Review of “The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity” by David Graeber and David Wengrow

I have written six previous commentaries on the book [see below]. And, though I have further commentaries to make, here I want to focus on their claim of being a “new” history.

In which respect is it new?
1. It is new in the sense that it is the most recently published.
2. It is new in the sense that it takes into account the archeological discoveries of the past 50 years or so.
3. It is also new in that it tries to take into account all the anthropological findings.
4. But it also claims to be new in discarding the so-called “dominant view” and the “received wisdom.”

It is this last claim which appears to me to be something like a “straw man.”

Let me explain. A straw man argument is one which targets a fictitious position — a position invented simply for the purpose of refutation. And if one alleges to attribute such a position to a real person, then one is in reality attributing it to a fictitious person — a straw man.

In claiming that some position is the “dominant position” or the “received wisdom”, one is making a sociological claim, a claim which can be supported by a survey or a poll. [I did such a survey in 1998, trying to find out which philosopher was most influential. See: Philosophical Influence — Statistically Determined]

But the authors have not conducted any kind of survey, or named any book or authors; so their claim is simply a dogmatic assertion.

Let us now turn to the formulation of this so-called “dominant view,” “conventiona narrative,” and “received wisdom.”

As far as I can formulate it, it is the the claim that historically there was a series of linear discrete changes from foraging to farming to cities and states. If we use a time line, this historical situation is to be represented by several non-overlapping progressive historical lines. And the authors’ allegedly new position is that the situation should be represented by several overlapping historical lines. Let us call the former the Discrete View; the latter the Overlapping View.

And one of the overlapping lines, according to the authors, should be called by the neologism “play farming.” This is the claim that there was an experimental part-time farming before full-time farming. The claim was made in Chapter 6: Gardents of Adonis.

To be fair to the authors, perhaps they think that although parts of the Overlapping View were widely believed, it was the Discrete View which had to be expressed in a caricaturish manner because of the absence of evidence. [Or, perhaps such a view represents a historical bird’s eye view!] If their view about the lack of evidence is true, then, according to them, the discovery of Catalhoyuk, gives us the first evidence for part of the Overlapping View, i.e., the view that cities and farming existed simultaneously with foraging.

Let me comment on this particular claim. The claim that Catalhoyuk is the first evidence for part of the Overlapping View is not true. Yuval Harari in Sapience (p.85) writes:

The Natufians were hunter-gatherers who subsisted on dozens of wild species, but they lived in permanent villages and devoted much of their time to the intensive gathering and processing of wild cereals. They built stone houses and granaries. They stored grain for times of need. They invented new tools such as stone scythes for harvesting wild wheat, and stone pestles and mortars to grind them.

Being only a bystander in anthropology, I went to Wikipedia to find something more about the Natufian culture. The Natufian culture was named and discovered by Dorothy Garrod in the 1930s. [Incidentally, the only reference to Natufians by Graeber and Wengrow is on p. 246 where they attribute to them only the practice of “curating human crania.”]

Below is a video about the Natufian culture:

Catalhoyuk is dated to c. 9,000 BC; whereas Natufian culture is dated to c. 13,000 BC.

My conclusion is that the dominant belief was and is the Overlapping View, and that the evidence for the Overlapping View preceded the discovery of Catalhoyuk. So, it is puzzling as to what else is “new” in their “new history.”

Previous commentaries:

First Commentary

Second Commentary

Third Commentary

Fourth Commentary

Fifth Commentary

Sixth Commentary

Lawrence Krauss and Much Ado About Nothing

Lawrence Krauss published a book titled A Universe from Nothing. His use of the word “nothing” is no less ridiculous than the use of the word “nobody” in the following passage from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass:

King: “Just look along the road, and tell me if you can see either of them.”

Alice: “I see nobody on the road,” said Alice.

King: “I only wish I had such eyes,” the King remarked in a fretful tone. “To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance, too! Why, it’s as much as I can do to see real people, by this light!”

And the following reception by Stephen Colbert is quite justified.

Joe Rogan, Whoopi Goldberg, and Bull Sessions

I view both Joe Rogan’s participation in The Joe Rogan Experience, and Whoopi Goldberg’s participation in The View, as participations in public bull sessions. Bull sessions are associated with late-night college dorm informal conversations and discussions. I view them as experiments with ideas, which includes hypotheticals, trolling, and taking the roll of a devil’s advocate. All sorts of language is allowed. Nothing is censored.

Whatever Joe Rogan or Whoopi Goldberg said or believe should be protected as the freedom of speech. If any of their speech is offensive to some listeners, these listeners have the right not to listen.

However, the matter is complicated by the fact that Rogan and Goldberg are saying things within the orbit of private companies. Joe Rogan is sponsored by Spotify, and Whoopi Goldberg is employed by ABC which is owned by Disney General Entertainment. Both Spotify and ABC are interested in the bottom line, and nothing more. It is clear that Spotify is not about to get rid of Rogan, and ABC has given Goldberg a slap on the wrist.

There is a more serious problem with censorship as exercised by Facebook and Twitter. In a sense Spotify and ABC have a right to control and fire their employees, but Facebook and Twitter are trying to control and “fire” the general public by either shutting down their accounts for some period, or banning them altogether.

