The Utopia of Rules (Graeber)

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The Utopia of Rules (Graeber)

Postby American Dream » Sun Feb 15, 2015 12:52 pm

IN REGULATION NATION

By David Graeber, from The Utopia of Rules, published last month by Melville House. Graeber is the author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years.


Nobody thinks much about bureaucracy anymore. But in the middle of the twentieth century, particularly in the late Sixties and early Seventies, the word was everywhere. It dominated works of sociology with grandiose titles like A General Theory of Bureaucracy, popular paperbacks like The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong, and novels and films such as Joseph Heller’s Something Happened and Jacques Tati’s Playtime. Everyone seemed to feel that the foibles and absurdities of bureaucratic life were among the defining features of modern existence and, as such, worth discussing.

Today, the subject rarely comes up; perhaps we’ve simply become habituated. When we do discuss bureaucracy, we still use terms established in the Sixties and Seventies. The social movements of the Sixties were, on the whole, left-wing in inspiration, but they were also rebellions against the bureaucratic mind-set, the gray functionalism of both state-capitalist and state-socialist regimes, the soul-destroying conformity of the post-war welfare states. In the face of social control, Sixties rebels stood for individual expression and spontaneous conviviality.

With the collapse of the old welfare states, this kind of rebellion has come to seem decidedly quaint. As the right has adopted the language of anti-bureaucratic individualism, insisting on “market solutions” to every social problem, the mainstream left has limited itself to salvaging remnants of the old welfare state. It has acquiesced to—and often spearheaded—traditionally right-wing attempts to make government efforts more “efficient,” whether through the privatiza- tion of services or the incorporation of “market principles,” “market incentives,” and market-based “accountability processes.” The result has been political catastrophe.

It least the right has a critique of bureaucracy. Its origins may be found in the nineteenth century, when liberal thinkers argued that Western civilization was undergoing a gradual, uneven, but inevitable transformation from the rule of warrior-elites to a society of liberty, equality, and enlightened commercial self- interest. In the wake of the French Revolution, absolutist states were giving way to markets, religious faith to scientific understanding, and fixed orders and noble ranks to free contracts between individuals.

The right-wing argument goes one step further. Ludwig von Mises, the exiled Austrian aristocrat and economic theorist who was its greatest twentieth-century exponent, argued in his 1944 book, Bureaucracy, that systems of government administration could never organize information with anything like the efficiency of impersonal market-pricing mechanisms, and that the administrators of social programs would end up destroying the political basis of democracy by forming powerful blocs against elected officials. Even well-meaning bureaucrats would do more harm than good.

The idea that the market is somehow op- posed to and independent of government has been used at least since the nineteenth century to justify laissez-faire economic policies, but such policies never actually have the effect of lessening the role of government. In late- nineteenth-century England, for instance, an increasingly liberal society did not lead to a reduction of state bureaucracy but the opposite: an endlessly mushrooming array of legal clerks, registrars, inspectors, notaries, and police officials—the very people who made possible the liberal dream of a world of free contract between autonomous individuals. It turned out that maintaining a free-market economy required considerably more paperwork than a Louis XIV–style absolutist monarchy. The same effect could be seen in America during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, or in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, where, from 1994 to 2002, the number of civil servants jumped by some quarter million.

Indeed, this paradox can be observed so regularly that I think we are justified in treating it as a general sociological principle. Let’s call it the Iron Law of Liberalism: Any market reform or government initiative intended to reduce red tape and promote market forces will ultimately increase the number of regulations and bureaucrats, as well as the amount of paperwork, that the government employs. Emile Durkheim was already observing this tendency at the turn of the twentieth century, and fifty years later even right-wing critics like F. A. Hayek were willing to admit that markets don’t really regulate themselves: they require an army of administrators to keep them going.

Still, conservative populists recognized that making a target of bureaucrats was almost always effective, whatever the reality. Hence the 1968 presidential campaign of Alabama governor George Wallace, in which he continually maligned “pointy-headed bureaucrats” living off the taxes of hard working citizens. He was one of the first politicians to create a national platform for this argument, which was adopted a generation later across the political spectrum. Working-class Americans now generally believe government to comprise two sorts of people: “politicians,” who are blustering crooks and liars but can at least occasionally be voted out of office, and “bureaucrats,” who are condescending elitists and almost impossible to uproot. The right-wing argument tends to assume a kind of tacit alliance between a parasitic poor (in America usually pictured in overtly racist terms) and equally parasitic self- righteous officials who subsidize the poor using other people’s money. Even the mainstream left now offers little more than a watered-down version of this language. Bill Clinton, for instance, spent so much of his career bashing civil servants that after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, he felt he had to remind Americans that public servants were human beings, too.

In America—and increasingly in the rest of the world—the only alternative to “bureaucracy” is now “the market.” Sometimes this is taken to mean that the government should be run more like a business, other times that we should get bureaucrats out of the way and let the magic of the marketplace provide its own solutions. “Democracy” has become a synonym for “the market,” just as “bureaucracy” has become one for “government interference.”

It wasn’t always so. For much of the nineteenth century, the economy of the United States, like that of Britain, was largely built on small family firms and high finance. But America’s advent as a world power at the end of the century coincided with the rise of a distinctly American form: corporate—that is to say, bureaucratic—capitalism. The commonly held view in the country at the time was that the modern corporation had emerged when public bureaucratic techniques were applied to the private sector—techniques that were thought to be necessities when operating on a large scale, since they were more efficient than the networks of personal or informal connections through which family firms operated. Max Weber observed in the early twentieth century that Americans were particularly inclined to conflate public and private bureaucracies. They did not complain that government should be run more like a business; they simply assumed that governments and big businesses were already being run the same way.

