Thread: "How to change the course of human history"

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  1. #1
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    Default "How to change the course of human history"

    I'm guessing most of you have already read through this, but I thought it was really interesting.

    https://www.eurozine.com/change-course-human-history/

    Basically, David Graeber and David Wengrow challenging the popular conceptions of early man, advanced by people like Francis Fukuyama/Jared Diamond/Ian Morris (that the 'Agricultural Revolution' and the formation of sedentary societies necessarily led to the beginning of inequality), and instead advances the question of how what now appear to be incredibly fluid and shifting societies that, seasonally, switched from inequality/authority to egalitarianism, came to adopt such a static vision of society, and what it means for us today.

    I'm fairly unfamiliar with Graeber's work although I've of course heard of him, but what do the rest of you think about the implications this has for revolutionary thought?
  2. #2
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    I haven’t read this closely, but on the surface it appears to make a few straw-figure arguments and at least on example of new evidence used here (the site of ancient religious feasts in Turkey) has since been found to be actually stronger evidence of a link between new forms of living and new hierarchies (evidence of cultivated grain was found much earlier than they thought, so the feasts took place at a time of grain cultivation).

    The straw-figures are that a agriculture-class link also implies a straight-forward or unalterable march to this kind of society. Fits and starts, lots of variations, are likely.

    I think evidence does suggest a link between increased agricultural surplus and class and hierarchy, but I also disagree with the conclusions drawn by the academics cited in the article. Jarred Diamond thinks that the rise of class was an ugly necessity and claims that in a historical view humans are less violent due to being “civilized”... but this conflates interpersonal and state violence. His evidence is the number of fractures and even tool-wounds found in early human fossils. I think that’s rather weak since there could be tons of alternate reasons for seeing these injuries in a very tiny fossil record. At any rate, it’s wrong to use the bad conclusions drawn by mainstream academics as a reason to question the evidence.

    Fancy burials also isn’t very convincing to me because it’s a leap to say that people being buried with decorations and personal objects or tools from their life suggests hereditary property... being buried with objects could imply the opposite, that any personal status stayed with that individual and so they were buried with symbols of their achievements and that these were personal status rather than hereditary-status indicators.

    I’m not that familiar with Rousseau or philosophical history in general, but i’d imagine his account was less “biblical” than “new world”. After all the biblical version is a “fall from grace” (as with origin stories in many many religions) but the specific biblical view preceding this view one of stasis and harmony.

    At any rate I am not an expert and could easily be wrong but as far as i’ve read about this subject, these questions are far from settled and new evidence is not as definitive as the article suggests. Views about this in academia seem to swing back and forth every generation or two.

    I do tend to find the social-reproduction view (that changes in how people reproduced their society creates the arena in which that society develops its relations, rituals, and ideas) more convincing even if I disagree with the conclusions of someone like Diamond. I don’t think it diminishes the diversity and richness of human history or implies some kind of inevitability even though those crude versions of this idea might exist.
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  4. #3
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    I haven’t read this closely, but on the surface it appears to make a few straw-figure arguments and at least on example of new evidence used here (the site of ancient religious feasts in Turkey) has since been found to be actually stronger evidence of a link between new forms of living and new hierarchies (evidence of cultivated grain was found much earlier than they thought, so the feasts took place at a time of grain cultivation).

    The straw-figures are that a agriculture-class link also implies a straight-forward or unalterable march to this kind of society. Fits and starts, lots of variations, are likely.

    I think evidence does suggest a link between increased agricultural surplus and class and hierarchy, but I also disagree with the conclusions drawn by the academics cited in the article. Jarred Diamond thinks that the rise of class was an ugly necessity and claims that in a historical view humans are less violent due to being “civilized”... but this conflates interpersonal and state violence. His evidence is the number of fractures and even tool-wounds found in early human fossils. I think that’s rather weak since there could be tons of alternate reasons for seeing these injuries in a very tiny fossil record. At any rate, it’s wrong to use the bad conclusions drawn by mainstream academics as a reason to question the evidence.

    Fancy burials also isn’t very convincing to me because it’s a leap to say that people being buried with decorations and personal objects or tools from their life suggests hereditary property... being buried with objects could imply the opposite, that any personal status stayed with that individual and so they were buried with symbols of their achievements and that these were personal status rather than hereditary-status indicators.

    I’m not that familiar with Rousseau or philosophical history in general, but i’d imagine his account was less “biblical” than “new world”. After all the biblical version is a “fall from grace” (as with origin stories in many many religions) but the specific biblical view preceding this view one of stasis and harmony.

    At any rate I am not an expert and could easily be wrong but as far as i’ve read about this subject, these questions are far from settled and new evidence is not as definitive as the article suggests. Views about this in academia seem to swing back and forth every generation or two.

    I do tend to find the social-reproduction view (that changes in how people reproduced their society creates the arena in which that society develops its relations, rituals, and ideas) more convincing even if I disagree with the conclusions of someone like Diamond. I don’t think it diminishes the diversity and richness of human history or implies some kind of inevitability even though those crude versions of this idea might exist.
    Sorry for the late response, I didn't really remember I made this thread.

    If you haven't finished reading the article, I would strongly encourage you to do so. Graeber is primarily offering the views of Diamond, Rousseau, et. al. in order to familiarize those unfamiliar with the current popular agreement on 'primitive societies' so that he can better critique them later in the article.

    For example, in reference to what you were saying about burials, he even brings up the possibility that those societies were playing a form of 'dress up' at these gatherings and burials anyway.

    Sorry if I misread your post and you saw these things, acknowledged them, and I just missed it.

    --

    More specifically, he absolutely agrees w/ the idea of 'fits and starts', and specifically brings up the fact that agriculture, for a lot of communities, was picked up, then abandoned, and then picked up again, seeming to indicate that they were experimenting w/ different forms of living.
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  6. #4
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    No, that’s completely fair. I only skimmed it at the time and then bookmarked it, but haven’t read it more thoroughly yet.

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