Graeber makes an appearance August 29, 2011 10:57 AM   Subscribe

David Graeber shows up to comment on a post discussing his work.

And to smack me around a bit, which I probably had coming.
posted by valkyryn to MetaFilter-Related at 10:57 AM (213 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

An inauspicious debut.
posted by John Cohen at 11:02 AM on August 29, 2011


Is there any way to merge the mefisown and metafiltersown tags?
posted by John Cohen at 11:04 AM on August 29, 2011


But then how will we differentiate the MeTa posts about the community garden?
posted by griphus at 11:05 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Or I could just add the tag.
posted by valkyryn at 11:08 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]




Who is this valkyryn person?

This made me chuckle.
posted by desjardins at 11:17 AM on August 29, 2011 [12 favorites]


That's a lickin.'

<small<DID GREABER USE THE FREE ACCOUNT OFFER? DO YOU THING HE'LL BECOME A REGULAR?
posted by longsleeves at 11:23 AM on August 29, 2011


daaaAAAAAAAAAAAmmmmnnnnn
posted by Greg Nog at 11:23 AM on August 29, 2011


"Get yelled at by author of book I am discussing on internet" -- Added to my bucket list.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:26 AM on August 29, 2011 [45 favorites]


Who is this valkyryn person? He knows nothing of my work!
posted by sweetkid at 11:32 AM on August 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


I've written a few books and would be more than happy to yell at you.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:33 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I had wanted to point out that it was an interview and not the entirety of the book itself. But it would have been so far down thread it hardly seemed worth it.

Apparently someone disagreed. You take it in stride though valkyryn.
posted by Max Power at 11:33 AM on August 29, 2011


"Get yelled at by author of book I am discussing on internet"

Richard Scarry once called me a Nazi after I posted on Usenet that there were much busier towns than Busytown.
posted by bondcliff at 11:33 AM on August 29, 2011 [86 favorites]


THE NEW TESTAMENT IS JUST FANFIC.

COME AND GET ME MATTHEW, MARK, LUKE, JOHN, THE OTHER GUYS.
posted by griphus at 11:37 AM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


"Get yelled at by author of book I am discussing on internet" -- Added to my bucket list.

This is actually not the first time this has happened to me, though it's the first time on MetaFilter.

I don't know whether or not this is a good thing.
posted by valkyryn at 11:37 AM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Aw, that's nothing. Stephen King calls me just to scream insults at me. I don't know why. Never met the man. But it seems to make him feel better, and he sends me Christmas cards every year signed with just one word: Thanks.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:42 AM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


Is there a reason to think that's actually David Graeber, other than the name on the account?
posted by gerryblog at 11:47 AM on August 29, 2011


I disagree with russelwvong that the author was insulting in his response. I'm glad you are being a good sport about it, valkyryn.
posted by hermitosis at 11:48 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's a weird thing to see an anarchist outraged at having his authority questioned.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:50 AM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Is there a reason to think that's actually David Graeber, other than the name on the account?

Basic human trust that someone would join to refute an argument about his supposed lack of research? I mean he doesn't really start yacking about his ideas, just points out that there are
almost a hundred pages of notes, references, and bibliography.

Would a troll do that or start an argument with valkyryn?
posted by Max Power at 11:52 AM on August 29, 2011


With valkyryn? Maybe.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:55 AM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm thinking this won't make it to the sidebar anytime soon.
posted by tommasz at 11:58 AM on August 29, 2011


(I just posted this in-thread, but I think it might be better here)

Personally, I might well get a little shirty with people who started questioning my research and criticising my lack of references when a complete bibliography was a mere three clicks away for anyone with access to the Internet and the knowledge of how to use a search engine.

Cut the guy a little slack people.
posted by pharm at 12:00 PM on August 29, 2011 [15 favorites]


his one comment has 19 favorites and will probably get a few more due to the MeTa thread.

That's braggable.
posted by ReWayne at 12:01 PM on August 29, 2011


Shirty? I love days where I learn new British-english idioms.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:02 PM on August 29, 2011


I'm a bit worried that people are going to start emailing the mods to get threads deleted when we discuss their work. I still feel bad about the poor woman with the nerd song.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:03 PM on August 29, 2011


nerd song?
posted by pharm at 12:05 PM on August 29, 2011


yea what nerd song?
posted by sweetkid at 12:06 PM on August 29, 2011


history shows him to be spectacularly wrong

NOW that is a mefite who belongs on the gray. Welcome, friend.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:06 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


The NERD SONG
Soon will be nerding a nerdy nerd...

sorry I got nothing.
posted by Mister_A at 12:08 PM on August 29, 2011


Who is this valkyryn person?

Non-royal, but aristocratic version of "We are not amused".
posted by Cranberry at 12:09 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah a woman who played a ukulele and sang a song about how much she loved being a nerd and playing WoW and watching Star Wars. She was absolutely savaged. She showed up and posted a comment like "trolololol i am drunk, sorrreeeee". It spawned a meta. Didn't it also happen to another writer from time who got sucked in and later flamed out in a pique?
posted by Ad hominem at 12:09 PM on August 29, 2011




It's a weird thing to see an anarchist outraged at having his authority questioned.

In what way is he outraged at having his authority questioned? He seems specifically annoyed by valkyryn's claim that "He makes some noises about being an anthropologist, but doesn't actually point us to the research on which this idea is based" when in fact he has done exactly that in the list of references in his book, precisely where you would expect to find such pointers. I don't see how authority enters into it.
posted by enn at 12:11 PM on August 29, 2011 [21 favorites]


Thank you!
posted by Ad hominem at 12:12 PM on August 29, 2011


Who is this valkyryn person?

Can we get this on a t-shirt?
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:12 PM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


It's amazing how oblivious some people can be. Who is this valkyryn person?

I like him already!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:15 PM on August 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


Who is this valkyryn person?

Where does he come from? Who are his people? THESE ARE THE THINGS I NEED TO KNOW.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:24 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Boy if life were only like this.

Didn't even have tio click. Beautiful.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:34 PM on August 29, 2011


Did the mods verify this IAmA?

Wait what?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:34 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Max Power: "Would a troll do that or start an argument with valkyryn?"

Trolling on Metafilter is a much more exquisite and academic art compared to what you see elsewhere on the Internet. Our trolls provide references and MLA-style citations.

In fact, after Steve Albini mysteriously vanished in 2002, we continued recording music and posting to message boards in his name. About half of his catalogue is actually a MeFi music project.
posted by schmod at 12:36 PM on August 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


HOW IS VALKYRIN FORMED?
posted by schmod at 12:36 PM on August 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


valkyryn it is pretty damn sporting of you to post a metatalk and confess you had a bitchslap coming. I may not have ever seen that one before.

Here is a youtube of Hollywood's greatest bitchslap scene, Ann Bancroft Shirley Maclaine Turning Point.
posted by bukvich at 12:36 PM on August 29, 2011


It can be a tricky thing when you join a website just to Make A Point. People want to engage you in conversation, but you perceive it as hostility and things go downhill from there. I hope Mr. Graeber can see from the favorites that Mefi understands what he's saying, and many agree. Or at least we're happy to see him, and many are trying to understand his point of view.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:42 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


his one comment has 19 favorites and will probably get a few more due to the MeTa thread.

pfft, my first comment got 37 favorites and I'm just some chump, not an awesome fmr. Professor at Yale with an eye-opening and well researched book.

...yet.
posted by Chipmazing at 12:59 PM on August 29, 2011


Is there a reason to think that's actually David Graeber, other than the name on the account?

We need a checkmark like Twitter has. Except we should use a different symbol... ideas?
posted by desjardins at 1:02 PM on August 29, 2011


I enjoyed the part where the author barged in only to discover an old nemesis.

Ah, Russel. Still around, and still playing exactly the same game!
It doesn't work the second time. I know now to ignore you.


Well-played!
posted by carsonb at 1:02 PM on August 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


It's hard not to imagine him templing his fingers or stroking a cat, smoking a Calabash, and sitting in an overstuffed leather chair near a fire when he writes that.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:09 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


I know nothing of Mr. Graeber's views, but his style in the responses makes me an ardent fan and I'll be buying his book. I keep envisioning the Frazetta Conan painting where Conan is just laying about him with a battleaxe and pieces -- nay, gobbets -- are flying hither and yon, yet there is SO MUCH MORE SMITING TO DO.
posted by felix at 1:22 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this is definitely valkyryn with Graeber on his back.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:27 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


I enjoyed the part where the author barged in only to discover an old nemesis.

I agree, that has to be my favorite moment on Metafilter all month.
posted by yeti at 1:28 PM on August 29, 2011


carsonb: "I enjoyed the part where the author barged in only to discover an old nemesis."

Yeah, I'm definitely curious about that bit.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 1:38 PM on August 29, 2011


Ah, Russel. Still around, and still playing exactly the same game!
It doesn't work the second time. I know now to ignore you.


Just on the strength of that I've just ordered his book on Amazon. On 2 September I will have all 162,382 characters of his bibliography for myself, counting the spaces (but not just at the end, I'll bet) oh yes! Mwahaha!

[sarcasm] It will whet my appetite, though, if some more Mefites lecture him in a pompous fashion about "how this community works" and goad him into a rage, please. [/sarcasm]
posted by alasdair at 1:45 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hah. Goal post movers and sophists get pwnd by the author. Love it.
posted by wuwei at 1:47 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it really unreasonable to ask him to share some of his argument here?
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:57 PM on August 29, 2011


anotherpanacea, you misread his initial response so horribly it's rather surprising you haven't apologized.
posted by mediareport at 1:59 PM on August 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


Is it really unreasonable to ask him to share some of his argument here?

No, but that's not what he was asked to do. He was essentially given the old "cite, please" and responded.
posted by Hoopo at 2:00 PM on August 29, 2011


And that is what I object to here-- I have seen that some people do this shit all the time, they intentionally misread posts and respond to a straw man. I'm not the only person to notice this either, it's the mark of bad faith in discussion or someone who lacks reading comprehension skills.
posted by wuwei at 2:04 PM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


We need a checkmark like Twitter has. Except we should use a different symbol... ideas?

Röck Döts.