Americans often seem embarrassed by the fact that, on the whole, we’re really quite good at bureaucracy. It doesn’t fit our American self-image. We’re supposed to be self-reliant individualists. But it’s impossible to deny that for well over a century the United States has been a profoundly bureaucratic society. When taking over the reins of the global economic and political order from Great Britain after World War II, for instance, the United States was particularly concerned with creating structures of international administration. Right away it set up the world’s first thoroughly planetary bureaucratic institutions: the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions (the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade). The British Empire had never attempted anything like this. Even when Britain created large corporations like the East India Company, its goal was either to facilitate trade with other nations or to conquer them. The Americans attempted to administer everything and everyone.

If Americans are able to overlook their awkward preeminence in this field, it is probably because most of our bureaucratic habits and sensibilities—the clothing, the language, the design of forms and offices—emerged from the private sector. When novelists and sociologists described the “Organization Man,” or the “Man in the Gray Flannel Suit”—the soulless, conformist U.S. counterpart to the Soviet apparatchik—they were not talking about functionaries in the Census Bureau; they were picturing corporate middle management.

Bureaucratic structures and techniques first began to intervene conspicuously in ordinary people’s lives in the Thirties, through programs like Social Security and the Works Progress Administration. The idea that “bureaucrat” could be assumed to be a synonym for “civil servant” can be traced back to this time. But from the very beginning, Roosevelt’s New Dealers worked in close coordination with, and absorbed much of their style and sensibilities from, the battalions of lawyers, engineers, and corporate bureaucrats employed by firms like Ford, Coca-Cola, and Procter & Gamble. As the United States shifted to a war footing in the Forties, so did the gargantuan bureaucracy of the U.S. military. The need to preserve or develop certain domestic industries for military purposes created an alliance between military and corporate bureaucrats that has allowed the U.S. government to engage in Soviet-style industrial planning without having to admit that it’s doing so.

Since the Seventies, when the financial sector began to dominate the U.S. economy, it has become even harder to distinguish between public and private. This owes much to the way private corporations have come to operate. Consider the maze of rules one must navigate if something goes even slightly awry with a bank account. The regulations behind such rules were almost certainly composed by aides to legislators on some congressional banking committee along with lobbyists and attorneys employed by the banks themselves, in a process greased by generous contributions from the banks to those very legisla- tors. The same story is behind credit ratings, insurance premiums, mortgage applications, and even the process of buying an airline ticket. The vast majority of the paperwork we do exists in just this sort of in-between zone: though ostensibly private, it adheres to a legal framework and mode of enforcement that is shaped entirely by a government that works closely with private concerns to ensure that the results will guarantee a certain rate of private profit.

The language we use to talk about this state of affairs—derived as it is from the right- wing critique of bureaucracy—tells us nothing about what is actually going on. Consider the word “deregulation.” In today’s political discourse, deregulation—like “reform”—is almost invariably treated as a good thing. Deregulation means less bureaucratic meddling, and fewer rules and regulations to stifle innovation and commerce. This ideologically inflected usage puts those on the left in an awkward position, since opposing deregulation seems to imply a desire for more rules and regulations, and therefore more men in gray suits standing in the way of freedom.

But this debate is based on false premises. There’s no such thing, for example, as an unregulated bank. Banks are institutions to which the government has granted the right to issue I.O.U.’s that it will recognize as legal tender. The government regulates everything from a bank’s reserve requirements to its hours of operation; how much can be charged in interest, fees, and penalties; what sort of security precautions can or must be employed; how its records must be kept and reported; how and when clients must be informed of their rights and responsibilities; and pretty much everything else.

So what are people referring to when they talk about deregulation? In ordinary usage, the word seems to mean “changing the regulatory structure in a way that I like.” In the case of banking, deregulation has usually meant moving away from a situation of managed competition between midsize firms to one in which a handful of financial conglomerates are allowed to completely dominate the market. In the case of airlines and telecommunication firms in the Seventies and Eighties, deregulation meant the opposite: changing the system of regulation from one that encouraged a few large firms to one that fostered carefully supervised competition between midsize firms. In neither of these cases was bureaucracy reduced.

I’m going to give this process—the gradual fusion of public and private power, which becomes rife with rules and regulations whose ultimate purpose is to extract wealth in the form of profits—a name: “total bureaucratization.” The process is a result of the growing power of financial institutions over a deeply bureaucratized postwar America, and it defines the age we live in. It came about thanks to a shift in the class allegiances of the managerial staff of major corporations: from an uneasy, de facto alliance with workers to one with investors. As John Kenneth Galbraith long ago pointed out, if you create an organization to produce perfumes, milk, or aircraft fuselages, those who belong to that organization will tend to concentrate on improving the process and its product, rather than thinking primarily of what will make the most money for shareholders. Since for most of the twentieth century a job in a large bureaucratic firm meant a lifetime promise of employment, everyone involved in the process tended to share a certain common interest.

What began to happen in the Seventies, which paved the way for what we see today, was a strategic turn, as the upper echelons of U.S. corporate bureaucracy moved away from workers and toward shareholders. There was a double movement: corporate management be-came more financialized and the financial sector became more corporatized, with in-vestment banks and hedge funds largely replacing individual investors. As a result, the investor class and the executive class became almost indistinguishable. By the Nineties, lifetime employment, even for white-collar workers, had become a thing of the past. When corporations needed loyalty, they increasingly secured it by paying their employees in stock options.

