Here's verification.

I'm David Graeber, and I teach anthropology at Goldsmiths College in London. I am also an activist and author. My book Debt is out in paperback.

Ask me anything, although I'm especially interested in talking about something I actually know something about.


I will be taking a break to answer some questions via a live video chat.

UPDATE: 11:30am EST

I'm back to answer more questions.

Comments: 1176 • Responses: 84  • Date: 

snakedawgG93 karma

As you already know, one notable question in Occupy circles is what to do with people who are just there to egotistically do what they want without any regard for what the rest of the community thinks. Specifically, I am referring to the type of people who notoriously play music almost 24/7 and whose actions disrupt general assemblies and make the overall atmosphere very noisy, painful and annoying.

When you appeared on the Julian Assange Show at RT a couple of months back, Assange basically asked you and other Occupy activists who were there what should be done to hecklers like that. Assange, being a free market "libertarian" (read: proprietarian), proposed the possibility of using a private police force to deal with hecklers. (Or something along those lines, so please correct me if I'm wrong.) You and the others basically didn't answer this question. I'm curious if you didn't answer because an answer would have taken too long to answer in a short timespan on television or if you genuinely didn't have an answer at the time just yet.

So my question to you is: Do you think that it is justifiable to force people out of an encampment or circle? Some anarchists agree with this. Others don't. I want to know your position on this.

In solidarity, An Indonesian anarchist

david_graeber101 karma

well, the Assange question kind of missed the point - we actually did come to an agreement with the drummers without having to threaten them with force. I think his question reflects a fundamental misunderstanding frequently shared by people who grow up in a place where there's police - which is, without police, if someone acts violently or is just an egoistical prick there'd be nothing you can do. This is silly. Modern police have only existed for a couple hundred years and even now, when there's a fight or an egoistical prick, we usually don't call the police anyway.

Actually, even if there's a fight, usually the police don't get involved unless someone is killed or goes to the hospital - because then there's paperwork.

I do think there are some people who are just so damaged, or crazy, or difficult, that it's unfair to others to have to deal with them. If you have to spend 10 or 20 times as much energy dealing with someone's problems or feelings as you do everybody else, you could say, well, yeah, that's undemocratic. Why should we spend all our time worrying about that person when everybody else also has all sorts of problems and issues too but still don't disrupt everything. Some people do just have to be told to leave.

But creating a private police force is certainly not the way to do this.

15blinks49 karma

I'm active in the bdsm community, and this is a problem we frequently deal with (or, more honestly, actively avoid). For obvious reasons, the whole "justice system" is not an option for people in bdsm trying to deal with rape or other sexual violence.

  • How can an intentional community enforce standards of behavior (i.e. respecting consent) when so much "evidence" is hearsay or intimate?

  • If someone is found to be a serial violator, is it really responsible to simply ostracize them? Should efforts be made to publicize the danger they present?

Any advice or thoughts you have would be welcome. I've been struggling with this for years, after seeing abusers continue their destructive behavior year after year with little to no checks.

david_graeber34 karma

it would be interesting to compare notes, as with all sorts of other people who've faced these issues, so we can share creative solutions

snakedawgG24 karma

Thanks a lot.

I look forward to reading your upcoming mini book on the nature of bureaucracies. It is a criminally under-studied topic in philosophy and the social sciences (and in art too, considering that Kafka's works are the only significant attempts to use art to convey the oppressive nature of bureaucracies).

I take it the book will contain references to Bakunin's prophecy on the Red Bureaucracy and the New Class?

(I mean, as far as I know, his prophecies on the dangers of authoritarian socialism and managerialist liberalism are basically one of the highest points of anarchist history in terms of theory.)

david_graeber26 karma

I was thinking of talking about the Post Office. I think the c1900 Prussian Post Office ironically did a lot of damage by being so incredibly efficient. Weber saw it as evidence that bureaucracy was inherently efficient, and would eventually form an iron cage. Lenin adopted the Prussian Post Office as the model for the USSR (or "the post office plus soviets," but of course the latter were eliminated pretty fast). Kropotkin used the international post office as a model for how anarchism might work: you can send a letter from Bolivia to China without needing a world government. But then what's the first form of the emerging internet bureaucracy we're all being enmeshed in: email! The new super-efficient post-office.

yk900086 karma


Thanks for doing this! I've been reading your work for maybe a couple years; I started with Are You An Anarchist? before expanding into your essays, and read Debt last summer. It's been one of the most transformative intellectual experiences I've ever had, and I still see [what I think of as] your work's major points in relation to my own experiences and those around me. Gushing aside, though, I had a few questions I was hoping you might be willing to answer.

  • Have you had any moments or experiences in your life which you consider especially formative to your political philosophy?

  • Who are some of your favorite activists to work with, and why? (I've seen you briefly mention some of them on Twitter; I was curious for some exposition.)

  • What are your favorite hobbies, if you still have time for those?

Thanks, and solidarity.

david_graeber90 karma

That's a bunch of questions! Well let me try to be brief.

I think my family shaped a lot of who I am. My father fought in Spain, my mom was part of the famous (well, used to be famous) labor theater show Pins & Needles. But a lot of this was just a matter of principles and values though. I think my experience of stumbling into a space where the state didn't exist in Madagascar, and then later, of watching horizontal decision-making work in the global justice movement, were real breakthrough points because I realized this stuff actually does work.

I really have enjoyed dealing with the OWS crew in New York. And people in the student movement in London. They are some of my favorite people in the universe.

Hobbies? I must have some of those. Let me try to remember...

Vigabrand59 karma

Predictable liberal protest tactics (arrest me! I can afford it and have a lawyer!) seemed to make some Occupy camps particularly easy to disperse in my experience last winter… Did Chris Hedges ever respond to your open letter regarding the “peace police” and the problems with fetishizing 40 year old tactics?

david_graeber76 karma

oh the Hedges thing. Well, six different times I think people tried to get me in a room to argue with the guy but I said I wasn't going to do it until he at least made some statement withdrawing his most obviously false and inflammatory statements - that the BB was a group of insane irrational primitivists trying to subvert everyone else, etc etc. I said I have been in BBs, if that's what he thinks of me, why would he want to debate me in the first place? He said he refused to go back on anything he said but then constantly tried to get me to engage with him anyway.

Basically his position is now that I was absurd to claim his comments endangered anyone - he's not important enough. It's hard to imagine anyone could really be that dumb. His whole argument is that militant tactics endanger everyone by turning off liberals who might otherwise protest police violence. How can he not have noticed that insofar as this happened, it was almost entirely because of HIM?

Bluest_waters30 karma

what the hell is a BB?

perhaps give a bit more background cause some of us don't know the players without a scorecard.

AstroFreddy48 karma

Black Bloc. The protest tactic where all / most of the participation wear all black and work together as a group. (It helps to conceal participants as well as form a recognizable contingency). Depending on the situation this can mean a lot of things. Sometimes they put themselves between the police and other protesters (cops are notoriously violent to protesters in many cases). Most famously, but actually a minority of the time, participants in a Bloc will cause property destruction as an expression of anti-capitalist ideology.

There was a famous thread where Chris Hedges calls the Black Bloc the cancer of Occupy Wall Street. Graeber replied with an open letter but Hedges refused to respond.

david_graeber104 karma

notice how it's being adopted as a tactic in Egypt now? Because in fact BB tactics were pretty much what people in Egypt were already doing: don't initiate violence towards living beings, be prepared to damage property or government buildings if it makes a political point, and doesn't seriously hurt anyone's livelihood, etc, and if attacked, decide whether you want to be completely non-violent in response, or use non-lethal force of some kind. That's what the Egyptian protestors were already doing. That's how they won the revolution.

It's very odd that liberals and those who think the support of liberals are crucial like Hedges are all for these tactics when employed in Egypt, but are so outraged when anyone even suggests they might be appropriate here that they are willing to turn a blind eye when cops attacks everyone as a response

greg_lw17 karma

This thing with Hedges is pretty disappointing, because I really do think he's a smart guy with good intentions who just gets repeatedly carried away on his drama-boat. There may even be a point in there somewhere if he just made an honest argument instead.

david_graeber51 karma

to be honest I think it's an ego thing. He's too self-important to want to admit he was wrong, even though it's obvious he was - he did basically no research and has no seen overwhelming evidence that much of what he said wasn't true. But honestly, if your personal ego is more important than the good of the movement you claim to support, maybe you should stop saying you support it because you don't

kool-aid-dog12 karma

This is a really good point. So lets use your logic here.

