Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Anarchist & The Philosopher

    - I was hoping to find you here.
- I have my rituals.
- That's what I wanted to talk about. I looked for that book....
- Graeber's Debt?
- Yes. And I found online two more books he wrote, Towards An Anthropology Of Value, and Fragments of An Anarchist Anthropology. I read them.
- And?
- We've been talking for a long time. I consider myself your student.
- In what?
- Philosophy.
- Then I'll have to be Socrates and issue the disclaimer I never had any students.
- Because no one ever paid you.
- Because the real education is done by the rewards and punishments of the society at large.
- Education by ritual, ideas that we adopt without being aware of it. And talking philosophically is the opposite, helping each other stay awake while we get our ideas together.
- Yes.
- So Graeber wrote these two books before he wrote Debt. Anthropology collects information about societies other than our own, which we can use to question our own. But anthropology has been inflected by post-modernism, which he says is of the same form as unregulated capitalism. For the professors, good is what power says is good. For the capitalist, the value of a person or thing is the price the market determines. As long as anthropology is reflecting our prejudices it is useless. So he sets out to look for value.
- Does he find it?
- He's all mixed up.
- How?
- The "no truth" of  post modernism, and market power of unregulated capitalism are modern versions of the sophists of the ancient Greeks. You've said that yourself. Plato's Dialogs are filled with responses to sophism, but Graeber doesn't have any idea of this.
- And if he did?
- He'd see, for one, that looking for values in anarchism he is making a mistake.
- Because values are created by ritual.
- Yes! And beautiful things and knowledge and great performances are not. They are created in the way we are talking here, helping each other stay awake.
- And a "value" is a rule enforced by rewards and punishments. That's the problem with the first book. What about the second? If we were anarchists holding a meeting trying to reach consensus, what would be different?
- Graeber says rules keep the violent away, no one tries to convert the other, only to build something new out of all the different views everyone can agree to, a community act of creation.
- And you think that sounds more like ritual than philosophy?
- Do you know what I thought, reading these books?
- What?
- Plato built his totalitarian state in The Republic in response to the sophists of his time. Every type of human character is supposed to benefit from the organization of all types, and if people understood they'd agree to participate. Everyone has to stay in type, however, and everyone clearly is going to be made miserable because of it.
- Anarchists allow themselves to change types at will.
- But still each consensus, each "Republic" created by collective decision making, will be an organization of types. It will be a creation of ignorance, of ritual not philosophy.
- Treating each other as components in a group creative process is not the same a helping each other find the truth. Why not?
- Because individual components in a creative process do not know or understand, so do not love each other. They offer each other their ideas, their "values", not themselves.
- If they love anything, they love the product they collectively produce.
- Yes. And that they can't account for. Though made openly in the collective operation, the result is alien to each individual, accepted as good, but not known to be good, as the result of a dialog, the product of continuous set of individual agreements, is known to be good.
- Anarchist consensus is a ritual.
- Yes!
- But only if we look at it as anthropologists do. If we don't look for value in a society, we won't look for value in the anarchist decision making process, which is a practical thing that works to limit the damage people do to each when they get together.

* * *

- Why do people, even anarchists, look for value in society when they don't have to?
- If values are the product of ritual, valuing value also is the product of ritual. Rituals can be repressive, or they can be safeguards against repression. Both can create stable societies, and both can remove individual understanding and judgment from our actions. Ideally we do things in our lives with others for the sake of making our lives with others good. We discover ways of seeing and doing things that the others we do them with would agree with us are good. When we can only do what we are told, along with others doing what they are told, the actions themselves take on the function of community making we no longer have the ability or responsibility to create. The actions that are "valuable" express a power of agreement. Marx called objects created by people who had no responsibility for their action "fetishes", and that is exactly right: objects take on the life-like ability to communicate that has been taken away from individuals. Values are ideas become fetishes.