David Graeber

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In “Dickheads,” an excellent Baffler essay, David Graeber measures the sociological and historical significance of the necktie, which he believes to be a phallus (how it’s shaped, where it points) full of cultural meaning about power. An excerpt:

So what does any of this have to do with neckties? Well, at first glance, the paradox has only deepened. If the message of the suit is that its wearer is a largely invisible, abstract, and generic creature to be defined by his ability to act, then the decorative necktie makes little sense.

But let’s examine other forms of decoration allowed in formal attire and see if a larger pattern of sartorial power begins to emerge. Decoration that’s specific to women (earrings, lipstick, eyeshadow, etc.) tends to highlight the receptive organs. Permissible men’s jewelry—rings, cuff links, fancy watches—tends to accentuate the hands. This is, of course, consistent: it is through the hands that one acts upon the world. There’s also the tie clip, but that’s not really a problem. The tie and the cuff links seem to fulfill their functions in parallel, each adding a little decoration to tighten a spot where human flesh sticks out, namely the neck and wrists. They also help seal off the exposed bits from the remainder of the body, which remains effaced, its contours largely invisible.

This observation, I think, points the way to the resolution of our paradox. After all, the male body in a suit does contain a third potentially obtrusive element that is most definitely not exposed, something that, in fact, is not indicated in any way, even though one does have to take it out, periodically, to pee. Suits have to be tailored to allow for urination, which also has to be done in such a way that nobody notices. The fly (which is invisible) is a bourgeois innovation, much unlike earlier aristocratic styles, such as the European codpiece, that often drew explicit attention to the genital region. This is the one part of the male body whose contours are entirelyeffaced. If hiding something is a way of declaring it a form of power, then hiding the male genitals is a way of declaring masculinity itself a form of power. It’s not just that the tie sits on precisely the spot that, in women’s formal wear, tends to be the most sexualized (the cleavage). A tie resembles a penis in shape, and points directly at it. Couldn’t we say that a tie is really a symbolic displacement of the penis, only an intellectualized penis, dangling not from one’s crotch but from one’s head, chosen from among an almost infinite variety of other ties by an act of mental will?

Hey, this would explain a lot…•

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If every police officer in Ferguson were African-American, it probably wouldn’t change much of anything.

Apart from a brief shining moment directly following Emancipation, when former slaves began to gain a political foothold in the country, the postbellum history of race in America, from Jim Crow to George Zimmerman, has been about pre-criminalizing African-Americans, painting them as a class of predators not to be trusted. It’s never been about keeping the peace but about maintaining the power.

There are racist police officers, of course, but even a race-blind force in every U.S. town and city wouldn’t have made things fair because fair was never on the docket. An example: Studies have shown that white and black Americans smoke marijuana at similar levels yet the latter are arrested three times more often. That enters a large group of people into a system they never should have been a part of. In this way, we endeavor to create a criminal class.

The Broken Windows Theory allowed for petty offenses (or alleged ones) to be amplified into breaches of great importance–these measures will stop violent crime!–with the police reimagined as hectoring (if heavily armed) meter maids, the citizens serving as beleaguered piggy banks. Add in profiling and you have an endlessly harassed race of people, and sooner or later these confrontations lead to tragedy.

The micromanaging of civil life has turned us all into potential suspects and African-Americans into arrests waiting to happen. The difference between a stroll and a perp walk has never been narrower.

The opening of David Graeber’s Gawker essay “Ferguson and the Criminalization of American Life“:

The Department of Justice’s investigation of the Ferguson Police Department has scandalized the nation, and justly so. But the department’s institutional racism, while shocking, isn’t the report’s most striking revelation.

More damning is this: in a major American city, the criminal justice system perceives a large part of that city’s population not as citizens to be protected, but as potential targets for what can only be described as a shake-down operation designed to wring money out of the poorest and most vulnerable by any means they could, and that as a result, the overwhelming majority of Ferguson’s citizens had outstanding warrants.

Many will try to write off this pattern of economic exploitation as some kind of strange anomaly. In fact, it’s anything but. What the racism of Ferguson’s criminal justice system produced is simply a nightmarish caricature of something that is beginning to happen on every level of American life; something which is beginning to transform our most basic sense of who we are, and how we—or most of us, anyway—relate to the central institutions of our society, in ways that are genuinely disastrous.

The DOJ’s report has made us all familiar with the details: the constant pressure on police to issue as many citations as possible for minor infractions (such as parking or seat-belt violations) and the equal pressure on the courts to make the fines as high as possible; the arcane court rules apparently designed to be almost impossible to follow (the court’s own web page contained incorrect information); the way citizens who had never been found guilty—indeed, never even been accused—of an actual crime were rounded up, jailed, threatened with “indefinite” incarceration in fetid cells, risking disease and serious injury, until their destitute families could assemble hundreds if not thousands of dollars in fines, fees, and penalties to pay their jailers.

As a result of such practices, over three quarters of the population had warrants out for the arrest at any given time. The entire population was criminalized.•

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The German postal system grew from the nation’s military courier apparatus to become a multifaceted marvel, contributing subsequently to networks all over the world, leaving its mark on Soviet socialism and American capitalism. It has a latter-day parallel, of course, in the Internet, which was incubated and nurtured by the U.S. Defense Department wing DARPA. The Financial Times has a passage from David Graeber’s The Utopia of Rules about the mixed blessing of bureaucracy, which allows for large-scale progress, making the unthinkable manageable, before beginning to succumb to its own weight, a sideshow giant who wows until his heart gives out. An excerpt:

All these fantasies of postal utopia now seem rather quaint. Today we usually associate national postal systems with the arrival of things we never wanted in the first place: utility bills, overdraft alerts, tax audits, one-time-only credit-card offers, charity appeals, and so on. Insofar as Americans have a popular image of postal workers, it has become increasingly squalid.

Yet at the same time that symbolic war was being waged on the postal service, something remarkably similar to the turn-of-the-century infatuation with the postal service was happening again. Let us summarise the story so far:

1. A new communications technology develops out of the military.

2. It spreads rapidly, radically reshaping everyday life.

3. It develops a reputation for dazzling efficiency.

4. Since it operates on non-market principles, it is quickly seized on by radicals as the first stirrings of a future, non-capitalist economic system already developing within the shell of the old.

