‘The Dawn of Everything’ gets human history wrong


Ian Angus
 

It’s not often that a book by radical authors gets reviewed — let alone favorably reviewed — in the mainstream press. The Dawn of Everything, by David Graeber and David Wengrow, is an exception. Published just two months ago, it has already received accolades from many of the world’s most influential English-language newspapers and magazines.

It is certainly an enthralling book, but the two reviews published below, both from materialist anthropologists, argue that its account of human history ignores masses of contrary evidence, and that its political argument is idealist and voluntarist. Both reviews are particularly critical of the book’s failure to consider the causes of the oppression of women.



Ian Angus
Editor, Climate & Capitalism


Dayne Goodwin
 

thank you; Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale are excellent

On Fri, Dec 17, 2021 at 8:00 PM Ian Angus <ecosocialism@...> wrote:

It’s not often that a book by radical authors gets reviewed — let alone favorably reviewed — in the mainstream press. The Dawn of Everything, by David Graeber and David Wengrow, is an exception. Published just two months ago, it has already received accolades from many of the world’s most influential English-language newspapers and magazines.

It is certainly an enthralling book, but the two reviews published below, both from materialist anthropologists, argue that its account of human history ignores masses of contrary evidence, and that its political argument is idealist and voluntarist. Both reviews are particularly critical of the book’s failure to consider the causes of the oppression of women.

Continued ... https://climateandcapitalism.com/2021/12/17/the-dawn-of-everything-gets-human-history-wrong/


Ian Angus
Editor, Climate & Capitalism
https://climateandcapitalism.com


Mark Baugher
 

On Fri, Dec 17, 2021 at 10:00 PM, Ian Angus wrote:
t’s not often that a book by radical authors gets reviewed — let alone favorably reviewed — in the mainstream press. The Dawn of Everything, by David Graeber and David Wengrow, is an exception. Published just two months ago, it has already received accolades from many of the world’s most influential English-language newspapers and magazines.
 
It is certainly an enthralling book, but the two reviews published below, both from materialist anthropologists, argue that its account of human history ignores masses of contrary evidence, and that its political argument is idealist and voluntarist. Both reviews are particularly critical of the book’s failure to consider the causes of the oppression of women.
 
 
A friend sent me this book, and I'm enjoying it.  The first reviewer referenced above, Chris Knight noted that "In a short review, I cannot hope to convey the range and erudition of this book."  That's been my experience, but I think reviewing the reviews is useful for this book, including the two reviewers referenced above who explain why the book is not in the Marxist tradition.  Nonetheless, Chapter 2 is a treatment of the history of thought that sets the stage for Marx, Engels, and the Marxist tradition on the problem of the origins of human domination of humans and a solution for human freedom, i.e. dis-alienation.   Graeber and Wengrow also describe an early 18th-century literature genre based on a debate with an indigenous American, named Kandiaronk of the Wendat (US midwesterners may know this tribe as the Wyandotte).  This genre was popular among  Enlightenment figures, some of whom derived works that represented the interlocutor in the personage of a Persian, Chinese or other "observer" of repressive European civilization.  According to Graeber and Wengrow, this literary genre contribute to the birth of the progressive and conservative positions by the end of the 18th century.  As Chris Knight wrote, there's a lot there.

Mark
 

 


hari kumar
 

Thanks Mark - both for the review and the recommendation of the book itself. Chris Knight's views are always. to be taken seriously in my opinion. His careful scientific exposure of Chomsky's writings on linguistics ('Decoding Chomsky') was superb. That also took a (pretty mild) stab at Chomsky's politics. I know many here on the list love Chomsky, but... 
Was avoiding trying to read the Graebner book (purely issue of how much time to expend?). Guess I will have to do that...!
Hari


hari kumar
 

And Ian Angus also thanks - sorry I missed yours was the first post. H


stevencolatrella@...
 

Thank you for posting these. There is a lot that is valuable in the book,  but it is deeply flawed,  and indeed has both prehistoric and historical human history all wrong. The Peasants Revolt of 1381 alone refutes much of their major thesis about all ideas of democracy coming from Indigenous Americans,  appealing as that idea is. I strongly recommend the ongoing series of takedowns of the book on the YouTube channel "What is Politics ?". 


