Catfight! (Academic) catfight! Hmm, it doesn’t sound as sexy with the parenthetical qualification.
Yesterday I discussed David Graeber’s Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. In the new issue of American Anthropologist, David Graeber gets totally served in Rod Aya’s review of the pamphlet. Choice excerpts:
[Graeber] deems stateless societies anarchist if they are nonviolent – an Orinoco society where murder is “unheard of” is anarchist, an Amazon society where men gang rape women who “transgress proper gender roles” is not (pp. 27, 23) – and he expects that state societies split up into autonomous communities would be nonviolent as well . . .
The only violence Graeber considers is “symbolic” or “spectral” violence, meaning witchcraft . . . The “most peaceful societies” are “egalitarian societies” whose “imaginative constructions of the cosmos” are “haunted” by specters of perennial war” (pp. 25-26). Forget obvious counterexamples like E. E. Evans-Pritchard’s egalitarian, ultraviolent Nuer and hierarchical Azande where witchcraft occurs among equals. Forget the condescending reference to “imaginative constructions.” And forget that the theory is textbook functionalism . . .
Anarchist anthropology is realism itself compared with anarchist ideology, whose keyword is “counterpower,” meaning (for stateless societies) consensus through palaver and leveling through witchcraft, and (for state societies) “democratci self-organization” in “free enclaves” through “exodus,” not “seizing power” (pp. 60, 83) . . . Anarchist ideology predicts that millions will gladly forgo protection and income, and that the chief institution marked for abolition will perform an economic miracle. Cargo cult religion is sober by comparison (Aya 2006:591).
First, like I said before, Graeber’s work is just scattered fragments, it doesn’t pretend to theoretical coherence. Second, I think his proposals, while they can be criticized for being naive, should still be applauded for their boldness and optimism in contrast to the careerist quietism and unconstructive criticism inherent to much of academia. I’m reminded of David Harvey’s Spaces of Hope (2000), where, as the text on the back says, “Harvey dares to sketch a very personal vision in an appendix, one that leaves no doubt to his own geography of hope.” The main body of Spaces of Hope describes the injustices of globalizing capital; the appendix outlines what a truly just world might look like.
Marget Thatcher may have proclaimed, “There is no alternative” to neoliberalism; however, Harvey quotes the philosopher Ernst Bloch, who warns that there is “a very clear interest that has prevented the world from changing into the possible” (in Harvey 2000:258). Utopianism may be criticized not just for its naivete, but for the totalitarian excesses waged in its name (i.e., Marxism and liberal democracy), but when the alternative is to meekly accept the world’s ills, what is the alternative to this? The present is not the past, and today’s utopia’s are not yesterday’s, and believing that utopianism will inevitably lead to disaster is itself disastrous.
Aya, Rod (2006). “Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology: Review by Rod Aya”, American Anthropologist, 108(3): 590-591.
Graeber, David (2004). Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.
Harvey, David (2000). Spaces of Hope. Berkeley: University of California Press.