You have an opportunity to talk to one of your more vocal and public opponents about a topic you feel passionately about and know you are right about. Will having this talk help your movement? Yes. Could talking to this guy about this subject be bad for your movemnet? Only if you end up looking wrong. So what reason do you have to not talk to him?

You say its because he wont take back what he said. What kind of reason is this? Personal. Completely. Youre not refusing on the grounds it will help your gruop. Youre refusing because youre feelings were hurt. Youre ego. So you could help your movement by having this discussion but you wont because of .... your ego. So... Maybe..... "if your personal ego is more important than the good of the movement you claim to support, maybe you should stop saying you support it because you don't"

david_graeber31 karma

I'm sorry but I considered the matter in just these terms and came to different conclusions. I did not think my presence in such a debate would help the movement because it would grant a legitimacy to Hedges and his false claims that he would not have otherwise. You will notice pretty much all the other major figures in OWS came to the same conclusion.

If someone says "we need to make a public issue of the Black Bloc" and you say "we should not be making a public issue of the Black Bloc" - which is pretty much what the argument came down to - you do not further your goals by saying "okay, let's make a public issue over whether to make a public issue of the Black Bloc."

If I honestly thought that debating Chris Hedges would be good for the movement, do you think I wouldn't do it? It's not like anyone is asking me to back down from embarrassing statements or anything that would cause my ego to be hurt. It wouldn't hurt me at all to debate him. But it would hurt OWS to once again have the question of "Black Bloc violence" at the top of the news when we should be talking about almost anything else.

kool-aid-dog6 karma

And Im sorry, but isnt that how disputes are solved in the court of public opinion (which should be the only court you care about)? If someone says "we need this this" and you say "we should not have this this" No one is served by both sides ignoring each other. We have made no progress toward what we need.

However, if my side says "we need this because x, y, z" and your side says "we dont need this because a, b, c" at least we have something more to base our opinion on.

I understand not acknowledging every random extremist, but this is not someone just looking to subvert (as you acknowledge), this is a well respected contemporary. When you are a public figure there are always those who (based on their qualifications, merit, etc) will be your peers in the public arena. This guy is one of yours, and it certainly serves your purpose to have a record of you handing him the pieces of his dismantled philosophy, when you call him out to his face on these ides that are so easy to undermine according to your article.

Also if youre going to base this on the idea you dont even want to grant Hedges and his false claims any legitimacy, then you probably shouldnt start by writing a lengthy article directly to him.

david_graeber28 karma

No. It's not. I appealed to Hedges to stop doing what he was doing because I thought it was fair to give him a chance to redeem himself for what he might not have known was incredibly destructive behavior. I felt there was a possibility that his conscience would cause him to undo some of the damage if I explained to him what damage this behavior would do. He basically so, "no, my ego is more important than my conscience in this. But I'd be happy to publicly argue with you about why I'm right to claim that there really is a faction of insane evil primitivist psychopaths, this is what our movement really needs to be debating, and that therefore anyone who publicly dresses like an anarchist in protests should be shunned or attacked."

Aside from the fact that it's weird to assume I have some sort of responsibility to debate with someone who says I'm an irrational lunatic (would you debate someone who claimed you were an irrational lunatic?) your argument makes no sense. The problem is we had something extremely important that needed to be debated: the fact that the government was coordinating an effort to use militarized violence to destroy a peaceful protest movement in blatant contempt for the very idea of freedom of assembly. At that very moment, this Hedges guy pops up and says, "No, we should instead be debating whether there is an evil faction of psychopaths inside the movement who dress in black who are really responsible for our problems." Sorry. That is not something that deserves public debate. And it was constantly being used as a way to distract attention from the actual violence that was occurring. Nothing could have been more destructive of the movement than to keep public attention constantly fixed on this ridiculous non-issue rather than the actual violence which was taking place.

The suggestion this was putting my ego above the interests of the movement is the exact opposite of what was actually happening here. If I just had my personal self-aggrandizement in mind, debating Hedges would have been obviously the best thing to do. I could have got on a big splashy thing on television, drawn all sorts of attention to myself, got free PR for my book, increased sales, etc etc. It would have been good for me but disastrous for the movement because the last thing we needed was to yet again give the media an excuse to focus on two cafe windows broken in Oakland by some kids who may or may not have been part of a Black Bloc months before, when there were people whose heads were being broken, who were being beaten bloody, who were shackled and having their faces smashed into the concrete, having their wrists intentionally snapped, being assaulted and traumatized in every possible way to the complete indifference of the media and what Hedges called "the liberal class." I spent my time talking about that because that was the real issue. Even if it meant I didn't get nearly so much glamorous attention. I have nothing to be ashamed of because I followed the dictates of my conscience. I don't think Hedges can say the same thing.

cultcrit8 karma

good point, but of course, David, you're also refusing to talk to him until he backs down on a rhetorical point.

david_graeber35 karma

no I'm refusing to talk to him unless he accepts the basic facts of the situation and doesn't pretend that things he knows are not factually true are true, just because he's too full of himself to admit he got it wrong. That's not rhetoric. That's the basic grounds for conversation. It's like he said he'd only debate with me if I first accept that the world might just as well be square as round or something.

If he can't accept arguing about what actually happens in the real world, but will only argue about a reality he knows perfectly well he just made up, why on earth should I enter into a debate on those conditions?

Vigabrand9 karma

There was indeed a noticeable shift among the more mainstream liberal types from that point on (after "the Cancer in Occupy")... no doubt about it. Thanks for the update.

david_graeber22 karma

and notice how the Hedges piece came out at exactly the moment when liberals might otherwise have been protesting the incredible mounting police violence that was happening despite the almost complete lack of Black Bloc tactics anywhere outside Oakland (and the property destruction in Oakland had only happened once or twice two months before)? I don't think Hedges was intentionally trying to muck things up. But I do sometimes wonder if somebody played him.

jd316258 karma

Hey David, I am an anthropologist and anarchist as well. Big fan of your work.

In your opinion, what are some emerging anarchist tactics that will be particularly effective in the modern context? Are there tactics that you feel could work well cross culturally? Tactics that are particularly well suited to their particular situation in the struggle against domination/hierarchy? Thanks

david_graeber64 karma

well, I think that anyone who is trying to create a prefigurative space, in the sense of, experiment with what a free society would be like, will be developing some form of consensus process. There's a million ways to do that, and the kind of "formal consensus" that's done in many activist circles in the US might not even be the best, but there's always got to be some principle of how to make collective decisions that include everyone and that don't force anyone to do things they find fundamentally objectionable. I'm not sure if that's a "tactic" exactly, but it's critical in creating a dual power strategy, especially if it's combined with a commitment to decentralization, bottom-up initiative

It might seem odd but I think that the best direct action tactics are those that are conducive to maintaining those horizontal structures, rather than the other way around. I got this idea from APPO in Oaxaca, who decided that either Gandhian-style strict non-violence OR armed rebellion will lead to top-down leadership, military style discipline, and mitigate against democracy. So they came up with something in between, maybe rocks and molotovs, maximum, if attacked, property destruction but no attacks on people, etc etc. But within that middle zone, I think creativity is critical. Never use the same tactics twice. As long as it's within the broad parameters of your principles, leave a space open to make up something surprising and new whenever possible.

NoSabbathForNomads56 karma

Dr. Graeber, I just graduated with my M.A. in Linguistics with a specific focus on Anthropological Linguistics of Mesoamerican Native Peoples. I find your work really fascinating. Debt really reshaped my understanding.

My question is this, in Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, you refer to some disciplines as being more imperialistic than others. Your examples, notably, are Linguistics and Technology. I have a number of ideas as to why you would claim that Linguistics is an imperialist discipline (mostly used by the army/government to decode communications for military and intelligence purposes, the biggest linguistics organization is based around translating the bible into every world language, eurocentric theoretical biases, etc.).

