Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology by David Graeber

Fragments of an Anarchist AnthropologyI cannot deny that I am a bit of a sucker for attractive matching booksbonus points if they are small—so this weekend when I found myself wandering among the essays published by Prickly Paradigm Press a couple of them followed me home. Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology was for me.

David Graeber presents in this essay “a series of thoughts, sketches of potential theories, and tiny manifestos—all meant to offer a glimpse at the outline of a body of radical theory that does not actually exist, though it might possibly exist at some point in the future.” This means that over the course of 105 small pages he presents idea after idea, most of them very interesting, without so much time spent fleshing them out. But as he says, the radical theory he has in mind does not yet exist. Of the two general questions in the book, “What does anarchism have to offer anthropology?” and “What does anthropology have to offer anarchism?” the latter is of much more interest to me. His experience of living in and studying actual stateless communities is certainly fascinating in itself.

Graeber opens the essay by defining anarchism—sort of—and by defending utopianism and also defusing typical reactions to the idea of statelessness. I think he does a particularly good job at this. Discussing the problem of being asked to produce an example of real-life, functional anarchy, he comes to one of his best passages.

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.

There is a way out, which is to accept that anarchist forms of organization would not look anything like a state. That they would involve an endless variety of communities, associations, networks, projects, on every conceivable scale, overlapping and intersecting in any way we could imagine and possibly many that we can’t. Some would be quite local, others global. Perhaps all they would have in common is that none would involve anyone showing up with weapons and telling everyone else to shut up and do what they were told. And that, since anarchists are not actually trying to seize power within any national territory, the process of one system replacing the other will not take the form of some sudden revolutionary cataclysm—the storming of a Bastille, the seizing of a Winter Palace—but will necessarily be gradual, the creation of alternative forms of organization on a world scale, new forms of communication, new, less alienated ways of organizing life, which will, eventually, make currently existing forms of power seem stupid and beside the point.

He does particularly well in explaining why the traditional idea of “revolution” is not a particularly useful one here, and does explore some of these “alternative forms of organization.” But over and over again it felt so limiting.

The essay swings from subtly to not-so-subtly assuming that anarchism includes a rejection of markets. At first it’s hard to tell; when Graeber lists different schools of thought, “Anarcho-Syndicalists, Anarcho-Communists, Insurrectionists, Cooperativists, Individualists, Platformists…” he (conspicuously?) leaves out anarcho-capitalists. But then he includes individualists. Hmm. There is some seemingly standard and mild bashing of “capitalism,” which isn’t clearly defined for a while, and he tentatively describes himself as a “libertarian, practice-oriented Marxist” (contradiction in terms? you decide). He describes communities like the Tiv, with “no political institutions larger than the compound,” but where “[m]arkets were protected, and market rules enforced by charms which embodied diseases and were said to be powered by human body parts and blood.” And then makes statements like the following, which seem to indicate at least some economic ignorance: “They would have found the very premise that the point of an economic transaction—at least, one with someone who was not your enemy—was to seek the greatest profit deeply offensive.” Or complains about those who “assume that whatever one does that isn’t working is ‘consumption’ because what’s really important about it is that manufactured products are involved.”

Graeber has a lot of interesting things to say when it comes to the intersection of anarchism and the academy, revolution, and ethnographies, but alienates a significant constituency. Probably that is fine with him. My real problem was that the rejection wasn’t more explicit. I hardly expect someone to do the work of arguing against markets or private property in the middle of a 100-page essay about some other topic, but there was too much ambiguity around his use of the word “capitalism,” the phrase “free market,” and his description of nonmarket economies for far too long. (Maybe it wasn’t that ambiguous, I don’t know, maybe I wanted to be too charitable.)

But then, there’s also some confusion about coercion itself. Graeber describes at length the consensus process popular among certain anarchist groups, notably in Chiapas and among anti-globalization activists (a term he dislikes). Steven Shaviro, coming from a very different place from myself, had a partly similar reaction when he wrote about the essay a few years ago:

When Graeber really lost me, though, was with his praise of decision-making through “consensus,” instead of compulsion. Me, I don’t see much of a difference between having to obey hateful and stupid orders issued by clueless assholes (the Leninist model as well as the State and corporate one), and having to sit in meetings for hours on end while the same clueless assholes make endless objections and qualifications that all have to be worked through before the meeting can come to an end. It’s torture either way, and I’m not convinced that the one method is even any more “democratic” than the other. Anarchist “consensus” is just another way of enforcing conformity and group solidarity, by wearing people down until they are browbeaten into agreement; it’s every bit as stifling and oppressive as military hierarchies and fraternity initiations and the “discipline” of the “free market” are. Empirically, different mixtures of these procedures might be more or less oppressive, less or more democratic, in particular instances; there are cases where the looser form of self-determination that Graeber praises might be welcome in comparison to the alternatives. But let’s not kid ourselves that decision-making through “consensus” somehow eliminates inequalities of power, or that it expands human freedom, or that it’s a desirable social ideal.