Signed,
qüïn
posted by quin at 2:09 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Plus it's pretty inflammatory to attack a tenured professor of anthropology with "He makes some noises about being an anthropologist..."
posted by ChuraChura at 2:11 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Shit, sorry. A reader at UL.
posted by ChuraChura at 2:13 PM on August 29, 2011


Churachura in defense of those attacking Professor Graeber, he did call us all debt peons.
posted by bukvich at 2:13 PM on August 29, 2011


It's always kind of funny when you're trash talking somebody's work, and then realize that they're in the room. Those of us with loud, occasionally reckless opinions get swatted sometimes, and have to take our lickings.

And having worked with academics, I've definitely seen and received the high handed, wildly articulate and inevitably brutal responses you can get for it. Good fun all around. When you're baiting bears, always make sure that your stick is longer than their arms.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:18 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Get yelled at by author of book I am discussing on internet" -- Added to my bucket list.

I had a version of this -- an author whose book I criticized on the internet printed out my comments and read them aloud at a book reading/book signing while I was there. It was kind of awesome.
posted by xingcat at 2:19 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


What he says is, "My findings, while certainly contestable, since all findings are, are based on long intellectual traditions (consult Phillip Grierson, for example, on the origins of money) and endless detailed historical and ethnographic research."

Of course, it's reasonable to say that there is evidence of evidence: a large bibliography serves that purpose. But why not say what the evidence itself is, at least a little? It was only valkyryn who claimed he had no evidence: please leave me out of that. I'm just asking what the evidence is.

He still hasn't shared the argument here, just pointed us to the site where we can buy and peruse it. That's fair, I suppose: he's written the book, why should he have to repeat himself? And yet, it's trivially easy to gloss a piece of an argument you've written, especially when you've already written and lectured on the material. Not the whole thing, mind, but just in the way you respond to a question during a lecture.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:19 PM on August 29, 2011



He still hasn't shared the argument here, just pointed us to the site where we can buy and peruse it. That's fair, I suppose: he's written the book, why should he have to repeat himself?


Short articles and internet quotes are great for explaining an argument. Long form proofs are often better suited to a longer format.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:24 PM on August 29, 2011


an author whose book I criticized on the internet printed out my comments and read them aloud at a book reading/book signing while I was there.

I once had Jeanane Garafolo read aloud something I had written about her from the stage and then make fun of it. Unlike the Stephen King story, this is true.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:26 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


He still hasn't shared the argument here, just pointed us to the site where we can buy and peruse it.

The argument valkyryn claims lacked any factual basis was from the linked interview, was it not? It was outlined in the linked article, and he's now pointed out where to go if you want to know what sources he drew on.
posted by Hoopo at 2:31 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


He may be here to respond to valkyryn's attacks, but valkyryn wasn't the only critical or curious commenter in the thread. Why not respond to the other stuff?
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:35 PM on August 29, 2011


Perhaps he has a life outside posting on Metafilter anotherpanacea :)
posted by pharm at 2:37 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell: Yeah, I'm definitely curious about that bit.

It's old Usenet history. Back in 2002 there was a flamewar on alt.fan.noam-chomsky between various regular participants on alt.fan.noam-chomsky (particularly Oliver Kamm on the anti-Chomsky side). David Graeber came in because one of Oliver's attacks was in response to an article by David (posted by someone else). By this time I wasn't participating much, but from what I can tell, David Graeber blamed me for "enabling" Oliver Kamm's attacks on him (by failing to condemn them). I thought there was a fundamental misunderstanding: on an unmoderated newsgroup, it's pointless to try to stop bad behavior, the only thing you can do is ignore it.

Here's David's criticism. My response. David again. Me again.
posted by russilwvong at 2:39 PM on August 29, 2011 [11 favorites]


My guess is that he wasn't there to answer the questions of the curious, but rather to defend himself against the accusation that he's made baseless assumptions and/or hasn't supported his arguments. I guess it's the sort of charge that makes academics a bit testy.
posted by Hoopo at 2:41 PM on August 29, 2011


Oh, awesome.

alt.fan.noam-chomsky was fantastic for flamewars.

Almost as fantastic as comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.space-sim was.
posted by notyou at 2:45 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


9 years ago? Must have been some war.

Then will he strip his sleeves and show his scars and say, "These wounds I had on alt.fan.noam-chomsky..."

*goes back to holding manhood cheap*
posted by yeti at 2:53 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually I was helping some friends move a whole bunch of furniture.
Now they want to take me out to dinner.
Be back in a bit.
posted by David Graeber at 3:03 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


cite pls
posted by found missing at 3:07 PM on August 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


But why not say what the evidence itself is, at least a little?

Because he doesn't have to. Because the whole evidence-and-argument thing is his job, which he does for money. Which we're not paying him for. Which he has already written a rather long book in great detail about, which you are perfectly able to peruse for free or read (for a price). He doesn't owe us anything.

I mean, if he wanted to, that would be awesome. But he doesn't have to, and it makes perfect sense that he may not want to. It's kind of like if we had asked Scott Adams, say, to draw some comic strips for us, or John Scalzi to write a short story for us. That's their job, and we're not paying them to do so.

it's trivially easy to gloss a piece of an argument you've written, especially when you've already written and lectured on the material.

No, it's not. At the bare minimum, it can be exhausting. You work on a particular subject for long enough, it becomes extraordinarily tiresome to have to repeat the same arguments over and over again in new mediums -- sure, that's part of the job, but, again, he's not getting paid to do so here. And even if he has some materials already prepared that he could post, you still have to consider: 1) the absolute minimum effort it would take to fix formatting/context/content for it to be appropriate here; 2) the fact that lecture materials, etc, are not often written for public consumption; 3) the fact that written materials are things he probably is more concerned with publishing rather than posting online for the heck of it. Again, you're asking him to work.

It is seriously awesome when Adam Savage shows up to answer sciency questions in Ask.Me, for instance.... But I think it's very important that we never demand public figures to do their work for us. That's just not really nice.
posted by meese at 3:12 PM on August 29, 2011 [49 favorites]


Hey, that's a great idea!

Hey asavage! Can you please make something explode for us? Anything at all. Say, this thread? Or maybe usenet!
posted by loquacious at 3:31 PM on August 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


I am shocked at the size of the grin on my face after seeing an ancient USENET flame war flicker to life for just a few moments.

Now I have to go find some Minesweeper to play so I can get the full 90s flashback. (Yeah, this dispute dates to 2002, but USENET will always be the 90s to me.)
posted by maudlin at 3:53 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


And yet, it's trivially easy to gloss a piece of an argument you've written, especially when you've already written and lectured on the material.

My experience is the exact opposite. It can be years between being able to write an iron-clad argument and being able to quickly communicate it. I guess it's the strong form of always writing the introduction and abstract last, and my peers claim that I am relatively good at explaining technical topics!
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:30 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


We need a checkmark like Twitter has. Except we should use a different symbol... ideas?

A dick?
posted by mazola at 5:04 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


He knew more abut that than you could have possibly imagined.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:18 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


about
posted by Sys Rq at 5:19 PM on August 29, 2011


Is there any way to merge the mefisown and metafiltersown tags?

I added mefisown to all the metafiltersown posts and encourage the use of mefisown from here on out.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:24 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thank you, meese, for articulating my thoughts precisely.

It's what I love about Metafilter. No matter how carefully I think about how to say something, someone else gets there before I do and says it better. All I have to do is click [+]!
posted by That's Numberwang! at 5:40 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Get yelled at by author of book I am discussing on internet" -- Added to my bucket list.

I had a version of this -- an author whose book I criticized on the internet printed out my comments and read them aloud at a book reading/book signing while I was there. It was kind of awesome.


I had a nasty snippet from an Amazon review I wrote, actually quoted in a critical work relating to the author I slammed. Seriously. I got light-headed when I saw it.
posted by jayder at 5:55 PM on August 29, 2011


"Get yelled at by author of book I am discussing on internet" -- Added to my bucket list.

I came close to this once. I read an article by a director who claimed that Shakespeare's Tempest was originally intended as a musical, of all things. I mentioned it on Twitter, but at the last second changed "I think he's high" to "I really want to see his sources".

The guy followed me the next day.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:36 PM on August 29, 2011


I like it when smart people get a little feisty. It sorta puts the zing back into the otherwise somewhat zing-less world of facts and text and stuff.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:39 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Where does he come from? Who are his people? THESE ARE THE THINGS I NEED TO KNOW.

Adam, that made my day. Thanks.

Who is this valkyryn person? He is not a man. He's the holy Half-Dead who has seen the UnderVerse.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:57 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are we sure this isn't Douglas Adams?

Also, ordering this book.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:13 PM on August 29, 2011


There's a difference between a guy who writes comics for a living and an academic historian or anthropologist. Many scholars see themselves as having a public mission which doesn't turn off when they leave the seminar room. It's only in the relatively recent formulations of the corporatized university that we've come to think of scholars primarily as laborers doing a job for money.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:37 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


mefisown

Am I the only one whose mind wants to interpret that as "seeds planted by MeFi"?

I read an article by a director who claimed that Shakespeare's Tempest was originally intended as a musical, of all things. I mentioned it on Twitter, but at the last second changed "I think he's high" to "I really want to see his sources".

Suddenly I'm imagining academics all over the place glaring at department-mates and asking, "Excuse me, did you mean, 'I would like to see your sources', or 'I would like to see your sources, ASSHOLE'?"
posted by Lexica at 8:47 PM on August 29, 2011


Anotherpanacea, I think that's kind of an unfair criticism. For one thing, applied anthropology and cultural anthropology are two different, though interacting, branches of scholarship. For another thing, Dr. Graeber has a history of social activism. For a third thing, there's a big difference between engaging with the outside world with about your research and participating in a pretty small thread on a website. To suggest that because Dr. Graeber isn't giving as complete answers to relatively hostile questioning as we would like, he must only think of himself as a corporate entity who labors for nothing more than money ... is pretty ridiculous.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:52 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


the point is that the evidence (eg for the Sumerian credit system) are in a bunch of cuneiform tablets, translated by a historian/archeologist and published and then cited by Graeber is what (I assume) is a secondary source based synthetic work on debt (as Graeber is not, to my knowledge, a specialist in ancient Mesopotamian history). He directed curious people to his bibliography - which makes total sense.
posted by jb at 9:18 PM on August 29, 2011


first you get the cuneiform, no, first you get the bow then you get the cuneiform then...
posted by clavdivs at 9:44 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


To be honest, I intervened partly because someone pointed out to me that there were people accusing me of "bullshitting" and making up history without evidence based on - well, no evidence; partly, because I had just had a mostly interesting and delightful set of conversations with the posters on the Naked Capitalism blog and thought perhaps there might find a similar exchange of ideas here.