I was wondering if you would expand on your comment, particularly in light of Noam Chomsky's work as an anarchist writer and organizer.

Edited to add: Additionally, what do you think of the participatory, carnivalesque culture that has sprung up around Burning Man and its more recent associated regional Burn events, if you are familiar with it?

david_graeber33 karma

oh I just meant that you can borrow concepts and techniques from that field to apply to all the other fields. You know, like structuralism, semiotics, and so forth borrowed concepts from linguistics and argued that all disciplines could become studies of meaning in the same way.

vincentxanthony50 karma

Hi, David, I just want to thank you for doing this. Feel free to stop by /r/anarchism any time, we'd love to have you!

I'm currently in student loan debt that is so high that it's more than 10x what I make yearly. I'm hoping to refinance this through my local Credit Union as it is currently private through Sallie Mae. I'm sure you've heard of the debt resistors handbook, what other tips do you have to someone who is a debt slave in terms of balancing paying off the man and remaining radical? Or should I just stop paying all together and telll them to go fuck themselves?

Edit: More q's

Please describe the difference between the popular notions of communism and socialism, and what they actually mean to you.

In Debt you define capitalism to operate "to pump more and more labor out of just about everyone with whom it comes into contact, and as a result produces an endlessly expanding volume of material goods." Does this also apply to the concept of "anarcho-capitalism"? Why or why not?

How do you find Derrick Jensen? A lot of people don't like his views on primitivism. Where would you say you two mesh or conflict?

david_graeber53 karma

yes well I helped in my own small way in putting together the DROM (the handbook) but that text needs to be continually updated and improved. I think there was an idea to have a web page where everyone could send in their experiences and suggestions but I'm not sure if it ever materialized. It really should exist.

To be honest I'm pretty skeptical about the idea of anarcho-capitalism. If a-caps imagine a world divided into property-holding employers and property-less wage laborers, but with no systematic coercive mechanisms ... well, I just can't see how it would work. You always see a-caps saying "if I want to hire someone to pick my tomatoes, how are you going to stop me without using coercion?" Notice how you never see anyone say "if I want to hire myself out to pick someone else's tomatoes, how are you going to stop me?" Historically nobody ever did wage labor like that if they had pretty much ANY other option. Similarly when markets start operating outside the state (and they never start outside the state, but sometimes they start operating beyond it), they almost immediate change their character, and stop operating on pure calculating competition, but on other principles. So I just don't think something like they envision would ever happen.

I'm not much of a primitivist myself. There's no way we can go back to earlier technologies without somehow losing 99% of the earth's population. I have yet to hear anyone say how this would be possible. Anyway for me at least it's just odd to say that not only do existing technologies necessarily mean a society based on alienation and oppression, which is hard to deny, since existing technologies have been developed in that context, and that any possible future technology will do this. How could we know?

wikidd17 karma

What's your view on the historical examples of anarcho-capitalism? An-caps often argue that medieval Iceland was an example of anarcho-capitalism, and I'd like to hear what you have to say about that!

david_graeber46 karma

I really don't think Medieval Iceland had anything to do with capitalism but if it did, it's probably not a very good sign that a substantial chunk of the population were slaves.

Anonymous0ne15 karma

So I take it that you don't have a very positive view of guys like Murray Rothbard and David Friedman?

I think you and I see the same problems but find ourselves on opposite sides of the game when it comes to solutions.

(Call me a minarchist libertarian for lack of a better term, yes yes, I'm "part of the problem")

But now for my question: What do you think a modern stateless society would look like and how would it be roughly organized?

david_graeber86 karma

well look, if you really think about it, we're just talking about what we think will happen if state power is taken out of the picture. I think that capitalist markets will not be able to endure under those conditions. Others think they will. But surely we have a common interest in creating the conditions where we can get to see which one of our predictions turns out to be right

Hurplepazed6 karma

You are correct in that historically nobody has done wage labor if they had another option. However, in the present it seems as though many choose wage labor with other options. If a stateless society emerges in the future, it seems likely it will involve some wage labor.

Can you clarify your statement that markets never start outside the state, and that they stop operating on pure calculating competition. For example, over 75% of international trade use arbitrage agreements. They are effectively operating outside the state, and they seem to be quite concerned with profit maximizing.

david_graeber26 karma

capitalist firms don't count in my opinion because they themselves are only possible because of the existence of state power. What groups based in state power do when operating between states under the legal protection of treaties created by states doesn't really count. For me anyway

egg1338 karma

I am a Sociology PhD student and am concerned that being academic/professor/etc will stifle my ability and time to be engaged in radical activism, organizing, and politics. I want that to be a big part of my life but it seems that the life of a professor severely limits that potential. Do you have any advice on how to stay active while also being successful as an academic? How do you do it?

david_graeber65 karma

This is a tough one. The tenure system is ostensibly designed to give profs freedom to be politically active and intellectual daring but in fact it seems to have precisely the opposite effect. There is enormous pressure to adopt a mind-set of conformity and timidity that then becomes so much a matter of instinctual habit that even when and if you do get tenure and in theory are free to say or do anything, you don't. On the other hand if you want to be a practicing intellectual and also have food and health insurance where else can you go? All I can say is be very very conscious of the mechanisms and try to set up a strategy of calculated resistance.

apatheticoranarchist35 karma

Guys like you and Chomsky have led me to pursue a degree in international economics, yet my primary interest lie in the injustices and inequalities I've seen around the world while traveling. It was those experiences that pushed me to anarchism.

How does one get a start in the kind of political and economic activism that you've participated in? I'm very eager to pursue photo and written journalism, but I also want to work to make effectual changes - not just raise awareness. Thank you!

david_graeber23 karma

Some of it is just luck. You look around. Sometimes you find a group that reflects your principles, or ones you didn't even know you had, sometimes you don't. For years I considered myself an anarchist but every time I tried to join an anarchist group I was turned off by the dynamics. The I joined the Direct Action Network in NYC and it changed my entire conception of what was possible. I guess the internet has made it easier to find groups that you probably would like to be a part of, but there's no substitute for meeting with people face-to-face

ActuallyYouARERacist8 karma

I am almost the same way as you. Replace internetional economics with cultural anthropology though. I just took basic macroeconomics last semester though, and I would feel like a degree in econ instead would be more helpful. Also taking sustainable development, with a geog minor, and other helpful things but I really feel I should've gone the economics route sometimes. :\

I don't wanna work for NGOs because most of them seem to connected to top down level projects which usually eliminate developing countries' political and economic sovereignty. But I am just hoping and praying that when my research is done and I graduated everything that I can find a good NGO that I think is actually doing good work. I think with an int'l economics degree you can look for similar kind of work opportunities, especially if you love to travel for your research.

Anyone, especially OP feel free to tell me I'm a naive student full of shit and correct me. But I am facing a similar dilemma in terms of practical jobs and my ability to express myself socially while still keeping an ok position in the man's world.

david_graeber23 karma

it's really difficult. We need to start opening up spaces outside the structure of the academy, the NGO global administrative bureaucracy, and so on. But there's an enormous effort on the part of the people running the show to ensure it's almost impossible. I'm going to be putting a lot of effort into this in the years to come I think, just for my own sake if nothing else. I find being in the academy makes it harder for me to teach and research, not easier. I can only imagine what getting involved in an NGO would do to my activism!

morgansutherland32 karma

I consider you to be part of a cadre of 'highly idealistic' theorists. Most of my friends who know of your work are also highly idealistic, and often to the point of becoming frozen in life, unable to act because every possible action does not stand up to their principles (i.e. supporting the "capitalist machine").

