Tag Archives: David Graeber

“Look to Your Betters”

This morning I was discussing rich people with my husband; specifically the rich who own and race horses.  My husband likes to bet on the ponies.  A few times a year I join him in the action.  Yesterday was “The Breeders’ Cup” where rich people bring their best horses from all over the world to try and win gobs of money and get lots of prestige in a win or two.  One rich guy rented a whole 737 to transport just one horse.  This in the same week the satraps in Congress refused to extend the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program of 2009 aka food stamps for hungry people.

In yesterday’s comments there was a link to a video called “The Four Horseman”.  In it a scholar mentions that one of the marks of the end of empire is the raising up of the chef to celebrity status.  That happened in the Roman empire.  And yesterday, as I watched chef Bobby Flay interviewed about his race horse, I commented that the end might really be nigh.  I like Bobby Flay, by the way, and use a lot of his recipes.   He’s really good at what he does and came from the working class, so I’d rather see him with a fancy schmancy horse than some rich fracking heiress.  But the whole bread and circus aspect of it coupled with poor folks betting in the hopes of sitting in the box seats is just too much for me to enjoy the day. Continue reading

The Feeling is Mutual

This afternoon I’m starting my next series called “Ruminating with the Ruminants:  Conversations with the Cows.”  I’ve been chewing my cud  for the last 4 weeks on the notion of charity and philanthropy.

I’ve been going to various summer fundraisers and appreciation picnics.  Here in beautiful Big Sky country with its rivers running through it, the summer residents have arrived.  Summer is the perfect time for community groups to invite these people to partake in the community by giving them an opportunity to rub elbows with the locals and to contribute monetarily to the various non-profits that vie for scarce dollars in a county that has only 3500 people in it and is the size of the state of Rhode Island.

I often sigh a lot when I’m eating my plate full of food at these affairs.  By and large, the people that run these organizations and those that sit on their boards  are dedicated and goodhearted folks.  The reason that I sigh is that I wish we didn’t need these charities.  I wish everyone made a living wage so we didn’t have to help people get decent food to eat.  I wish everyone made a decent living with short work hours and work weeks so that they could spend time with their kids instead of having after school volunteers take care of them.  If we had free college education, we wouldn’t need to have fundraisers for scholarships or to buy a kid a tuba.  If we banned chemicals and other crap from our crops and our cows,  we wouldn’t need as many cancer care groups.  If we really embraced community, we would take care of our retirees and respect their wisdom and reward their work years with decent pensions.  In a my wishful world, everybody would be at the picnic because everything would be done in mutual support of each other. There would be no classes of the haves and have nots.

Summer Sweet Grass Picnics Continue reading

The Walking Dead

Why is “The Walking Dead so successful?  My take is that it captures what has happened to all of us in the U.S.  in an entertaining way.   Some Americans do try to escape the “deathless  and faceless machines” called corporations because we know that they are not persons.  They “have no soul or human emotions.”  They are relentless and everywhere. (It is no accident that the original series was the concept of Frank Darabont who was the screenwriter/director of the great “Shawshank Redemption”, another escape movie.) Continue reading

Pulling Up Stakes: Secession? Seriously

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Secession is often derided by liberals as some kind of cock-a-mammy right wing nut idea from Texas. But the idea of being free to leave an organization or union or union of states should not be dismissed out of hand. In modern times, thoughtful people have come up with pretty solid theories to support this kind of freedom that both right and left should think about. Continue reading

“Faces Along the Bar”

I picked up a book at a student book store in New Orleans because it’s title leaped out at me. “Faces Along the Bar: Lore and Order in the Workingman’s Saloon 1870- 1920” by Madelon Powers.  It’s an academic, well foot-noted but not dry analysis of the saloon culture that arose in the U.S.  with industrialization.  Various middle class progressive reformers like the “Committee of Fifty” comprised mostly of clergymen and academics studied this culture partially to figure out how to create substitutes for it.  They tried to take the energy of the informal working groups in saloons and shovel them into union halls and temperance tearooms. But the saloons prevailed until prohibition.  They served as a way of self-organization and a way of integrating into American life.  They followed a tradition that Alexis de Tocqueville noted earlier.  He called it “the art of association”.  He observed that Americans seemed obsessed with material acquisition and individualism.  The only thing tempering this dangerous self-interest was their equal tendency to form voluntary associations.  And Powers includes saloon life as a form of voluntary association much like joining lodges, political parties, church groups, and Social Aid and Pleasure clubs like the ones that still exist in New Orleans. Continue reading

The Fixer

I keep coming back to Steven Van Zandt’s character, Frankie Tagliano in the Netflix TV series “Lilyhammer.”  His nickname is “The Fixer”.  J.J. Abrams  TV series “Person of Interest” (CBS Thursdays)  also has “a fixer”; an armed and dangerous guardian angel played by Jim Caviezel.  These guys are the opposites of  what we call managers.  Both of them encounter huge public bureaucracies with rules and regulations and they choose to help somebody in trouble by breaking those rules; going around authority.  They don’t seek to control or manipulate the situation or keep it calm.  They fix it.  Okay, and I should add they are very good at cracking heads and are crack shots to boot.

