Materialism and Agency Are Not Opposed To Each Other

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Materialism and Agency Are Not Opposed To Each Other

Daniel Bitton:

"if we want to answer Graeber and Wengrow’s question of how we got stuck in hierarchy – meaning if you want to understand where a particular dominance hierarchy comes from and how to get rid of it, or how to reduce it’s severity, then first you need to ask “what are the conditions that are giving some people the ability to impose their choices on other people”. And then once you’ve identified those, the next thing you need to ask is “what can we do to change those conditions in a way that reduces or eliminates those advantages”.

Unfortunately, as Graeber and Wengrow will later tell us in Chapter 5, they explicitly don’t want to think about conditions or circumstances. Instead, they want to focus on conscious choice and “freedom”. And the reason for this, is because they mistakenly think that if conditions are what result in hierarchy or equality, then this means that we are truly stuck forever stuck in hierarchy today because of the conditions inherent to advanced industrial civilization. And they quote Jared Diamond and others to that effect in chapter 1.

But what the authors forget as they go down this dead-end path of seeing hierarchy as a random choice disconnected from conditions, is that one of the powers of human beings is that we have the power to choose to shape and change the conditions that we live in – at least sometimes – it all depends on the conditions!

Unfortunately, as a result of trying to avoid materialist answers, and of trying to focus on discombobulated conscious choices outside the context of the conditions in which those choices are made, not only are the authors unable to answer their own questions, but they routinely bury or ignore all of the parts of the sources that they discuss which actually do answer those questions, which we saw last time and which we’ll see more of today.

Materialism and agency are not opposed to each other – materialism is simply the context in which freedom and choice are exercised. And without it we throw away our best tools for understanding why people make choices, or for predicting what choices they will make, which makes it impossible to design institutions and rules that will have the effect we want them to have."