How does it feel to be an idealist in a world where change is difficult and incremental progress is the norm? What do you recommend for young idealists caught in the catch22 of modern life: damned if you contribute, damned if you leach?

david_graeber76 karma

well, what can I say? everyone has to solve these problems for themselves. When people demand purism I usually say "well, sure, I could live in a tree, but what good would that do anyone?" As long as structures of violent inequality exist, anything we do is compromised in some way or another. I guess the only thing to do is to understand we're all in the same boat, try to come up with the compromise that makes sense to you, and try to be as generous of spirit and understanding as you can to others who've come to different conclusions

anarchopac32 karma

How did you become an anarchist and who is your favorite anarchist author?

p.s I enjoyed your talks at the 2012 london anarchist bookfair

david_graeber56 karma


well, I always say that most people don't think anarchism is a bad idea, they think it's crazy. The usual line is "sure, it would be great if we all just got along reasonably without police or prisons but dream on, that'll never happen." I happen to have grown up among people who didn't think it was crazy. My dad wasn't exactly an anarchist, he was a Marxist originally, but he'd fought in Spain, lived in Barcelona when it was run on anarchist principles. He knew it could work, it wasn't crazy. So if it's not crazy, then, what reason is there not to be anarchist?

I'm not sure I have a single favorite author.

anarchopac14 karma

thanks for the response, I'm gonna be greedy and ask another question.

Do you know of any sociological research on how the police aren't necessary?

david_graeber14 karma

no but I lived in a place in Madagascar where the police just basically disappeared for 30 years and you know something - people didn't actually just start killing each other. Mainly they just kind of carried on as they always had.

Palmpay6 karma

I'd be interested to hear about your fathers experience in Spain. What group did he fight for, you say he was a Marxist so POUM I would guess? What was his experience in Barcelona and was he involved in the May Days? Cheers!

david_graeber11 karma

He was with the International Brigades. I don't think he was CP at the time but he was probably in the Youth League (quit shortly after Spain.) He was an ambulance driver, posted in Barcelona, but sent wherever the front was, so he saw a lot of action. But his sanitario was an anarchist and he lived in an anarchist-run city. He came out of it very sympathetic with anarchism and I think by the end of his life he came to consider himself one but he never formally declared himself such because he didn't see what would be the point.

TravellingJourneyman28 karma

I'm told you're an IWW member. I am as well. How do you see the role of the IWW in the context of current political movements? What do you think the union should be doing to maximize its potential?

david_graeber25 karma

good question! I haven't been nearly as active as I should be of late (anyone know a delegate in London?) but I think there's a real window here since the mainstream labor movement has been so cowed and terrorized by an extremely hostile legal and political climate. I know that's not much of an answer. Perhaps an alliance with radicalizing elements within mainstream unions who are growing sick of the bureaucrats? There's horizontal movements beginning in many places, not entirely but partly influenced by OWS...

endersstocker25 karma

I am absolutely fascinated with the notion of ‘interpretive labor’. It can be applied to feminist theory, critical race theory, queer theory, decolonization, etc. Your essay ‘Beyond Power/Knowledge: an exploration of the relation of power, ignorance and stupidity’ was very informative. Do you have any plans to expand on this concept? Perhaps a book?

david_graeber20 karma

why thanks for saying! It relies a lot on feminist theory. There's a slightly longer version of it in HAU: The Journal of Ethnographic Theory, which makes the feminist background and the stuff on structural violence a little more explicit. I'm also going to do a new version of the essay for a small book on bureaucracy, entitled, boringly enough, "Three Essays on Bureaucracy."

JamieKlinger22 karma

I am building an online marketplace driven by a social currency based on fairness of exchange, sustainability, and community-building.

In a phrase, a service/product exchange system with a currency that can only be created through direct democracy decision-making that will never need to be paid back.

What would you imagine would be the greatest dangers and/or potentials for failure in the creation of a new economic system such as this?

david_graeber38 karma

well, in my experience, which is pretty limited, the biggest dangers are outright subversion, people intentionally trying to destroy the system to show it won't work, or if not that, how to interface with an economy that works on totally different principles and which is supported by a huge edifice of law, which is, in turn, supported by guys with sticks and guns and whatnot. Often these systems work really well if they operate within a community where people are already slightly off the grid, or used to dealing with each other, and of course if the government or other inimical forces don't really notice you're there. But when they expand they always hit those kind of problems.

hochblut21 karma

Does it bother you that my immediate instinct is to download a pirate copy of your book? It looks interesting.

david_graeber34 karma

Not at all.

Jackhalf-a-prayer20 karma

How do you feel about the rampant misogyny on this web site?

david_graeber27 karma

I've never spent much time on it before but I've always been disturbed how web debate (like newsgroups in the '90s) seemed to bring out incredible levels of hostility to women.

hewhocutsdown19 karma

I've read up on (and witnessed) instances where consensus was successfully used to make decisions.

What do you see as the pitfalls of making decisions by consensus? What are the conditions for its success?

david_graeber39 karma

I think the way we talk about consensus is often really confused. All consensus really means is that everyone has equal say and no one is going to be forced to go along with a decision that they find fundamentally objectionable. It's not a set of rules, it's a set of principles. You can make up any rules you like. Of course there's some formal rules that have been developed because they often work well for certain sorts of people in certain situations but they might not work for others, or in other situations. The point is to be flexible and creative. So for instance if there's 20 people and they all agree to be bound by a majority vote, well, that's a consensus (they all agreed) isn't it? So that's a form of consensus process, so long as the majority never tries to compel the minority to go along with something they really don't want to do. Usually that wouldn't be a problem in activist groups because a majority doesn't have any way to compel people anyway, unless somebody controls the money or some other resource. But then, if everyone agrees to be bound by the decisions of a ouija board, it's the same thing. Because the moment someone or a few people strongly object, they'll have to stop and come up with something else.

I think applying strict consensus rules is often a very bad idea - it can be racist, or exclusionary on a class basis, because a lot of this stuff was developed in a very white middle class milieux. But I think using that as an excuse to ditch the very idea of consensus is an even worse idea. I think we need to make the concept much broader and be much more open and creative about how we go about things.

hewhocutsdown14 karma

I agree with the need for flexibility, but I'm curious how one avoids or tempers situations where selection bias or implicit authority play significant roles. In the former case, it's the situation where a passive majority is pulled around by an active minority; in the latter case, it's where there's the appearance of independence without the substance, due to domineering or particularly charismatic personalities.

david_graeber15 karma

well, absolutely, we have a huge amount of work to do to figure out the dynamics and ensure that sort of thing doesn't happen. Remember in places like the US, we've only had a few thousand people been trying this stuff for a few decades. That's nothing. There are other parts of the world where they've been at it for thousands of years and they're much, much better at it.

AnthroPluto17 karma

Are you still involved with the occupy movement? And if so, what is the next planned stage?

And also- as an anthropology student, what is our role in the shifting of social paradigms?

david_graeber27 karma

yes I'm involved in many aspects of OWS in New York, though it's hard to do from the UK while holding down a full time job. Strike Debt is extremely exciting and Occupy Sandy was magnificent. But there are all sorts of new projects and a lively discussion of process going on right now that I think will prove very important.

AstroFreddy16 karma

Dr. Graeber, I have a couple of questions about sources you mentioned in two of your talks:

[1] I really enjoyed this talk you gave on technology and "the future". What were some of your primary sources? I'm particularly interested in the statistic you cited, something like 70% of all computational research is done for the Pentagon? Additionally, you spoke about bureaucratic technologies as arising almost as a feature of late-era Capital. Where did you get this insight? Is there some recourse you see to reduce their impact on our lives through your own anarchist-tendencies?

[2] In this talk on Charlie Rose, you mentioned the Founding Fathers being explicitly against true democracy to protect land-rights for the wealthy. I can't find any original documents where they said so. Can you help?

One final question: Do you subscribe to a particular school of anarchism? If so, why and if not, why not?

Edit: Can't seem to get the video link formatting correct. Apologies redditors.

Mr_198529 karma

[2] Noam Chomsky: "Aristotle also made the point that if you have, in a perfect democracy, a small number of very rich people and a large number of very poor people, the poor will use their democratic rights to take property away from the rich. Aristotle regarded that as unjust, and proposed two possible solutions: reducing poverty (which is what he recommended) or reducing democracy.

James Madison, who was no fool, noted the same problem, but unlike Aristotle, he aimed to reduce democracy rather than poverty. He believed that the primary goal of government is "to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority." As his colleague John Jay was fond of putting it, "The people who own the country ought to govern it."