I’ve been a bit obsessed lately with the idea of a “manager” and “management”.  I don’t get it.   Why manage something?  You either fix it or you don’t.  Okay, when somebody is feeling blue or just wants to vent, you can listen to them.  But that’s called “being present”.  You aren’t fixing it; or controlling or manipulating anything as per the dictionary definition of “managing”.  You listen and you let them breathe. Continue reading

Obedience is For the Dogs

My sister’s dog has passed obedience school, but she (the dog not my sister) put up a hell of a fight at first, I’m told, and was put in another class.    Eventually she agreed to work on agility, but not necessary buy into the whole deal.  I get it.  Having pretty much been a round peg in a square holed society all my life, I know what it’s like to try to buck the system, color outside the lines, and, yes, not fetch when commanded. Continue reading

The University of Occupy – Majoring in Freedom

Rage.  Almost every adolescent feels at one time or another or most of the time a feeling of suffocation and expresses that feeling with rage.  David Graeber in his on line essays on revolutionary social movements  called “Revolutions in Reverse” , he focuses on this alienation.  Why were so many American teenagers “entranced” by Raoul Vaneigem’s book “The Revolution of Everyday Life ?” he asked himself.  Then he answers his own question.  “It must be the highest theoretical expression of the feelings of rage, boredom, and revulsion that almost any adolescent at some point feels when confronted with the middle class existence.”  The young see before then mind-numbing unimaginative work before them and it freaks them out.

I got to thinking about this. For a long time young working and middle class people were bought off.  Not by the distractions of game playing, sports watching, or mindless movies although those activities helped the fragmentation of their social life.  No it was more insidious. They were bought off by the myth of American freedom through ownership of your very own home.  You could leave the nest and feather your own complete with mate and cute little chirpers.  You were no longer subject to authoritarian education structures or parental controls.  You were free.

But unlike a bird, you had little time to soar like an eagle or dart and play in the sky.  To mix some metaphors, you got yourself saddled with debt and if you went to college, you piled on some more saddle packs full of anxiety and woe.

In the new AMC TV series “Hell on Wheels”, the railroad baron asks a couple of young Irish lads why they were in the middle of the U.S. tagging along as the continental railroad was being built.   The brothers tell him of sneaking on a train when they were mere lads and going to the big city of Dublin.  Their father found them and hauled them home, but it was the grandest time of their life.   So for them a train was the symbol of freedom and they wanted to be a part of the building of that railroad in the hopes of capturing that feeling of freedom again.

For over 40 years we have been subjected to a bad version of “freedom” with its emphasis on the mythical rugged individual.   But libertarians of the right should take a look at what left libertarians call “freedom” and maybe find some  common ground. Here’s how the CrimethInc collective  (who Graeber calls “the most inspiring young anarchist propagandists”) describes freedom:

We must make our freedom by cutting

holes in the fabric of this reality, by

forging new realities which will, in turn,

fashion us. Putting yourself in new situations

constantly is the only way to ensure

that you make your decisions unencumbered

by the inertia of habit, custom, law,

or prejudice – and it is up to you to create

these situations

Freedom only exists in the moment of

revolution. And those moments are not as

rare as you think. Change, revolutionary

change, is going on constantly and everywhere

– and everyone plays a part in it,

consciously or not.

Graeber calls this statement “elegant”.  Direct action is, he says, “the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free.”  “Sovereign” may  This is revolution and not some kind of “to the barricades” moment.  This is releasing the barricades in our minds and unleashing our imaginations.  It is pushing back against the elites who say that we need to get back into the boxes;  the voting booths, the endless marches and rallies to petition our king for some gruel, writing letters to the aged satraps in the halls of congress, or sitting in the audience at public hearings of excruciating boredom.  So-called “realistic” “pragmatic” choices are made in those boxes but “in an insurrectionary situation, on the other hand, suddenly anything is possible.”

This is what is called “reinventing everyday life.”  So forget universities.  Go sign up for a course in freedom at one of the Occupies.  The tents may be gone for now, but the Forum is always open to those who choose to live as if they are already free.