Stanley Dundee

David Graeber Memorial

David Graeber, anthropologist, anarchist, and author, died in the summer of 2020. His written legacy is a continuing inspiration to me. Graeber's books have shaped my world view to a degree that few other authors approach. My Debt volume, read and reread and reread, is so freighted with book darts that it clinks when pages are flipped.

I can't possibly do justice to his overall legacy, but I feel obliged to make a modest acknowledgement of at least one of his brilliant (and obvious, in hindsight) insights. Graeber identified three possible modes of economic organization: communism, hierarchy, and exchange. His thesis was that all of them are operable to varying degrees in everyday life in all human societies. Graeber had a particulary interesting take on communism, which has stayed with me:

. . . I will define communism here as any human relationship that operates according to the principles of from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs. . . . communism is not some magical utopia, and neither does it have anything to do with the ownership of the means of production. It is something that exists right now—that exists, to some degree, in every human society, although there has never been one in which everything has been organized that way, and it would be difficult to imagine how there could be. All of us act like communists a good deal of the time. . . . all social systems, even economic systems like capitalism, have always been built on top of a bedrock of actually existing communism. (pp. 94-95, his emphasis)

Graeber's death had the synchronistic consequence of bringing me his insights in Ferguson and the Criminalization of American Life just when I could really use them in my introduction of oversuck. The whole essay is illustrations of oversuck, mainly police-related, but also ranging over banks, higher ed, etc. Graeber:

Almost every institution in America—from our corporations to our schools, hospitals, and civic authorities—now seems to operate largely as an engine for extracting revenue, by imposing ever more complex sets of rules that are designed to be broken. And these rules are almost invariably enforced on a sliding scale: ever-so-gently on the rich and powerful (think of what happens to those banks when they themselves break the law), but with absolute Draconian harshness on the poorest and most vulnerable. As a result, the wealthiest Americans gain their wealth, increasingly, not from making or selling anything, but from coming up with ever-more creative ways to make us feel like criminals.

Graeber stands out for a lifetime of activity that is not typical in scholarly sorts. Being a scholarly sort myself, I admire him for role in various movements over the years, including the WTO protests and Occupy. There were some significant successes stemming from the WTO struggle. I credit him with a solid sense of the possible, and a tactical grasp that considered the mechanics of getting from here to there. I completely share his assessment from a 2012 interview:

. . . there is a base from which one can make a critique of capitalism even at the same time that capitalism constantly subsumes all those alternatives to it. It's not like everything we do corresponds to a logic of capitalism. There are those who've argued that only 30–40% of what we do is subsumed under the logic of capitalism. Communism already exists in our intimate relations with each other on a million different levels, so it’s a question of gradually expanding that and ultimately destroying the power of capital, rather than this idea of absolute negation that plunges us into some great unknown.

The mechanics of getting from here (onrushing dystopia) to there (peaceful, sustainable, egalitarian, cooperative anarchy) is exactly the purpose of this site. David Graeber opened many paths to these ends.