Friday, January 28, 2022

Mutual Aid: Myths Of Beginnings & Ends

- Who said, 'Let's change the course of human history, starting with the past?'
'- The late David Graeber, anthropologist, author of Debt, The First Five Thousand Years, political activist, advocate of the anarchist form of social organization and co-author of the recently published book The Dawn Of Everything.
- Which book is supposed to change our understanding of the past?
- Yes. We're to understand that it is mere myth that agriculture and large population made it necessary that we live in states with inequality, exchange for profit, and obedience to orders.
- And the change in our historical understanding?
- In fact, agriculture was practiced a thousand years before the existence of states, that is, practiced by stateless people, and stateless people gathered together seasonally in groups of quite large numbers. But historically unnecessary as states are proven to be, we seem to be stuck with them now. The state the authors define as having a sovereign, a bureaucracy, and some sort of religion justifying its arrangements. History does not show a fall from a stateless golden age. That is another mere myth, they say. Rather our ancestors lived in groups combining communist mutual aid, leaders compelling the led, and (concluding individual relationships) selfish immediate exchange.
- The combinations change in proportion, that's all.
- Yes. There was no golden age.
- Nothing in history that tells us we can't get out from under our states by increasing the proportion of mutual aid and decreasing the proportion of obedience and selfish exchange.
- Yes. At any one time in history you could find a whole range of societies obedient, exchanging, or mutual aiding. And, reflecting the wealth of historical possibilities, within a society the very same practice could express mutual aid, selfish exchange, and obedience, an idea David Graeber developed in great detail in his book on debt.
- So we have variability within a single practice, within a single group, and between groups at any one time, and in the course of history itself.
- Doesn't that make you feel free, newly open to possibilities?
- No.
- Why not?
- Why was Graeber, along with virtually all of our modern day prophets claiming to be leading the way to a better world, silent about the lockdowns, a radical increase in our society's proportion of obedience and selfish exchange, decrease in proportion of mutual aid?
- He, they, considered the various proportions of mutual aid, selfish exchange and obedience they could apply in this time and place in history and made their choice. Shouldn't they have that freedom?
- In the story of the garden of Eden Eve is made as a help-meet for Adam, that is, made in a way suitable to help. What if the story is about the precedence of mutual aid?
- What difference would that make? One moment in history Eve aids Adam, the next she is obedient to him and he is at work growing grain for exchange.
- It matters that the help of Eve, who was made by god to help, is fundamental, while her obedience and Adam's work on the land is not, rather are mere consequences of historical acts that need not have been taken by her and him.
- And what difference does that make?
- In The Dawn Of Everything freedom is defined by the ability to not obey, to go, to be received with hospitality elsewhere by others. Note that to disobey on its own is nothing: if you can't go away you'll be caught and punished, and social animals that we are to go away means nothing if there is nowhere to go and be welcomed. Without mutual aid there is no freedom to disobey, no freedom.
- So David Graeber and our other prophets, one and all well established and secure in their state's bureaucracies, for whom mutual aid is not fundamental and must wait upon their free choice, at this contingent time in history have let us down. A golden age lost and to be remade, progress holding onto and building upon the prior choice of mutual aid is not a myth, is real, or can be real. Is that what you think?
- What do you think? Is there danger in seeing no direction to history?*
- What if history is off to a late start?

Further Reading;
* Myths of beginnings and ends: the authors of The Dawn Of History make the common observation that it is dangerous to claim to know the utopia at the end of history because then every evil act can be justified as means to achieving that end. However an individual trying to hold onto the good in personal behavior and avoid the bad as time progresses and perhaps history as well does not necessarily make any such pictures and is not subject to that temptation.