If anyone had actually asked me a question, you know, like "so when you say X are you arguing Y?" or "what kind of evidence for your argument that Mesopotamian money systems originate in Z?" or whatever it might be - I'd have happily answered them. Instead I found a group of people who seem to have entered a contest to see who could provide an environment most likely to convince an author not to want to stick around. Maybe it's just me, but this seems kind of odd. There I was. It would have been easy enough to just ask me a question Most of us do understand that if you want to ask someone something, the normal approach is just to ask them, not to scold them for not having already dug through a long previous conversation, figured out what others would have wanted to ask them, and then answered it.

You guys had your chance. For some odd reason the particular site culture or conversational dynamic ensured that no one would take advantage of it. Oh well. Kind of puzzling, but I'm off to greener pastures.
posted by David Graeber at 9:45 PM on August 29, 2011 [25 favorites]


Ick.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:53 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


David,
It's what happens when you have a site that tolerates assholish, rules-lawyering, passive aggressive behavior.
posted by wuwei at 9:55 PM on August 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


You guys had your chance. For some odd reason the particular site culture or conversational dynamic ensured that no one would take advantage of it. Oh well. Kind of puzzling, but I'm off to greener pastures.

That thread was kind of a clusterfuck, and I wish I could say was entirely uncharacteristic of metafilter, but it really isn't always that bad, and it's a lot better if you don't take things personally.
posted by empath at 10:19 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Could have been a cool thread. Didn't like the baseless accusations at the author, didn't like reading Ironmouth posting his usual, "You disagree with me so you are childish and emotional". Oh well.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:38 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Timing
posted by clavdivs at 12:04 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


You guys had your chance. For some odd reason the particular site culture or conversational dynamic ensured that no one would take advantage of it. Oh well. Kind of puzzling, but I'm off to greener pastures.

Ya know, I didn't really think it was all that bad - in fact, most of the thread seemed really substantive and I'm glad I read it.

All that said, it is easy to get the feeling on MetaFilter that the argument is about itself, and not so much about the subject or substance of the argument. Probably because this is in fact the case. My experience of MeFi threads that aren't about Muppets or cats is pretty much defined by the sense of a highly refined version of whatever that phenomenon is called, heavily leavened with a lot of gamesmanship about who can express more hyperbolic contempt/rage and who is exhibiting the wrong quantity or tone of moral rectitude.

All this stuff is more or less universal in electronic fora (albeit not always operating in the same proportions), but it certainly does reach a really extraordinary pitch around here.
posted by brennen at 2:09 AM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


All this stuff is more or less universal in electronic fora (albeit not always operating in the same proportions), but it certainly does reach a really extraordinary pitch around here.

I'm trying to imagine Tim Ferriss showing up in that thread. You got off pretty easy, Mr. Graeber!
posted by Chichibio at 2:15 AM on August 30, 2011


If anyone had actually asked me a question, you know, like "so when you say X are you arguing Y?" or "what kind of evidence for your argument that Mesopotamian money systems originate in Z?" or whatever it might be - I'd have happily answered them.

In my own defense, that isn't the way things usually work around here. MetaFilter is sort of a "members only" site, in the sense that while anyone can read, only members can post, and I had no reason to think that you were a member were going to become one. The vast majority of the time, that isn't what happens. I think everyone is as surprised as I am that you showed up at all. Which is actually the reason I created this thread: authors showing up to discuss their own work on MetaFilter is rare enough that that, in itself, is a point of community interest independent of the content of the discussion.

If it's my behavior that's turned you off of MetaFilter, by all means, let me apologize.
posted by valkyryn at 2:56 AM on August 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


I think that's kind of an unfair criticism

It's not a criticism. It's an explanation for why it might be different to ask a scholar questions. His comment demonstrates that he actually share this ethos and would have been interested in doing so. I'm not sure there was ever a moment in the conversation when there was an opening for those questions, ("Does the origin of a thing necessarily prove that its present use serves the same function?") but nonetheless it's not quite the imposition to a scholar that people indicated, like asking to get something for free.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:50 AM on August 30, 2011


MetaFilter is sort of a "members only" site, in the sense that while anyone can read, only members can post, and I had no reason to think that you were a member were going to become one. The vast majority of the time, that isn't what happens.

Can't help but think that if we all acted like the subject of the post might show up to respond, the site would become a better place.
posted by SpiffyRob at 4:25 AM on August 30, 2011 [51 favorites]


I've made plenty of mistakes at Metafilter, so I don't want to belabor this too much, but, anotherpanacea, I'm curious: Do you think there's nothing you could have done better in that thread? Are you shying *completely* away from any recognition that you were unnecessarily rude?
posted by mediareport at 4:36 AM on August 30, 2011


...it's a lot better if you don't take things personally.

That's all well and good, but the thread was about him and his work, and valkyryn's comments had a very personally-negative tone to them. A saint might have been able to not take it personally, but I doubt that anyone here would have, were it their work being questioned in that way.


It's not a criticism.

It's not? It sure has a "why can't you be like the selfless ideal academic in my head" feel to it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:47 AM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


mediareport, are you confusing me with valkyryn for some reason? I think my single comment after Graeber arrived was mild, and with the exception of the line about "demanding that we buy the book," it was accurate: we like it when people respond to arguments rather than invoking off-site authority. (Think of languagehat as an example of an off-site authority who mobilizes on-site authority the way I'm describing.) And I apologized for using the word "demand," even though I do think it was implied.

I don't really want to belabor it either, but would you mind quoting what it is that I said that was so rude in that thread?

By the by, I think the part of the site that is most inhospitable to an author is Metatalk's tendency to rehash interpersonal issues. We're talking about each other rather than the author.

It sure has a "why can't you be like the selfless ideal academic in my head" feel to it.

I can't help how it feels to you, but it's not a claim about what Graeber *must* do. It's a description of how scholars act which isn't even particularly ideal, as it's why we're often accused of being pedantic: we're a bit too happy to rehash our work at the drop of a hat. Great "fun" at parties.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:51 AM on August 30, 2011


Actually, I thought Graeber was unnecessarily aggressive when he entered the thread.
posted by jb at 5:00 AM on August 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


...and unnecessarily aggressive when he left this thread.
posted by item at 5:07 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Can't help but think that if we all acted like the subject of the post might show up to respond, the site would become a better place.

Certainly a nicer place. And if we all acted like the MeFi members we were arguing with might show up at our doors with claw hammers and spurs, it might be an even nicererer place.
posted by pracowity at 5:13 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


...and unnecessarily aggressive when he left this thread.

I think that was the point where he realised that from now on he will always be "Metafilter's own David Graeber".
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:16 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Worst flame out ever.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:19 AM on August 30, 2011


Flame in-out. Over before he even took off his shoes.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:26 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea: You're the one that made the following statement:
The fact that you appeal only to your own authority and demand that we buy your book before questioning your claims is a little disappointing.
In my experience accusing an academic of "appealing only to their own authority" is pretty much throwing down the gauntlet before them & inviting them to pick it up. You are rightly being called out for it, since it was completely unjustified.
posted by pharm at 5:51 AM on August 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm off to greener pastures.
posted by David Graeber at 21:45 on August 29 [3 favorites +] [!]

Ah! Heading over to AskMe, then!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:12 AM on August 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


I don't want to stop the navel gazing and self-recrimination, but the only way this could have been more dramatic is if he threatened to cut off his own hand to show us how serious he was. Regardless of the man's academic credentials, he doesn't seem to do The Internet well: he immediately remembered the name of someone from a flamewar from 9 years ago? Mayor Curley & I once had a month-long email exchange with a poor woman who took our troll reviews on Amazon seriously. That was about 7 years ago and if you gave me a month of Sundays and the phone book to her home town, I could not tell you her name.

I'm hard-pressed to pretend a man isn't poorly-adjusted simply because of his job title. He doesn't have a hair across his ass, it's a whole wig.
posted by yerfatma at 6:19 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


You are rightly being called out for it, since it was completely unjustified.

I disagree. This is exactly what he did, and he admits as much: having worked for two years on the project, he certainly qualifies as an authority, and was disturbed to see people throwing around claims to his "bullshitting." But academic authority is always derivative, coming as it does from the things we study. Academics know this, which is why the bibliography, and its careful elucidation in print, is one of the ultimate guarantors of legitimacy.

The other guarantor of legitimacy is the capacity to answer criticism and questions. There's a difference between saying "See my book," and saying "This is what you'll find when you read my book," and "This is why you're misreading my book or why I'm not misreading somebody else's book." Having dispatched valkyryn's broad and unjustified attacks, there was then room to respond on specific issues. Certainly no there's no contractual obligation, but there is an academic role morality that derives from the role of public scholar and the perhaps quaint ethos of a professional appearing in the public sphere with a public mission. I say quaint, but it's obvious that Graeber shares this ethos. It's why he was here, and on Naked Capitalism, in the first place.

If y'all hadn't spent so long worrying that questions were impertinent, perhaps he'd still be around to answer some of them.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:22 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


You guys had your chance. For some odd reason the particular site culture or conversational dynamic ensured that no one would take advantage of it.

For whatever it's worth I think the problem here was more or less specific to that one thread, which was so full of obviously ill-informed pontification by the time you showed up that I, and I'm guessing a fair number of other people, had already given up on it and moved on. It's too bad when the one thread that attracts an author to Metafilter represents the site's potential for good discussion so badly, and it's especially too bad when people get so defensive about it afterwards, but it happened to Jenny Diski and now it's happening to you. Sorry!
posted by RogerB at 6:25 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm going to write him and ask for a list of better places. I figure he'll know 'em. Then I'm going to go hang out there. I'm gone as soon as I get that list!
posted by cjorgensen at 6:49 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


For whatever it's worth I think the problem here was more or less specific to that one thread, which was so full of obviously ill-informed pontification by the time you showed up that I, and I'm guessing a fair number of other people, had already given up on it and moved on.