I couldn’t have said it much better myself, so I didn’t try. And when Graeber gets into the kinds of things he presumably wants to decide through consensus, he starts to sound like a full-fledged technocrat—kind of a surprise, actually. Here, on the feasibility of the International Workers of the World plank of a 16-hour work week:

So what jobs are really necessary?

Well, for starters, there are lots of jobs whose disappearance, almost everyone would agree, would be a net gain for humanity. Consider here telemarketers, stretch-SUV manufacturers, or for that matter, corporate lawyers. We could also eliminate the entire advertising and PR industries, fire all politicians and their staffs, eliminate anyone remotely connected with an HMO, without even beginning to get near essential social functions. The elimination of advertising would also reduce the production, shipping, and selling of unnecessary products, since those items people actually do want or need, they will still figure out a way to find out about. The elimination of radical inequalities would mean we would no longer require the services of most of the millions currently employed as doormen, private security forces, prison guards, or SWAT teams—not to mention the military. Beyond that, we’d have to do research. Financiers, insurers, and investment bankers are all essentially parasitic beings, but there might be some useful functions in these sectors that could not simply be replaced with software. All in all we might discover that if we identified the work that really did need to be done to maintain a comfortable and ecologically sustainable standard of living, and redistribute the hours, it may turn out that the Wobbly platform is perfectly realistic.

Don’t worry, he goes on to say that “it’s not like anyone would be forced to stop working after four hours if they didn’t feel like it.” Phew! But he’s got to have some way to prevent people entering into wage-labor contracts…

23 comments to Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology by David Graeber

  • Sounds like an interesting and thought-provoking essay, and especially for its faults, which is a plus for discussion. Does he mention any interesting-looking texts in a bibliography which might provide a nice follow-up?

  • nicole

    Great question. Unfortunately there is not a bibliography, you have to just latch onto the various works he mentions in the essay. What I’d most like to read based on that, I think, is something that was already vaguely on my list, Marcel Mauss (another small attractive book!). And when I talked to the consumption partner about that consumption-related quote above, he suggested Bataille.

    And yes, if a 100-page book has about 20 passages I want to respond to, I think that’s a pretty good read. Even if a few of them did leave me scratching my head.

  • Your patience is admirable (“manufactured products,” yeesh). “Beyond that, we’d have to do research.” Why, he could begin now. Just look at a campus map and wander over to the Econ department or B School. Someone there might help fill him in on what financiers and the like actually do, and why they haven’t simply been replaced by computers. Graeber may not care for the answers, but at least he could check this off his to-do list.

    Is Graeber interested in the arts at all? Are Twilight novels something people actually want or need, or are they unnecessary products? Does Commissar Wobbly allow for the existence of tastes that are not his own?

    By the way, I came across a reference to Mauss’s The Gift just, like, a half hour after I read your comment this morning. Weird. Ma femme has told me that I should read that book.

  • nicole

    That’s right, I am a trooper. And I cannot recall a single discussion of the arts now that you mention it.

    Funny about The gift, Mauss is everywhere. Myself, just before I started this little pamphlet I’d been thinking of reading the General Theory of Magic.

  • I am glad you wrote this book up. I had stumbled on it on google books and been intrigued. I am impressed by your engagement with it in spite of your differences with it.

    Those green and black Great Ideas Series by Penguin look very cool. I am a big sucker for matching books also, and the ideal small matching books to me are the Penguin 60’s.

