Posts tagged with ‘A. Brady’
Last November, a few days after videos of riot police beating Berkeley student protestors were blowing up on youtube, an article in the New York Times announced that UC-Berkeley’s Chancellor Robert Birgeneau had been travelling to establish a satellite campus within the intimate confines of Shanghai’s Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park. Because Birgeneau had been in Asia during the entirety of the week leading up to and following the events of that day, he had had very little to say about what was happening on his campus, with the exception of two extremelytin-earedand downright offensive emails. We knew he was out of town while campus police were brutalizing their campus, but that’s all we knew.
That’s what real class antagonism is, the relatonship between the powerful who use their power to benefit themselves and the weak whose subjection to it makes them objects of exploitation. In industrial capitalism, this antagonism is the exploitation of labor; in agricultural economies, it’s based around rents and debt peonage. But the principle is similar enough, and in both cases, the antagonism flows out of real – and violent, when necessary – relations of power. It is because the aristocracy needs its victims that it violates them into submission and consent, producing – in the mind of the master – the Hegelian master-slave dynamic by which the master is actually, apparently paradoxically, dependent on the slave for his position. But it isn’t a paradox; the industrialist needs the laborer, and the lord needs the peasant, and because they need them, they use force to keep them.
In the final lines of his introduction to Debt: The First 5,000 Years, David Graeber writes that “[f]or a very long time, the intellectual consensus has been that we can no longer ask Great Questions.” And as he put it in a guest post over at Savage Minds:
The aim of the book was to write the sort of book people don’t write any more: a big book, asking big questions, meant to be read widely and spark public debate…[T]he credit crisis —and near collapse of the global economy in 2008—afforded the perfect opportunity. In the wake of the disaster, it was as if suddenly, everyone wanted to start asking big questions again. Even The Economist, that bastion of neoliberal orthodoxy, was running cover headlines like “Capitalism: Was It A Good Idea?” (my italics)
Debt is a “big book,” in other words, because he wants to re-open a set of questions that had come to seem closed “for a very long time,” the questions of “what human beings and human society are or could be like—what we actually do owe each other, what it even means to ask that question.”
To be more specific, Graeber’s starting point is the Grand neoliberal orthodoxy that regards Debt as the worst possible thing, the argument, for example, that austerity measures like an end to state subsidies of public libraries in California are preferable to the moral crisis of going (deeper) into debt. This has been a bipartisan consensus that dominated the Anglo-American political and media discourse up to somewhere around the beginning of Occupy Wall Street, and which still dominates – perhaps a little more quietly, now – our political class’s actions. It may not be desirable to cut pensions or eliminate what used to be essential social services – goes the argument – but it’s better than going into debt.