Mark Baugher
 

On Aug 14, 2022, at 12:16 AM, stevencolatrella@... wrote:

I strongly recommend the ongoing series of takedowns of the book on the YouTube channel "What is Politics ?".
Thanks. There are about a half-dozen Youtube titles by that name; I assume you mean this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZqyXSkHeeM

Mark


Mark Lause
 

That's a good video overall.  Does anybody know anything about the channel? 



Michael Pugliese
 

On Sun, Aug 14, 2022 at 6:53 AM Mark Lause <markalause@...>
wrote: That's a good video overall. Does anybody know anything about
the channel?

YouTube channels always have an About tab.
https://www.youtube.com/c/WHATISPOLITICS69/about , which , at times
gives some background.
https://www.patreon.com/whatispolitics . Their recommended channels,
via their homepage,
https://www.youtube.com/c/WHATISPOLITICS69/channels , has an eclectic
selection , ranging from liberals, such as
https://www.youtube.com/user/SamSeder , to Stalinoids,
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1h2TzFcz238HBbwLBYbQOw, the
ineffable Esha.


Mark Lause
 

I found the about tabs almost always disappointing.  They seem to often not even give the name.


On Sun, Aug 14, 2022, 11:34 AM Michael Pugliese <michael.098762001@...> wrote:
On Sun, Aug 14, 2022 at 6:53 AM Mark Lause <markalause@...>
wrote:  That's a good video overall.  Does anybody know anything about
the channel?

YouTube channels always have an About tab.
https://www.youtube.com/c/WHATISPOLITICS69/about , which , at times
gives some background.
https://www.patreon.com/whatispolitics . Their recommended channels,
via their homepage,
https://www.youtube.com/c/WHATISPOLITICS69/channels , has an eclectic
selection , ranging from liberals, such as
https://www.youtube.com/user/SamSeder , to Stalinoids,
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1h2TzFcz238HBbwLBYbQOw, the
ineffable Esha.






Mark Baugher
 

On Aug 14, 2022, at 8:33 AM, Michael Pugliese <michael.098762001@...> wrote:

https://www.youtube.com/c/WHATISPOLITICS69/about , which , at times
gives some background.
Thanks.

They have almost six hours of _The_Dawn_of_Everything_ videos! Personally, I prefer text rather than wasting so many electrons.

Mark


Mark Lause
 

Perhaps it's a matter of expectations, but I didn't dislike the book.  I read it mostly for the effort at a prehistory synthesis, and less for the quality of the synthesis than data brought together by the authors.


Mark Baugher
 

On Sat, Aug 13, 2022 at 02:56 AM, hari kumar wrote:
His careful scientific exposure of Chomsky's writings on linguistics ('Decoding Chomsky') was superb.
I just finished the book.  Thanks.  It was very good and, for me, provocative.  I went to graduate school for computer science in the 80s. Chomsky was on the curriculum.  What I found provocative were some of the book's quotes about "...the Pentagon-funded war science community clustered around Chomsky..." and "The weapons research conducted on campuses like his own was explicitly designed, according to him, 'to harm people, to destroy and murder and control'."  I never associated Chomsky personally with any weapons research. I mostly studied the work of people who said that they were inspired by him.
 
The book makes an equivalence between working in a lab that has grants from the US Department of Defense (Army, Navy, Air Force, etc.) and a lab that researches weapons technologies for them.  In the former bucket is the "DoD Internet," which evolved into the Public Internet that we all use daily. Inter-networking was never intended as a weapon but reportedly sold to the DoD Advanced Research Projects Agency as a computer networking technology that could survive nuclear war.  Personally, I started working on computer networks before the Internet.  I worked on a competing technology called "X.25" and felt a moral aversion to "DoD Internet" technology.  But it won. During the 80s, researchers funded by the DoD built the network protocols that we use today.
 
The US government had long ago chosen to direct much of its university-research funding through the US military, which wanted to stay on top of scientific advances that could be exploited in weaponry.  But less that 15% of US military personnel operate weapons, the rest are mostly in communications and logistics.  So the military interest is wide and weapons were often beside the point.  During my first two years in graduate school, I was paid by a NASA grant, which was not renewed after the Challenger explosion.  I was reassigned to work to a commercially-funded project, but my two co-workers went onto an Army grant so they could complete their work.  Somebody in the Army was interested in the work for some reason and wanted it finished; the output was intended for publication and was published in a globally-accessible journal.
 
