David Graeber, “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant“
There is common distinction made between a disease and its symptoms. For example, let’s consider the Black Death which killed off one third of Europe at its peak between 1347 and 1351. The cause of the disease was the bacterium Yersinia pestis, spread by fleas on rats. The symptoms:
“Contemporary accounts of the plague are often varied or imprecise. The most commonly noted symptom was the appearance of buboes (or gavocciolos) in the groin, the neck and armpits, which oozed pus and bled when opened.”
“It is said that the plague takes three forms. In the first people suffer an infection of the lungs, which leads to breathing difficulties. Whoever has this corruption or contamination to any extent cannot escape but will die within two days. Another form . . . in which boils erupt under the armpits, . . . a third form in which people of both sexes are attacked in the groin.”
During the period of the Black Death, if the cause was known, there would have been some chance for some people of avoiding it — even though the disease could not have been cured.
Why do I focus on this? Because when I read or watch the news — I mean the insightful news (not that issuing from corporate media) — everywhere there is a focus on the symptoms. I have in mind such programs as Democracy Now, the Real News, the Young Turks. The symptoms are unemployment, immigration, poverty, war. There is also focus on some objectionable laws or lack of laws dealing with taxation, abortions, voting, gay rights — recently the separation of children from immigrant parents. The news programs are “shows” which must fill in their news hour with content. Why do they focus on symptoms? I suppose that dwelling on the causes of these symptoms would either be boring or repetitious — so, the focus is on symptoms.
The causes of all these problems are both economic and political, because they work together. There are some people who have rightly identified the economic problem as due to capitalism. Noam Chomsky has been criticizing capitalism for decades. A recent noticeable voice is that of Richard Wolff, a self-proclaimed Marxist. However, for some reason, neither Chomsky nor Wolff, zero in on the nature of capitalism which makes it possible. Both Karl Marx and Max Weber were acutely conscious of what made industrial capitalism possible: the deprivation of people of access to free subsistence land. Historically, this first occurred in England where people were evicted from their land for the sake of sheep runs, called for by the demand for wool for the textile industry. This is the economic disease — depriving people of free access to subsistence land.
The other cause of our misery is representative democracy. People hope for a savior president or prime minister — or even a parliamentarian. Currently there is excitement in the United States that a 28 year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a Democratic primary. I understand the excitement because for a self-proclaimed social democrat to win is almost a miracle, and this generates hope. But really what can one or a few persons do when the majority are on the side of corporations? The root problem is the US Constitution — this is the political disease.
A better constitution is that of Switzerland. Why? For several reasons. First, Switzerland does not have a popularly elected president; instead it has a Federal Council of seven individuals nominated by four political parties, and confirmed by the joint vote of their bicameral parliament. [Corruption occurs when one individual has power] Second, amendments to their constitution have to be approved by popular vote and the majority of the cantons. People have a right to initiate amendments. And they also have a right to veto laws passed by their legislatures. Third, they have no Supreme Courts which can pronounce laws as unconstitutional.
Even though Swiss democracy is superior to that of the United States, it is not the best form of government. Why? Because when masses of people vote, they can be swayed by well-funded propaganda. A referendum or plebiscite — although better than none — can be manipulated with propaganda, which money can buy.
The remedy for this is to make the unit of government a small community with a directly elected council. All other political arrangement are to be by federation with other communities. This way, money plays almost no role in politics.
Centralized states have to be dismantled — perhaps by secession.
His main books:
Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, 2000.
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, 2004.
Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, 2007.
Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope, 2010.
I have just discovered a very interesting anarchist who has similar views to my own. His website is called “Attack the System” with two subtitles, with which I agree: (1) Pan-Anarchism Against the State, and (2) Pan-Secessionism Against the Empire.
I listened to two of his videos which are listed below, and plan to do more listening and studying of his ideas.
A description of current “leftist” views and their relation to the State.
European colonialism fathered American quasi-religious imperialism
I am troubled by the fact that many speakers and writers do not acknowledge or are ignorant of previous relevant writings on a topic, and really repeat saying what others have written; thus, “reinventing the wheel.”
What can explain this phenomenon? Well, it is obvious that people want to have personal success and income from their speaking and writing, and so, they try to get attention. They want people to view their videos, read their books, and be invited to various interviews, debates, and lectures.
They succeed, in part, because they appeal to a wide ignorant audience, which is attracted by the speaker’s or writer’s entertainment qualities, rather then by his or her scholarship.
For example, what do I want from a writer on a topic such as ethics? I want him to begin with something similar to what C. D. Broad did in his Five Types of Ethical Theories (1930). This is what he wrote: “Sidgwick’s Methods of Ethics seems to be on the whole the best treatise on moral theory that has ever been written, and to be one of the English philosophical classics.” p. 143. And the bulk of Broad’s book — 113 pages our of a total 285 — is devoted to a critical examination of Sidgwick’s ethics.
