Reading David Graeber is such a weird experience for me. he had all these political opinions and then realised quite late in life, after he’d already forged a solid career as an anthropologist, that he could actually act on them as part of a Social Movement. then he started writing on anarchist social movements in North America. I actually really like most of the things I’ve read by him, but it’s strange to see this guy who clearly knows a lot more than me about lots of things get really excited about the idea of “spokescouncils” and want to explain them to me like it’s something I’ve never heard of before. And I mean, I want to challenge that reaction in myself, because I want to challenge the idea that if you don’t get involved in social movements when you’re very, very young, you’ve lost your chance. But it also does actually shit me? I’ve been active in anarchist-y social movements about as long as he has, why don’t I have a desk? I am also wondering what this says about anthropology and about the rest of Graeber’s work. What does it mean that I am vaguely annoyed by some of his work, but only the ethnographies of environments I’m familiar with?
I should mention here that I don’t trust people who are not constantly challenging themselves — which describes a lot of the people I’ve met who critique theory as “inaccessible”. I’m mostly talking about white, professional-class humanities students with English as a first language and no learning/developmental disabilities that make it particularly difficult to parse nonstandard language. That is the #1 population I have heard make this critique of theory, by a huge distance. But theory’s not inaccessible — to them. The word you are looking for is “challenging”. I don’t understand how you even justify going to uni and doing a humanities degree if you don’t see the value of theory. and like — I know so many people for whom this knowledge is a lifeline, who’ve struggled so hard just to get in the door — and then there’s a bunch of losers just vaguely percolating about because university seemed like the Thing To Do and it was the easiest choice for them, talking shit about what kind of loser actually thinks this is important, lol, eat pills, meet people who go to cool parties, complete your socialisation into the middle+ classes, that’s what university is for, that’s way less self-indulgent than theory.
Obviously there are a lot of ways to challenge yourself and develop your understanding of the world, and some people are challenging themselves just by getting up every morning, or 70% of mornings, or staying alive at all, and there are a lot of problems with the applicability and accessibility of the loose conceptual lineage we call theory — but c’mon, some of us are just being lazy, and that’s a fundamentally untrustworthy quality, if you ask me. to contextualise this, I once had an anglo Art History intentional drop-out from an elite uni throw their hands in the air and snap at me for my “academic language”. The language in question was the phrase “social democracy”. if this isn’t you, I’m not talking about you, but trust me, these people exist, and they make me a bit defensive sometimes, yes, okay, that’s true.
However, I also don’t trust people who spend a lot of time developing their theory and then decide to put this elaborate conceptual framework into practice. I’ve organised with sheltered radical theory nerds before and it’s a fucking nightmare. they think they know more than everyone but actually they’re pretty useless. theory needs to develop in concert with action or it gets weird and floppy and self-indulgent.
I suspect this was what was going on with a lot of the problems with Occupy but I don’t really know. this wasn’t even really about Graeber in the end.