FWIW, this is a fair description to me of most posts about economics or politics.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:29 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


The other guarantor of legitimacy is the capacity to answer criticism and questions.

Or, you know, he could just ignore what random people on the internet are saying about him, which probably would have been the better plan.
posted by empath at 7:45 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Dude lost it in the thread. He really did. The "I'm now leaving your crappy place" stuff is just childish. The guy was way aggro and direct about his criticisms. He personally directed bile, instead of pointing out errors in things people said.

It normally wouldn't be a problem. But like Scott Adams, he isn't just your ordinary newbie, he's the author of the book which is the subject of the thread. So you get this.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:53 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


For whatever it's worth I think the problem here was more or less specific to that one thread, which was so full of obviously ill-informed pontification by the time you showed up that I, and I'm guessing a fair number of other people, had already given up on it and moved on.

I think plenty of those people were pretty well informed. You had a professor of philosophy in there, amongst others, all of whom were critical of his positions which seemed a little shallowly worked out in the interview. They had tough questions. He reacted poorly to criticisims of his work and responded with personal attacks.

For myself, my problem is the historicization. He wants to make a point about today, so he tells us that Sumerian debt was "consumer" not "commercial." It was neither. That dichotomy is one of our own age. He's not the first to make this kind of error. But a professional historian is more on guard for that sort of thing.

Also, I'm incredibly wary of works of history written by a person who does not speak the language of the original source materials. Perhaps this is a bias of my former discipline, but you would never be published without being able to read the source materials in the original language. Too many possibilities for error. And there's a huge difference between a general translation and a specific translation for a purpose. Translation involves choices based on audience and purpose. You could get sucked into a choice of phrase never intended by the authors of the source materials.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:13 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Where I'm coming from: Against Deference.

It's especially important because I don't take my own credentials (which Ironmouth graciously overstates) to be any kind of authority, as my profile has long indicated:

"my words should bear no authority whatsoever, but should be evaluated for their intrinsic truthiness or nonsense"

I'm also not particularly skeptical about the historical claims Graeber makes, since this isn't something I know much about, and I never claimed otherwise. I'd like to see him respond to your queries, though. My own worry is that he makes the genetic fallacy of assuming that a thing's origins dictate its current function, much like ~ ("tilde"?) mentions in the latest comment in the original post. I wish I'd had a chance to ask him about that before he left, during that brief period when he seemed to want to settle down and talk.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:23 AM on August 30, 2011


Actually, I thought Graeber was unnecessarily aggressive when he entered the thread.

Yeah, I mean, "Who is this valkyryn person?" I know valkyryn says he wasn't offended, but that struck me as somewhat unneccesary.

And if you really care, well... you can click through to the profile and you can see his name... and you click through to his web site and you can see his educational background... and plug that info into Google and find his LinkedIn page.
posted by Jahaza at 8:27 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


The "I'm now leaving your crappy place" stuff is just childish.

Of course.

For myself, my problem is the historicization. He wants to make a point about today, so he tells us that Sumerian debt was "consumer" not "commercial." It was neither. That dichotomy is one of our own age.

I'm inclined to agree with you, but citation?

I'll just point out from the source of all knowledge: Consumerism has weak links with the Western world, but is in fact an international phenomenon. People purchasing goods and consuming materials in excess of their basic needs is as old as the first civilizations (e.g. Ancient Egypt, Babylon and Ancient Rome).

So this is kind of the problem here in a nutshell. You want to insult the guy and call him a child and state your argument as fact, but at the same time you aren't backing it up like some here are demanding from him. It's pretty easy to see why someone entering this conversation would want to exit it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:51 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


So this is kind of the problem here in a nutshell. You want to insult the guy and call him a child and state your argument as fact, but at the same time you aren't backing it up like some here are demanding from him. It's pretty easy to see why someone entering this conversation would want to exit it.

Thorsten Veblen invented the analysis of consumerism. He didn't live in ancient Sumeria. The idea of the "consumer" is less than a century old.

Historicization is a term in historiography which describes the erroneous writing of history using terms and concepts of our current age that were not in existence in the age that's being discussed. Consumer debt, as the term is used today, is a product of the second half of the twentieth century, where large corporations lend money to individuals for purhases. Are you aware of a Sumerian Visa or MasterCard? Because I'm not.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:02 AM on August 30, 2011


Are you aware of a Sumerian Visa or MasterCard?

This is a serious question?
posted by empath at 9:04 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


It is. I want to impress my peer group.
posted by yerfatma at 9:05 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


yerfatma: he immediately remembered the name of someone from a flamewar from 9 years ago?

Actually, I had linked to the old argument in my initial comment in the thread.
posted by russilwvong at 9:06 AM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Are you aware of a Sumerian Visa or MasterCard? Because I'm not.

I am aware that the rich lent to the less rich, they had methods to keep track of how much was borrowed, and some of this was spent on unnecessary goods and services beyond the means of the borrower.

However, you have entirely missed my point, which is that you are not providing citations for your side of the argument in the midst of this guy being called a bullshitter. People do notice when they are being singled out by the community.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:10 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Put another way, there was excess purchasing in many societies. But what we are talking about is the examination of consumerism we have today and the economic analysis of debt breaking it down between "commercial" and "consumer." Since the entire concept was invented by a guy who lived in the last century, there is no way that the Sumerians could have thought of it in the way we do.

Its like analyzing the ancient Maya on our own, Judeo-Christian terms: "they were barbarians!" Such an attitude doesn't enlighten us about them. Its widely condemned by professional historians, for good reason.

There was no "consumer debt" as we know it back then, as they did not have the intellectual concept of "consumer" we do, as was invented by Veblen. Graeber is using Veblen's concepts to discuss something that happened 45 centuries ago, for which we have scant records.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:13 AM on August 30, 2011


They may not have used the word, but it is entirely possible they knew of the concept or were subject to consumer market forces without understanding the concept.

Do you have a cite that shows their behavior could not be interpreted in this way?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:17 AM on August 30, 2011


I'm on a mobile. It is very hard to link from this BlackBerry. However, look up historicism and consumerism and Thorsten Veblen. The word "consumer" is of recent origin.

I also didn't point those things out in the thread, nor ask for cites. I pointed out as did others, that we needed more detail in the generalizations. We did not ask for cites. Nor did we get personal as Graeber did, and as none of us are right now.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:18 AM on August 30, 2011


Honestly we're kind of inbred much of the time. I don't blame him a bit. Hope he spends more time doing productive things like writing books rather than batting our shuttlecocks back under the bridge.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:20 AM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


They may not have used the word, but it is entirely possible they knew of the concept or were subject to consumer market forces without understanding the concept.

Do you have a cite that shows their behavior could not be interpreted in this way?


The point is that we cannot pin our interpretations on them. Its called historicism.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:22 AM on August 30, 2011


It's only a flaw in the reasoning if they truly aren't working from the same set of motivations.

I mean, we could look up an ancient civilization that inflated the hell out of their currency because they had no understanding of inflation, but that doesn't imply inflation did not exist at the time.

We did not ask for cites. Nor did we get personal as Graeber did, and as none of us are right now.

This is a website, not an interview. If you want to copy and paste your bibliography or a short passage from the book here, you can. The fact that you appeal only to your own authority and demand that we buy your book before questioning your claims is a little disappointing.

This is both personal and a request for the cites.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:26 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's a request for further information, and a reminder that the internet isn't quite as limiting as a spoken word interview.

As a great man ince asked: What is it with the poor reading skills around here?
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:30 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


The "demand we buy your book" is the insulting part, when the information requested is freely available. It shows a poster more interested in a fight than intellectually curious. Why engage with that?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:31 AM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


(I'm not saying it's the worst thing int he world pan, just trying to get Ironmouth off his cross over the personal nature of the conversation from both sides)
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:33 AM on August 30, 2011


I actually would like to see cites all around. it is an interesting argument and I have sympathies on both sides. Ironmouth's point regarding historicism is extremely valid. I am no longer in the field but at one time counted myself as pretty well versed in meta-studies (shall we say) of many of the social sciences. And there are a lot of similar pitfalls in each.
OTOH, I also think it is important to be extremely careful when saying (essentially) "they couldn't have had X, because the terms we use for X where just invented", sort of falls into "a rose by any other name" territory. Which is at the heart of a long debate about how language and thought interact. To cut to the chase on that one, I believe we have the capacity to think about things we do not have specific language for. So, to me, it seems at least possible that members of X civilization could have had some form of consumer debt prior to it being formally recognized. AT THE SAME TIME I also have a hard time believing that cultures prior to relatively recent times engaged in anything remotely close to the level of consumer debt we are seeing currently. Indeed it may have been so below the threshold that there was no real need to formally define it until recently, but definition does not create a thing, it merely describes a thing already in existence in some form.

So, my charge to those arguing the point is to either talk in possibilities or provided concrete examples, beyond the arguing over process.
posted by edgeways at 9:38 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


(I'm not saying it's the worst thing int he world pan, just trying to get Ironmouth off his cross over the personal nature of the conversation from both sides)

To be intellectualy disappointed and to be disappointed that a person is appealing to authority is not the same thing as calling people out for "poor reading skills" and shitty little GBCW snipes.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:39 AM on August 30, 2011


Again, the buy the book thing pushes it over the edge from intellectual disagreement to an implication of greed. That falls flat when the information has already been linked to.

You need to try and start to resist the urge that makes you call everyone you disagree with here a child. If someone's first experience with the site is being called a greedy bullshittter it makes perfect sense to not want to come back.

As for people being called out for poor reading skills, I'm sure anotherpanacea is just tired of rehashing this discussion over and over so I'm not offended by what he said. It's a perfectly reasonable thing for someone who feels they are being misrepresented to say.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:46 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]



Thorsten Veblen invented the analysis of consumerism. He didn't live in ancient Sumeria. The idea of the "consumer" is less than a century old.