At the same time, everyone was encouraged to look at the world through the eyes of an investor—which is one reason why, in the Eighties, newspapers continued laying off their labor reporters, while ordinary TV news reports began featuring stock-quote crawls at the bottom of the screen. By participating in personal retirement and investment funds, the argument went, everyone would come to own a piece of capitalism. In reality, the magic circle only widened to include higher-paid professionals and corporate bureaucrats. Still, the perceived extension was extremely important. No political revolution (for that’s what this was) can succeed without allies, and bringing along the middle class—and, crucially, convincing them that they had a stake in finance-driven capitalism—was critical.

With this shift came a broader cultural transformation. Bureaucratic techniques developed in financial and corporate circles (performance reviews, focus groups, time-allocation surveys, and so on) spread throughout the rest of society, to education, science, and government. One can trace the process by following its language. There is a peculiar idiom that first emerged in corporate circles, full of bright, empty terms like “vision,” “quality,” “stakeholder,” “leadership,” “excellence,” “innovation,” “strategic goals,” and “best practices.” Much of it originated from “self- actualization” movements like Mind Dynamics, Lifespring, and est, which were extremely popular in corporate boardrooms in the Seventies. But it quickly became a language unto itself, engulfing any meeting where any number of people gather to discuss the allocation of any kind of resources.or all that it celebrates markets and individual initiative, this alliance of government and finance often produces results that bear a striking resemblance to the worst excesses of bureaucratization in the Soviet Union, or in former colonial backwaters of Africa and South America where official credentials like certificates, licenses, and diplomas are often regarded as a kind of material fetish— magical objects conveying power in their own right. Since the Eighties, the most “advanced” economies, including the United States, have seen an explosion of credentialism. As Sarah Kendzior, an anthropologist, puts it, “Credentials function as de facto permission to speak, rendering those who lack them less likely to be employed and less able to afford to stay in their field.”

This plays out in field after field, from journalism to nursing, physical therapy to foreign policy consulting. Endeavors that used to be considered an art, best learned through doing, like writing or painting, now require formal professional training and certification. While these measures are touted— like all bureaucratic measures—as a way of creating fair, impersonal mechanisms in fields previously dominated by insider knowledge and social connections, they often have the opposite effect. As anyone who has been to graduate school knows, it’s precisely the children of the professional-managerial classes, those whose family resources make them the least in need of financial support, who best know how to navigate the paperwork required to get this support. For everyone else, the main result of years of professional training is an enormous burden of student debt, which requires its holders to bureaucratize ever-increasing dimensions of their own lives, and to manage themselves as if they were each a tiny corporation.

Sociologists since Weber have often noted that one of the defining features of a bureaucracy is that its employees are selected by formal criteria—most often some kind of written test—but everyone knows how compromised the idea of bureaucracy as a meritocratic system is. The first criterion of loyalty to any organization is therefore complicity. Career advancement is not based on merit but on a willingness to play along with the fiction that career advancement is based on merit, or with the fiction that rules and regulations apply to everyone equally, when in fact they are often deployed as an instrument of arbitrary personal power.

This is how bureaucracies have always tended to work, though for most of history, this fact has only been important for those who actually operated within administrative systems. Other people encountered organizations only rarely, when it came time to register their fields and cattle with the tax authorities. But the explosion of bureaucracy over the past two centuries—and its acceleration over the past forty years—means that our involvement in this bureaucratic existence has intensified. As whole societies have come to represent themselves as giant credentialized meritocracies, rather than as systems of predatory extraction, we bustle about, trying to curry favor by pretending we actually believe it to be true.
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Re: The Utopia of Rules (Graeber)

Postby seemslikeadream » Sun Feb 15, 2015 12:54 pm

you can delete that other OP by hitting that delete button top right...the little x
Mogilevich➡️Fursin➡️Manafort➡️Pence➡️Trump

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Mifsud➡️Papadopoulos➡️Steven Miller➡️Jeff Sessions

Predatortrump-Russia is the most complex political scandal in American history
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Re: The Utopia of Rules (Graeber)

Postby Wombaticus Rex » Sun Feb 15, 2015 1:19 pm

A fascinating riff from Mr. Graeber, and a central current of my thoughts in 2014-15. The core infrastructure that makes our modern lives possible is completely opaque to us -- we're already decades into sci-fi life support scenarios now, as far as the average American, Aussie or Brit goes -- and this illiteracy is going to have grave consequences for all involved. Perhaps most especially, and acutely the owners and managers of the life support monolith...one they start turning on each other, that will escalate fast.

Imagine their terror with each passing generation: you need people competent enough to actually manage the sheer breadth of their responsibilities, yet not nearly competent enough to ask questions about the monolith itself. In the halls of power, the terror of Another Snowden is quite palpable, and quite resigned, too. There will be others, and indeed there have probably already been several others who simply haven't surfaced yet as public celebrities, which is the only sane path to take, given what happened to Poor Dear Edward, yeah? For instance, Op DeathEaters has clearly been enabled by some inside assistance.

What fascinates me the most, though, isn't the simple dichotomy of Us vs. Them. Probably inevitable, since I'm such an objectively horrible person. What fascinates me is the fact that so many new actors are in play now -- economists and Pentagon strategists alike talk about "Emerging Nations," and both of them have the same high note of trepidation quaking in their voices whilst they do. The Western Empire Corporation has been using the lesser nations of the world as toys, proxy playthings, forgetting that human beings are incredibly motherfucking dangerous because they learn.

