a threat to social control.” …

[Thiel] didn’t blame any ruling-class freakout, [but] did see a loss of nerve and sclerotic bureaucracies. He cited the anarchist slogan “Act as if you are already free,” and praised initiatives like SpaceX, the private space technology company started by his fellow PayPal founder, Elon Musk. “We’re not going to get to Mars by having endless debates,” he said. “We’re going to get to Mars by trying to get to Mars.”

I have a copy of Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years floating around my apartment, and I guess I should read it.

Occupy Horizontally

In, Paint Bombs, Kelefa Sanneh talks about Occupy, David Graeber and anarchy:

In the summer of 2011, when David Graeber heard rumors of a mobilization against Wall Street, he was hopeful but wary. Graeber is an anthropologist by trade, and a radical by inclination, which means that he spends a lot of time at political demonstrations, scrutinizing other demonstrators. When he wandered down to Bowling Green, in the financial district, on August 2nd, he noticed a few people who appeared to be the leaders, equipped with signs and megaphones.

I noticed hard-faced people like that at Occupy Baltimore. I assumed they were the anarchists, but:

It seemed that they were affiliated with the Workers World Party, a socialist group known for stringent pronouncements that hark back to the Cold War—a recent article in the W.W.P. newspaper hailed the “steadfast determination” of North Korea and its leaders. As far as Graeber was concerned, W.W.P. organizers and others like them could doom the new movement, turning away potential allies with their discredited ideology and their unimaginative tactics.

… Graeber and his allies had to fend off two different enemies: the people who wanted to stop the occupation and the people who wanted to organize it. Occupy Wall Street succeeded, and survived, in its original location — Zuccotti Park, halfway between Wall Street and the World Trade Center site — for nearly two months, much longer than anyone predicted. It inspired similar occupations around the country, creating a model for radical politics in the Obama era. And it became known, more than anything, for its commitment to horizontalism: no parties, no leaders, no demands.

Occupy has drawn much criticism for being disorganized and unfocused – much of it from those who wanted another easy cause to support from the armchair. But what I saw was that it was ultimately behind-the-scenes machinations that caused the average Occupier to lose patience, not the difficult process of establishing a consensus among wildly different people – homeless drug users, the transgendered, unemployed college grads with huge student loans – and not the police crackdowns.