5. Despite this, it quickly becomes the medium, too, for government surveillance and the dissemination of endless new forms of advertising and unwanted paperwork.

This mirrors the story of the internet. What is email but a giant, electronic, super-efficient post office? Has it not, too, created a sense of a new, remarkably effective form of cooperative economy emerging from within the shell of capitalism itself, even as it has deluged us with scams, spam and commercial offers, and enabled the government to spy on us in new and creative ways?

It seems significant that while both postal services and the internet emerge from the military, they could be seen as adopting military technologies to quintessential anti-military purposes. Here we have a way of taking stripped-down, minimalistic forms of action and communication typical of military systems and turning them into the invisible base on which everything they are not can be constructed: dreams, projects, declarations of love and passion, artistic effusions, subversive manifestos, or pretty much anything else.

But all this also implies that bureaucracy appeals to us — that it seems at its most liberating — precisely when it disappears: when it becomes so rational and reliable that we are able to just take it for granted that we can go to sleep on a bed of numbers and wake up with all those numbers still snugly in place.

In this sense, bureaucracy enchants when it can be seen as a species of what I like to call “poetic technology” — when mechanical forms of organisation, usually military in their ultimate inspiration, can be marshalled to the realisation of impossible visions: to create cities out of nothing, scale the heavens, make the desert bloom. For most of human history this kind of power was only available to the rulers of empires or commanders of conquering armies, so we might even speak here of a democratisation of despotism. Once, the privilege of waving one’s hand and having a vast invisible army of cogs and wheels organise themselves in such a way as to bring your whims into being was available only to the very most privileged few; in the modern world, it can be subdivided into millions of tiny portions and made available to everyone able to write a letter, or to flick a switch.•

 

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David Graeber, who’s just published The Utopia of Rules, explaining to Elias Isquith of Salon why free markets don’t actually supplant bureaucracy but actually beget more of it:

Salon:

The idea that free-market policies create bureaucracies is pretty counterintuitive, at least for most Americans. So why is it the case that laissez-faire policy creates bureaucracy?

David Graeber:

Part of the reason is because in fact what we call the market is not really the market.

First of all, we have this idea that the market is a thing that just happens. This is the debate in the 19th century: market relations creeped up within feudalism and then it overthrew [feudalism]. So gradually the market is just the natural expression of human freedom; and since it regulates itself, it will gradually displace everything else and bring about a free society. Libertarians still think this.

In fact, if you look at what actually happens historically, this is just not true. Self-regulating markets were basically created with government intervention. It was a political project. Certain assumptions of how these things work just aren’t true. People don’t do wage labor if they have any choice, historically, for example. So in order to get a docile labor force, you have to create police and [a] large apparatus to ensure that the people you kick off the land actually will get the kinds of jobs you want them to … this is the very beginning of creating a market.

Basically, we assume that market relations are natural, but you need a huge institutional structure to make people behave the way that economists say they are “supposed” to behave. So, for example, think about the way the consumer market works. The market is supposed to work on grounds of pure competition. Nobody has moral ties to each other other than to obey the rules. But, on the other hand, people are supposed to do anything they can to get as much as possible off the other guy — but won’t simply steal the stuff or shoot the person.

Historically, that’s just silly; if you don’t care at all about a guy, you might as well steal his stuff. In fact, they’re encouraging people to act essentially how most human societies, historically, treated their enemies — but to still never resort to violence, trickery or theft. Obviously that’s not going to happen. You can only do that if you set up a very strictly enforced police force. That’s just one example.•

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Every day, hundreds of millions of people all over the world create an astounding amount of free content for Facebook and Twitter and the like. It would be by far the largest sweatshop in the world except that even sweatshop laborers are paid a nominal amount. Sure, we get a degree of utility from such services, but we’ve essentially turned ourselves into unpaid volunteers for multibillion-dollar corporations. There is, perhaps, something evolutionary about such participation, the ants cooperating to piece together a colony, but from an economic standpoint, it’s a stunning turn of events, and it all pivots on the new technologies.

When Robots Steal Our Jobs,” a BBC radio program about machines and automation being introduced into reliably white-collar fields like law and medicine, sums up this phenomenon really well with this fact: “Last year, we collectively spent nearly 500 million hours each day updating Facebook. That’s 25 times the amount of labor it took to build the Panama Canal. And we did it all for free.”

Andrew McAfee, co-author of The Second Machine Age, and David Graeber are among the voices heard. The latter thinks capitalism won’t survive automation, but perhaps they’ll be something worse (e.g., techno-fascism). 

One thing I feel sure about in the aforementioned intersection of AI and medicine is that robotics will be handling the majority of surgery at some point in the future. 

The show plays a clip of Woody Allen doing stand-up in San Francisco in 1968, addressing a fear that began to take hold that decade: “My father was fired. He was technologically unemployed. My father worked for the same firm for 12 years. They replaced him with a tiny gadget this big that does everything that my father does but does it much better. The depressing thing is that my mother ran out and bought one.”

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My favorite passage of this long-form conversation between Brian Eno and David Graeber is the three-minute stretch just after the 39-minute mark in which the discussion turns to the human proclivity for virtualizing experiences that initially have an evolutionary impulse at their core. (Like eating, for instance.) Perhaps space travel has been reduced to a shadow on a wall for 50 years because of the monetary expense or maybe it’s wired into us to turn from reality and make the play the thing.

From Graeber: “I was watching one of those new Star Wars movies, the really bad ones, and I was thinking, Well, this is a bad movie but the special effects are amazing. I was thinking, Remember those clumsy science-fiction special effects from the ’50s? If people from back then could watch this movie, I’d bet they’d be really impressed. Then I realized, no they wouldn’t, because they thought we’d actually be doing this stuff by now instead of coming up with amazing ways to simulate it. They’d be really bitter and angry. You’re not on the moon? You just come up with better movies to make believe you’re on the moon? Then I realized, simulation, end of history, nothing new. Now I get it. The reason why we have these ideologies that history is coming to an end…we wouldn’t be saying this if we were actually on Mars. It’s just sort of a way of coming to terms with the fact that we can’t acknowledge that we actually thought we’d be doing all this stuff that now we’re just doing virtually.”