There will be dozens of other teams making a bid to storm the control room in the next decade, many of them will have the capabilities to actually pull it off. They will be trained, connected, funded, prepared. And we will be spectators, as always.
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Re: The Utopia of Rules (Graeber)

Postby slimmouse » Sun Feb 15, 2015 1:47 pm

There will be dozens of other teams making a bid to storm the control room in the next decade, many of them will have the capabilities to actually pull it off. They will be trained, connected, funded, prepared. And we will be spectators, as always.


We probably need to hope for a new generation of trainees.
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Re: The Utopia of Rules (Graeber)

Postby Searcher08 » Sun Feb 15, 2015 8:17 pm

Wombaticus Rex » Sun Feb 15, 2015 5:19 pm wrote:A fascinating riff from Mr. Graeber, and a central current of my thoughts in 2014-15. The core infrastructure that makes our modern lives possible is completely opaque to us -- we're already decades into sci-fi life support scenarios now, as far as the average American, Aussie or Brit goes -- and this illiteracy is going to have grave consequences for all involved. Perhaps most especially, and acutely the owners and managers of the life support monolith...one they start turning on each other, that will escalate fast.


This theme cuts across a lot of areas.
I have been upgrading my PC to include an external disk drive, and so moving many dozens of DVDs over. The lifetime of a DVD or CD seems to be less than 10 years for many of the ones I had accumulated.The life of a flash drive? Said to be 10 years.
50% of hard drives will be dead before their sixth birthday
http://www.extremetech.com/computing/170748-how-long-do-hard-drives-actually-live-for

We SO take for granted that before year 6 we will be able to replace it - we tout The Cloud yet in a sense it is storing vast amounts of information into a surface that is effectively decaying at an incredible rate. Have you noticed how there are no companies bragging about longevity of storage rather than how much?
This is also something I reflected on while watching Threads and Survivors again recently. The insanity of nuclear power with it's extraordinary decommissioning times and resources required. WTF happens when those resources are not available for whatever reason?
Dozens of Chernobyls across the globe?
Wombaticus Rex » Sun Feb 15, 2015 5:19 pm wrote:Imagine their terror with each passing generation: you need people competent enough to actually manage the sheer breadth of their responsibilities, yet not nearly competent enough to ask questions about the monolith itself. In the halls of power, the terror of Another Snowden is quite palpable, and quite resigned, too. There will be others, and indeed there have probably already been several others who simply haven't surfaced yet as public celebrities, which is the only sane path to take, given what happened to Poor Dear Edward, yeah? For instance, Op DeathEaters has clearly been enabled by some inside assistance.

The desire of human who organise for a purpose, to want that organisation to continue past its function seems to be a defining characteristic of our current organisational behaviour, an inexorable migration from
A group of caring medics have buffet lunch once a month to share experiences and tips in their field
(bring dessert to share!)
becomes
The Quarterly Meeting of Bedford Falls Medics
($25 dollars contribution for admin)
becomes
Compulsory (licence to practice dependent) membership of TriState Medical Best Practice Group
$5000, with expectation of attending Winter Glaxo-sponsored meeting in Vail $3500

Yet corporations themselves are incredibly short lived. I have seen the waves of total domination by IBM, then Microsoft then Apple / Google within IT.
The thing is is that I am seeing really hard-ball corporate consultants start showing up in some of the strangest places. And providing some of their input and coaching to great effect, yet these were the same people consulting with Goldman Sachs a few years ago (a kind of brass ring for the profession) Have you interacted with HR departments in the last couple of years? The shift from The Personnel department to the "Human Resources Directorate" , a box-ticking, Compliance "enforcer" is now well entrenched and part of the culture is NOT to question what the Compliance is actually for. Sarbannes-Oxley software has engineered "workarounds for money laundering" - as per Richard Grove's tales.
I dated a HR Director for a few months. It was difficult thinking that if I was hired as performance improvement person, I'd fire the fucking HR Director. :)
Wombaticus Rex » Sun Feb 15, 2015 5:19 pm wrote:What fascinates me the most, though, isn't the simple dichotomy of Us vs. Them. Probably inevitable, since I'm such an objectively horrible person. What fascinates me is the fact that so many new actors are in play now -- economists and Pentagon strategists alike talk about "Emerging Nations," and both of them have the same high note of trepidation quaking in their voices whilst they do. The Western Empire Corporation has been using the lesser nations of the world as toys, proxy playthings, forgetting that human beings are incredibly motherfucking dangerous because they learn.

There will be dozens of other teams making a bid to storm the control room in the next decade, many of them will have the capabilities to actually pull it off. They will be trained, connected, funded, prepared. And we will be spectators, as always.

I love the exercise that David Allen (the GTD guy) gives.
"Mark down a date on your calender six weeks from now. I predict that within that timeframe, a surprise is going to happen which will significantly affect your life, one that you wouldnt have predicted"
What will it be? A new natural law, energy source, consciousness sharing device? Disclosure?
Surprise is coming. :thumbsup
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Re: The Utopia of Rules (Graeber)

Postby American Dream » Tue Feb 17, 2015 12:28 pm

Here is more from Graeber:



INTERVIEW WITH DAVID GRAEBER

http://www.thewhitereview.org/interview ... d-graeber/

QTHE WHITE REVIEW — Could you tell us a little bit about your life, your parents and your family background?
ADAVID GRAEBER — I grew up in a cooperative in New York – in Manhattan, Chelsea. My father was a plate stripper and my mother was a garment worker. My mother had also been the female lead in a musical review entirely made up of garment workers called PINS AND NEEDLES. The play became a hit on Broadway, so she was a star for three or four years —and then had to go back to being an ordinary person again. My father was working class, but I guess we were what’s sometimes described as working class aristocracy – book-lovers, engaged in an artisanal kind of skilled labour – but we never had money. I found this background was a great impediment, especially in grad school, because it meant while I usually knew far more about, say, the Oresteia than the bourgeois students, I was completely lacking in professional manners.