See also:

Pat Condell on the new censorship against “hate” speech

Political Correctness in Academia

Escaping the State

Jay Nock wrote a book, Out Enemy, the State, (1935), which expresses our global problem of being ruled (i.e., enslaved) by one or another form of centralized government (= State) . How the State originated is best explained by Franz Oppenheimer’s book, The State (1914).

A few years ago, James Scott came up with a book describing how people all over the world have tried to escape the State. The book is: The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (2009). Although it focuses on an area of Asia, it does mention other places where people have fled from the State. [Incidentally, his work was preceded and inspired by the work of Pierre Clastres, Society Against the State, (1974).]

If you are interested, below are some relevant videos:

James Scott on the topic of “The Art of Not Being Governed”

A Short Account of the Deep History of State Evasion |

Prof James C. Scott – Beyond the Pale: The Earliest Agrarian States and “their Barbarians”, SOAS

Divide and Conquer

The following posting on Facebook received 7.7 K likes, 613 Comments, and 8.1K Shares
This depicts IDEOLOGICAl division among the people, as does the following poster:
But the more serious division is a division between means of ENFORCEMENT, as illustrated by the photos below:
And the whole situation is best depicted by the pyramid of power and privilege:

Why I am a political pessimist (realist?)

The primary reason that I am a pessimist is that from a Martian point of view the trajectory of human history is towards an ecological self-destruction, and there is no remedy in sight.

There are proposed remedies, but the politicians — if they know them, either can’t or don’t want to implement them. As to the masses of people, they are — what can I say? — ignorant and uninterested.

Let me unpack what I just said. The world over — except for Switzerland — executive power is in the hands of single individuals. These individuals are either dictators (or monarchs), or presidents, or prime ministers. In the case of macro liberal democracies — in which thousands or millions vote — both the president and the parliaments are in the hands of the rich. Why? Because it takes advertisement to win elections where thousands and millions are voting. And advertisement takes money which is contributed mostly by the rich. And the rich will support only a candidate that will be beneficial to them. And, as in the United States, we can see that all the Presidents have served the rich. And the trajectory for the future is more of the same: Biden or Trump. Go ahead pick the lesser of your two evils!

With Prime Ministers, the situation is equally dismal. Remember that parliamentarians too have to be elected by thousands or millions of voters; so, they too will predominantly represent the interests of the rich. And the Party with the most members will pick the Prime Minister — obviously he or she will serve the interests of the rich. Take note of Great Britain: Thatcher, Blair, May, Johnson.

What could change these political trajectories? A change, for example, towards Swiss style democracy. But is it in the offing? I am afraid not.

I come now to the masses — the voters. The masses are pessimistic as to any influence they may have on politics; so, many don’t bother voting. Of those who vote, I think that they too are disillusioned, but feel that they must choose the lesser of the evils.

As to my proposal about Switzerland, how many voters even know that there is such a country? And even if they have heard of it, can they locate it on a map?

Here is a video in which people on the street are asked to name any country on a map of the world. Here is the result:

As to knowing what kind of government Switzerland has . . . Ask first if they know what a government is!

People on the Street: What is the Purpose of Government?

What is needed is a change in the system of governments. But such changes in the system of governments occur only rarely, and under starvation or chaotic situations. The so-called recent “revolutions” have not been more than changes in leaderships. And, as far as ordinary people are concerned, changing leaders is a revolution. Consequently, even if conditions become dire, people will clamor for a leader savior. And that is why I am a political pessimist.

John Mearsheimer, the American Machiavelli

John Mearsheimer calls himself a Realist. What does this mean? If we look at the world as a chess game, then Mearsheimer is either a master observer and commentator of chess, or the coach to an American chess player. Below are his thoughts in Feb. 2020.

His thoughts in Jan. 2019:

See also:

Political Realism of John Mearsheimer

Is the United States really interested in a liberal (democracy) hegemony?

My criticism of John Mearsheimer and Timothy Snyder for focusing on ideologies rather than the interests of individual leaders

Police and Soldiers: the Banality of Evil

Hannah Arendt, after studying Adolf Eichmann, concluded that he was just an ordinary man doing his job; though doing his job was a link in the extermination of Jews. When you think about what kinds of jobs people are willing to do . . . well, almost anything.

Look at this image. It is disgusting to see an African in the Congo (during Leopold II of Belgium reign) guarding other Africans as slaves.

[See: Atrocities in the Congo Free State]

It is with same disgust that I look at policemen and soldiers beating and killing their own fellow countrymen. Why do they do this? Because it is their “job” to do so. So, how much do they get paid to do their “job”? [See: The brutal attack of protesters by Chicago police in 1968: ]

In the United States the median salary as reported by Police Officer Salary in the United States is $59,900 per year. And a soldier’s pay with benefits is roughly the same. See MILITARY COMPENSATION: ARMY BENEFITS.

I am reflecting on this because of what is happening in Kazakhstan. According to the following chart, Police Officer Average Salary in Kazakhstan 2022, the average salary is $549.28 per month.

“In Kazakhstan, 4.3% of the population lives below the national poverty line in 2018.”

“The minimum income level below the subsistence minimum in Kazakhstan is $35 per month. Any amount below the minimum is considered as poverty. Between 1998 and 2003, the number of people living in poverty in the country fell from 5 million to 3 million.”

“Jay Gould boasted, cynically: ‘I can hire half of the working class to kill the other half.’ ” Louis Adamic, Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence in America, 1931, p. 23.