The Federalist papers, most popularly no 10, contain a lot of the original source material.

AstroFreddy3 karma

Thanks. That's what I was looking for.

effigies6 karma

You may also be interested in the research of William Hogeland. His book "The Whiskey Rebellion" (and apparently the newer "Founding Finance") go into a fair bit of detail about the antidemocratic nature of the founding project.

david_graeber12 karma

there you go

david_graeber28 karma

I think the statistics wasn't about computers but about robots - I had a PhD student at Yale who wanted to study robotics (she ended up doing Malagasy cartoonists instead!) but discovered 95% of all robotics research was funded by or thru the Pentagon.

As for the Founding Fathers, well, just look up the word "democracy" "democratical" etc in any of their writings and see what you get. The initial statement read at the Constitutional Convention says it outright "we have a problem. There's way too much democracy. It's getting worse. What shall we do about this?" William Hogeland has a written a book just recently about this but there's many; also Francis Dupuis-Deri, a Canadian political scientist, has written extensively about how the word "democracy" was used in that period, and how basically all the Founders and political establishment were against it and for "republics" instead until the 1830s when everyone turned around and decided to rename republics "democracies"

greg_lw16 karma

Hi David,

I'll try to make this short. Though I'm just now poring over it, I really appreciate your original work on busting through some of the fundamental myths of capitalism and the 'government vs free market' neoliberal rhetoric that has permeated the political landscape, by exposing a different story about how money and markets are deeply rooted in systems violence and joined at the hip with the state.

I think that in some ways, capitalism is once again re-emerging as the name of the bad guy. This is just my impression, but I think even among right-leaning 'libertarians' there's lately been a kind of reluctant effort to parse the difference between capitalism and markets -- as in Gary Chartier's 'Markets Not Capitalism.'

My question is, what do you think about 'Markets Not Money' as an answer to that? Specifically, ideas inspired by Proudhon or Bakunin, found in mutualism or collectivist anarchism concerning a non-fungible replacement for currency, or Takis Fotopoulos's ideas on labor vouchers used to create artificial markets for efficient distribution of 'non-essential' commodities without the baggage that comes with real market features in an economy. Do you think this has any promise, with the technology at our disposal, or is it just a red herring?

david_graeber17 karma

I honestly don't know.

I guess there's two levels here. First there's the tactical question: can you build the new society in the shell of the old through something like market socialism, co-operativism, or some radicalized version of same. It's been tried a lot. In the past, financial elites have pretty much always been able to co-opt and subvert such efforts. It's kind of playing on the enemy's favored ground. But who knows, maybe this time people will figure some things out and do it better? Anyway, who am I to tell people not to try?

In the long term sense, as I mentioned above, I just don't see how a market system without state enforcement will end up looking anything like a market that way we're used to thinking of such things. If it creates radical inequalities, some state-like mechanisms will be created to defend those inequalities, simply because it's the most economically efficient way to do it. If it doesn't, then it will be because the basic principles of what property is, what money is, what work relations should be like, will start to change, and before long it just won't look like what we think of as a "market" any more.

phoenix_insurgent15 karma

Anarcho-capitalists and other free market types use a definition of capitalism that seems entirely political and anti-historical to me, essentially saying capitalism is "voluntary exchange". What are your thoughts on this definition?

david_graeber31 karma

Oh, I don't trouble myself much with those guys. Yes, they assume that it's not violent to defend property rights. They have basically no justification for why those property rights should exist. They just say it would be too "difficult" to address the problem (as least, that's what I remember hearing last time I remember someone asking David Friedman, a very long time ago.) So the whole thing makes no sense. By their logic, if you had a poor, kind, generous, decent, but disorganized woman who just couldn't manage her money, and she found the only way she could pay for life-saving medical care for her children was to offer herself up to be slowly tortured to death by some rich sadist, that would not be "violent" but would be perfectly morally acceptable. Since the entire basis of their claims for their form of capitalism is a moral one, if it can support outcomes like this, that violate almost anyone's sense of morality, no one is ever going to take them seriously so why do we bother ourselves even worrying about them?

GhostOfImNotATroll13 karma

What do you think of mutual credit systems? Do you see them as a strategy contemporary anarchist activists (and community activists of all sorts) would be able to take up?

Also, I should mention that I used two of your books, "Debt" and "Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value", for my senior thesis comparing the social effects of markets vs. the social effects of gift cultures. Do you think that such a broad distinction between "markets" and "gift economies" should be made?

BTW, this is Julia, whom you met on the first day of OWS. We walked down to Bowling Green together, and I remember that day fondly.

david_graeber10 karma

Oh hi Julia! Good to hear from you!

Im going to have to look into the mutual credit systems. Thanks for the suggestion.

Me, I think in some contexts it's useful to talk of "gift economies" but it's important not to assume these are fundamentally different ontological systems (as for instance Strathern sometimes does) totally alien from the logic of our own society. Everything always exists at once in every society, as least in potentia. This is one thing I got from Mauss.

bigcitydandy13 karma

In your opinion, what is the best historical example of a functional anarchic society or state?

david_graeber61 karma

a functional anarchist state? honestly! this is precisely the problem. Let me just cut and paste a section from Fragments where I address this:

For anarchists who do know something about anthropology, the arguments are all too familiar. A typical exchange goes something like this:

Skeptic: Well, I might take this whole anarchism idea more seriously if you could give me some reason to think it would work. Can you name me a single viable example of a society which has existed without a government?
Anarchist: Sure. There have been thousands. I could name a dozen just off the top of my head: the Bororo, the Baining, the Onondaga, the Wintu, the Ema, the Tallensi, the Vezo...
Skeptic: But those are all a bunch of primitives! I'm talking about  anarchism in a modern, technological society.
Anarchist: Okay, then. There have been all sorts of successful experiments:  experiments with worker's self-management, like Mondragon; economic projects based on the idea of  the gift economy, like Linux;  all sorts of political organizations based on consensus and direct democracy...
Skeptic: Sure, sure, but these are small, isolated examples. I'm talking about whole societies.
Anarchist: Well, it's not like people haven't tried. Look at the Paris Commune, the revolution in Republican Spain...
Skeptic: Yeah, and look what happened to those guys! They all got killed! 

The dice are loaded. You can't win. Because when the skeptic says "society," what he really means is "state," even "nation-state." Since no one is going to produce an example of an anarchist state—that would be a contradiction in terms—what we're really being asked for is an example of a modern nation-state with the government somehow plucked away: a situation in which the government of Canada, to take a random example, has been overthrown, or for some reason abolished itself, and no new one has taken its place but instead all former Canadian citizens begin to organize themselves into libertarian collectives. Obviously this would never be allowed to happen. In the past, whenever it even looked like it might—here, the Paris commune and Spanish civil war are excellent examples—the politicians running pretty much every state in the vicinity have been willing to put their erstwhile differences on hold until those trying to bring such a situation about had been rounded up and shot.

galen7312 karma

Hello David! Thanks for doing this. I recently wrote my high school final research paper about the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance vs. violent resistance. In writing the paper I became very familiar with your work. I am wondering--what are your thoughts on the Idle No More movement in Canada? More specifically, are their methods effective/do you think they will accomplish their goals? Thanks!

david_graeber12 karma

well is it mine to say? I find it very exciting and wish I could be there to help. So far I've been profoundly impressed. I think it's inspiring and spectacular.

PyloUK11 karma

I'm 47, disabled and live in England. What would you say is the "best" way to oppose the current status quo in British politics?

david_graeber23 karma

Man I wish I knew! There is a genuine attack on the very principle of human decency going on in the UK right now. And they've managed to do it by appealing to people's common decency, bizarrely enough, asking people to think of their duty to the community as a whole through an idiom of "shared sacrifice." I think we need a mass campaign of civil disobedience. People have been living on their knees so long they've forgotten what it would even mean to stand up for themselves. The question is strategic: exactly where to start?