My father tried his best; he did not want me to become an activist. I think he felt very guilty that he had avoided opportunities to become an exploiter, and that he couldn’t have come through for his children as he would have liked to. He fought in Spain, and he knew a lot of anarchists, but he was never one himself.

He lived in Barcelona at a time it was run on anarchist principles and he would always tell me these fun stories about it. He always said Barcelona was one of the greatest experiments in world history, because what we discovered there was that white-collar workers don’t actually do anything. In Barcelona their idea of having a revolution was to get rid of all the managers and just carry on without them. And nothing really changed.

QTHE WHITE REVIEW — Growing up, were there any texts or writers that particularly inspired you?
ADAVID GRAEBER — There were a lot of books around the house when I was growing up, but almost no books of critique. I mean I’m sure my parents had CAPITAL, at least volume one, but very few books about how awful the world was. They had lots of science fiction, lots of history, and lots of anthropology. I think their attitude was ‘I spent my nine to five working, experiencing how this system sucks for myself; I don’t need to read about that; I want to read about what other ways of existing might be like.’ I still like that. I like it when plucking something off the shelf takes you to another world completely. I like things that aren’t explicitly political, but open up radically different ways of being.

Orwell’s HOMAGE TO CATALONIA – that was important to me, too. My father gave it to me, to give me a sense of the politics, but reminded me to take it with a grain of salt, to take everything you read about Spain with a grain of salt.

QTHE WHITE REVIEW — In the UK we often talk about the ‘right to protest’? Should protest be conceived of in a rights discourse?
ADAVID GRAEBER — I find the word ‘protest’ problematic. With ‘protest’ it sounds as though you’ve already lost. It’s as though it’s part of a game where the sides recognise each other in fixed positions. It becomes like the Foucauldian disciplinary game where both sides sort of constitute each other. In that sense, Foucault was right: resistance is almost required to have power. Which is why I like the concept of direct action. I think in a lot of ways we’ve been going backwards. I come from the US so I know what’s going on there better, where the right to protest, to dissent, to oppose the government is explicitly enshrined in the constitution, and yet flagrantly ignored.

QTHE WHITE REVIEW — So, to flesh out the distinctions then: what is the difference between direct action and protest, or direct action and civil disobedience? What is special about the term ‘direct action’?
ADAVID GRAEBER — Well the reason anarchists like direct action is because it means refusing to recognise the legitimacy of structures of power. Or even the necessity of them. Nothing annoys forces of authority more than trying to bow out of the disciplinary game entirely and saying that we could just do things on our own. Direct action is a matter of acting as if you were already free.

The classic example is the well. There’s a town where water is monopolised and the mayor is in bed with the company that monopolises the water. If you were to protest in front of the mayor’s house, that’s protest, and if you were to blockade the mayor’s house, it’s civil disobedience, but it’s still not direct action. Direct action is when you just go and dig your own well, because that’s what people would normally do if they didn’t have water. In this respect the Malagasy people are totally engaging in direct action. They’re the ultimate direct actionists, but they’re also in a situation where it’s much easier to get away with it.

QTHE WHITE REVIEW — Your theory of the state in Madagascar is interesting. You write that when you first went there you thought that nothing was amiss, but it later dawned on you that, actually, the state had abandoned its primary function as far as we understand it in Europe.
ADAVID GRAEBER — Well, if we are talking about the rural areas, off the paved roads, no one was collecting taxes and the police would not come. So the two most essential functions: extracting revenues and enforcing the law, the state just did not do. Even in the smaller towns they barely did. The Malagasy have created this ‘almost revolution’ by subtle indirection. It’s like a magic trick. I realised that essentially the government had ceased to exist and the people had come up with ingenious expedients of how to deal with the fact that there was still technically a government, it was just really far away. Part of the idea was never to put the authorities in a situation where they lost face, or where they had to prove that they were in charge. They were incredibly nice to them if they didn’t try to exercise power, and made things as difficult as possible if they did. The course of least resistance was to go along with the charade.

QTHE WHITE REVIEW — Can you give us any examples?
ADAVID GRAEBER — I only started figuring out that the government had essentially stopped functioning when I heard about this guy in a village outside town who had beaten up his sister. The locals assembled the fokon’olona – a tradition of local assemblies that operate by consensus – and they decided to make him sign a confession saying he’d murdered his sister. The idea was that they were going to lodge it in the police station (because you could take it as given that the police wouldn’t go there) and if anything happened to his sister, he’d have already said that he’d done it.

QTHE WHITE REVIEW — Do you think that there’s an anarchist theory of revolution that’s quite different? You’re suggesting a kind of compromise situation where the state still seems to be functioning, where at least it still has the superficial pretence of existing, but at the same time, quietly, it isn’t really there.
ADAVID GRAEBER — Yes, it’s like an eggshell theory of revolution. You just hollow it out until there’s nothing left and eventually it’ll collapse.

