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Aaron Lercher

• Joseph Beuys: "Everyone is an artist." So everyone is capable of making art and generously seeing the value in other’s attempts.
• Antonio Gramsci: "All men are philosophers." So everyone is capable of proposing theories of value and responding with generous criticism to those of others.
• Willard Van Orman Quine: “Science is not a substitute for common sense but an extension of it." So everyone is capable of thinking clearly and in an orderly way, and collaborating with others in doing so.
• Jean-Jacques Rousseau: "All men are born free." So everyone is capable of participating in a well-ordered society, alongside others.
• Everyone, it seems, is capable of helping other people, perhaps even saving their lives, if necessary and in the right circumstances.
• Everyone, it seems, is capable of doing something worthwhile, and cooperating with others, and this may even be an adventure.

There seem to be many orthogonal forms of nobility and generosity, even adventure, in principle available to everyone, according to these thinkers/prophets. (Quine a prophet? He’d hate that!) Alas, any of these could be used to sort people into winners and losers, if we aren’t generous and noble. Yet there is no shortage of possible experiments in living, except in our imagination. But in reality, as Graeber says, the US educational system generally closes such opportunities off from working class Americans, except for church or army.

Are you asking whether we have a shortage of imagination, in addition to the problem of power that some liberals and all radicals have always pointed to? Is that the point of your post? Perhaps as a reply to Graeber, who as an anarchist should see the point.

Yes, I think there is a shortage of imagination. For example, socialism used to be argued for by saying that society is already based on cooperation of labor, and the task is just to rearrange this cooperation so that it benefits the workers. Now it’s hard for self-described socialists to even to remember that argument except through a history book. Our cooperation is harassed, harnessed, attenuated, abstract, indistinct, distracted, and out of step. (Perhaps not always bullshit, but hard to see the value in it, or sometimes worse than bullshit by being actively destructive.)

The appeal to human dignity that I’m making here is strained and distant from my actual current feelings. But I can remember how to do it.

Also, one has to admit there’s a problem of power as well.


It's too bad (but not, I think, surprising) that Graeber starts out here with the obviously false claim that it's easier to imagine the child of a mechanic from the plains becoming a CEO of a huge company (*) than an international human rights lawyer (**). It's _hard_ to get a job as an international human rights lawyer, but only because there are not many such jobs. To have a chance, you only need to go to a good law school and be very dedicated, and a bit lucky. As someone who did _that_, from a state no more advanced than Nebraska, and from a background not much fancier than a mechanic, I can say that it's not so extra-ordinary. It's certainly no less common, and so no less imaginable (probably more common and more imaginable!) than being a CEO of a huge company. This seems to me to be just one more example of how Graber isn't really interested in getting facts right, but rather telling a story to persuade people. I suppose that's an okay job, but it's one he's a bit shady about pursuing. It makes me think he's not reliable and so not really worth spending time on.

(*) I assume he didn't mean to suggest being in charge of a giant Ponzi scheme, so we'll leave that aside.

(*)(*) "drama critic for the New York Times" is sort of giving things away, since there are, I'd guess, at most 2 or 3 of those at any one time, maybe only 1, so of course it's not plausible. He could have put in an example that was not so book-coooking, but I don't think that would fit his style.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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