The book makes no distinctions between published research and secret research or between basic research and applied research.  If the results are to be published, i.e. available to all, then I wouldn't call the results "weapons research" even if the DoD funded it. So much US government-sponsored research is funded through the military that it goes far beyond MIT.  There was a lot of military funding in the state university that I attended as at many public and private universities in the US. But it has always been the top engineering schools that get the most funding from government, military and commercial sources.  Chomsky's sin was that he managed to get a job at one of them, perhaps the university that gets the most.  But his work was basic research and not applied.  Chomsky is a thought leader. I cannot name any of his work that I have used apart from answering questions on a test. But I can name several pioneers in computer science that credit him with inspiring their work.  I'd guess that practically all of his work was publicly available.  The book doesn't address it, but if work is published for all to see, presumably including our enemies du jour, is it weapons research?
 
The book refers to US weapons labs but does not mention US security clearances.  A person needs a security clearance to work in a US weapons lab.  And to get one, that person would need to sign a loyalty oath.  Personally, I was denied a security clearance fifty years ago when I was drafted into the US Army.  A lieutenant came to my training unit to tell me that.  I told him that I never applied for a security clearance.  He said that all service members are given a confidential security clearance - except people like me who refused to sign forms DD-398 and DD-98.  These were the DoD loyalty oath and list of organizations to pledge not to join; it was the policy of most socialists to refuse to sign them.  Did Chomsky sign them or something like them?  Did he have a security clearance of any sort? I don't personally care, but the book designates him as someone the "war scientist community" clustered around.
 
I'm afraid that the book's indictment of Chomsky applies to most people who work in US computer systems or electrical engineering research and development. This is not so much a defense of Chomsky as an indictment of the rest of us.
 
Mark


Michael Meeropol
 

I confess --- for my graduate work at the University of Wisconsin in Economics in 1966-1969, I received a NATIONAL DEFENSE EDUCATION ACT FELLOWSHIP --

(I did NOT have to sign a loyalty oath to receive this --- that was an issue for undergraduates offered loans!)

So am I by analogy a tool of American militarism and imperialism? -- I sure as Hell hope not, though a few times I taught an MBA course at an air force base in Massachusetts ....

This attack on Chomsky is absolutely ridiculous --- he worked at MIT which gets a TREMENDOUS amount of money from the US government -- some of it IS defense related ---

In our society it is impossible to be PURE --- but I doubt that Chomsky has spent one minute of his life or one breath of air supporting American imperialism and militarism ...

Anyone who thinks otherwise is either woefully ignorant or willfully misleading ...



stevencolatrella@...
 

The critiques on "What is Politics " are very much worth watching in their entirety. 


Mark Baugher
 

Lots of different content share the same name on the Internet. Various videos with the generic title "What is Politics" are available from different distributors. URLs are always welcome.

Mark

On Sep 1, 2022, at 1:12 AM, stevencolatrella@... wrote:

The critiques on "What is Politics " are very much worth watching in their entirety.


hari kumar
 

Hello Mark: 

I had clean forgotten about that remark. Thanks for the comments!
And I am sincerely glad the book was of interest to read, since I was on the hook for recommending it!
So your comments on - if I can use that phrase - "the other major aspect" of the book are very well taken, and actually I largely have no problems with it. On those - You are largely correct in my view.

On a personal note - I held NIH grants. While this agency was rather more attenuated than the DOD from ruling circles - it is hardly 'pure'. But then I am not - a 'pure land Marxist'. Trying to disassociate one's earning a livelihood from capitalism, is sheer utopianism in my view. 

The point is not to abstain from daily life, but to change it - to mildly rephrase someone substantially more eloquent than I. Actually, as I recall it the thrust of the book's remarks on Chomsky's place of work and his DOD funding - was rather more on the somewhat dubious way Chomsky refused to entertain queries about it and was evasive. So be it.