The specific label "consumer" may be less than 100 years old, but the behaviour is much older.

Citation: all the probate inventories filled with consumer goods that I have read. For further analysis, see Lorna Weatherill, Consumer behaviour and material culture in Britain, 1660-1760.
posted by jb at 9:52 AM on August 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


So, to me, it seems at least possible that members of X civilization could have had some form of consumer debt prior to it being formally recognized. AT THE SAME TIME

Its 100%--but to draw the line of continuity to now is just wrong, especially because usury was illegal for centuries in Western Europe and lending unrecognizable. I don't have the ability to cite on this device.

What ever the Dutch and Jewish lenders who pioneered our debt system used to invent it, they sure as hell did not use Sumerian texts, as they were unreadable for centuries, and it is hardly a stretch to say they weren't reading cuneiform.

Graeber, at least from his interview implied a continuity he did not support upon his arrival here. The burden is upon him to support an continuity to today which requires either a 14th century time machine, or the late-middle ages lenders to be able to read Sumerian:
Sumerian continued to be used as a sacred, ceremonial, literary and scientific language in Mesopotamia until the 1st century AD. Then, it was forgotten until the 19th century, when Assyriologists began deciphering the cuneiform inscriptions and excavated tablets left by these speakers. Sumerian is a language isolate.[1]


http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumerian_language

Indeed, we did not know the language existed, as the cited article shows, until the last decades of the ninteenth century. The idea, therefore, that there is some sort of intellectual continuity between the barely-known debt systems 70 centuries ago and our age, when for 17 centuries, the language of that civilization remained completely unknown to those who invented our current system of debt is without basis in fact.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:53 AM on August 30, 2011


Thanks, furiousxgeorge. The comment was even worse than you imply: it was a poor attempt at a joke, since that's what Graeber said to me (about the "demand to buy the book" line, for which I apologized in thread.)

That said, Graeber got one thing spectacularly wrong: everybody here is awesome, even or perhaps especially the people who think I'm a jerk.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:54 AM on August 30, 2011


And there are a lot of similar pitfalls in each.
OTOH, I also think it is important to be extremely careful when saying (essentially) "they couldn't have had X, because the terms we use for X where just invented", sort of falls into "a rose by any other name" territory.


Well it's kind of like saying they couldn't have played games Chess wasn't invented until several thousand years later.

Yes, they didn't have credit cards, but credit cards are not the only form of consumer debt, and money itself is a very fungible form of debt.
posted by empath at 9:54 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


(games because chess)
posted by empath at 9:55 AM on August 30, 2011


This entire thing is a little bit embarrassing for meta-filter, since as a large the community seems to value maturity, intellect and dialogue.

Personally, I'm going to try to cut back on posting unless I have something worthwhile to say, and resist the urge to slip in snark and shut-downs. If nothing else, I can hold myself to a decent standard. I'm not calling anyone out, I'd just rather be involved in the interesting conversations that we often do have, and not just contribute to the noise levels.

This is a good site for debate and discussion, compared to many, but we do sell ourselves a bit short by letting intellectual laziness, snark, and cheap shots get in the way of real discourse.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:55 AM on August 30, 2011 [12 favorites]


The specific label "consumer" may be less than 100 years old, but the behaviour is much older.

We are discussing the application of oiur current concepts of consumer vs commerical debt to behavior of past years, not the actual behavior in the past. My argument is simple. Graeber, in his short time here did not provide support for this portion of his discussion in the interview. Whether or not societies in the past participated in what we now call consumerism is irrelevant. The question is, did they think about consumerism and consumer debt in the way we do now? Since we only started thinking about it in this way in the last century, the answer, by force of sheer logic, must be no.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:58 AM on August 30, 2011


Well it's kind of like saying they couldn't have played games Chess wasn't invented until several thousand years later.

No, its like saying they couldn't play chess because chess wasn't invented yet. I'm not talking about the behavior, I'm talking about the fact that since we only recently invented the distinction of commericial v consumer debt, there's no way they broke it down that way 70 centuries ago in Sumeria.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:02 AM on August 30, 2011


Graeber, in his short time here did not provide support for this portion of his discussion in the interview

Oh for fucks sake, he spent two years writing a book. If you care that much, read the fucking thing.
posted by empath at 10:06 AM on August 30, 2011 [14 favorites]


I'm talking about the fact that since we only recently invented the distinction of commericial v consumer debt, there's no way they broke it down that way 70 centuries ago in Sumeria.

Am I reading Graeber incorrectly in that interview, or is the fact that it isn't broken down as commercial v consumer debt not really germane to the point he's making?
posted by Hoopo at 10:10 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I tend to side with furious, to draw a conclusion without reading all the data is not good. However, Ironmouth is quite correct in his interpetration of consumerism, I believe he understands the sumerians kept debt records and the like but the structure of debt and consumerism is not the same as Veblen states for a "modern society".
posted by clavdivs at 10:17 AM on August 30, 2011


Are you aware of a Sumerian Visa or MasterCard?

Back in the day, I believe they were still called Bank Americard and MasterCharge.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:19 AM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter was really teetering on the edge of a Heel Realization here. Good thing we managed to pull back from the brink.
posted by gerryblog at 10:25 AM on August 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'm pretty disappointed in how MetaFilter handled the whole thing. As a group, we were kind of dicks here. If I were an outsider, I wouldn't exactly have the highest opinion of the place based on these two threads.
posted by jsturgill at 10:26 AM on August 30, 2011 [12 favorites]


What ever the Dutch and Jewish lenders who pioneered our debt system used to invent it, they sure as hell did not use Sumerian texts, as they were unreadable for centuries, and it is hardly a stretch to say they weren't reading cuneiform.

But they would have read the classical philosophers and theorists who are also part of the book -- and those ancient people would have been affected by existing practices.

His point about the Sumerians was that Sumerians didn't have cash money, but they DID have a debt system, which shows that (in one place at least) debt/credit systems predated cash money.

and yeah, I should read the book. But I have to finish reading the internet first. I'm almost there...
posted by jb at 10:28 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]



Slaves did hold a few rights. They could borrow money, own property, engage in trade, serve as a witness in a legal matter, and buy their freedom. A slave who purchased their freedom or was freed by their owner could not be forced back into slavery. The slave class did not appear to hold any particular negative social stigma with Sumerian citizens. They held the belief that a person who found their self a slave did so out of misfortune rather than any fault of their own.
posted by clavdivs at 10:28 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm talking about the fact that since we only recently invented the distinction of commericial v consumer debt, there's no way they broke it down that way 70 centuries ago in Sumeria.

They could very well have had rules about debt forgiveness which parallel our distinctions. Even without specific rules, they could have had customary practices which treated specific cases which correspond on average to our distinction in separate ways. A loan for seed might be treated differently than a loan for dowry or a wedding feast. It's not a-priori impossible just because the earliest clear thinking that you know about on the matter originated much later.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:29 AM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why would dowry or a wedding feast be a consumer loan, rather than commercial? Marriage is how you cement a business relationship.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:34 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]



I'm pretty disappointed in how MetaFilter handled the whole thing. As a group, we were kind of dicks here. If I were an outsider, I wouldn't exactly have the highest opinion of the place based on these two threads.


So... 'we had our chance and we blew it' - from one angle, yes, the opportunity to engage the author of the work FPP'd in a conversation bean plating on an entirely different level of insight and quality on the topic of the post/conversation itself.

On another, we do sound inbred and seem to take it for granted that its a harsh world in here - is it? was it supposed to be? or is it becoming grarier and harsher these days?

How do we want strangers to perceive us as a community?
posted by infini at 10:42 AM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


interesting about the seed grain analogy.

Sumerian Farmer's Almanac.

what I glean is the efficent methods tied in with cultural aspects of society. What is interesting is the texts steps to help insure a good crop, nothing about debt but perhaps the instructions were made to insure a debt would not be incurred.
posted by clavdivs at 10:59 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think the grar is specific to MetaFilter in this instance.

I mean, it's a book about something most people aren't exactly thrilled about at the moment. I suspect the zeitgeisty hot-button nature of the subject matter is what got the book published in the first place.

YHBT.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:12 AM on August 30, 2011


On another, we do sound inbred and seem to take it for granted that its a harsh world in here - is it? was it supposed to be? or is it becoming grarier and harsher these days?

To me, in short, to me, yes, no, yes.

Wondering if things have eased toward something less good; seems like it's been that way way over the years.

I've encouraged a few people to check out the site and more than a couple have taken a look, said things along the lines of, "There's some interesting stuff there, but are some real strident, argumentative dicks and a lot of mouthy people who aren't funny."

I can live with a view that a relatively small number of people are driving things in that direction, both through the number and tone of their comments, and their contributions to the overall tone.

No doubt it ain't gonna happen, but it would be an interesting experiment to limit the number of comments per day. Perhaps some people would choose their words with more thought and care.
posted by ambient2 at 11:16 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think that forums of this size are shaped by structural choices more than individual opinions. We're not united on our expectations of the site, or what we feel is or isn't an acceptable behavior, but we're all subject to the whims of technical limitations and moderation.

For example, the one post per week rule enormously shapes what askmefi looks like, as do the strident rules on acceptable content and moderation.

The different tolerance levels and rules for each part of the site result in different behavior. Manipulating moderation policy, technical limitations, and actual functionality of the site is the most profitable way to ensure attitude changes. Consider the difference between a reddit style vote system, our favorite system, and the slashdot grading system for points. I truly believe that these kind of things have a vast impact on what the site's commentary looks like. So to do posting guidelines. Would the site look different if video links were disallowed? What if we were more or less tolerant toward political bias in framing? What if we allowed images in the comment files?

The moderators and community of metafilter have made it what is today, sometimes consciously, and sometimes unconsciously. If there's dissatisfaction with the site is today, I really believe that it needs to be addressed at a structural level. Conversations about image, behavior, and tolerance are all too common on sites like this, but without that higher level action it's exceedingly rare for these conversations to actually go anywhere.

In that regard, it's funny that one of Graeber's quoted usenet arguments was actually about trolling and moderation policy. How we build and run these sites shapes who participates, and how.