QTHE WHITE REVIEW — So instead of a big revolutionary moment, the state is completely negated?
ADAVID GRAEBER — It can happen. I think you need to consider all possibilities. There’s this idea that people in power will never give up power voluntarily, therefore it will end in battles on the streets – but I always point out, it’s not like a bunch of anarchists are going to military defeat the 101st Airborne Division. Anyway they have nukes. The only plausible scenario for revolution is when it comes to the point that the forces of order refuse to shoot. For most revolutions in world history that is what ultimately happens.

QTHE WHITE REVIEW — Are you suggesting we look to a dual power situation?
ADAVID GRAEBER — I think it’ll come to that. I think it already has come to that in many parts of the world, but people just don’t talk about it. There was clearly a dual power situation going on in Madagascar. There could even be three or four powers – who knows! That’s what the Zapatistas are experimenting with: opening up a space of autonomy. I don’t think we can do without confrontation of any kind, I think that’s equally naïve, but the exact mix of withdrawal and confrontation cannot be predicted.
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Re: The Utopia of Rules (Graeber)

Postby Searcher08 » Wed Feb 18, 2015 11:23 am

Wow!

That is a very important piece IMO because it points to an existing example of what a society could look like following a de-facto collapse in the functions of government. It seems that there is a 'shadowplay' or pretence that it is necessary to maintain in order for the two systems to avoid interfacing as much as possible.

Has anyone here read in more detail about Graeber's experience in Madagascar? And the current state of the society described?

PS Thank you for this format. This is personally helpful, easier to digest.
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Re: The Utopia of Rules (Graeber)

Postby Wombaticus Rex » Wed Feb 18, 2015 1:25 pm

ADAVID GRAEBER — Yes, it’s like an eggshell theory of revolution. You just hollow it out until there’s nothing left and eventually it’ll collapse.


Anarchism as neo-conservative de-regulation. Can this dude even hear himself speaking anymore?

As for life in Madagascar, they're poor as dirt in an island wilderness with very little infrascture. Like most of sub-saharan Africa, almost half their current population are children. As the World Bank is fond of saying, "Madagascar has 22 million people and 50 dentists." Utopia itself, yeah?

With all due respect for the profound insights of an American tourist who went somewhere once and has opinions on what he saw, it's not like Madagascar's current situation is the result of a revolution, or some ideological program -- there's just nothing there. Once the cost of strip-mining their resources ends up being less than the market value of those resources, Madagascar will witness an industrial revolution real fast. And it will be a huge-ass Bougainville.
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Re: The Utopia of Rules (Graeber)

Postby American Dream » Wed Feb 18, 2015 2:48 pm

Wombaticus Rex » Wed Feb 18, 2015 12:25 pm wrote:
ADAVID GRAEBER — Yes, it’s like an eggshell theory of revolution. You just hollow it out until there’s nothing left and eventually it’ll collapse.

Actually, like most class struggle anarchists, Graeber is both anti-State and anti-Neoliberalism/Austerity.
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Re: The Utopia of Rules (Graeber)

Postby Wombaticus Rex » Wed Feb 18, 2015 3:12 pm

American Dream » Wed Feb 18, 2015 1:48 pm wrote:
Wombaticus Rex » Wed Feb 18, 2015 12:25 pm wrote:
ADAVID GRAEBER — Yes, it’s like an eggshell theory of revolution. You just hollow it out until there’s nothing left and eventually it’ll collapse.

Actually, like most class struggle anarchists, Graeber is both anti-State and anti-Neoliberalism/Austerity.



So that means he goes to protests for a Liveable Wage and Universal Free Health care, and talks to everyone there about destroying the State?

Those LSE Fabians are such a fabulously incoherent bunch, innit?

I've always felt that Graeber's mask really slipped when he talked to Picketty...

Via: http://www.thebaffler.com/odds-and-ends/soak-the-rich

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.

Piketty: That is precisely my problem: the bankers agree with you!

...

Graeber: But shouldn’t such a progressive tax on capital be international in scope?

Piketty: Yes, of course. I am an internationalist, and so are you, so we have no differences on that score.
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Re: The Utopia of Rules (Graeber)

Postby American Dream » Wed Feb 18, 2015 3:29 pm

Whether there is a contradiction there or not, Graeber's big thing is direct action- so he surely did participate in Occupy Wall Street (and possibly paid a price with the Feds for that)- even as OWS included an anti-Austerity sentiment that the most radical might deride as reformist...
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Re: The Utopia of Rules (Graeber)

Postby Wombaticus Rex » Wed Feb 18, 2015 4:14 pm

Hey, if "Direct Action" for it's own sake is the fruit of Leftist ideology, I'm just saying I don't understand why so much theory was necessary at any point. Seems like a tremendous corpus of wasted effort, no?

Per my email inbox, a lurker has helpfully informed me that Graeber was not offering commentary as a tourist, but as a Fulbright scholar who did his PhD on the subject. That's considerably more dirt under the fingernails than tourism, so my snark was wholly out of place there.
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Re: The Utopia of Rules (Graeber)

Postby American Dream » Wed Feb 18, 2015 4:23 pm

One can hardly accuse David Graeber of the sort of anti-Intellectualism that plagues certain anarchist/direct action tendencies in North America but here is a cogent critique:


"Action Will Be Taken": Left Anti-intellectualism and Its Discontents

By Liza Featherstone, Doug Henwood, and Christian Parenti


"We can't get bogged down in analysis," one activist told us at an anti-war rally in New York last fall, spitting out that last word like a hairball. He could have relaxed his vigilance. This event deftly avoided such bogs, loudly opposing the U.S. bombing in Afghanistan without offering any credible ideas about it (we're not counting the notion that the entire escapade was driven by Unocal and Lockheed Martin, the "analysis" advanced by many speakers). But the moment called for doing something more than brandishing the exact same signs - "Stop the Bombing" and "No War for Oil" - that activists poked skywards during the Gulf War. This latest war called for some thinking, and few were doing much of that.

