Home Forum Community CasP RG v. 1.01: Graeber and Wengrow’s The Dawn Of Everything Reply To: CasP RG v. 1.01: Graeber and Wengrow’s The Dawn Of Everything


    Not having read much of the work of their intellectual adversaries, I did not pick up on the degree to which the Davids caricatured their arguments when I read the book, which makes me curious to read them.

    I think there are legitimate reasons why the Davids might have stayed away from using statistical or quantitative analysis.

    For one, its possible that for much of the subject material, and if I remember correctly they mention this, there just isn’t much evidence, quantitative or no. One of the things they highlight is just how little we know about cultures beyond a certain time period. In this sense, their argument is intentionally framed as speculative and imaginative. Not very scientific perhaps, but my sense is that they were upfront about this.

    I was reminded of a similar set of arguments in Mumford’s “Technics and Human Development,” where he argues that most of the important information about paleolithic/neolithic cultures (language, myth, knowledge, moral system) leaves no physical trace. The emphasis on certain quantitative evidence is to a certain extent unavoidable but nonetheless creates certain biases of inquiry and assumptions , for instance toward technological determination (e.g., weapons and graves).

    Second, and much more importantly, I saw the book as having an explicit prescriptive purpose, which quantitative evidence may not have been particularly helpful for advancing. Namely, what the Davids are really interested in is making an argument about the future, not the past.

    The way I see the Davids’ project is that it is aimed at expanding the range of imaginable possibilities for how humans might organize themselves, and especially in terms of alternatives to currently existing coercive/hierarchical orders. So by -for instance – downplaying the important role of war and violence in the past, they may have overstated the degree of autonomy humans generally have had, yet they are at the same time refusing to conclude that such (coercive, unequal) forms are inevitable. One way of looking at it is as a failure to do good science, but I think looking at this work as a book that is only concerned with science or scientific fact gives an incomplete picture of what they are trying to do.

    There’s a popular anarchist slogan, “demand the impossible.” Because radical egalitarian political movements tend to be short-lived in modern (and ancient?) history, they are like statistical anomalies. So radical change always appears from the ‘facts’ as highly improbable if not impossible. Taking such a pessimistic view, however, unfortunately only reduces those odds. And the big-picture statistical view definitely seems to predispose one to such conclusions. The philosopher Françoise Proust once defined history as “the collection or recollection of sublime experiences of liberty.” I think DoE is written in this spirit.

    Blair, you mentioned that some of the views the Davids are arguing against within the evolutionary camp are not actually held by contemporary social scientists. I am curious to read more of this literature. If you were to put forward the strongest possible rebuttal of the Davids argument, (i.e., of the evolutionary/technological/geographical determinism camp) what sources would you likely turn to?

    • This reply was modified 7 months ago by CM.
    • This reply was modified 7 months ago by CM.