  • Hey, I’m glad you covered this book – I think it’s an important work for both anthropologists and anarchists. I’d like to address a couple of points that you bring up. Since I am an anthropology student (about to embark on my grad school career) and a professed anarchist, I think I might be able to clarify some issues. Bear in mind, I’m no expert, and certainly don’t have all the answers for you.
    First of all, with regard to references. I would point to his other books Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value, and Possibilities. On the Tiv, I’d suggest reading Dr. John Janzen’s book Ngoma: Discourses of Healing in Central and Southern Africa as well as the books by Paul Bohannan. And for more general anarchist anthropology I recommend Harold Barclay. These are all based in concrete, “on the ground” field work, not the statistics and models used by economists. And this is what Graeber is trying to accomplish – allowing anarchist theory to inform anthropological research and utilizing anthropological research to elaborate anarchist theory. Anthropologist, after all, have the most experience working with “stateless societies” and egalitarian communities. Ethnography can illustrate what actually works in these situations and what doesn’t.
    The reason Graeber doesn’t talk much about anarcho-capitalism is that it isn’t found in these kinds of societies, and the reason it isn’t found is probably because it doesn’t work. Capitalism requires an underlying state in order to remain stable – otherwise economic disparities would get so out of control that the system would collapse on itself. What capitalism lacks is a system of reciprocity like those described by Mauss in The Gift, which the state provides (at least the image of) in some minimal form.
    The Tiv example is actually demonstrative of the way egalitarian societies deal with the gross disparities created by the market. The “market ngoma” described by Janzen and the systems described by Graeber are the result of interaction with European traders which brought great prosperity to a handful of people. In order to maintain the structure of their society, the Tiv (and other groups in similar situations) had to invent some mechanism for redistributing that wealth.
    A similar argument can be made for individualism and Graeber’s support for consensus. There has never been, at any time, in any place (including modern and post-modern society), a situation where individuals exist without a social group. As a result, we need some kind of mechanism for solving group-wide issues and working together. Consensus serves that purpose in these stateless groups to whom Graeber refers. State and corporate coercion serve that purpose in Civilized societies. I’m not aware of any other models out there, that have been demonstrated to be effective. But I could be wrong.
    The issue of consumption and production is discussed more thoroughly in his other books (mentioned above). I’ll just say here that the point is that the division between consumption and production is an artificial one (which both capitalists and Marxists are guilty of).
    I can’t defend the last paragraph quoted (regarding the IWW). I don’t remember the context in Fragments, and it does strike me as odd. But, I still think the general gist of his argument is sound, and has important implications for both anarchist and anthropological theory.

  • nicole

    Thanks for the comment, this is very helpful, especially the further reading.

    One of the basic problems I had with the discussion of capitalism/markets is the seeming equation between capitalism and free markets, and the idea that markets will look something like they look in the modern Western world. It may be that none of these stateless societies are “capitalist,” but based on the description of the Tiv at least one has market mechanisms that are supported through social taboo rather than state coercion. I think saying that economic disparities would get out of control is begging the question a bit, but when you say that you say “capitalism”; certainly people disagree on what kinds of disparities would arise via free markets.

    The problem with writing off markets altogether is that it’s not clear from the essay how you would stop them forming. The Tiv have a protection against wealth and power amassing, but are we supposed to use consensus process to inhibit some rather large subset of voluntary relations between individuals?

    Which is also the ultimate problem I had with the discussion of consensus process. Graeber speaks out against “policy” as something crafted by an “elite,” “since the very premise is inimical to the idea of people managing their own affairs,” but of course so are the measures he calls for in that last quote of mine. Perhaps he is just musing on the feasibility of the Wobbly program, but it seems fairly clear you couldn’t bring that program about without collective action. And the scale of collective action required to eliminate all the types of contracts Graeber seems to find inimical to egalitarianism seems hard to achieve without coercion.

    I do think the general gist, as you say, has important implications for anarchism and anthropology, and I don’t want to discount that. But in too many places it reminded me of the kind of libertarians who are okay with oppressive measures as long as they are implemented locally—towns can be more coercive than states which can be more coercive than the federal government, because more-local control makes the coercion less oppressive.

  • Good points, and I probably can’t address them all. I suppose it depends on how you define capitalism and markets. Egalitarian communities do have mechanisms for contracts between individuals based on reciprocity and kinship, and there are culturally bound limits (as opposed to market or governmental limits) to a person’s ability to enter into contracts with others. Examples are prevalent in ethnographic literature. Beyond that I can’t really say.
    I’d also like to mention another concept that he refers to, which may point the way to some of the issues with consensus and coercion – that is, Counter Power. I won’t go into it here because I feel like I’ve already taken up a lot of your blog space. But basically these are structures built in to the culture which prevent any one person or a handful of people from gaining too much wealth and power. Reciprocity is one of those, but so are forms of ridicule (see Richard Borshay Lee’s article “Christmas in the Kalahari”) and ideas about the nature of power, which Graeber discusses. I think it’s what the founding fathers had in mind when they set up competing branches of the government – they just didn’t take it far enough and didn’t take into account the rise of global capitalism and national and multi-national corporations.

