17 February 2013

The Next Time Someone Asks Me for a Cigarette...

...I am going to denounce them as a communist and suggest they move to Russia with their like-minded brethren. 

I suppose this post would be more accurately titled:  "Some Thougths on the First 100 pages of David Graeber's "Debt the First 5000 Years", but the cigarette example, lifted from Graeber's book, has more literary flair.

I have been reading Debt: The First 5000 Years, by David Graeber
In "Debt" Graeber is bold enough to suggest that at the most basic level many human interactions are communistic in nature. He suggests that  "From each according to their ability, to each according to their need" is how we respond to many situations in life.  Graeber suggests that people act according to this tenant of communism in many daily situations including those in which a smoke is "bummed".   

I have the ability to give someone else a smoke, they have the need for it.  The person asking me doesn't think much of the asking (according to Graeber they think far less of asking for a smoke than they would think of asking me for an equivalent amount of money or food), and I am not meant to think much of the giving.  It is second nature to provide for each other in a community setting.  If nothing else being a communist costs me at least half a pack of smokes a week.  That aside, Graeber's book seems interesting so far:  The argument that "communism" is not a system of political organization (he brings up the point that most prominent regimes have tagged themselves as "socialist" and "communism" will come far in the future after Marx's "withering of the state"), but rather something that is one of the basic (Graeber describes 3) ways in which humans interact with each other daily in regards to our material world is something that I would like to explore further.

An idea that has been nagging me for awhile is that as we form groups and arguments, (and yes...institutions as well) to organize production, we are essentially just expanding upon interactions that we are already familiar with from the processes of our daily lives, childhoods, etc.   The past is of course the strongest predictor of the future.  Reading the beginning of Debt, (for the record, is itself critical of capitalism), has brought back to the front of my consciousness the idea that the way out of capitalism (as well as its contradictions and problems), and into another system (albeit with its own sets of contradictions and problems to be sure), with a stronger sense of justice from a class perspective, might be steps towards decentralization of power and slightly more anarchy in our organizational processes (both political and economic).  The idea, somewhat re-introduced by Graeber that many humans default to a variety of communistic practices in our daily interactions revives my hope that post 20th century capitalism our material lives can remain rich, while at the same time becoming less institutionally exploitative of each other, if we work at it that is. 

There is tone to Graeber's analysis that suggests an arrogant rationalism behind many of his arguments, This is perhaps not a bad thing as the implications I have drawn out of the first 100 pages of his book seem quite positive, and possibly even hopeful for our future as a society.  So far "Debt" is proving to be an enjoyable and thought provoking read.  Chances are I will have more to write about it here in the coming days (especially if I find something to be more critical about).  

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