Instead of jumping right into a topic, I would like an author to start by identifying what he considers to be the best work to date on a topic and write a critique of this work.
I had tried to do something like this in my dissertation in the fields of epistemology and metaphysics . I did not outright say that Wilfrid Sellars is the best contemporary thinker on these topics, but I did so implicitly by choosing to critically examine his views and claiming that he had verisimilitude. Here is what I wrote: “The examined philosopher provides an occasion for developing one’s own philosophy, and this is especially rewarding if the examined philosophy has verisimilitude, as does that of Wilfrid Sellars. The conclusions I reach are very close to Sellars’ own — so close, in fact, that I am not certain whether what I am offering as correction are of things I am only misinterpreting.” Andrew Chrucky, “Critique of Wilfrid Sellars’ Materialism,” 1990.
I myself have not done any systematic work in ethics, but it seems that being able to pursue a critical examination of morals assumes a cultural and political context of such things as having had an education which gives one the critical acumen to pursue such studies, as well as the leisure to do so; rather than working at some unrelated area for a wage; and the means to pursue such a study — as access to a suitable library or the means to purchase necessary books. And, most important, there is the necessity of cultural tolerance and the political right of free speech.
Although I have a concern with ethics, there are also the more basic problems of how to cope with people who do not have a concern with morals and how to cope with institutions which allow such people to flourish. It is a question how to wage war against such people and such institutions.
Everyone should watch the videos of Cameron Watt. Why? Because he is very clear in explaining and documenting the history of the United States’ terrorist activities and the US support of various brutal regimes. And he is also very clear is explaining the nature of capitalism and of libertarian socialism (=anarchism).
However, there are three areas in which I have disagreements. The first is his opposition to Brexit. The only reason which I would have against Brexit is if this gives more power to the ruling classes of Great Britain — which it may do. Otherwise, I am for giving autonomy to smaller communities. For example, I am for the independence of Catalonia and the Basque region. I am for Kurdish and Palestinian independence. I am for ethnic groups seceding and forming their own communities. I am for a federated Europe, but not as it is now.
The second area in which I find disagreement is over his stance on free migration. The fact of the matter is that people are not only very social — craving to be in the company of other human beings, but they are tribal. Like other animals, they have a herding instinct: as it is said, birds of a feather flock together. That is why there are national states with distinct languages.
This tendency of people to group together is evident everywhere. I live in Chicago, and it is apparent that there is segregation of the city into various neighborhoods: Blacks, Mexicans, Chinese, Indians, Italians, Polish, Ukrainians, rich, poor.
Striving for legal desegregation is for economic reasons. Living in a capitalistic economy, no one wants to be disadvantaged from a job, education, public transportation, a restaurant, a house, or a rental because of some bias.
From a capitalist perspective, what is wanted is an atomized potential work force. The less people have in common, the less they are likely to form work unions. In addition, from a capitalist perspective, you want an ever increasing population by birth and by immigration. The flooding of Europe by migrations benefits capitalists, and that is why it is allowed; not for any humanitarian reason. The humanitarian thing to do would have been to prevent the conditions which caused the migrations in the first place.
The third area where I find — not disagreement — but a shortcoming with Cameron — is with the idea of worker-owned factories. This must be supplemented with a universal right to free subsistence land, and by a bottom-up government by councils — rather than by individuals.
David Ritchie in his book Natural Rights: A Criticism of Some Political and Ethical Conceptions, 2d ed. 1903, on p. 65, gives the following description of one kind of anarchism, which he identifies with the French Radicals associated with the French Revolution of 1789. I see no difference between this description and that of Murray Rothbard’s anarcho-capitalism.
“Anarchists are of three kinds. First of all, there is the old-fashioned Radical who repeats the revolutionary creed of 1789 in changed times, to whom an association called a government is an object of suspicion, whilst an association called a joint-stock company is an object of admiration. This old-fashioned Radical does not think himself a survival, but imagines that
he has the verdict of the newest science on his side. He would abolish legislation, but would leave the judicial functions of government to enforce what he calls natural rights, but what are really the legal and customary rights resulting from ancient legislation or want of legislation. He professes to give every one a fair start, but does not notice that the runners are unequally weighted. He calls himself an individualist, and is only a half-hearted Anarchist. His anarchy is anarchy based on the existing economic structure of society. He believes in Nature, but forgets that it is a Nature that has been operating for ages among human beings. Nature to him really means human society under a completely triumphant “Manchester School.” He would contribute to the amelioration of the species by abolishing all sanitary legislation, but would perhaps leave the tender-hearted private philanthropist a free hand in encouraging the propagation of beggars in order to give scope to his altruistic sentiments.”