  • nicole

    Yes, the counterpower discussions were interesting and I think you’re dead on in terms of its relation to separation of powers. It’s something I’d like to read more about in general. But now that you mention it, it brings to mind this argument I read a while back, that voluntary orders are not necessarily benign. The examples you mention are probably beneficial to maintaining the social order, but whether that order is necessarily good…and the linked essay of course is an example of the opposite. Ahh, problems, problems…

  • “Consensus serves that purpose in these stateless groups to whom Graeber refers. State and corporate coercion serve that purpose in Civilized societies. I’m not aware of any other models out there, that have been demonstrated to be effective. But I could be wrong.”

    What about the phenomena of what I think of as natural leadership such as emerges in small work groups; or in general the idea of leaders vs. rulers? How does anarchist theory tend to view “leadership” when it’s not connected to enforced authority?

    Granted, one could argue that a leader (in the absence of legal authority and/or coercion) needs consensus or at least consent to lead. Does the ideal of consensus decision making include the idea of handing over the decision making process (contingent on ongoing consent) on issues of implementation of group goals to an individual or subset of the group who has recognized skills in the relevant area?

    Regarding earlier comments about the author’s silence on the issue of the arts: If one’s survival did not require more than four 4hr work days it seems that there would be plenty of spare energy for pursuing the arts. Though I guess capital intensive arts like cinema might still be hard to pursue in that case.

  • I see. Per Marx, I will hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming huntsman, fisherman, herdsman, or critic. That’s nice. In practice, I will likely skip the fishing, hunting, and, definitely, the cattle, and just criticize all day. Or, more likely, whine. Whining is a kind of criticism, right?

    I hope I get paid enough for my 4 hours of work that I’m well past survival. Otherwise, I won’t have the money to pursue the arts in the way I want. And by pursue the arts, I mean buy books and CDs.

  • nicole

    Get paid? I think you must be confused…did I not mention that wage labor was slavery?

  • Amatuer reader: Your dismissive tendencies and inattention are remarkable if not admirable.

    If your comment was meant as a response to me it seems you have missed the nature of my comments. A)
    In my third paragraph I allude to the value of division of labor according to skills and desire. B)My allusion to the capital needed for cinema should hint that I am not envisioning a simple world of hunting fishing and herding followed my making arts.

    In fact I was not envisioning any world at all but trying to engage in the discussion of these ideas as points of inquiry- which seemed to be the point of the thread.

  • nicole

    Does the ideal of consensus decision making include the idea of handing over the decision making process (contingent on ongoing consent) on issues of implementation of group goals to an individual or subset of the group who has recognized skills in the relevant area?

    Based on this particular essay (my knowledge of consensus process is not deep), the answer would likely be no. I imagine Graeber would object that this would amount to something too close to representative democracy, when clearly only direct democracy based on consensus is allowable. It would be precisely the kind of policy-making elite that he denounces very early on.

    As far as what you refer to as “natural leadership,” I would say that leadership not connected to enforced authority is precisely the kind of consensual relationship that would have to be allowed, but, in some circumstances, could easily be condemned by the kind of counterpower Jeremy (and Graeber) mentions.

    On the arts…I really don’t know what to say on the subject because it’s really not discussed. And it’s hard to read minds about it. We would apparently be trying to narrow functions down to something “necessary” and “sustainable.” Different people at different times with different agendas have had wildly varying ideas about how the arts falls into that kind of enterprise. Of course, as you say, the purpose of narrowing down those functions is to “work” as little as possible.

    But it would be a mistake to think of art-making as something that isn’t any work at all, and I think it would be a real mistake to lose the division of labor (for more reasons than just art). Based on a brief discussion of “who will do the dirty jobs?” Graeber may not be the biggest fan of the division of labor (“If one divided up the unpleasant tasks equally, that would mean all the world’s top scientists and engineers would have to do them too; one could expect teh creation of self-cleaning kitchens and coal-mining robots almost immediately.”)—but on the other hand, “top scientists and engineers” would imply that maybe we only share out the unpleasant stuff.

    Which also means that if we got together and, via consensus, decided that novels and plays and paintings and sculpture were necessary, they could be someone’s four-hour-plus job. You’re right that the capital-intensive would be a problem, and I think that would go for more than just art, but even in other circumstances it’s not entirely clear that that’s true.