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I think the most defining negative quality of bureaucracy is simply incompetence. Look at the example of relief efforts in New York City in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. When the federal government was in charge, FEMA did quite well. But when $100 million was shifted to the city, the efforts were a fiasco. A program called Build It Back was established by Mayor Bloomberg, and in his final 14 months in office not a single destroyed home was built back. Not one. Local homeowners living in ruins or in shelters were summoned to government offices numerous times to provide information, but while paperwork piled high, no one was helped. (So far during the de Blasio Administration, a little more than 300 homes have been completely repaired out of more than one thousand where work has begun.)

When David Graeber looks at bureaucracy, he senses something more sinister than ineptitude. He sees the potential for routine violence. In an interview about his forthcoming book, The Utopia of Rules, with David Whelan of Vice, the anthropologist looks into our future and believes an Orwellian nightmare may be headed our way. I don’t agree with Graeber’s vision of technological dreams vanishing or of library fines being commonly treated as felonies, but we’re already living in a society where “quality-of-life” policing is often used as racial punishment and certainly we’re being more tracked and quantified each day. An excerpt: 

Vice:

OK, say we’re 50 years from now, this moment. What’s happening?

David Graeber:

Research investment has changed. Flying cars are scrapped. They say to hell with going to Mars. All this space age stuff is done. Money moves elsewhere, such as information technology. And now every intimate aspect of your life is under potential bureaucratic scrutiny, which means fines and violence.

Vice:

What happens if you step out of line?

David Graeber:

Bureaucratic societies rely on the threat of violence. We follow their rules because if we don’t there’s a chance we’ll get killed. A good way to think of this is through libraries.

Vice:

Libraries?

David Graeber:

Say you want to go get a book by Foucault from the library describing why life is all a matter of physical coercion, but you haven’t paid an overdue fine and therefore you don’t have a currently valid personal ID. You walk through the gate illegally. What’s going to happen?

Vice:

A smacked bottom?

David Graeber:

Men with sticks will eventually show up and threaten to hit you.

Vice:

Wait. This actually happens?

David Graeber:

Yeah. Check out the UCLA Taser incident in 2006. They Tasered him, told him to get up, then Tasered him again.

Vice:

What’s the point in that?

David Graeber:

The point is bureaucracy. They don’t care who he is or why he’s there. It doesn’t matter who you are. You just apply the same rules to everybody, because that’s “fair.”

Vice:

But if you’re at the top of the bureaucratic tree, those rules don’t apply.

David Graeber:

Bureaucracy provides an illusion of fairness. Everyone is equal before the law, but the problem is it never works like that. But to advance in a bureaucratic system the one thing you CANNOT do is point out all the ways the system doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. You have to pretend it’s a meritocracy.•

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A follow-up post to the David Graeber video about so-called bullshit jobs, here are excerpts from two articles about modern employment, one from Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times which looks at the Uberization of work and the other by Joshua Krook of New Intrigue which focuses on labor in a highly automated world.

_______________________________

From New Intrigue:

The Robotic (Post-Industrial) Revolution:

There is something very curious about politicians constantly obsessing over people getting jobs in the light of the oncoming Robot Revolution.

Now you might think I’m crazy for believing in such things, but then you will have to call the likes of Stephen Hawking crazy too, which is a much, much more difficult task.

There are already articles on the web asking:What will happen when Robots Take our Jobs? The idea is that an oncoming robotic revolution is coming whether we like it or not.

And with it, the capacity of robots to do the jobs typically reserved for humans – including high-end, white-collar professional work. The latest robotic innovations out of Japan can play ping pong (“and even decide to take it easy on opponents by missing a few hits”), use sign language to “talk” to humans and “mimic simple greetings.” This is only the beginning.

Despite almost every single instinct of intuition in my body saying that robots will make our lives easier, which is what we’ve been taught (using examples like the washing machine in the 1950s) –by freeing up our time and allowing us to work on things that aren’t menial, boring office jobs– we have to look to history here and realise that that seems like an unlikely outcome. History has a few examples where this is true, but on the whole it has gone the other way, and this time round…

It may even go the other way.•

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From the New York Times:

Various companies are now trying to emulate Uber’s business model in other fields, from daily chores like grocery shopping and laundry to more upmarket products like legal services and even medicine.

“I do think we are defining a new category of work that isn’t full-time employment but is not running your own business either,” said Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University’s business school who has studied the rise of the so-called on-demand economy, and who is mainly optimistic about its prospects.

Uberization will have its benefits: Technology could make your work life more flexible, allowing you to fit your job, or perhaps multiple jobs, around your schedule, rather than vice versa. Even during a time of renewed job growth, Americans’ wages are stubbornly stagnant, and the on-demand economy may provide novel streams of income.

“We may end up with a future in which a fraction of the work force would do a portfolio of things to generate an income — you could be an Uber driver, an Instacart shopper, an Airbnb host and a Taskrabbit,” Dr. Sundararajan said.

But the rise of such work could also make your income less predictable and your long-term employment less secure. And it may relegate the idea of establishing a lifelong career to a distant memory.

“I think it’s nonsense, utter nonsense,” said Robert B. Reich, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley who was the secretary of labor during the Clinton administration. “This on-demand economy means a work life that is unpredictable, doesn’t pay very well and is terribly insecure.” After interviewing many workers in the on-demand world, Dr. Reich said he has concluded that “most would much rather have good, well-paying, regular jobs.”•

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David Graeber in a recent British TV appearance explaining why pointless jobs–bullshit jobs, to be more frank–persist in a much more automated world. What happened to the Keynesian dream of a leisure-driven life? The anthropologist’s answer is that not only are many jobs busywork but so are whole industries (telemarketing, lobbying, etc.) His prescription: the basic-income solution.

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Here are 25 pieces of journalism from this year, alphabetized by author name, which made me consider something new or reconsider old beliefs or just delighted me.