I did not bring up that particular aspect of Chomsky if I recall. I appreciate your remarks and those of Michael M who followed your remark. Although - personally I would not be so sure of Chomsky's "inner thought processes" - if I could put it that way Michael. The book adequately reveals how diligently tortuous his reasonings can be. So be it. His earlier political writings I still have, and I have found very useful actually - admittedly more for the load of factual material than for a political strategy. However I do note that there has been some more recent negativity from Middle Eastern authors about his recent responses, but I am not really in a position to assess those. 

As I recall it - When I made that remark of recommendation, it was in relation to materialist explanations of postulated primitive communism and shifts to ancient societies.  Indeed I was far more interested in the *other theme* of that book, namely the "careful scientific exposure of Chomsky's writings on linguistics". [I'm glad that you Mark, had copied that into your comments!].

What this revealed to me personally, is the basis of idealism - rather than materialism - that Chomsky's linguistic philosophy is based upon. That was the novel and fascinating feature of the book for me. I had had that suspicion, but did not have the requisite expertise base to challenge the linguistics. Regrettably the book is on a bookshelf very far from me right now, and I just cannot point to the portions of it by citation-quotation readily.

But the essence of it as I recall was the notion of innateness and a vocabulary-grammar-syntax that was 'in-born'. When stated as baldly as that - is anyone familiar with how babies & kids pick up differing languages like a fish swims in water - likely to accept that? But - this is the core of Chomsky's linguistics. At leat I accept the author's presentation of it, I found nothing faulty about it. And actually it was the start of Chomsky's fame. And - as the book shows - Chomsky made lots of 'scientific' contortions around this central theme of his linguistics when data points emerged to challenge his reasoning.

So this does bring up a more general point, and I am aware again - that this will offend the pro-Chomsky people here - But...  If you can obfuscate (I think the word is not far from what is demonstrated in the book) and intellectualise a wrong position on your work-academic positions, what might it say about other positions one takes? Are they in a vacuum?

For instance if my academic work-positions as a neonatal ICU doc deny or ignore the societal impacts of work/housing/immigrant ICE 'controls' causing stress, and that effect on the rates of prematurity - what might that say about my political positions? 

Be Well, Hari Kumar 


Michael Pugliese
 

Hari Kumar and Mark Baugher noted the book, Decoding Chomsky. Opinion is divided, of coarse, on it, see, 
--


Mark Baugher
 

On Sep 1, 2022, at 10:06 AM, Michael Pugliese <michael.098762001@...> wrote:

https://scienceandrevolution.org/blog/2018/6/18/chris-knight-frederick-newmeyer-and-randy-allen-harris-debate-decoding-chomsky-in-the-pages-of-open-democracy . Among the writers in that last url from Open Democracy is Les Levidow, who some here might recall as the Radical Science Journal editor back in the 80’s.
I particularly enjoyed another Open Democracy essay from your URL. It's by Peter Jones: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/gaining-perspective-on-chomsky-s-linguistics/. The author situated Chomsky's approach to linguistics in a history of ideas differently from Decoding Chomsky, which traced Chomsky's influences to the Russian Revolution, or a reaction to it. Jones goes back further, to the 18th century, and a humorous comparison with the Grand Academy of Logato.

Neither author considers Chomsky's sameness to the Cold War intellectuals of his time and to those he inspired. As Chomsky and his US peers came of age, they were certainly aware that the FBI hounded scientists, academics, scholars and engineers for left-wing activities, and they hounded employers, particularly of active CP'ers. People lost their jobs and sometimes worse for their political views. Chomsky's approach allowed many of the postwar theory class to skirt ideological attachments by doing math instead. Chomsky led linguistics and influenced computer science. Others undoubtedly played similar roles in other fields. A folk tale that I heard in my economics program is that "Institutional Economics" grew during the 50's and became the loyal opposition to neoclassical economics after the Marxist were fired. And this happened once before: During the 1920's, Institutionalist grew in number in US universities, particularly midwestern ones, following the Palmer Raids when the reds were similarly chased out of academic departments. That lasted until the 1930's when the reds came back and the cycle continued.

Chomsky and those he influenced were shaped by the historical conditions of Cold War and Big Science. Noam Chomsky is a very unique individual, but I think the affects of his time in history were general to US universities.

Mark