Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Review: The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I stumbled on this book while on a bookstore raid in Winnipeg. I'd been keeping an eye out for a book like this because I've been assigned World History to teach this coming semester, so I was really needing a book which would cover pre-history and which would connect the Americas in more clear way. What I got was a book which did that and more.

It is, however, difficult to explain what this book really is. It talks about the origin of inequality, but it isn't really just that. It takes on the false dichotomy between Rousseau's Noble Savage and Hobbes "nasty, brutish and short' as the primal condition of humanity by suggesting that the picture is really more complex than either extreme conceives. It offers a comprehensive view of what anthropology and archaeology can tell us about prehistory, but with a twist.

That twist is that the authors look at the rise of civilization (already a problematic definition) with the critique of North American indigenous groups in the 18th century in mind. Their contention is that this critique, mediated through Enlightenment political debate, both indicates a complexity to the prehistory and may have influenced the anti-authoritarian spin of the last three centuries. From this critique, the authors suggest that the contemporary model which presumes that complex social structures demand a hierarchical form of governance isn't a given and, for much of human history, wasn't necessary. They consider where we got stuck into this opinion.

The key to this discussion, of course, is the indigenous critique, which is drawn from their appearance in European commentators. There are, of course, problems with that. Many critics dismiss these discussions as Graeco-Roman tropes in indigenous dress, but the authors insist that these are authentic political critiques. My own take is that it is possible that both are going on. I think there may well be a historical core, but that the writers, immersed in Graeco-Roman literature, may have used those images in the accounts. That makes them hard to interpret, but not necessarily impossible.

What you get with this book is an incredible erudite, but quite diffuse discussion about how we understand human societies in pre-history. I'm still trying to assimilate what I've learned and, of course, distill it for classroom work, but this is a fascinating book for those interested in the questions of what constitutes civilization and how humanity came to adopt it.

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Maximil said...

Re "The Dawn of Everything"

"The Dawn of Everything" is a biased disingenuous account of human history (www.persuasion.community/p/a-flawed-history-of-humanity ) that spreads fake hope (the authors of "The Dawn" claim human history has not "progressed" in stages, or linearly, and must not end in inequality and hierarchy as with our current system... so there's hope for us now that it could get different/better again). As a result of this fake hope porn it has been widely praised. It conveniently serves the profoundly sick industrialized world of fakes and criminals. The book's dishonest fake grandiose title shows already that this work is a FOR-PROFIT, instead a FOR-TRUTH, endeavour geared at the (ignorant gullible) masses.

Fact is human history has "progressed" by and large in linear stages, especially since the dawn of agriculture (www.focaalblog.com/2021/12/22/chris-knight-wrong-about-almost-everything ). The book's alleged major "fundamental" insight is "the ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently" (the first part of that statement is hardly a great insight because a perceptive child can recognize that) YET fails to answer why we do NOT make it differently than it is now if we, supposedly can make it "EASILY" different, why we've been "stuck" in this destructive system for a very long time. THAT is really where "the ultimate, hidden truth" is buried and the answer is... it is because of the enduring hegemony of “The 2 Married Pink Elephants In The Historical Room” (www.rolf-hefti.com/covid-19-coronavirus.html ) which the fake hope-giving authors of "The Dawn" entirely ignore naturally (no one can write a legitimate human history without understanding the nature of humans)

A good example that one of the authors, Graeber, has no real idea what world we've been living in and about the nature of humans is his last brief article on Covid where his ignorance shines bright already at the title of his article, “After the Pandemic, We Can’t Go Back to Sleep.” Apparently he doesn't know that most people WANT to be asleep, and that they've been wanting that for thousands of years (and that's not the only ignorant notion in the title) --- see last cited source above. Yet he (and his partner) is the sort of person who thinks he can teach you something authentically truthful about human history and whom you should be trusting along those terms. Ridiculous!

"The Dawn" is just another fantasy, or ideology, cloaked in a hue of cherry-picked "science," served lucratively to the gullible ignorant underclasses who crave myths and fairy tales.

"The evil, fake book of anthropology, “The Dawn of Everything,” ... just so happened to be the most marketed anthropology book ever. Hmmmmm." --- Unknown

Phil Snider said...

Thank you for your comment and especially your references to other book reviews of Dawn of Everything. I fully recognize that this book is controversial, so it is helpful to be able to refer my readers to contrary opinions about the book and to consider those critique on what I've read as well. So that is helpful.

The critique that Dawn of Everything has a strong political hue is a fair one, of course, and the reader does need to filter for that. It does not invalidate their views because, if you'll forgive me, the critiques you cited and your own comments reflects another, contrasting political view and one that I choose not to debate with you. I will note that disagreement, particularly about the inevitability of inequality and about the unalterably linear development of human structures (I'd add the characterization of COVID, but that is tangent which I care not to take up with you). In that, my sympathies are more with Graeber, even if I have to concede that the hope that Graeber offers at the end of the book is really 'pie-in-the-sky'.

Yet, I think it is that sense of hope that human beings still had agency in the past and have in the future is part of the reason that this book has attained the popularity it has. People are looking for hope and this book offers a hope, albeit one inspired by anarchism, which is not the source of my hope or, really, particularly practical. Is that hope false? I know that you think so, but I'm not sure why I should accept your view without justification either.

The value of this book is the challenge it gives to traditional ways of thinking about prehistory. It isn't perfect and there are legitimate criticisms of it. Clearly, it should not be read in isolation nor should its conclusions be taken uncritically (no book or author should be read in isolation or accepted uncritically!) But I hold to my opinion that it is a worthwhile book.