  • Exodus” (Ross Andersen, Aeon) A brilliant longform piece that lifts off with Elon Musk’s mission to Mars and veers in deep and mysterious directions.
  • Barack Obama, Ferguson, and the Evidence of Things Unsaid” (Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic) Nobody speaks truth to race in America quite like Coates, and the outrage of Ferguson was the impetus for this spot-on piece about the deeply institutionalized prejudice of government, national and local, in the U.S.
  • The Golden Age of Journalism?” (Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch) The landscape has never been more brutal for news nor more promising. The author luxuriates in the richness destabilization has wrought.
  • Amazon Must Be Stopped” (Franklin Foer, The New Republic) Before things went completely haywire at the company, Foer returned some sanity to the publication in the post-Peretz period. This lucid article argues that Amazon isn’t becoming a monopoly but already qualifies as one.
  • America in Decay” (Francis Fukuyama, Foreign Affairs) Strong argument that the U.S. public sector is so dysfunctional because of a betrayal of meritocracy in favor of special interests and lobbyists. The writer’s idea of what constitutes a merit-based system seems flawed, but he offers many powerful ideas.
  • What’s the Matter With Russia?” (Keith Gessen, Foreign Affairs) An insightful meditation about Putin’s people, who opt to to live in a fairy tale despite knowing such a thing can never have a happy ending.
  • The Dying Russians(Masha Gessen, New York Review of Books) Analysis of Russia’s high mortality rate suggests that the root cause is not alcohol, guns or politics, but simply hopelessness.  
  • Soak the Rich” (David Graeber, Thomas Piketty) Great in-depth exchange between two thinkers who believe capitalism has run amok, but only one of whom thinks it’s run its course.
  • The First Smile(Michael Graziano, Aeon) The Princeton psychology and neuroscience professor attempts to explain why facial expressions appear to be natural and universal.
  • The Creepy New Wave of the Internet” (Sue Halpern, New York Review of Books) The author meditates on the Internet of Things, which may make the world much better and much worse, quantifying us like never before.
  • Super-Intelligent Humans Are Coming” (Stephen Hsu, Nautilus) A brisk walk through the process of genetic modification, which would lead to heretofore unknown brain power.
  • All Dressed Up For Mars and Nowhere to Go” (Elmo Keep, Matter) A sprawling look at the seeming futility of the MarsOne project ultimately gets at a more profound pointlessness–pursuing escape in a dying universe.
  • The Myth of AI” (Jaron Lanier, Edge) Among other things, this entry draws a neat comparison between the religionist’s End of Days and the technologist’s Singularity, the Four Horseman supposedly arriving in driverless cars.
  • The Disruption Machine” (Jill Lepore, The New Yorker) The “D” word, its chief promulgator, Clayton M. Christensen, and its circuitous narratives, receive some disruption of their own.
  • The Longevity Gap(Linda Marsa, Aeon) A severely dystopian thought experiment: Will the parallels of widening income disparity and innovations in medicine lead to two very different lifespans for the haves and have-nots?
  • The Genetics Epidemic” (Jamie F. Metzl, Foreign Affairs) Genetic modification studied from an uncommon angle, that of national-security concerns.
  • My Captivity(Theo Padnos, The New York Times Magazine) A harrowing autobiographical account of an American journalist’s hostage ordeal in the belly of the beast in Syria.
  • We Are a Camera” (Nick Paumgarten, The New Yorker) In a time of cheap, ubiquitous cameras, the image, merely an imitation, is ascendant, and any event unrecorded seemingly has less currency. The writer examines the strangeness of life in the GoPro flow.
  • A Goddamn Death Dedication” (Alex Pappademas, Grantland) A knowing postmortem about Casey Kasem, America’s deejay when the world was hi-fi but before it became sci-fi.
  • In Conversation: Chris Rock” (Frank Rich, New York) The exchange about “black progress” is an example of what comedy does at its best: It points out an obvious truth that so many have missed.
  • The Mammoth Cometh” (Nathaniel Rich, The New York Times Magazine) A piece which points out that de-extinct animals won’t be exactly like their forebears, nor will augmented humans of the future be just like us. It’s progress, probably.
  • Hello, My Name Is Stephen Glass, and I’m Sorry(Hanna Rosin, The New Republic) Before the implosion of the publication, the writer wondered what it would mean to forgive her former coworker, an inveterate fabulist and liar, and what it would mean if she could not forgive.
  • Gilbert Gottfried: New York Punk” (Jay Ruttenberg, The Lowbrow Reader) Written by the only person on the list whom I know personally, but no cronyism is necessary for the inclusion of this excellent analysis of the polarizing comic, who’s likely more comfortable when at his most alienating.

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From a report by Jennifer Schuessler of the New York Times about the recent debate between David Graeber and Peter Thiel, two big-picture thinkers who could not be more disparate politically:

“If he and Mr. Graeber didn’t plan the future on Friday, they did agree that it needed to be radically different from the present. Mr. Graeber kicked things off with an extemporaneous summary of his essay ‘Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit,’ which is included in the new Baffler anthology No Future for You. (As of this writing, the book was lagging about 297,000 spots behind Mr. Thiel’s on Amazon.)

Once upon a time, he 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.’

Mr. Thiel took the microphone and made a similar argument, citing the slogan of his venture capital firm, the Founders Fund: ‘We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.’

If he didn’t blame any ruling-class freakout, he 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.'”

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Delancey Place has a passage from David Graeber’s great 2011 book, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, about knights, who have been gifted with a sense of gallantry by history and literature that they were not due. An excerpt:

“It was … at the height of the fairs of Champagne and the Italian mer­chant empires, between 1160 and 1172, that the term ‘adventure’ be­gan to take on its contemporary meaning. The man most responsible for it was the French poet Chretien de Troyes, author of the famous Arthurian romances — most famous, perhaps, for being the first to tell the story of Sir Percival and the Holy Grail. The romances were a new sort of literature featuring a new sort of hero, the ‘knight-errant,’ a warrior who roamed the world in search of, precisely, ‘adventure’ — in the contemporary sense of the word: perilous challenges, love, trea­sure, and renown. Stories of knightly adventure quickly became enor­mously popular, Chretein was followed by innumerable imitators, and the central characters in the stories — Arthur and Guinevere, Lance­lot, Gawain, Percival, and the rest — became known to everyone, as they are still. This courtly ideal of the gallant knight, the quest, the joust, romance and adventure, remains central to our image of the Middle Ages.