  • Nate – I’m pretty sure the hunting and fishing and so on in Marx’s dream were symbolic rather than literal, since they are set in a world where technological productivity has advanced to the Nth degree and the link between wages and productivity has been broken. Anyhow, I meant them symbolically.

    Nicole’s answer about Graeber and the arts is excellent, so I’ll leave it at that, almost. I’ll just point out that Graeber won’t let me rent a stretch SUV for my wedding. Is he going to be any happier about me having one of those cakes with the perfect, shiny frosting, or watching “High School Musical 3”, or whatever other wretched excesses don’t fit his particular tastes? Is this how the consensus model works? I’m having trouble seeing how the example of the Tiv help me here. The division of labor stuff Nicole just mentioned reinforces the strong whiff of enforced asceticism.

    I’m definitely envisioning a world. The only way I know to engage with ideas like these is to envision the world in which they are true.

    Your first sentence, is, alas, too true. If I put blurbs on my website I would include yours. Fair warning and all that.

    Nicole – if only there were some system to convert my criticism into books. By the way, lively, huh? Well done.

  • Thank you for your gracious reply Amateur Reader. I had been feeling a little sheepish at having leveled an ad hominem attack with so slim if any provocation toward someone I don’t even know. And I must be honest with myself and confess to indeed “envisioning a world” in the sense that I am temperamentally inclined to utopianism; and anarchism in particular. Also, having worked many crappy jobs, the “wage slave” concept (though the word “slave” is obviously hyperbole) is one I am sympathetic to. So, I was probably reacting to that as much as anything.

    At any rate, I am confounded by the division of labor and leadership issues. I see division of labor as something that is intrinsically freeing and productive – but as practiced within a highly class conscious society one that can be used to repress. I would have hoped anarchist theory would acknowledge the value of division of labor even while addressing its problematic sides. The entire counter-power strand is one I will have to look into more.

    I guess I was thinking of the arts as something that could just flourish on their own outside of any decision making or work context– forgetting about the obvious mass production aspect of a lot of art.

    When you addressed this Nicole, you put the word work in quotes; which points to the importance of sorting out the definition of work in a discussion like this. By the same token, that very need points to the limitations of wages and salary being the primary way we define the value of work. There are so many dimensions to work and how it can enrich or diminish peoples lives depending on the person and the context.

    I guess I don’t know that much about consensus theory as defined by others either, but I have a lot of ideas about it and have spent many an exasperating meeting in a group run by consensus. For two months a person with obvious (to me anyway) mental health issues hijacked the meetings and drove people away. I would have thought that common sense would trump any misguided sense of inclusiveness in that context. The rub that kept coming up in my arguments with those who refused to tell her to stop it or leave was trying to get them to see the difference between telling someone they don’t have an intrinsic right to a say in important decisions vs. telling them they aren’t at present able participate. More insidious and indicative of the deeper trouble with consensus decision making is the way in which a very sly and charismatic individual subverted the process over time.

    Regarding the stretch limo SUV: I chafe at the idea of enforced asceticism also, but on simple grounds of taste I find the traditional stretch limousine to be a far classier display of luxury, comfort, and power.

  • nicole

    AR, for the record I enjoy your dismissive tendencies. And lively indeed. And after I’ve made it a policy to keep my, ah, unusual politics out of the blog.

    nate: One thing I would keep in mind is, there really is not a single anarchist theory. This essay eliminates from consideration a rather large body of thought that would likely treat work quite differently, and the division of labor. I confess to not having spent nearly enough time myself reading the primary literature, and it’s something I’m hoping to start fixing in the near-distant future.

  • I don’t really want to be dismissive about this. It’s a fundamental problem of modernity – how to make work meaningful. Carlyle was going after this in Past and Present. But his answer – improved material conditions combined with heroic leadership will infuse service to the people with deep, even spiritual, meaning – leads to some ugly places.

    This is why I think the role of the arts is so important to the overall argument, and such a big blind spot for Graeber. The arts are central to how many people (including me) create meaning for their lives outside of work. Carlyle thought the coal miners and bottle blackers would, under the right conditions, be able to find meaning in those terrible jobs. I’m not so sure; I think most people need something else – family, culture, something.

    Curious that Graeber singles out “top scientists and engineers,” isn’t it? That’s what I mean by a blind spot. Why not Twyla Tharp and Toni Morrison and Tony Kushner? Don’t they have to spend part of their day jigging squid, too, alongside E. O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins and the top engineers, whoever they might be? This ends up sounding more like resentment than thoughtfulness.