I'm still too new here to have earn any sense of entitlement, so I'm inclined to moderate my own behavior rather than demand changes to the site, but it's something to think about.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:31 AM on August 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


Valkyryn responded to the whole thing with grace and sense and, with his response, immediately set the stage for a better discussion. Pharm helpfully spelled out how a normal human being might feel testy at the state of the thread about his book, in case someone missed it. Empath offered some wonderful advice that everyone could benefit from following, and then miss-lapin chimes in with some more hospitality that, were I a newcomer, would have made me feel welcome.

Yet in spite of their benign commentary, the overwhelming sense of the exchange there and in MeTa is pretty hostile to the idea of an outsider being able to come in and have a normal conversation without insider knowledge or paying dues to the Metafilter way, whatever it might be.

We, sir, are Iconoclasts! And therefore get to belittle you, insult you, and make demands of you!* Well, no. I don't think that's so.

Once the author of the book shows up in the thread and starts commenting, maybe it's time to drop the usual posturing and aggression and start speaking like there's company present, you know? A little bit of meeting halfway, polite phrasing, and benefit of the doubt goes a long way.

It doesn't feel right to ask him to respond to us as through he were at a lecture while commenters from the site pile on him with language that most human beings would hesitate to use in person.

*not an actual quote of anyone
posted by jsturgill at 11:47 AM on August 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


Once the author of the book shows up in the thread and starts commenting, maybe it's time to drop the usual posturing and aggression and start speaking like there's company present, you know?

I would love it if we did this even before the author showed up.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:00 PM on August 30, 2011 [16 favorites]


Like I said, people are going to start saying "oh hell no, I don't want those people comments showing up on a google search for my work" when they see their work linked here.

Can we maybe mine some other communities for some nice people? maybe we can get some of the AskMe carebears to welcome them.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:02 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's fine to be critical -- I actually thought valkyryn's comments were quite interesting, although they were apparently incredibly, mind-bogglingly wrong. And I don't suppose we can moderate tone. But lately I have been trying to post with the assumption that, this being the web and all, whoever I am writing about is going to see what I write, or somebody who cares about them will. I wind up saying the same thing, but it changes how I say it, just as it would were I addressing them face to face. I also try to write as though the person I am addressing is standing in front of me. And, when addressing somebody who is standing in front of me, I try to talk as though they are above me, in a helicopter, with guns aimed on me, because it makes the conversation more exciting.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:08 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dance Comment like no-one's everyone's watching.
posted by defenestration at 12:49 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am disappointed to say I am a member of MetaFilter when I see discussions handled this way.

Graeber is someone who I hold in deep respect after reading some of his works and I have close friends who have presented on panels and done similar work with him (after doing years of fieldwork and their own research) and to see him be grossly attacked by folks who wanted to prop up their pet theories was just mind boggling.

Sometimes one should just have a moments humility and take the time to try to understand the work created by someone who has dedicated their lives work to the subject matter. They might possibly know more about it from their years of research than just your 15 minutes of reflection and "logical assumptions."
posted by mrzarquon at 1:14 PM on August 30, 2011 [13 favorites]


Honestly we're kind of inbred much of the time.

I have been noticing that MetaFilter seems increasingly mandarin to me, lately. In terms of thought-policing and an overaggressive defense of (sometimes spurious) community norms, the site often seems in danger of crawling up its own ass. This could just be a normal point of view shift that users go through after a while, I don't know, but it is my gestalt impression as of late.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:24 PM on August 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


MetaFilter seems increasingly mandarin

What does this mean? Are you talking about those little oranges?
posted by found missing at 1:27 PM on August 30, 2011


See definition # 7.
posted by valkyryn at 1:35 PM on August 30, 2011


You know, like a jaded, faded, faded, jaded, jaded mandarin.
posted by Jpfed at 1:38 PM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


But lately I have been trying to post with the assumption that, this being the web and all, whoever I am writing about is going to see what I write, or somebody who cares about them will. I wind up saying the same thing, but it changes how I say it, just as it would were I addressing them face to face.

This is an incredibly good life philosophy. One other thing that I also would like to internalize (and don't always do so to the extent that I would like) is to be in the business of looking out for the reputations of other people, even if (and perhaps especially if) my knee-jerk response is to disagree. This means that I strive for people to be fairly represented in the public square. Sometimes this means that we call them out for inaccuracies, and sometimes this means that we speak up when they are being misrepresented. But the common denominator in both of these is that we have a grave responsibility, before we speak, to do due diligence, especially when it comes to the former, as public reputations can very easily be maligned these days. The internet makes it easy to be careless, which means that we all collectively have a responsibility to step up our game.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:41 PM on August 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I actually meant a small, spiny citrus tree, Citrus reticulata, native to China, bearing lance-shaped leaves and flattish, orange-yellow to deep-orange loose-skinned fruit, some varieties of which are called tangerines. So delicious!
posted by adamdschneider at 1:42 PM on August 30, 2011


I refuse to go to the seventh definition on anything.
posted by found missing at 1:44 PM on August 30, 2011


That is why you aren't a part of our intellectual and cultural elite.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:46 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


WHAT ABOUT VEBLEN!

Mandarin?
PAlez, say: tell me about the Han and we will get a litiany of palmists and an orthopaedics seminar.
posted by clavdivs at 1:48 PM on August 30, 2011


I was also fairly disappointed with the way this went. Graeber walked into a thread with a bunch of posturing in it, and it didn't make us look good. Maybe it is part of the atmosphere, here.

In this case--well, Graeber is an interesting thinker, we might have had an interesting conversation with him, and instead we turned him off. It's a shame.

(Of course he might not have shown up in the first place if he hadn't been prodded by someone into rushing here and defending himself.)

Ironmouth: I haven't read Graeber's book on debt, and it's certainly possible that he gets his Sumerian history very wrong. He has noted elsewhere, for instance, that this was his attempt to write a "Big Question" book for a popular audience, something critical anthropologists are notoriously unwilling to do. But to suggest that he lacks an understanding of historicism vs presentism strikes me as a little unfair, given anthropology's long and storied (and occasionally ambivalent) commitment to relativism--which I see as, at the very least, kissing cousins with historicism.

Bonus coincidence notice: On reading the comments at my "elsewhere" link, above, I found Graeber specifically addressing translation. Not entirely germane to your point about his use of Sumerian sources, but close enough to warrant quoting here:

You know it’s funny, about your archeology experience – even I have know what it’s like to feel like the indignant tax-payer on at least one occasion. I remember I was talking to a Medieval historian, mentioning an idea I’d got from reading about Medieval concepts of the imagination. She basically became offended that I should write anything on the subject at all, that is, if I had not myself relied on the original (untranslated, Latin) sources – indeed, that doing so was somehow offensive! Basically she seemed to hold the position that secondary works were not really knowledge – in the sense of something anyone not themselves an expert familiar with the primary texts could read and end up knowing something they hadn’t know already.

I found this odd since, of course, she wrote such books herself. I must confess I did, just for a moment, feel tempted to say “well, why exactly do you expect anyone to pay your salary if you are actively opposed to the idea of anyone other than other Medievalists learning anything from your research?”


He backpedals a bit; I suspect that anyone who has had to deal with the RAE will have been left deeply suspicious of tying research funding directly to popularity and outside "relevance".
posted by col_pogo at 2:52 PM on August 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


But I should say: kudos to valkyryn for a thoroughly reasonable MeTa post, even if I thought his original contributions to the FPP were a little off-base. And there have of course been plenty of thoughtful, non-posturing comments in both threads.

Further, my ambivalent link was fubared.* This is what I meant to point to.

(*Apologies. Presumably f'dubar is the correct form.)
posted by col_pogo at 3:08 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


But to suggest that he lacks an understanding of historicism vs presentism strikes me as a little unfair, given anthropology's long and storied (and occasionally ambivalent) commitment to relativism--which I see as, at the very least, kissing cousins with historicism.

Its his approach I'm concerned about. The guy has a very political position to take and that is really problematic when analysis is a big part of what is going on.

She basically became offended that I should write anything on the subject at all, that is, if I had not myself relied on the original (untranslated, Latin) sources – indeed, that doing so was somehow offensive! Basically she seemed to hold the position that secondary works were not really knowledge – in the sense of something anyone not themselves an expert familiar with the primary texts could read and end up knowing something they hadn’t know already.

I'd agree with the historian here. Secondary texts are not knowledge, they are interpretation. The primary text is the evidence. I think my larger point about translation still stands. Translation is choice-making for an audience, because you can't bring everything across that gap. And a person who is translating Sumerian for a particular reason may go easy on certain sections. So you are taking the risk that the other person got it right, and that you aren't missing something from the whole.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:21 PM on August 30, 2011


I don't think that it then follows that no one should attempt to make broader arguments while working from translations, or that that person's arguments should be dismissed out of hand. It just means that readers should bear in mind that someone with a better grasp of Sumerian might come along and blow the supports out from under the argument.

It seems to come down to us having different tolerances for that risk you mention.
posted by col_pogo at 3:49 PM on August 30, 2011


Don't speak Old and Middle English? Don't know, with native-level fluency, twenty different Chinese "dialects" that might as well be seperate languages? Unfamiliar with Sumerian, Sanskrit, and Hebrew? Then you are de facto unable to 1) learn anything about those societies/cultures, 2) use that knowledge in other contexts, and you especially cannot 3) compare and contrast those societies' practices and beliefs in any way.

I don't buy that (paraphrased) argument.

I do, however, agree with a weak version of that argument: primary sources are important, nuance in language is important, and translations by necessity both remove information and introduce new information, obscuring the original meaning and intent of the text.

Is it so hard to concede that it is at least possible that Graeber was conscientious in his research, made plausible connections among different cultures and times, and came away with arguments that are worthy of consideration?