The curious thing is that it bears almost no relation to reality. Nothing remotely like a real ‘knight-errant’ ever existed. ‘Knights’ had originally been a term for freelance warriors, drawn from the younger or, often, bastard sons of the minor nobility. Unable to in­herit, many were forced to band together to seek their fortunes. Many became little more than roving bands of thugs, in an endless pursuit of plunder — precisely the sort of people who made [the newly emerging class of] merchants’ lives so dangerous.”

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One of the best things I’ve read this year is an excellent longform conversation at the Baffler between Thomas Piketty and David Graeber, both of whom believe the modern financial system is passé, but only one of whom (Graeber) believes it’s certain to collapse. An exchange:

Moderators:

Is capitalism itself the cause of the problem, or can it be reformed?

Thomas Piketty:

One of the points that I most appreciate in David Graeber’s book is the link he shows between slavery and public debt. The most extreme form of debt, he says, is slavery: slaves belong forever to somebody else, and so, potentially, do their children. In principle, one of the great advances of civilization has been the abolition of slavery.

As Graeber explains, the intergenerational transmission of debt that slavery embodied has found a modern form in the growing public debt, which allows for the transfer of one generation’s indebtedness to the next. It is possible to picture an extreme instance of this, with an infinite quantity of public debt amounting to not just one, but ten or twenty years of GNP, and in effect creating what is, for all intents and purposes, a slave society, in which all production and all wealth creation is dedicated to the repayment of debt. In that way, the great majority would be slaves to a minority, implying a reversion to the beginnings of our history.

In actuality, we are not yet at that point. There is still plenty of capital to counteract debt. But this way of looking at things helps us understand our strange situation, in which debtors are held culpable and we are continually assailed by the claim that each of us “owns” between thirty and forty thousand euros of the nation’s public debt.

This is particularly crazy because, as I say, our resources surpass our debt. A large portion of the population owns very little capital individually, since capital is so highly concentrated. Until the nineteenth century, 90 percent of accumulated capital belonged to 10 percent of the population. Today things are a little different. In the United States, 73 percent of capital belongs to the richest 10 percent. This degree of concentration still means that half the population owns nothing but debt. For this half, the per capita public debt thus exceeds what they possess. But the other half of the population owns more capital than debt, so it is an absurdity to lay the blame on populations in order to justify austerity measures.

But for all that, is the elimination of debt the solution, as Graeber writes? I have nothing against this, but I am more favorable to a progressive tax on inherited wealth along with high tax rates for the upper brackets. Why? The question is: What about the day after? What do we do once debt has been eliminated? What is the plan? Eliminating debt implies treating the last creditor, the ultimate holder of debt, as the responsible party. But the system of financial transactions as it actually operates allows the most important players to dispose of letters of credit well before debt is forgiven. The ultimate creditor, thanks to the system of intermediaries, may not be especially rich. Thus canceling debt does not necessarily mean that the richest will lose money in the process.

David Graeber:

No one is saying that debt abolition is the only solution. In my view, it is simply an essential component in a whole set of solutions. I do not believe that eliminating debt can solve all our problems. I am thinking rather in terms of a conceptual break. To be quite honest, I really think that massive debt abolition is going to occur no matter what. For me the main issue is just how this is going to happen: openly, by virtue of a top-down decision designed to protect the interests of existing institutions, or under pressure from social movements. Most of the political and economic leaders to whom I have spoken acknowledge that some sort of debt abolition is required.”

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Before an automated workforce was a threat to employees, it was a real concern for management (of all kinds). The opening exchanges of a fascinating Salon conversation about technology, democracy, capitalism, and other subjects, between Thomas Frank and David Graeber:

Thomas Frank:

Let’s start at the beginning: Keynes’ prediction, back in the 1930s, that before too long workers would have all sorts of leisure time because of improving productivity. Is there a history of this idea? I mean, others have argued this as well, correct?

David Graeber:

Well, radical elements in the labor movement began embracing such visions from quite early on. After the successful campaigns for the eight-hour day in the 1880s, people immediately started thinking, can we move this to seven, six, or less. Paul Lafargue, Marx’s son-in-law, and author of The Right to Be Lazy, was already calling for something along those lines in 1883. I have a Wobbly T-shirt with a turn-of-the-century style design that says ‘join the IWW for a new dawn,’ it has a sun rising over the rooftops, and on the sun is written, ‘four-day week, four-hour day.’ I don’t know how old the image really is but I’m guessing it’s from the Teens or the ’20s. In the 1930s, a lot of labor unions did move their industries to a 35-hour week. My mom was a garment worker at the time and that’s how she ended up getting involved in the ILGWU musical review Pins and Needles, because everyone had moved to a shorter week and the union started providing leisure activities.

Thomas Frank:

And when did this expectation finally start dying out?

David Graeber:

By the ‘60s, most people thought that robot factories, and ultimately, the elimination of all manual labor, was probably just a generation or two away. Everyone from the Situationists to the Yippies were saying ‘let the machines do all the work!’ and objecting to the very principle of 9-to-5 labor. In the ‘70s, there were actually a series of now-forgotten wildcat strikes by auto workers and others, in Detroit, I think Turin, and other places, basically saying, ‘we’re just tired of working so much.’

This sort of thing threw a lot of people in positions of power into a kind of moral panic. There were think-tanks set up to examine what to do—basically, how to maintain social control—in a society where more and more traditional forms of labor would soon be obsolete. A lot of the complaints you see in Alvin Toffler and similar figures in the early ‘70s—that rapid technological advance was throwing the social order into chaos—had to do with those anxieties: too much leisure had created the counter-culture and youth movements, what was going to happen when things got even more relaxed? It’s probably no coincidence that it was around that time that things began to turn around, both in the direction of technological research, away from automation and into information, medical, and military technologies (basically, technologies of social control), and also in the direction of market reforms that would send us back towards less secure employment, longer hours, greater work discipline.

Thomas Frank:

Today productivity continues to increase, but Americans work more hours per week than they used to, not fewer. Also, more than workers in other countries. Correct?

David Graeber:

The U.S., even under the New Deal, was always a lot stingier than most wealthy countries when it comes to time off: whether it’s maternity or paternity leave, or vacations and the like. But since the ‘70s, things have definitely been getting worse.”

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Here, in no particular order, are this year’s 20 selections. These pieces, which made me think or reconsider my opinions or just delighted me, are limited to ungated material that’s only a click away. (I included work from publications such as the New York Times which allow a certain amount of free articles per month.)

