Dawn of Everything

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* Book: The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. By David Graeber and David Wengrow. Penguin, 2021

URL = https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/314/314162/the-dawn-of-everything/9780241402429.html


Contextual Quote

"Choosing to describe history… as a series of abrupt technological revolutions [Stone Age, Iron Age, Industrial Age, Information Age, etc], each followed by long periods when we were prisoners of our own creations, has consequences. Ultimately it is a way of representing our species as decidedly less thoughtful, less creative, less free than we actually turn out to have been.

It means not describing history as a continual series of new ideas and innovations, technical or otherwise, during which different communities made collective decisions about which technologies they saw fit to apply to everyday purposes, and which to keep confined to the domain of experimentation or ritual play. What is true of technological creativity is, of course, even more true of social creativity.

One of the most striking patterns we discovered while researching this book – indeed, one of the patterns that felt most like a genuine breakthrough to us – was how, time and again in human history, that zone of ritual play has also acted as a site of social experimentation – even, in some ways, as an encyclopaedia of social possibilities. (p.501)."

- David Graeber and David Wengrow [1]


Description

1. From the publisher:

""For generations, our remote ancestors have been cast as primitive and childlike - either free and equal, or thuggish and warlike. Civilization, we are told, could be achieved only by sacrificing those original freedoms or, alternatively, by taming our baser instincts. David Graeber and David Wengrow show how such theories first emerged in the eighteenth century as a reaction to indigenous critiques of European society, and why they are wrong. In doing so, they overturn our view of human history, including the origins of farming, property, cities, democracy, slavery and civilization itself.

Drawing on path-breaking research in archaeology and anthropology, the authors show how history becomes a far more interesting place once we begin to see what's really there. If humans did not spend 95 per cent of their evolutionary past in tiny bands of hunter-gatherers, what were they doing all that time? If agriculture, and cities, did not mean a plunge into hierarchy and domination, then what kinds of social and economic organization did they lead to? The answers are often unexpected, and suggest that the course of history may be less set in stone, and more full of playful possibilities than we tend to assume."

(https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/314/314162/the-dawn-of-everything/9780241402429.html)


2. Molly Fischer:

"Written in collaboration with the archaeologist David Wengrow, the book draws on new research to challenge received wisdom on civilization’s course. The story of humanity, as it is typically told, proceeds along a linear path. It passes in distinct stages from foraging bands and tribes on to agriculture, cities, and kings. But, surveying the historic and archaeological record, Graeber and Wengrow saw a wealth of other stories, taking humanity on varied and unpredictable routes. There were societies that farmed without really committing to it, for example. There were societies whose authority figures’ power applied only during certain parts of the year. Cities coalesced without any apparent centralized government; brutal hierarchies took shape among people who later reversed their course. The book’s 704 pages teem with possibilities. They are a testament, in the authors’ view, to human agency and invention — a capacity for conscious political decision-making that conventional history ignores. “We are projects of collective self-creation,” write Graeber and Wengrow. “What if we approached human history that way? What if we treat people, from the beginning, as imaginative, intelligent, playful creatures who deserve to be understood as such?”

(https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/11/david-graeber-dawn-of-everything.html)


Reviews

Pat Kane:

"The Davids’ target is a giant Western intellectual assumption—that we tragically fell from simple, egalitarian hunter-gathering into complex, hierarchical farming society. And it is a tragedy, the assumption continues—with all the inescapable fatedness the term implies.

If we want to be organised enough to reap the bounties that come from agriculturalism and industrialism, then we’ll have to pay the price of social hierarchy and class societies. It’s a sad, inevitable fall from innocence.

Ah! Not so, say D&D. They give example after example of societies which, for instance, “play farmed” (that is, cultivating crops for medicine, beauty and art materials, as well as for food). They consciously chose not to intensify their activities into full-blown agriculture.

Indeed, some communities, having tried out the agrarian method, then deliberately retreated from intensive farming—too much like hard work—returning to and revising their pastoral activities.

Hours and days were reclaimed from the agricultural model, which these communities then spent richly deliberating what to do next with themselves, using many different forms of assembly (well before ancient Greece, and often involving potlatch or carnival). This was often without a class of leaders, rulers or potentates to supervene the process."

(https://patkane.substack.com/p/the-dawn-of-everything-and-a-new)


Discussion

Anthropological freedoms

Pat Kane (citing the authors):

"The authors ask us to consider three basic “freedoms” in human history - the freedom to move, to disobey and to change our social arrangements. They put them in context here:

The freedom to abandon one’s community, knowing one will be welcomed in faraway lands; the freedom to shift back and forth between social structures, depending on the time of year; the freedom to disobey authorities without consequence – all appear to have been simply assumed among our distant ancestors, even if most people find them barely conceivable today.

Humans may not have begun their history in a state of primordial innocence, but they do appear to have begun it with a self-conscious aversion to being told what to do. (pp. 132-133).

If these freedoms are actually what Marx once called our “species-being”, then we may begin to conceive this “barely conceivable” politics."

((https://patkane.substack.com/p/the-dawn-of-everything-and-a-new))