I think it is possible, and perhaps even likely. I'm also willing to believe that if we hadn't run him off, it would be interesting to ask him how he dealt with the language problem, and why he thinks his conclusions are sound in spite of his reliance on other experts for interpretation and translation of primary sources.
posted by jsturgill at 4:00 PM on August 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


separate languages, I mean
posted by jsturgill at 4:01 PM on August 30, 2011


It's sort of perfect how the attempt in this thread to have a conversation about how people on MetaFilter might begin to talk to one other with more consideration and more generosity has been completely drowned out by a single poster's monomaniacal attempt to prove he's smarter than everyone else here, as well as smarter than Graeber, and smarter than the entire discipline of anthropology too. I wonder if there is any lesson MetaFilter might learn from the turn this MeTa has taken.
posted by gerryblog at 5:05 PM on August 30, 2011 [17 favorites]


Sometimes one should just have a moments humility and take the time to try to understand the work created by someone who has dedicated their lives work to the subject matter. They might possibly know more about it from their years of research than just your 15 minutes of reflection and "logical assumptions."

Or they might have gone into the research with the concluding paragraph fully written in their head, blithely disregarded all dissenting evidence and written nine million pages of timecube that got published because it's a hot button issue right now.

Do I think Mr. Graeber did those things? No. Can I determine which 'side' of the thread is correct based purely on the strength of their discourse? Of course not.

Cite or STFU is perfectly reasonable objection in the internet age and dropping a link to 150k words of bibliography is a perfectly reasonable response.
posted by Skorgu at 5:20 PM on August 30, 2011


Cite or STFU is perfectly reasonable objection in the internet age

This whole mess started because valkryr accused Graeber of having no sources without even bothering to check if he did in fact have some. valkryr has himself rather graciously admitted he was out of line on this; I don't know why this is still a subject of debate.

As for my nasty comment to Ironmouth above, that was dickish and I am sorry. My annoyance stems from having this conversation again derailed into a trial-in-absentia based on kneejerk objections that sound much more thought out than they are. The consumer-vs-commercial debt distinction was introduced by valkryr as part of his initial salvo against Graeber; Graeber responds by saying actually the debt in Mesopotamia was consumer debt after all.

Ironmouth's response at that point is the following:
1. "This incorrectly maps present-day distinctions onto ancient cultures in a way that violates historiographic principles." But valkryr was the one who did this, not Graeber -- Graeber's argument is not predicated on this distinction and he was only attempting to correct someone else's error using the language they had used.
2. "Sumerians didn't think in terms of consumer debt because the idea hadn't been invented yet." This is (a) not what was issue: Graeber was talking about what they did, not how they thought about it; (b) totally at odds with point number 3 below.
2. "It is literally impossible to make any claims about Ancient Sumeria unless you speak the language." But (unless I am mistaken) Ironmouth himself doesn't speak the language, and is nonetheless exceedingly confident about his ability to mind-read Ancient Sumerians without having done any research into the subject at all.

In any event, none of this marginal nitpicking is germane to Graeber's book, and is most about trying to save face after MetaFilter has rightly been called out for being jerks -- which is exactly the behavior that got us as a community into trouble in the first place.

I've honestly found this debacle very frustrating and disappointing, in no small part due to my having posted the initial thread -- and I should probably step away from the thread at this point. Which I will now do. Have a nice night, everybody.
posted by gerryblog at 5:34 PM on August 30, 2011 [14 favorites]


If I had any banjo at all, I'd write Wheaton's Lament.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:57 PM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


gerryblog, the very next phrase of my comment was:

dropping a link to 150k words of bibliography is a perfectly reasonable response.

I don't think anybody was out of line. It's reasonable not to cite chapter and verse in an interview, it's also reasonable to ask for that chapter and verse in another context just as it's reasonable to reply "well here are *all* my sources."
posted by Skorgu at 6:06 PM on August 30, 2011


Well back up, the reaction was generated by the implication that there were no sources not by the request for them.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:11 PM on August 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think any of you understand the importance of really happened here: Matt Haughey made $5.

Aye, 't was a good day.
posted by not_on_display at 8:09 PM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not one to cowtow to Graeber with an argument from authority but having someone considered the "best anthropological theorist of his generation from anywhere in the world" run off from this site because of a bunch of noise is a deep loss. Thinkers of his acumen are in a totally different league from the armchair theorists who want to engage him in a pathetic agonistic display of erudition. I've read his work and was really excited to see his new book featured on the Blue, only to sadly have that thread devolve into a reflex test for people's ideological blinkers. Let's stop hurting Metafilter ya'll?
posted by bodywithoutorgans at 9:40 PM on August 30, 2011 [31 favorites]


I sort of have to concur with this. I didn't give this whole thing a close read, but I find this vaguely embarassing.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:50 PM on August 30, 2011 [13 favorites]


How do we want strangers to perceive us as a community?

Seems like most individuals want to be perceived as the smartest people in the room, even if someone else in the room is a recognized authority.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:33 PM on August 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


The guy has a very political position to take and that is really problematic when analysis is a big part of what is going on.

Do you have even the tiniest shred of capability for introspection? *YOU* are crying about someone having an political axe to grind? YOU?

Jesus wept.
posted by rodgerd at 3:54 AM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


The subject, interview and source (naked capitalism) are all explicitly political. Characterizing this as a dour anthropological debate that was sandbagged by a surprise political discussion is just absolute nonsense. Graeber is explicitly expressing a political view in the interview itself:

Well, what happened this time around? Instead of creating some sort of overarching institution to protect debtors, they create these grandiose, world-scale institutions like the IMF or S&P to protect creditors.

Clearly any pretence that markets maintain themselves, that debts always have to be honored, went by the boards in 2008.

Just because we agree with him doesn't make this non-political.
posted by Skorgu at 4:06 AM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


All I know is I'm a gonna start making a whole lot of George Clooney posts, then he'll jump and and talk to me, and next he'll ask me out on a date, then we'll fall in love, and I'll change him from his never-gettin-hitched status and OMG I'm so excited.
posted by kinetic at 4:35 AM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


George is a lurker on the grey
posted by infini at 4:55 AM on August 31, 2011


The subject, interview and source (naked capitalism) are all explicitly political. Characterizing this as a dour anthropological debate that was sandbagged by a surprise political discussion is just absolute nonsense.

To be honest, that's what originally set me off. I'm withholding further comment on the substance of Graeber's work until I've read his book,* and while I wouldn't be all that surprised if he has sufficient sources to support his conclusion that debt preceded the introduction of currency (which actually makes a lot of sense just intuitively), I remain highly skeptical that he has sufficient sources to make the kinds of political points he was making in the interview. I'll post something about that once I've read the book.

But really, I'm highly skeptical of anyone who says that some event or series of events in history scores them political points, particularly when said event occurred more than a century or two ago. And while I will admit to being out of line here, I won't admit to introducing politics to a non-political discussion. Graeber has been engaged in a pretty explicit political project for his entire career.

*It's in the mail!
posted by valkyryn at 5:17 AM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: I didn't give this whole thing a close read, but I find this vaguely embarassing
posted by mazola at 6:46 AM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


To be honest, I intervened partly because someone pointed out to me that there were people accusing me of "bullshitting" and making up history without evidence based on - well, no evidence; partly, because I had just had a mostly interesting and delightful set of conversations with the posters on the Naked Capitalism blog and thought perhaps there might find a similar exchange of ideas here.

Cool okay. But I'd be wary of assuming much about Metafilter. Or assuming things, in general.

If anyone had actually asked me a question, you know, like "so when you say X are you arguing Y?" or "what kind of evidence for your argument that Mesopotamian money systems originate in Z?" or whatever it might be - I'd have happily answered them. Instead I found a group of people who seem to have entered a contest to see who could provide an environment most likely to convince an author not to want to stick around. Maybe it's just me, but this seems kind of odd. There I was. It would have been easy enough to just ask me a question Most of us do understand that if you want to ask someone something, the normal approach is just to ask them, not to scold them for not having already dug through a long previous conversation, figured out what others would have wanted to ask them, and then answered it.

Is he like, new to the Internet?

You guys had your chance. For some odd reason the particular site culture or conversational dynamic ensured that no one would take advantage of it. Oh well. Kind of puzzling, but I'm off to greener pastures.

He's an anthropologist?

I'm just a layperson but found Prof. Graeber's interview a fascinating and informative read. However. I too got stuck at the very same place where valkyryn had his/her objections. For me, maybe it was because the interviewer asked a vague question, but I had to really puzzle over the author's response. Some of the phrasing and word choice was confusing. And for example, in the couple of paragraphs within that passage was explaining the origins of money, I can casually count a couple usages of hedge words ("seems") as well as passive sentences (money doing things as opposed to people doing things), which only served to obscure what the author was trying to say. I don't think it was fair to blame it on a so-called "you guys".
posted by polymodus at 7:47 AM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Holy Moly.

So, regardless of how you feel about any "economics", or Historiography; I think he may have crafted a theory that encompasses why all the pop culture things that are widely loved ('specially) round these parts touch the hearts and Rebellious bits of modern pop culture viewers... Explaining the youth frustration, which is hard to put to words, addressing the limited space for anti-authoritarianism in the modern world via Pop-Culture: We are "responsible", and will be left holding the bill for Climate change, for extinctions, Species losses, Rainforests, Nuclear Proliferation, OilWars, CultureWars, Global Political Meddling Blowback, Broken Regimes, failures in American Democracy (how many have blamed nebulous "broken democracy" on the "laziness" of "todays youth")? So many things -- Armageddon in a Handbasket; Leaving us exhausted, defensive and Unsure even how to start cleaning up the Infinite Messes of the World.

Pull Quote:
The show's anti-authoritarianism runs throughout. If the series has an ultimate message for the youth of America, it is that whatever instinctual revulsion you might feel toward those who claim to be your betters is not only justified--but things are likely far worse than you could possibly imagine. Ever think of your friend's mother, who constantly pushes her into cheerleading competitions, as a witch? She is. Ever suspect the swim coach would do anything to win that championship? You're right. He would. That the traditional family-values guy courting your divorced mother is some kind of robot, or a sex-crazed killer? He's both. That your sadistic principal is a repressed Nazi child-molester? Well... we don't have the full story on him yet, but it's probably at least that bad.

Quick background. Hoards of demons menace mankind. They tend to accumulate in the white-bread suburb of Sunnydale, California, mainly because the Hellmouth, a kind of font of bad mystic energy, is located directly beneath Sunnydale High. In Sunnydale, mysterious deaths and disappearances are an almost daily occurrence.