  • The Reality Show” (Mike Jay, Aeon) Brilliant essay that points out that the manifestations of mental illness are heavily influenced by the prevailing culture. In our case: ubiquitous technology.
  • Invisible Child–Girl in the Shadows: Dasani’s Homeless Life (Andrea Elliott, New York Times) A tale of two cities in present-day New York told through the story of a talented grade-school girl trying to make it through the hard knocks of class divisions. What’s expressed tacitly is that if the best and brightest homeless children only have a so-so shot at success, those less gifted have almost none. 
  • The Robots Are Here” (Tyler Cowen, Politico Magazine): The best distillation yet of the economist’s ideas about where the technological disruption will lead us as a society. I’m not completely on board with his forecasting, but this article is smart and provocative.
  • In Conversation: Antonin Scalia(Jennifer Senior, New York) Amazing interview with the Supreme Court Justice which reveals him to a stunning, and frightening, extent.
  • Return of the Oppressed (Peter Turchin, Aeon) The father of Cliodynanics forecasts a dark future for humanity thanks to spiraling wealth inequality.
  • Omens (Ross Andersen, Aeon) With a focus on philosopher Nick Bostrom, the writer wonders whether humans will survive into the deep future.
  • Thanksgiving in Mongolia(Ariel Levy, The New Yorker) Heartrending story of a reporter’s loss in a far-flung place is personal journalism at its finest.
  • Blockbuster Video: 1985-2013 (Alex Pappademas, Grantland): A master of the postmortem lays to rest not a person but a way of life which is disappearing brick by brick and mortar by mortar. 
  • The Corporate Mystique” (Judith Shulevitz, The New Republic) A reminder that a female CEO is not a replacement for a women’s movement.
  • The Global Swarm” (P.W. Singer, Foreign Policy) The author considers privacy as drones get smaller, smarter and seemingly unstoppable.
  • The Master” (Marc Fisher, The New Yorker) A profile of a predatory teacher is most interesting as an extreme psychological portrait of the cult mentality.
  • Why the World Faces Climate Chaos” (Martin Wolf, Financial Times) An attempt to understand why we cling to systems that doom us, that could make us the new dinosaurs.
  • The Hollywood Fast Life of Stalker Sarah” (Molly Knight, New York Times Magazine) Thoughtful article about celebrity in our age of decentralized media, in which fame has entered its long-tail phase, seemingly available to everyone and worth less than ever. 
  • Academy Fight Song(Thomas Frank, The Baffler) The author plays the role of designated mourner for common sense in U.S. higher education, which costs more now and returns less.
  • The Wastefulness of Automation(Frances Coppola, Pieria) A smart consideration of the disconnect of free-market societies that are also highly automated ones.

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Occupy Wall Street gave us a number–99%–that framed the last American Presidential election. The movement is pretty much an afterthought now to most observers, but its founding father, David Graeber, thinks it’s just getting started, mostly because the economic system is still broken, still on the brink. Drake Bennett of Businessweek just did a brief interview with Graeber. An excerpt:

Question:

Were you disappointed that the Occupy Wall Street movement didn’t accomplish more? 

David Graeber:

I’m personally convinced that if it were not for us, we might well have President Romney. When Romney was planning his campaign, being a Wall Street financier, a 1 Percenter, he thought that was a good thing. That whole 47 percent thing that hurt him so much was something the right wing came up with in response to our 99 percent.

But in terms of changing the whole legislative political direction, I think that’s a lot to ask. We weren’t trying to push specific pieces of legislation. We were trying to create an environment where people could be heard. And I think we did that. We also tried to do something else, which was to create this culture of democracy in America, which really doesn’t have one. And that’s such a major task. The more fundamental the aims of a movement, the longer it’s going to take. We’re organizing in much more constrained and difficult circumstances these days, but it’s still going on. It’s just that people don’t report on it that much.”•

See also:

 

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In an automated society, there are supposed to be fewer bullshit jobs, the drudgery passed on to machines. But that hasn’t happened in our brave new world. There’s just as much toil now, and even the few excruciating tasks that have been largely disappeared–phone operator, for instance–have just resulted in the shifting of responsibilities. Twice this week I’ve heard people publicly cursing into their cells as they tried to get through a series of prompts to attain some information or other. The salaries vanished but the work did not.

The first two paragraphs from David Graeber’s excellent Strike! magazine essay, “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs“:

“In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

Why did Keynes’ promised utopia – still being eagerly awaited in the ‘60s – never materialise? The standard line today is that he didn’t figure in the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we’ve collectively chosen the latter. This presents a nice morality tale, but even a moment’s reflection shows it can’t really be true. Yes, we have witnessed the creation of an endless variety of new jobs and industries since the ‘20s, but very few have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers.”

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From Robert Kuttner’s New York Review of Books piece about David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years, a passage about the inequality of debt relief:

“The double standard in debt relief that favored large merchants, present at the creation of bankruptcy law in 1706, persists today in many different forms. It gets surprisingly little attention in the debt debates. Despite the tacit assumption that ‘surely one has to pay one’s debts,’ the evasion of repayment is both widespread and selective. Corporate executives routinely walk away from their debts via Chapter 11 of the national bankruptcy law when that seems expedient. Morality scarcely enters the conversation—this is strictly business.

Even more galling is the fact that the executives who drove the company into the ground often keep control by means of a doctrine known as debtor-in- possession. A judge simply permits the company to write off old debts, while creditors collect so many cents on the dollar out of available assets. Every major airline has now been through bankruptcy, and US Airways has gone in and out of Chapter 11 twice. In this process, all creditors are not created equal. Since banks typically have liens on the aircraft, bankers get paid ahead of others. Major losers are employees and retirees, since Chapter 11 allows a corporation to break a labor contact or reduce pension debts. Shareholders also lose, but by the time bankruptcy is declared, the company’s share value has usually dwindled to almost nothing. Much of the private equity industry uses the strategy of acquiring a company, taking it into bankruptcy, thus shedding its debts, and then cashing in on its subsequent profitability. Despite the misleading term private ‘equity,’ tax-deductible private debt is the essence of this industry, which relies heavily on borrowed money to finance its takeovers.