RCallan1311 karma

How do you feel the Occupy Movement is going?

david_graeber12 karma

in NYC we're having some wrenching problems but a lot of them have to do with scale - how to operate with so many people and so many different projects. I guess that's the problems you want to have.

i_am_a_trip_away11 karma

Hey David! Last year I did a 200 portrait wall piece dedicated to some of my favorite anarchist writers. Each portrait is of someone who contributed something profound to the movement. The art has been featured in NYC, NJ, and Barcelona. And your portrait's in it ;)

Here you go :,u5PICRi,6WBnMnp,69FeXRO

david_graeber7 karma


why are we all blue?

twitock10 karma


david_graeber7 karma

Well life is long. You never know what can still happen.

EndChartwells10 karma

Hey David! I'm interested on your views on insurrectionary tactics. I just finished reading On The Coming Insurrection after reading the "Action" chapter in Direct Action while poking through Discipline and Punish a bit, and all of this is leaving me a bit confused about the possibility of resistance in the face of totalizing power without resorting to a troubling level of violence. I like how you described the indirect negotiation of a rules of engagement between state forces and resisters. That said I worry that greater escalation of tactics might be required (at least in the US) to really make space for dual power, but how do we raise the stakes without just further endangering those most oppressed? And personally I do appreciate, for example, that there is very little chance I will be drawn and quartered for challenging the state.

Also, if you would prefer to speak to this, what do you think of the relationship of theory to practice in radical academic work? I have found your idea in Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology of using ethnography as an starting point for a more participatory and practical way to generate theory quite inspiring. But in your work within academia where have you found your research methods to best prefigure your activist ends? Moreover do you think universities can be turned into important alternative institutions from the inside? Are they salvageable? Or should we just fleece them for grants until we can set up alternative institutions for theory and education?

david_graeber19 karma

ooh lots of questions.

The US is such a difficult place right now because I think 911 gradually (it took some years) did change the terms of engagement, and it's going to take a lot of work to change them back. In 2000 no one really got all that excited over broken windows in Seattle; the media tried, but it didn't work, and ultimately the cops just had to start lying and saying we were throwing bombs and acid and whatnot to get anybody worked up at all. In 2011 a couple broken windows in Oakland and everyone acted like we'd brought all that police violence on ourselves. But I don't think those actions necessarily endanger the most oppressed. Sometimes they do. Sometimes the opposite may be true. One reason that more radical tactics were possible in Oakland was precisely because there were such good relations between the OWS people and some of the working class communities. But that's a long story

I don't think there's one answer to the theory/practice dilemma. Actually I think one of the big problems is precisely imagining there should be just one answer. It's a continual process of experiment.

The academy is a tough one though. Notice how in the last few decades you've seen two simultaneous trends, (1) everybody engaged in intellectual or even artistic or journalistic practice now has to work for a university, independent thought and creativity has become almost impossible, (2) universities are no longer primarily about pursuing intellectual (or artistic) values but about turning everyone into administrators or subordinating what they do to administrative needs. Is it possible to fight this from the inside? Well, I haven't been very good at it. But maybe that's just me. I guess we need to both build spaces outside, and continue to battle within. But it's a very difficult balance.

edmcnulty10 karma

It is by sheer luck I stumbled upon this, I just want to say I have an incredible amount of respect for you and your work. I blasted through Direct Action this summer and read An Anarchist Anthropology earlier last year. Classes for my last semester of undergrad (in which I study Anthropology) start today and for my Senior Seminar course I plan on writing about Chiapas and EZLN. Best of luck with your future works, I am certainly looking forward to them!

david_graeber13 karma

wow thanks for saying. This sort of thing means a lot to me. I write all this stuff but you're never quite sure what happens to it, and even though intellectually I know people are reading it, somehow it doesn't always get through that it's really meant something to anyone.

Nineties-Kid10 karma

If you were to take a shot in the dark, what kinds of social changes do you think we can expect within the next ~100 years?

david_graeber31 karma

oh, a lot depends on whether we see near total environmental and economic collapse.

I very much doubt capitalism will be around in 100 years. I do worry the next thing will be even worse. It seems a particularly foolish time, for that reason, to give up on trying to imagine anything that will be better. Technology is the wild card. We seem at a time of relative technological stagnation compared with the period from say 1750 to 1950, but I suspect that the current terminal, bureaucratized form of capitalism we're experiencing has a lot to do with that. Who knows what might happen if technological creativity is genuinely unleashed in the midst of a democratic transformation?

Semiel9 karma

We seem at a time of relative technological stagnation compared with the period from say 1750 to 1950


I agree with pretty much everything else you've been saying in this AMA, but this one seems bizarre to me. It seems to me that computers and the internet alone have radically changed society.

Can you offer me a little more about why you think technology has stagnated?

david_graeber10 karma

Wrote a whole essay about it in the Baffler - "On Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit."

ds109 karma

Have you ever done anything with Agent Based Modelling techniques?

david_graeber10 karma

no not really

syorebellion9 karma

Some of your work centers on the importance of our ability to imagine alternatives. You note, "The last thirty years have seen the construction of a vast bureaucratic apparatus for the creation and maintenance of hopelessness, a kind of giant machine that is designed, first and foremost, to destroy any sense of possible alternative futures" (Revolutions in Reverse)

I'm just curious as to who has an interest in maintaining this hopelessness. Those in power??? Those who benefit from the status quo??

david_graeber24 karma

I just think that the classic justifications for capitalism hold less and less water as time goes on and those running the system are aware of this. They used to say capitalism might have a lot of problems but at least

1) it causes rapid technological advance and creativity 2) even though it creates inequality, the conditions of those on the bottom is constantly improving 3) it creates the stability which makes ever-increasing democracy and participation possible

It's pretty obvious none of these are really true any more so about all that remains is to insist that nothing else would be possible at all - or anyway, would only make things even worse.

sabrinaHBH9 karma

It's amazing that you juggle a work/life balance between London, New York, Austin and where ever meetings take you. Do you intend to return to Madagascar for more close up observations on corporate and political machinations between Tana, various resource grab locations, and those sitting back in the countryside? Or what are some of your next goals or causes?

david_graeber14 karma

well now it's London, NYC, and Montreal, but yeah, same thing. It's very exhausting! I dream of a garden and chickens (well my partner wants chickens. I could live with that) and being able to read a book.

I was back in Madagascar a couple years ago now and was startled by how much had stayed the same - the main difference though was the cops were back in much of the countryside, and the NGO invasion which seems to be having some disastrous effects. I wanted to go back and figure out more of what was happening, design a research project, last year, even got some grant money, but I never used it because then OWS happened and I just didn't feel I could take off for months.

ainrialai8 karma

Hello, Dr. Graeber. I was wondering, where in the world do you think the next anarchist society may be? Latin America seems focused on democratic socialism (not that I'll complain about that), the U.S. and most of Europe seem too affluent (not that I won't try), and I don't know much about modern anarchist movements in Africa or Asia. With the unrest in Greece and Spain and Egypt, could one of those potentially have such a movement? I know in /r/anarchism I often see things about anarchist movements in these countries, but I really don't know how significant they are.

david_graeber9 karma

well you know it's not going to happen on a national level. There will be anarchist spaces, anarchist institutions, anarchist cultural traditions, becoming larger and larger hopefully, in all sorts of different places...

strangenchanted8 karma

How can one be an effective anarchist in a society that is beset by massive corruption? Where people don't queue, drive reasonably, etc? (Note: I live in a non-US society.)

I don't want to see people as are fundamentally corrupt and evil, but at the same time, isn't it possible that a society can be so broken that essentially, it produces people of immensely flawed character? I have some experience with corruption... it rapidly occurs in a situation that lacks checks and balances. And some recent studies have presented dishonesty as a powerful human tendency even in those who view themselves as moral. How do you support your positivism?

david_graeber11 karma

well if people were absolutely corrupt in that way they couldn't exist at all. The very possibility of human life is founded on thousands of acts of kindness, consideration, understanding, generosity. It's there. You have to see where it is, how it's made invisible, and start from there I guess.

where are you from?

Sharra_Blackfire8 karma

If every person you reached could (or would) only follow one piece of advice, what would you have them do?

david_graeber38 karma

question authority

valeriepieris8 karma

Mr Graeber! What an AMA! What an opportunity!