    Nate, stretch SUVs, very bad taste, definitely. I get nervous when people start regulating the world based on their tastes. To switch to good taste, though, I took a look at your playlist website (DJ rupture, all right!). There are some things there I want to track down.

  • David Graeber

    if anyone’s still out there (just noticed this recently)

    the 4 hours was just a thought experiment – the point was just that a lot of the work we might well be happier without. Of course it’s not an enforceable program really. Though I do think if people were guaranteed their basic necessities, most would not work nearly as much as they do now, and we’d all be better off for it. So would the planet.

    Some would probably work twice what they do now. People are all different. Many would spend their time on the arts. (Me for instance.)

    I always find the argument that it would take force to ban things like wage labor contracts vaguely hilarious. If history shows anything, it’s that people _never_ rent themselves out as slaves to other people (which is basically what wage labor is) if they have any other viable options. It requires systematic state violence to create a situation where people will be wiling to do that. That’s why stateless societies never produce wage labor. Anuyway you’d hardly need force to prevent people from doing so! People get that entirely backwards.

    As for markets – well, we’ll see what people do. Some people, like Michael Albert, spend their time laying out detailed models for how a stateless non-market economy might work. That’s useful just to show it’s possible, but obviously we don’t really know what problems people would face if they actually tried to do it, and it seems silly to claim otherwise. Anyway I’m not interested in laying out an economic system. I’m much more interested in seeing what it would take to put people in a condition they could choose what sort of economic system they’d like to live under for themselves. If some communities end up choosing to created a system where no one is guaranteed anything, everyone is in competition over even basic survival needs like food, shelter, and medical care, and large portions of the population run around following orders five or six days a week from people whose parents happened to have accumulated more stuff than theirs did, then who’s going to stop them? I’m just not holding my breath.

  • nicole

    Hi, I, at least, am still here. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, I really appreciate it. I’ll have to think some about your point about wage labor; I think it’s a little hard to rule out its existence entirely without the state. I would certainly agree that most forms of it we’re used to today would disappear, but I’m just not certain it would lose all usefulness.

    Thanks again.

  • Hi nicole… I’ve been looking around your blog, and I came across this post on Graeber, who by coincidence I’ve been reading lately. I haven’t read this particular essay, but I have read his collection Possibilities (I’ve posted a few excerpts at my blog recently, if you’re interested).

    Anyway, I’d like to make a couple very late small contributions to this post if you don’t mind (nice to see that Graeber stopped by himself!). First, it seems to me that “anarcho-capitalists” get left out for very good reasons. Chief among them being that capitalism absolutely requires the state. Second, I think Steven Shaviro (who I generally like a lot) is being rather simplistic in his complaint about consensus. One of the purposes of bringing anthropology to study of anarchism is to explore alternative methods of decision-making. In Possibilities, Graeber spends a fair amount of time discussing such matters in the context of how certain cultures come to their own kinds of consensus. The idea is not that we simply exchange coercion for tortuous committee meetings.

    I have other observations, for example in response to the kinds of understandable points raised here by Amateur Reader, but really I spend enough time on my blog exploring these problems (along with literature! yes, of course art is important; I strongly doubt Graeber thinks otherwise), so I don’t want to overstay my welcome, esp. given that this is an old post. Thanks!

  • nicole

    As you were writing this comment, I was *just reading* your recent post on Graeber.

    I think saying capitalism requires the state ignores the problem of defining capitalism—certainly many definitions require a state but a freed market does not (on the contrary). Whether we would actually call a freed market “capitalism”…

    I’ll have to check out more of your blog and Possibilities. I admit I have trouble with a lot of the issues raised specifically because “alternative methods of decision-making” are so often too collectivist for my liking by their very nature. I don’t write or discuss this stuff much personally because a lot of it is too underdeveloped in my mind and I try not to get overly radical on this blog, but I’m excited to have found yours.

  • ” Consider here telemarketers”
    Right because nobody ever learned about a product or service they wanted or wanted cheaper from a telemarketer. Look I get that telemarketing can be annoying, (God do I get that!) but that doesn’t mean it needs to be eliminated. It simply means that the full costs of telemarketing, including the irritation at being called about something you don’t want to talk about (then) should be factored in.

    ” We could also eliminate the entire advertising [industry] ”
    Yeah because without that we’d instantly know about all products and services by magic telepathy.