Homeowners, however, are explicitly prohibited from using the bankruptcy code to reduce their outstanding mortgage debt. White House legislation proposed in 2009 would have allowed a judge to reduce the principal on a home mortgage, as part of the effort to contain the economic crisis. Congress rejected the measure after extensive lobbying by the financial industry. Consumers may use bankruptcy to shed other debts, but a revision of the law signed by President Bush in 2005 subjects most bankrupt consumers to partial repayment requirements, while bankrupt corporations get a general discharge from their debts. Thanks to the influence of the same financial lobby, the rules of student debt provide that the obligations of a college loan follow a borrower to the grave.”

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You have to have a lot of faith in humanity to be an anarchist. Have you met people? They’re awful.

The collapse of Wall Street, the sway of corporations that see us as consumers rather than citizens, grave concerns about our environment and the decentralization of communication have opened a door for anarchic movements in the form of Occupy Wall Street and beyond. If only I had more faith in people, the awful, awful people.

An excerpt from an excellent interview that Gawker’s Adrian Chen conducted with anarchist, author and scholar David Graeber:

Question:

One of the major themes of your book is that the current political structure is not at all democratic. I think among the people who would read your book, that’s kind of a given. But you go further in pointing out the anti-democratic nature of the Founding Fathers.

David Graeber:

Most people think these guys had something to do with democracy, but nobody ever reads what they actually said. What they said is very explicit: They would say things like ‘We need to do something about all this democracy.’

Question:

So as an alternative, you promote the model of consensus that Occupy used to organize, through its General Assembly.

David Graeber:

Yeah. What we wanted to do was A) change the discourse and then B) create a culture of democracy in America, which really hasn’t had one. I mean direct democracy, hands on, let’s figure out how you make this system together. It’s ironic because if you go to someplace like Madagascar, everybody knows how to do that. They sit in a circle and they do a consensus process. There is a way that you can do these things, that millions and millions of people over human history have developed and it comes out pretty much the same wherever they are because there are certain logical constraints and people being what they are.

Consensus isn’t just about agreement. It’s about changing things around: You get a proposal, you work something out, people foresee problems, you do creative synthesis. At the end of it you come up with with something that everyone thinks is okay. Most people like it, and nobody hates it.

Question:

This is pretty much the opposite of what goes on in mainstream politics.

David Graeber:

Yeah, exactly. It’s like, ‘People can be reasonable, I didn’t think it was possible!’ And that’s something I’ve noticed, that authoritarian regimes, what they do is that they always come up with some way to teach people about political decision making that says people aren’t basically reasonable, so don’t try this at home. I always point out the difference between the Athenian Agora and the Roman Circus. When most Athenians gathered together in a big mass it was to do direct democracy. But here’s Rome, this authoritarian regime. When did most Romans get together in the same place? If they’re voting on anything it’s like thumbs-up or thumbs-down to kill some gladiator. And these things are all organized by the elite, right? So all the people who are really running things throw these games where they basically organize people into a giant lynch mobs. And then they say, ‘Look, see how people behave! You don’t want to have Democracy!'”

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We’re better and worse than ever in America. We’re haves, but we’re have-nots. Technology has gleefully led to a decentralization of media power, and science is accomplishing what was once sci-fi. Hollywood can barely keep up with the world, let alone predict it, as the Dream Factory has been outpaced by reality, However, we’re also deeply narcissistic, most often using our amazing technology merely like mirrors, distracted by our distorted sense of self, so much so that we seem unable to address a political and economic system that has run aground. And the mainstream culture is irredeemably stupid, all “housewives” and halfwits. If you want to see how much we’ve slipped in that regard, just have a look at an issue of People magazine from the 1970s, when pop singers and public intellectuals shared the pages. You can’t blame the People people for a culture that has become saturated with stupidity. They’re just taking the pulse.

But could a revolution of some sort wipe all the inequity away? I doubt it, because we love being entertained by clever toys and reflecting pools. Of course, if personal power and narrowcasting become political and writ large, that could change. Occupy Wall Street, despite being derided as a short-lived, fashionable failure, actually framed a Presidential election. But can such a movement do more than frame? Can it break the glass?

From “A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse,” David Graeber’s new Baffler article:

Normally, when you challenge the conventional wisdom—that the current economic and political system is the only possible one—the first reaction you are likely to get is a demand for a detailed architectural blueprint of how an alternative system would work, down to the nature of its financial instruments, energy supplies, and policies of sewer maintenance. Next, you are likely to be asked for a detailed program of how this system will be brought into existence. Historically, this is ridiculous. When has social change ever happened according to someone’s blueprint? It’s not as if a small circle of visionaries in Renaissance Florence conceived of something they called “capitalism,” figured out the details of how the stock exchange and factories would someday work, and then put in place a program to bring their visions into reality. In fact, the idea is so absurd we might well ask ourselves how it ever occurred to us to imagine this is how change happens to begin.

This is not to say there’s anything wrong with utopian visions. Or even blueprints. They just need to be kept in their place. The theorist Michael Albert has worked out a detailed plan for how a modern economy could run without money on a democratic, participatory basis. I think this is an important achievement—not because I think that exact model could ever be instituted, in exactly the form in which he describes it, but because it makes it impossible to say that such a thing is inconceivable. Still, such models can be only thought experiments. We cannot really conceive of the problems that will arise when we start trying to build a free society. What now seem likely to be the thorniest problems might not be problems at all; others that never even occurred to us might prove devilishly difficult. There are innumerable X-factors.

The most obvious is technology. This is the reason it’s so absurd to imagine activists in Renaissance Italy coming up with a model for a stock exchange and factories—what happened was based on all sorts of technologies that they couldn’t have anticipated, but which in part only emerged because society began to move in the direction that it did. This might explain, for instance, why so many of the more compelling visions of an anarchist society have been produced by science fiction writers (Ursula K. Le Guin, Starhawk, Kim Stanley Robinson). In fiction, you are at least admitting the technological aspect is guesswork.”

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A bunch of my favorite articles from 2012. (A couple of pieces from December 2011 are included since I do these lists before the absolute end of the year.) All ungated and free.