Oh God here we go. There's this idealogical edifice in my mind, built upon your work and the work of Marshall B. Rosenberg (a psychiatrist) and Bruce Chatwin (a slutty travel writer and modern nomad) and others. What all of you have in common is the broader theme that civilization messed a lot of things up and enslaved us. So you talk about debt, Rosenberg talks about language being highjacked, and Chatwin talks about the problem of not being migratory any more. Do you also maintain a list, like mine, of people who seem to be stalking the same grand thesis? Who are they?


  • Has civilization given us more than it has taken from us?
  • Do you believe in the likelihood of some future that gets things right?

Sorry for all the crazy. Thanks for doing the AMA!

david_graeber8 karma

I'm not sure I think using the word "civilization" for the particular constellation of things people usually use it for is such a great idea. It makes it sound like living in cities, using writing, surpluses, classes, states, etc etc, are all somehow the same thing. But historically, it's now becoming increasingly clear that isn't true. It's not even clear if what we call "states" are just one thing but a particular conjuncture of different things that just happen to have come together at one point in history and don't need each other at all. I think we need an entirely different approach to world history to even begin to start thinking about these questions clearly. That's one of my next projects you know. I'm working with an archeologist friend...

kire2477 karma

Do you have an all time favorite quote?

david_graeber21 karma

I like the Mark Twain one, which is kind of an all-purpose put down. He originally used it for the American public but you could use it for just about anyone. Say corporate executives. "Consider the intelligence of the average corporate executive. Then consider the fact that half of them aren't even that smart!"

HumeFrood7 karma


david_graeber15 karma

who has time to read? I am only half-joking

Semiel7 karma

If one accepts the principles of anarchism, but hasn't yet done much by way of actual, practical activism, where would you suggest they start?

endersstocker12 karma

I was in the same boat a couple years back. My partner and I didn’t know any other anarchists in our city, so we went looking. As it turned out, one of our neighbors shared a lot of our political commitments. We planned a ‘find each other’ anarchist/anarcho-curious convergence in a park and hung posters around town. Somewhere around 40 folks showed up. We couldn’t find any radical projects to join, so we started one, NO BORDERS: Louisville’s Radical Lending Library.

david_graeber4 karma

good example!

find something you love, or feel should be done and isn't being, find some other people who feel the same, and see if you can start trying to do it in a horizontal way

yochaigal7 karma

Hello David.

I would like to know what role you feel the burgeoning worker-cooperative movement will play in the future of the global economy with respect to the aftermath of new movements like Occupy.

Thanks, btw I loved Debt!

david_graeber3 karma

People are trying to figure that out right now. It's difficult because coops have to work within legal constraints that OWS is trying to avoid but ultimately there will have to be some kind of convergence.

effigies6 karma

Taking as read that reform of the state is more or less completely non-radical, we have a large number of well-intentioned reformists that are pushing for almost pathetically small reforms. Do you see any reforms as both plausibly achievable and large enough to do more than keep reformists busy?

david_graeber27 karma

well, there's no harm in having modest reforms if they help people, unless, of course, people get tricked into believing that's all that's possible, or that it means working outside the system to start creating entirely new ways of living and being is somehow wrong.

it might sound cynical, but what reformers have to understand is that they're never going to get anywhere without radicals and revolutionaries to betray. Because without radicals, there's no one there to make yourself the "reasonable" alternative to. It's an obvious point but somehow weirdly lost on these guys. At the very least, you can't betray your radical allies completely and immediately on basic existential issues like free speech, free assembly, etc etc. I've never understood why "progressives" don't understand this. The mainstream right understands it, that's why they go crazy when it looks like someone might be cracking down on far-right militia groups, and so forth. They know it's totally to their political advantage to have people even further to the right than they so they can seem moderate. If only the mainstream left acted the same way!

tling8 karma

Not all, but many progressives get that radicals are necessary, with the concept referred to as the Overton Window:

This was one of the most talked-about posts back in 2006, and the title sounds a lot like what you said:

google for "overton window" turns up about 40,000 hits.

david_graeber8 karma

yes, I know the Overton window concept. But if progressives "know" this it doesn't affect their behavior very much.

similarly, if Democrats got as immediately and hysterically up in arms over any threat to the First Amendment as Republicans do to any threat to the Second Amendment, OWS wouldn't have faced violent mass eviction and the Democrats would probably control Congress

prismspecs6 karma

Why not release your book for free?

david_graeber8 karma

I released a book called "Revolutions in Reverse" for free around the same time as Debt came out. Nobody noticed it as a result. More people have thus downloaded free copies of Debt than of the one that was actually released for free - because with a mainstream publisher, there's publicity, and people get to find out about it!

Let's face it, since all books quickly become available for free on the free sites, anyone who buys it is essentially making a voluntary contribution. I am delighted to receive such voluntary contributions.

unquietwiki5 karma

Thanks for coming to Reddit!

I keep Debt on my bookshelf. I've also tried to get other people to read it: with only mild success. Otherwise, I have also read Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein: maybe 30% is "New Age" hoke-ism, but the rest is some pretty sound ideas on dealing with the nature of indebtedness and currency. Any thoughts?

david_graeber3 karma

I actually like Sacred Economics a lot. Eisenstein has dug up some interesting proposals and ideas and woven them together in a way that might well work. I think it's great that people are doing this. It's like I say with Parecon - whether it would work isn't even the real question. We have no idea what sort of problems would happen if people really try to create a free society. A lot of them would be things we'd never have thought of. But it's very important that we have people coming up with models to show us that alternate visions exist. It's not like capitalism and state socialism are the only models out there.

gleegy5 karma

Two questions: What is your position on anarchist cadre organizations (Like BTR and MAS, for example)?

Do you think it's important to popularize anarchism in name or is it simply enough to spread anarchist tactics/values within movements?

david_graeber11 karma

I honestly couldn't care less what word people use as long as the principles are there. Some people who call themselves anarchists represent my principles much less than some people who would never use the word, but call themselves "autonomists" or "feminists" or "Malagasy" for that matter.

user0335 karma

did you ever consider lowering your ebook prices to say, $5?

you will likely earn more revenue and your ideas will spread further :)

david_graeber18 karma

you honestly think this stuff is up to me?

Tentacolt4 karma

Thoughts on America's current gun-control fiasco?

david_graeber23 karma

Oh, that's a tough one. On the one hand, as an anarchist, you don't really want to increase government control. But on the other hand, it's hard not to notice that countries where guns are not readily available both are ones where it's easier to get away with militant direct action (compare squat defense in Germany and Italy with what happens here, where they just bring in the SWAT team immediately) and where it's much harder to militarize the police.

zwatt4 karma

Can you expand on the notion of consent as a legitimating factor in contemporary government? (Painting with a broad brush here in the hopes of it yielding a comprehensive answer.)

david_graeber14 karma

maybe slightly less broad?

I don't see how anyone has really given their consent to live under the system they were born under. The legitimacy of the US constitution ("We the people") is supposed to go back to the revolution. We haven't had a revolution in centuries. So in effect "the people" are all long since dead. We seem to be in the middle of an ancestor cult of sorts, a purely traditionalist form of legitimation, where we're supposed to accept whatever is done to us because great ancestors of the past brought it into being and who are we to question their wisdom

pink_cotton_candy4 karma

What have you found as the best/most effective way to talk with people who don’t believe in the ramifications of our current economic system?

So far, I have found others’ reactions against a resource-based economy as:

  • They are content with where they are right now

  • They feel the problem is because there are too many people on the planet

  • They don’t believe that others will truly act appropriately - others will take what they “own” or become lazy and take advantage of others. They don’t see the possibility/benefits of working together without the rewards [money incentive].