So what is the ideology of the activist left (and by that we mean the global justice, peace, media democracy, community organizing, financial populist, and green movements)? Socialist? Mostly not - too state-phobic. Some actvisits are anarchists - but mainly out of temperamental reflex, not rigorous thought. Others are liberals - though most are too confrontational and too skeptical about the system to embrace that label. And many others profess no ideology at all. So over all is the activist left just an inchoate, "post-ideological" mass of do-gooders, pragmatists and puppeteers?

No. The young troublemakers of today do have an ideology and it is as deeply felt and intellectually totalizing as any of the great belief systems of yore. The cadres who populate those endless meetings, who bang the drum, who lead the "trainings" and paint the puppets, do indeed have a creed. They are Activismists.

That's right, Activismists. This brave new ideology combines the political illiteracy of hyper-mediated American culture with all the moral zeal of a nineteenth century temperance crusade. In this worldview, all roads lead to more activism and more activists. And the one who acts is righteous. The activistists seem to borrow their philosophy from the factory boss in a Heinrich Boll short story who greets his employees each morning with the exhortation "Let's have some action." To which the workers obediently reply: "Action will be taken!"

Activists unconsciously echoing factory bosses? The parallel isn't as far-fetched as it might seem, as another German, Theodor Adorno, suggests. Adorno - who admittedly doesn't have the last word on activism, since he called the cops on University of Frankfurt demonstrators in 1968 - nonetheless had a good point when he criticized the student and antiwar movement of the 1960s for what he called "actionism." In his eyes this was an unreflective "collective compulsion for positivity that allows its immediate translation into practice." Though embraced by people who imagine themselves to be radical agitators, that thoughtless compulsion mirrors the pragmatic empiricism of the dominant culture - "not the least way in which actionism fits so smoothly into society's prevailing trend." Actionism, he concluded, "is regressive...it refuses to reflect on its own impotence."

It may seem odd to cite this just when activistism seems to be working fine. Protest is on an upswing; even the post 9/11 frenzy of terror baiting didn't shut down the movement. Demonstrators were out in force to protest the World Economic Forum, with a grace and discipline that buoyed sprits worldwide. The youth getting busted, gassed and trailed by the cops are putting their bodies on the line to oppose global capital; they are brave and committed, even heroic.

But is action enough? We pose this question precisely because activism seems so strong. The flipside of all this agitation is a corrosive and aggressive anti-intellectualism. We object to this hostility toward thinking - not only because we've all got a cranky intellectual bent, but also because it limits the movement's transformative power.

Our gripe is historically specific. If everyone was busy with bullshit doctrinal debates we would prescribe a little anti-intellectualism. But that is not the case right now.

The Real Price of Not Thinking

How does activist anti-intellectualism manifest on the ground? One instance is the reduction of strategy to mere tactics, to horrible effect. Take for example the largely failed San Francisco protest against the National Association of Broadcasters, an action which ended up costing tens of thousand of dollars, gained almost no attention, had no impact on the NAB, and nearly ruined one of the sponsoring organizations. During a post-mortem discussion of this debacle one of the organizers reminded her audience that: "We had three thousand people marching through [the shopping district] Union Square protesting the media. That's amazing. It had never happened before." Never mind the utter non-impact of this aimless march. The point was clear: we marched for ourselves. We were our own targets. Activism made us good.

Thoughtless activism confuses the formulation of political aims. One of us was on a conference panel during which an activist lawyer went on about the virtues of small businesses, and the need for city policy to encourage them. When it was pointed out that enthusiasm for small business should be tempered by a recognition that smaller businesses tend to pay less, are harder to organize, offer fewer fringe benefits, and are more dangerous than larger businesses, the lawyer dismissed this as "the paralysis of analysis." On another panel, when it was pointed out that Alinsky-style community organizing is a practical and theoretical failure whose severe limitations need to be recognized, an organizer and community credit union promoter shut down the conversation with a simple: "I just don't want to discuss this."

The anti-war "movement" is perhaps the most egregious recent example of a promising political phenomenon that was badly damaged by the anti-intellectual outlook of activistism. While activists frequently comment on the success of the growing peace movement - many actions take place, conferences are planned, new people become activists, a huge protest is scheduled for April in Washington, D.C. - no one seems to notice that it's no longer clear what war we're protesting. Repression at home? Future wars in Somalia or Iraq? Even in the case of Afghanistan, it turned out to be important to have something to say to skeptics who asked: "What's your alternative? I think the government should protect me from terrorists, and plus this Taliban doesn't seem so great." The movement failed to address such questions, and protests dwindled.

On some college campuses, by contrast, where the war has been seen as a complicated opportunity for conversation rather than sign-waving, the movement has done better. But everywhere, the unwillingness to think about what it means to be against the war and how war fits into the global project of American empire, has also led to a poverty of thinking about what kind of actions make sense. "How can we strategically affect the situation?" asks Lara Jiramanus of Boston's Campus Anti-War Coalition. "So we want to stop the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan - what does it mean to have that as our goal? I don't think we talk about that enough."

