Two Lefties Start to Change Their Tune
just a little
I’ve just finished a lefty history of everything, The Dawn of Everything: a New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow. Their basic narrative is that the old narrative of humans as hunter-gatherers turning into agricultural serfs turning into industrial workers is way too simple. The agricultural age was not really an age, there was a lot more going on than just Mesopotamian monarchs plundering the slaves and living glorious lives in fantastic palaces.
For instance, there were instances of egalitarian societies. Early Mesopotamian society seemed to have very little on the palatial front. And there were quite a few societies — in North America and on the Greek island of Knossos — which put off a definite matriarchal and woman-dominant vibe.
Well, yes. All histories are absurdly simplified, and are really, I suppose, more about humans wanting to know where they came from than really understanding life, the universe, and everything.
And yeah, our modern societies exhibit monstrous inequality and domination. And it seems to have been possible, in the past, to have pretty egalitarian societies, in the sense that everyone seemed to get along without too much in the way of licentious soldiery or monarchs or aristocratic bureaucrats.
Naturally, the two Davids like their own special simplifying narratives. One is the tripartite nature of domination in human societies:
control of violence, control of information, and individual charisma.
Control of violence leads to “sovereignty” as in monarchs; control of information leads to “bureaucracy;” and individual charisma is about the high-born playing at “politics.”
And, the Davids observe, the combination of sovereignty and bureaucracy is very powerful. But they protest against the notion that these three were fated to come together in something like the form of “modern nation states in America and France at the end of the eighteenth century.” Just because we tend to write history to make the present seem to be the inevitable result of the past doesn’t mean it’s true.
The other is the tripartite nature of “social freedoms:”
the freedom to move; the freedom to disobey orders; the freedom to reorganize social relations.
That “freedom to move” is one thing that I observe about the past in America. Used to be that if you got into trouble back east you just picked up your carpet bag and headed out west. And when you got there, nobody knew you from Adam.
Well, yeah. Glad you lefties finally woke up out of your drug-fueled dream.
You do understand, I presume, that in your dream of the perfect equal society you perfected the three forms of domination, with your charismatic leaders from Stalin to Mao to Hitler; your monstrous national bureaucracies and their control of information and income and taxes, and your elevation of politics to be the best that any young person can hope for.
And you also understand, I presume, that the societies inspired by your ideas are hell on Earth for freedom. They are hell for people that want to move; they utterly forbid the disobedience of ruling-class orders, and reserve all reorganization of social relations to the educated experts.
So are you lefties now ready to dial back the all-powerful state? And dial back the supremacy of politics? And let people move out of the city into the middle-class suburbs, and disobey the orders of the planners and the regulators? And thumb their noses at the wokies and the cancelers?
See, my History of Humanity says that this age should be the age of the commoner, that experiences other people more or less as equals, that does not really want to order other people around, and that goes to work, follows the rules and obeys the laws.
And in between all that they tinker around in a garage full of power tools inventing stuff.
I just picked up a picture book: 100 Innovations of the Industrial Revolution from 1700 to 1860 by Simon Forty. And it’s about the hundreds of Anybodies that came up with the innovations, from Abraham Darby to Thomas Telford. Whatabout Elias Howe, who invented the lock-stitch sewing machine? He was an apprentice in the shop of Ari Davis in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when he invented his machine.
Were these inventors noble lords? Were they awe-inspiring university professors? Were they greedy bankers? No, they were just ordinary commoners that happened to come up with great ideas.
Suppose we all agree now, lefties, that we need a lot less domination and a lot more freedom in this world. I have a question: how do we get there from here? Because, inspired by you chaps, we have built the gigantic modern state that is really nothing more than a vehicle for sovereigns and bureaucrats to hand out loot and plunder to their supporters.
So, great, we lordly ones all agree. Less domination and more freedom. But how are we going to persuade the beneficiaries of state largesse to give up their bennies. In the interest of equality and freedom?
I am eager to hear your ideas. Because I don’t have a clue how we get from here to there.