  • They don’t believe that the bureaucracy that the [new] work involved will be properly managed

(edited for formatting)

david_graeber16 karma

yeah, but the interesting thing is everybody thinks everyone else will behave inappropriately. No one thinks they will themselves be unable to handle it or behave appropriately. That might be a way to start. Point out, "well you know all those other people will say the same thing about you. Is it true?"

endersstocker4 karma

I’ve drawn a lot of influence from your work as well as that of whiteness abolition groups such as Bring the Ruckus and Race Traitor. What do you make of the BTR dual power claim that:

In the United States, the key to abolishing capitalism is to attack white supremacy. In a nation whose economic and social structure has depended on slavery, segregation, genocide, and reservation, to attack whiteness is strike a blow at the pillars of American capitalism and the state. (Source)

david_graeber10 karma

I think you can't undermine capitalism in the US without attacking white supremacy and patriarchy. Absolutely. Anyone who says "we can worry about those things later" is being ridiculous.

theoryofevrythng4 karma

I love your stuff--I read "Fragments" and Debt, and am currently reading Direct Action. I was wondering if you had heard of flattr. It seems to me that if flattr ever really took off, it could really help fund activist organizations and other small groups trying to stay financially afloat while trying to work against Babylon/imperialist capitalist white supremacist patriarchy. For instance, the Strike Debt project (which I don't think you're involved with, but I suspect you've seen it on twitter) could probably raise some pretty good money through flattr if flattr itself were more widely known.

I'm not myself involved in any way with flattr, just love the idea. Thank you for everything!

david_graeber7 karma

actually I am involved with Strike Debt, as far as I can be from overseas.

will have to look into flattr though I don't really know it

pink_cotton_candy4 karma

First of all, thank you so much for your work of educating. This past year, I have found the idea of a Resource-Based Economy with the main example from The Venus Project and just started educating myself about the problems that need to be solved to get to that point. What is your thought on that idea? Do you think it's possible?

david_graeber6 karma

you know I haven't even seen the Zeitgeist movies? I know I should. I think anything is worth an experiment. The problem with utopias isn't inherent to the idea of utopias, it's if you just have one. The more utopian visions the better I say!

LinesOpen3 karma

Saw this announced last week and it's pretty great timing--I'm on the second to last chapter of Debt right now, and it's been about as enlightening for me as Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine was a few years ago. I've got a couple things I'm interested in asking you.

  1. I've been on a slippery tract between anarchism and democratic socialism for a couple years now, I go back and forth. On the one hand, I think anarchism is the prime ideal--but on the other hand, I like universal health care and I like free education, both of which might encounter problems in an anarchist state. How do you see those working?

  2. Reading work by people such as yourself, Chomsky, and Klein is incredibly inspiring because you each bring a focused mentality (anthropology, linguistics, journalism) to your related causes of anarchism / anti-capitalism--it lends your works more intellectual heft than they might otherwise have. However, I consider myself an artist rather than an intellectual, and have struggled to find a role for my work with that in mind. What position do you think anarchist art should take within the movement?

david_graeber3 karma

well, "anarchist state" is something of a contradiction in terms. I live in the UK where I've never seen an anarchist who isn't first in line to protest if there's any talk of privatizing the National Health Service. I think we need to distinguish between institutions which are part of the state because they must necessarily be - a police force, a prison system, etc - and institutions which could exist in a free society, that is, without a bureaucratic apparatus of coercion to back it up, but as it happens, are part of the state right now because state's don't really allow universal public goods to be organized in any other way.

Most of the people who brought me into Occupy were young woman artists. I'm not sure why but it's a pattern. Artists always seem to end up playing a crucial role. Not always through their art. But always.

fourseeds63 karma

I wish I had known about this beforehand, because then I would have been able to get together some questions. Instead, I'll just say this:

Thank you. As a sociologist, anthropologist, anarchist, Occupier, and radical, thank you. Thank you for pushing real consensus out into the dialogue. Thank you for holding meetings back in the summer of 2011 about erecting tents on Wall Street and what that would look like, feel like, be like, how it would LIVE. Thank you for inspiring folks to Occupy, and to resist, and to radicalize, and to THINK. Dear God, to think and to logic and to reason.

Thank you for lending your voice to the importance of radicalizing the fields of anthropology and sociology.

*I recognize that this will probably get buried, but I have to put it out there in the hopes that it will somehow reach you.

david_graeber3 karma

thank you for saying so!

Jeran3 karma

Good afternoon! our Anthropology class JUST finished having a discussion on your "Anarchist Anthropologist" article (not just an hour ago)

My question is do you see a carrying capacity vary between styles of living/government? (e.x. Anarchy, socialism, communism, and capitalism)

david_graeber6 karma

To be honest I think that given human creativity we could probably come up with a way to expand any system if we had to - or, well, any system that did not stifle and suppress human creativity. Some do more than others.

hopeoncc2 karma

Are you concerned about climate change and how it will impact economies around the world, and to what extent it might influence public debt as a result?

david_graeber5 karma

I have proposed a general consumer and perhaps commercial debt cancellation to be followed by immediately moving to a 4 hour day as a way to stop global warming. Obviously it was kind of a joke proposal but at least it might get us thinking a little about such issues!

yossarianjohn2 karma

In some of your writings you talk about anti war movements as being something the state prefers or can easily respond to. Why is that precisely? And what options do we have in responding to US foreign policy? Would consensus based anti war movements work? Or is there simply no effective way to respond to US violence rampant throughout the globe?

david_graeber5 karma

I'm not sure to be honest but it just seems to always happen that way. Anti-war movements tend to be more vertically organized, tend to prioritize marching around over direct action, etc etc. Or at least, the largest anti-war groups always tend to look like that. Is there some reason that has to be true? I obviously hope not! I think it's extremely important we connect the economic issues OWS highlighted with issues of US imperialism.

cryptyphillous2 karma

Would you use a currency where all transactions and balances where on public record?

david_graeber5 karma

well that's the way we're moving now isn't it? I'm not too happy with it.

kiltrout1 karma

I have often seen your name while googling anti-leaders. It says that you are the anti-leader of Occupy Wall Street. Did you write the anti-leader's handbook? link

david_graeber7 karma

yeah that was some guy from Businessweek made up that name. I guess "someone who was involved a lot in the early days and wrote a book a lot of people have thought was relevant" wasn't catchy enough

NotCausarius1 karma

It took the world thousands of years to come up with the Magna Carta, and a few hundred years after that to come up with the US Constitution. How long do you think it will be before societies of the world begin to shrug off oppressive forms of government that are the status quo today? When the US government collapses in the next few decades, isn't it more likely that another massive government apparatus will take its place instead of a trend towards smaller government?

david_graeber6 karma

I don't think what we now consider basic liberties were somehow discovered by the people who wrote those documents; many people had always believed in them; in many times and places it never would have occurred to anyone to doubt them. What those documents mark is places where popular movements forced some members of some elites to publicly acknowledge them.

There are many examples of oppressive state systems collapsing and not being replaced by another similar one. If you look across the expanse of human history, that's much more likely to happen than just another empire. The main question is how many people have to die, how much destruction and misery there has to be, in the meantime. How do we make the transition relatively non-catastrophic?

YellowWheelyBin0 karma

What do you think of Chris Knight? Also I bloody love your book Debt.

david_graeber4 karma

I actually kind of like Chris Knight's stuff. I mean you have to take it for what it is. A lot of it is clearly myth-making of a sort, but why should the right wing get all the fun in making up myths about prehistoric humans?

SultansEarDownLow0 karma

I'd like to hear your thoughts on the Anarcho-Pluralism/Pan-Secessionism movement that usually comes from the far right arena. example: Attack The System

Furthermore, I am interested in your thoughts on the ability to defend off hazardous geo-engineering on a global level within an anarchist society. And on the flip side, how would it be possible to mass-coordinate on a positive geo-engineering project that is inter-continental.

david_graeber7 karma

yeah every time I go through customs and they check for foodstuffs, I think, hmm, how would we prevent the spread of foreign insects and microbes etc that will disrupt eco-systems like this in a no-borders world? Then I realize that national borders are a terrible way to do this anyway because countries are basically random in size, varying from Russia to Luxemburg, and don't correspond to bio-regions anyway, so probably we'd ultimately come up with a way to do it better.

I think we haven't even started to think about how we'd make decisions like that on a global scale in a free society but I am confident there are lots of ways to do it. I always say: imagine we unleash all the creativity now being put into coming up with new ways to create securitized derivatives and other scams and had the same guys working on questions like that? You think they'd not come up with something?