We're not arguing for conformist ideologies. The impulse to resist hierarchy and mind-control is one of the more appealing and useful facets of the new activism. Consider the campus anti-sweatshop movement, which includes members of the International Socialist Organization, SDS-type radical democrats, anarchists and plain-vanilla liberals. This movement's willingness to embrace radicals and non-radicals alike has been a strength, attracting both policy wonks and people who like to chain their throats to the dean's desk. Such flexibility is usually commendable. What bothers us about activistism as an ideology is that is renders taboo any discussion of ideas or beliefs, and thus stymies both thought and action.

Many activists agree. Jiramanus, who is also involved in the Harvard Living Wage Campaign, says that some in that group believe that the fight for a living wage is part of a "larger ideal" while others don't. "But if your analysis is not broad enough," she points out, "you're not much different from those groups that do charity work." In her campus labor solidarity group, "people will say, 'I'm not progressive, I just care about this issue.' There's a failure to think of our work in a larger context, and a reluctance to ask people what they believe. There needs to be a venue for talking about alternative economic systems." But she says these questions don't get talked about, and people who do think about them are afraid to bring them up in meetings. "It's like, 'there's no time for it, we need to win the living wage campaign right now.'"

Thoughtful people find this censorious hyperpragmatism alienating and can drop away from organizing as a result. But that's not the only problem. It's important to encourage better thinking, says Jiramanus, "so hippie-to-yuppie doesn't happen again." As she points out, without an analysis of what's really wrong with the world - or a vision of the better world you're trying to create - people have no reason to continue being activists once a particular campaign is over. In this way, activist-ism plus single-issue politics can end up defeating itself. Activistism is tedious, and its foot soldiers suffer constant burnout. Thinking, after all, is engaging; were it encouraged, Jiramanus pleads, "We'd all be enjoying ourselves a bit more."

Increasingly, there are activists who treat ideas as important. "We need to develop a new rhetoric that connects sweatshops -- and living wage and the right to organize -- to the global economy," says the University of Michigan's Jackie Bray, an anti-sweatshop activist. Liana Molina of Santa Clara University agrees: "I think our economic system determines everything!" But about the student movement's somewhat vague ideology, she has mixed feelings. "It's good to be ambiguous and inclusive," so as not to alienate more conservative, newer, or less politicized members, she says. "But I also think a class analysis is needed. Then again, that gets shady, because people are like, 'Well, what are you for, socialism? What?'"

The problem is that activists, like Molina, who are asking the difficult questions that push into new political terrain are very often forced to operate in frustrating isolation, without the support of a community of fellow thinkers.



Continues at: http://www.historyisaweapon.org/defcon1 ... taken.html
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Re: The Utopia of Rules (Graeber)

Postby slimmouse » Wed Feb 18, 2015 4:48 pm

Being an activist requires no real effort, if you truly put your mind to it. There are any number of ways, we can do this personally tomorrow.

One little nudge at a time if you like.

The less we shout, the more we get heard. innit.
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Re: The Utopia of Rules (Graeber)

Postby Wombaticus Rex » Wed Feb 18, 2015 5:47 pm

Thanks for that History is a Weapon link, AD, entertaining and excellent. Worth adding:

From Whence Came This Malady?

Steve Duncombe, a NYC-DAN activist, author, and NYU professor, says his fellow activists "think very little about capitalism outside a moral discourse: big is bad, and nothing about the state except in a sort of right wing dismissal: state as authoritarian daddy."

Activistism is also intimately related to the decline of Marxism, which at its best thrived on debates about the relations between theory and practice, part and whole. Unfortunately, much of this tradition has devolved into the alternately dreary and hilarious rants in sectarian papers. Marxism's decline (but not death: the three of us would happily claim the name) has led to wooly ideas about a nicer capitalism, and an indifference to how the system works as a whole. This blinkering is especially virulent in the U.S. where a petit-bourgeois populism is the native radical strain, and anti-intellectualism is almost hard-wired into the culture. And because activistism emphasizes practicality, achievability, and implementation over all else, a theory dedicated to understanding deep structures with an eye towards changing them necessarily gets shunted aside.

Marxism's decline isn't just an intellectual concern - it too has practical effects. If you lack any serious understanding of how capitalism works, then it's easy to delude yourself into thinking that moral appeals to the consciences of CEOs and finance ministers will have some effect. You might think that central banks' habit of provoking recessions when the unemployment rate gets too low is a policy based on a mere misunderstanding. You might think that structural adjustment and imperial war are just bad lifestyle choices.

Unreflective pragmatism is also encouraged by much of the left's dependency on foundations. Philanthropy's role in structuring activism is rarely discussed, because almost everyone wants a grant (including us). But it should be. Foundations like focused entities that undertake specific politely meliorative schemes. They don't want anyone to look too closely at the system that's given them buckets of money that less fortunate people are forced to pay for.

Activistism is contaminated by the cultural forms and political content of the non-profit sector. Because nonprofits are essentially businesses that sell press coverage of themselves to foundation program officers, they operate according to the anti-intellectual logic of hyper-pragmatism and the fiscal year short-termism generated by financial competition with their peer organizations. When nonprofit business lead, the whole left begins to take on the same obsessive focus with "deliverables" and "take aways" and "staying on message." For many political nonprofits, actions - regardless of their value or real impact - are the product, which in turn promise access to more grants.

Nonprofit culture fosters an array of mind-killing practices. Brainstorming on butcher paper and the use of break out groups are effective methods for generating and collecting ideas and or organizing pieces of a larger action. However when used to organize political discussions these nonprofit tools can be disastrous. More often than not, everybody says some thing, break out groups report back to the whole group, lists are complied - and nothing really happens.
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