  • Pedestrian Mania(Brian Phillips, Grantland): Beautiful piece about world-famous 1870s long-distance walking champion Edward Payson Weston, subject of the book, A Man in a Hurry.
  • Brains Plus Brawn(Daniel Lieberman, Edge) Incredibly fun article about endurance, which points out, among many other things, that as quick as Usain Bolt may seem, your average sheep or goat can run twice as fast.
  • A New Birth of Reason” (Susan Jacoby, The American Scholar): Great essay about Robert Ingersoll, the largely forgotten secularist who was a major force in 19th-century America, taken from the writer’s forthcoming book, The Great Agnostic.
  • One’s a Crowd” (Eric Kleinberg, The New York Times): Great Op-Ed piece about the increasing number of people living alone.
  • How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work” (Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher, The New York Times): A deep and penetrating explanation of the complicated forces at play in job outsourcing.
  • The Power of Habit“ (Charles Duhigg, Slate): An excerpt from the author’s bestseller of the same name which explains how Pepsodent became omnipresent.
  • We’re Underestimating the Risk of Extinction (Ross Andersen, The Atlantic): I didn’t necessarily agree with the premise (or conclusions) of this interview with philosopher Nick Bostrom, but I enjoyed its intelligence immensely.
  • Hustling the Cloud” (Steven Boone, Capital New York): Wonderful piece about a bleary-eyed, middle-of-the-night search for free Wi-Fi–and anything else that would seem to make sense–in a time of dire economic straits.
  • Craig Venter’s Bugs Might Save the World (Wil S. Hylton, The New York Times Magazine): Fascinating examination of the titular biologist, who wants to make breathing bots that will cure the world’s ills.
  • The Machine and the Ghost(Christine Rosen, The New Republic): The author riffs on how the rise of smart, quantified gizmos and cities necessitates a new “morality of things.”

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A bunch of my favorite articles from the first half of 2012. All available for free.

  • How to Survive the End of the Universe,” (Andrew Grant, Discover): Fascinating account of how humans can escape oblivion as our solar system changes over the next few billion years.
  • Was Frankenstein Really About Childbirth?“ (Ruth Franklin, The New Republic): Provocative piece that makes a strong case that the dread of childbirth was a major impetus for Mary Shelley’s classic.
  • One’s a Crowd” (Eric Kleinberg, The New York Times): Great Op-Ed piece about the increasing number of people living alone.
  • How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work (Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher, The New York Times): A deep and penetrating explanation of the complicated forces at play in job outsourcing.
  • The Power of Habit“ (Charles Duhigg, Slate): An excerpt from the author’s bestseller of the same name which explains how Pepsodent became omnipresent.
  • We’re Underestimating the Risk of Extinction” (Ross Andersen, The Atlantic): I didn’t necessarily agree with the premise (or conclusions) of this interview with philosopher Nick Bostrom, but I enjoyed its intelligence immensely.
  • Hustling the Cloud” (Steven Boone, Capital New York): Wonderful piece about a bleary-eyed, middle-of-the-night search for free Wi-Fi–and anything else that would seem to make sense–in a time of dire economic straits.
  • Craig Venter’s Bugs Might Save the World” (Wil S. Hylton, The New York Times Magazine): Fascinating examination of the titular biologist, who wants to make breathing bots that will cure the world’s ills.

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America should have announced in January 1970, in the wake of our successful moon voyage, that we were visiting Mars in 1986, when that planet and ours were going to be in relatively close orbit. Just imagine how much further our science would have progressed if we had stayed on course. But failure of vision isn’t the only reason why our Space Age fantasies haven’t come to fruition. The opening of David Graeber’s Baffler essay, “Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit“:

“A secret question hovers over us, a sense of disappointment, a broken promise we were given as children about what our adult world was supposed to be like. I am referring not to the standard false promises that children are always given (about how the world is fair, or how those who work hard shall be rewarded), but to a particular generational promise—given to those who were children in the fifties, sixties, seventies, or eighties—one that was never quite articulated as a promise but rather as a set of assumptions about what our adult world would be like. And since it was never quite promised, now that it has failed to come true, we’re left confused: indignant, but at the same time, embarrassed at our own indignation, ashamed we were ever so silly to believe our elders to begin with.

Where, in short, are the flying cars? Where are the force fields, tractor beams, teleportation pods, antigravity sleds, tricorders, immortality drugs, colonies on Mars, and all the other technological wonders any child growing up in the mid-to-late twentieth century assumed would exist by now? Even those inventions that seemed ready to emerge—like cloning or cryogenics—ended up betraying their lofty promises. What happened to them?

We are well informed of the wonders of computers, as if this is some sort of unanticipated compensation, but, in fact, we haven’t moved even computing to the point of progress that people in the fifties expected we’d have reached by now.”

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From a recent Drake Bennett Businessweek article about David Graeber, the anarchist anthropologist who is one of the more intriguing anti-leaders of the OWS movement:

Graeber is a 50-year-old anthropologist—among the brightest, some argue, of his generation—who made his name with innovative theories on exchange and value, exploring phenomena such as Iroquois wampum and the Kwakiutl potlatch. An American, he teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London. He’s also an anarchist and radical organizer, a veteran of many of the major left-wing demonstrations of the past decade: Quebec City and Genoa, the Republican National Convention protests in Philadelphia and New York, the World Economic Forum in New York in 2002, the London tuition protests earlier this year. This summer, Graeber was a key member of a small band of activists who quietly planned, then noisily carried out, the occupation of Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, providing the focal point for what has grown into an amorphous global movement known as Occupy Wall Street.

It would be wrong to call Graeber a leader of the protesters, since their insistently nonhierarchical philosophy makes such a concept heretical. Nor is he a spokesman, since they have refused thus far to outline specific demands. Even in Zuccotti Park, his name isn’t widely known. But he has been one of the group’s most articulate voices, able to frame the movement’s welter of hopes and grievances within a deeper critique of the historical moment. ‘We are watching the beginnings of the defiant self-assertion of a new generation of Americans, a generation who are looking forward to finishing their education with no jobs, no future, but still saddled with enormous and unforgivable debt,’ Graeber wrote in a Sept. 25 editorial published online by the Guardian. ‘Is it really surprising they would like to have a word with the financial magnates who stole their future?'”

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Graeber in conversation with that avuncular capitalist, Charlie Rose;

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