The Dawn Of Everything

Occupy Wall Street never showed up in these pages until now, which is maybe too late. I recall visiting Zuccotti Park in late 2011, to observe more than to occupy. I remember a box of books, many young people and some my own age, and a palpable sense of purpose combined with a pretty straightforward logic. Also, tranquil. That ballerina meant something. But I could not stay. I was in New York on a very brief visit. I have the opposite of anarchist beliefs and my understanding at the time was that the animating philosophy had something to do with anarchy.

I shared views with Occupy Wall Street in opposition to historic inequalities that I could see as a ticking time bomb. But my time that day was limited. I had to leave. No regrets. Until now, perhaps. Maybe I should have stayed. This book, which I have now read several reviews of, gives me reason to wonder. That protest was the brainchild of someone who then spent a decade producing a book to offer a very different view of human history:

…The Big History best-sellers by Harari, Diamond and others have their differences. But they rest, Graeber and Wengrow argue, on a similar narrative of linear progress (or, depending on your point of view, decline).

According to this story, for the first 300,000 years or so after Homo sapiens appeared, pretty much nothing happened. People everywhere lived in small, egalitarian hunter-gatherer groups, until the sudden invention of agriculture around 9,000 B.C. gave rise to sedentary societies and states based on inequality, hierarchy and bureaucracy.

But all of this, Graeber and Wengrow argue, is wrong. Recent archaeological discoveries, they write, show that early humans, far from being automatons blindly moving in evolutionary lock step in response to material pressures, self-consciously experimented with “a carnival parade of political forms.”

It’s a more accurate story, they argue, but also “a more hopeful and more interesting” one.

“We are all projects of collective self-creation,” they write. “What if, instead of telling the story about how our society fell from some idyllic state of equality, we ask how we came to be trapped in such tight conceptual shackles that we can no longer even imagine the possibility of reinventing ourselves?”…

Read the whole review here.

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