Arrives one Buffy Summers, recently expelled from school in L.A. for burning down the gym. In an ordinary world, Buffy would have probably ended up a slightly less affluent version of Alicia Silverstone's mall habitué in Clueless; as it happens, she is the Slayer, reluctant hero chosen by mysterious powers to lead humanity's war against the vampires. To her aid comes Giles, her Watcher, who has just transferred from the British Museum to become Sunnydale High's librarian, filling its shelves (in a kind of fundamentalist's worst nightmare) with vast leather-bound tomes on demonology. A band of misfits accumulates around them: class clown Xander Harris, timid computer hacker Willow Rosenberg, spoiled Valley Girl Cordelia and mellow lead guitarist (cum werewolf) Oz--not to mention Angel, whom Buffy fondly calls her "cradle-robbing, creature of the night boyfriend"--a vampire of once legendary cruelty, who has spent the last couple centuries feeling guilty after a Gypsy curse restored his soul. They are united in shifting webs of mutual love, trust, jealousy, desire and annoyance--conspiring to save the world on a regular basis as Buffy desperately tries to maintain a C average and head off efforts to kick her out of school.

There are a lot of obvious things you can say about Buffy. In the show's first season, a student becomes invisible because no one notices her; in the end, she's whisked away by the FBI for training as a government assassin. In the second, rich frat boys turn out to owe their wealth to an evil snake god, to whom they sacrifice virgins in the frathouse basement (Xander: "I guess the rich really are different"). Slaying the snake sets off a wave of corporate bankruptcies across America. And sometimes the supernatural element is a simply obvious mirror for real life: As when Buffy, having run away from home, gets a job as a waitress and seems headed for a life of drudgery--until she discovers a band of demons who have been enslaving teenage runaways to labor in dark satanic mills beneath the earth, spewing them out, broken and useless, at about the age of 65. Yet in one way it is decidedly unlike real life: Demon bosses, after all, can be beheaded (though having Buffy lead the rebellion with a hammer in one hand and sickle in the other was perhaps a tad much). Real ones can't.
....
If nothing else, Buffy reminds us how much '60-style youth rebellion was premised on an assumption of security and prosperity: Why put up with all this stodginess when life could be so good? Today's rebellious youth, rather, are reduced to struggling desperately to keep hell from entirely engulfing the earth. Such, I suppose, is the fate of a generation that has been robbed of its fundamental right to dream of a better world. The very notion of being able to take part in a relatively democratically organized group of comrades, engaged in a struggle to save humanity from its authoritarian monsters, is now itself a wild utopian fantasy--not just a means to one. But cynics take note: If the mushrooming success of Buffy means anything, it's that this is one fantasy which surprising numbers of the Slacker Generation do have.

-Rebel Without a God, December 27, 1998

Firefly (the company/Universal Government vs The Crew), BattlestarGalactica (authoritarian 'Bots Vs Humans, and Authoritarian Tending Governing Groups Vs. Citizens), House (BraveNewMulti-field Diagnostician rebel small group Vs. Corporate Medicine for profit/Admin/"Rules"/"Insurance Realities/"Best Practices"/"Traditional splitting and disparity of Diagnostic Specialists"), Bones (the Small/Close Highly Empathic Team Vs. Impersonal Federal Law), CSI:LV (The Team Vs. Eklie, The Team Vs. The Sherrifs Office, Team Vs. Bureaucracy, etc.,), Glee (The Club Vs. The impersonal Bully, Trying to maintain self expression and individuality in the face of Bullies Breaking down spirit of uniqueness, Club Vs. The urge to pull Strivers back down into the Masses, into the Crowd, Pushes to "fit in" rather than to Express the Self), The West Wing (The Office of the President trying to activate Change in the face of Implacable, Immovable opposition [though the opposition in fiction seems to have been more compromising than reality])


/New Fangled Fan of This Man.
posted by infinite intimation at 11:20 AM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


George is a lurker on the grey

Oh, he's more than a lurker.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:32 AM on August 31, 2011


Bunny Ultramod: "George is a lurker on the grey

Oh, he's more than a lurker.
"

Christ how awkward.
posted by kinetic at 2:02 PM on August 31, 2011


What's awkward is looking across this big plate of beans and fearing that no one will eat it and nothing will change and the next time someone interesting drops in they'll once again be greeted with arrogant posturing. When my partner says she's afraid of the blue, stuff like this where she's coming from, and I know this reaction isn't unique to her. It's discouraging to contemplate.

As smart, interested and engaged people, we need new people and fresh ideas and different ways of thinking, or we risk becoming intellectual blue-bloods. So, when they come, we must welcome them not with big swinging dicksbrains, but with grace, respect and just a bit of advance credit for possibly knowing what they're talking about.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:57 PM on August 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


I will graciously allow Clooney to arrogantly posture on me any darn time he wants.
posted by kinetic at 7:43 PM on August 31, 2011


> He wants to make a point about today, so he tells us that Sumerian debt was "consumer" not "commercial."

> There was no "consumer debt" as we know it back then, as they did not have the intellectual concept of "consumer" we do, as was invented by Veblen.

> I'm incredibly wary of works of history written by a person who does not speak the language of the original source materials ... you would never be published without being able to read the source materials in the original language. Too many possibilities for error.

> Secondary texts are not knowledge, they are interpretation. The primary text is the evidence.

... you are taking the risk that the other person got it right, and that you aren't missing something from the whole.


> The burden is upon him to support an continuity to today which requires either a 14th century time machine, or the late-middle ages lenders to be able to read Sumerian ...

Indeed, we did not know the language existed, as the cited article shows, until the last decades of the ninteenth century.


Ironmouth, this is complete bullshit. First you're focusing on an alleged claim by Graeber that the Sumerians made a distinction between commercial debt and consumer debt. Graeber did not make such a claim anywhere in the interview the OP linked to or in any of his comments here. You should be well aware of this, since you can the interview and his comments as well as any of the rest of us. Apparently you think if repeat this claim often enough we'll believe you. It's not working.

Second, you're making a claim that Graeber has no right to write anything about Sumerian accounting and lending practices because he doesn't know Sumerian.

Sumerian is one of the oldest written human languages, a lot of the surviving records in Sumerian are in fact accounting records. They did in fact use them to keep track of what people owed and paid. People who do know Sumerian have written books about Sumerian accounting practices, administrative structures, and what they can figure out about the economies of Sumerian city states based on analysis of these documents.

It would be ridiculous for someone to write a history of credit, as Graeber was doing, without referencing what's known about credit and accounting practices in the earliest human societies for which we have written records. And, yes, it would be reasonable to rely on specialists who have spent a lot of time analysising, sifting through and trying to understand those documents for an understanding of how those practices worked.

Ironmouth, I don't think you have any idea how difficult it to learn Sumerian, how much effort went into and still goes into deciphering it, and how much effort goes into trying to make sense of what survives of Sumerian civilization. You're insisting that no other scholars should ever draw on any of this research. And I don't think you care, you're just trying to score cheap points.

If we're supposed to take your claims seriously, no histories that rely on syntheses written by other historians are ever valid, no works of history or any other subject should ever have been written where the author has had to rely in part on other people's analyses of source material written in a language they themselves didn't understand. By that criterion you would be eliminating most histories.

Third, according to you, Graeber's claiming that there was some kind of direct continuity between Sumerian lending practices and those of Europe in the late middle ages. Once again, the problem here is that he didn't make any such claim.

The guy has a very political position to take and that is really problematic when analysis is a big part of what is going on.

Uhm, yeah. I'm pretty sure you have political reasons for objecting to what Graeber said. It probably has something to do with the current economic crisis and position on current politics, not Sumerian accounting practices you know nothing about and care nothing about. If you had any interest in honest discussion, you would have told us what those objections are, rather focusing on things he didn't say and pretending that everything he said is automatically invalid just because he mentioned the Sumerians.

I have to assume that you think it's easier to defend this line of bullshit than explain your actual political objections, whatever they are, easier to run people off of the site, since that can easily be done with enough contempt and belligerence, than explain or defend your own positions.
posted by nangar at 12:22 AM on September 1, 2011 [22 favorites]


SpacemanStix: and sometimes this means that we speak up when they are being misrepresented.

I rather regret that the only comment I made on the original thread, a glib admission that there are actually anarchists on here, and that I am one -- phrased in a such a way as to be ambiguous enough that hopefully people wouldn't take it seriously and debate at me about that choice.

I had however read all but 1.5 ('Lost People' is still on the to-read list, and half way through 'Debt') of his books, and knew for a fact that the dude gives good bibliography, and is pedantic about citing his references. FWIW I'd also say he's also fairly conservative about the conclusions he draws from evidence as well; he may be quite explicitly anarchist in his political views, this doesn't mean that his books are all like: "Tally sticks, ergo anarchism!", they're rather more nuanced and Bordieuieuiean that that. I also kinda sussed that the thread was going in rather a tangent to anything he'd actually stated.

So I could, and probably should, have said something.

My problem is that after a decade and a half of internet flame-warrior argy-bargy I just can't hack it any more. I don't want to spend all day reading, researching, replying and becoming gradually more irrational as things become more personal. Life's too short for that, and there's far more to learned/gained with far less stress by doing something like reading a book (there's actually this really good one just out called "Debt", by this bloke called David Graeber). I love reading Mefi, but hate posting (and my doing so is generally a pretty good indicator of my blood alcohol level, and that it's over at least 1.0b Malbecs). It does sometimes seem very hard to post anything here (however inoffensive you might have thought it) without ending up in an alpha-geek standoff.

Forums favour the bold, if you're better at self-questioning than self-confidence then you're shagged like a 1970's starlet's apartment.

Then, that's just the way of things: the whole 'be liberal in what you accept from others, and conservative in what you ask them to accept from you' works fine in principle and small communities, less so in the metropolis. Perhaps we should monetise kindness, and start exchanging tokens in order to become capitalists of (symbolic) kindness.

Hmm, sure I had a point when I started. BRB checking yardarm.
posted by titus-g at 6:28 AM on September 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


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