The Enlightenment did not begin in France at all; The Enlightenment began in America. More precisely, among the indigenous peoples of North America, they were called “Native Americans” as described by anthropologist/anarchist David Graeber and archaeologist David Wingro in worldwide bestsellers. blew everything upwhich will be published this week in Dutch translation as The beginning of it all – a new history of mankind.
In the second (and most enjoyable) chapter of their 600-plus page book, it’s clear that Graeber and Wengrow are happy to quote long passages from Memoirs of the Americas septentrionale French aristocrat Louis Armand de L’Homme Dares, Baron de Lahontan. Enlisted in the French army in 1683, sent to Canada, promoted to vice-governor-general, mastered indigenous languages, and befriended Kandyaronck, an indigenous politician who led a number of Iroquois-speaking peoples represented negotiations with French and English settlers. Kandyaronk, besides being also a politician, a brave warrior and skillful orator, hated Christianity which he considered a group of sects. The fact that Lahontan did not like the way the French Jesuits tried to push the Catholic faith down the throats of Native Americans created a bond.
Lahontan describes in his book Diary How the Native Americans who visited France viewed European culture: “They constantly bothered us about the defects and disturbances they observed in our cities, allegedly caused by money. There is no point in pointing out how useful property is to the preservation of society: everything you say about it makes fun of them. They make fun of the arts and sciences and make fun of the differences in ranks we see among us. They call us slaves, and call us miserable spirits whose lives are not worthy to live, and say that we humble ourselves by submitting to one man (the King) who has all the power, and is subject to no law but his will.
Lahontan writes that the Native Americans thought it foolish to have one in France than the other. And they thought it foolish that such possession should automatically lead to power. Kandyaronk quotes: “I declare that what you call ‘money’ is the devil of demons, the tyrant of the French, the source of all evil. Money is the father of excess, immorality, intrigue, deceit, and lies; of all the worst conduct in the world.”
Two myths about man
Lahontan’s books were read avidly, as well as by Enlightenment thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who may have been inspired by Kandyaronck’s criticisms of Europe for his book. Talk about inequality From 1755. Unlike Candiaronk, Rousseau became world famous. And those who don’t know Rousseau also know something of his ideas, for Rousseau (1712-1778), Graeber and Wengrow write, set the tone for the way we look at our past. He is the man behind one of the two basic stories – or rather: the myths – about the origin of humanity that have been ingrained in collective memory since the Age of Enlightenment.
Very simplified, the Rousseau legend goes as follows: a long time ago people were still in their “original state” and were wandering in pristine nature as hunters and gatherers. Everyone was happy. Bad day they invented agriculture and settled in permanent places. Possession began, followed by hierarchy and inequality, after which life became a dull misery. Rousseau’s story contrasts with that of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), who held that people in their “original state” are not at all harmonious types, but rather selfish beings who will crush each other’s brains as soon as they think they will. Take advantage of it themselves. Civilization is the best way to curb this hateful tendency.
Both stories are eagerly repeated to this day, by influential people such as political scientist Francis Fukuyama, biologist Jared Diamond, psychologist Stephen Pinker, and of course the famous historian Yuval Noah Harari. But, unfortunately, they are meaningless, Wingro and Graeber believe. in spite of the beginning of it all Together, the book revolves around the spirit of David Graeber, who passed away in 2020 at the age of 59 and was known to be a brilliant activist and thinker. He was a professor at the London School of Economics, and wrote groundbreaking books on debt and nonsense jobs (nonsense jobs, 2018) and stood in the cradle of the Occupy movement.
A new look at the distant past
the beginning of it all The search for the origins of social inequality has begun, a major topic of discussion since the 2008 financial crisis. Over the 10 years that Graeber and Wingro have worked on it—Greiber died three weeks after completion—they became more ambitious. They finally decided that their book should take a fresh look at the countless myths about humanity’s distant past, beginning with those of Rousseau and Hobbes. Drawing on recent archaeological and anthropological research, well known but rarely shared among scholars, and now arranged in twelve lavishly documented chapters, they propose a new story, a new ‘narration’: a ‘new history of mankind’.
In this new history, “state” and “inequality” are not an inevitable consequence of an increasingly complex society, there is no such thing as an “original state”, and it is foolish to present the past as a well-ordered timeline in which our ancestors foolishly searched for over a few hundred thousand years In search of small game and collected berries until, about twelve thousand years ago, they invented agriculture and settled in permanent places, after which cities and states appeared, and eventually the current world order.
This entire agricultural revolution did not happen, Graeber and Wingro say. Looking from the present to the past tends to see unmistakable patterns, but the reality is more subtle. For starters, you can’t generalize our ancestors. The only thing that can be said for sure is that they are all Africans. Moreover, about forty thousand years ago, human species differed greatly from each other in appearance and behavior – much more than today. Describe in detail the number of communities Both I wandered around if Lived in settlements. Their way of life differed seasonally, as, for example, with the Nambikwara, who still live in Brazil, about which the famous anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss published in 1944.
Not a stupid animal
The authors write that our ancestors were cognitively and intellectually equal. Not only did they seamlessly switch between different forms of social organization, but they also regularly changed social identities; Hierarchies are easily built as they are dismantled. Long before the invention of agriculture, people erected huge structures, produced intricate art, and thought about organizing their society. They also built cities, although Graeber and Wengrow prefer to talk about “places of conscious social experimentation”.
Thus the image of Neanderthals as a stupid animal is a myth. One of the traits that distinguishes us humans from animals is that animals produce only what they need, and we produce more. Humans have always been “beings of abundance,” making us the most creative – and most destructive – animal species of all. “The ruling classes are simply those who have organized society in such a way that they can claim the lion’s share of this surplus for themselves.”
Thanks in part to technological advances, the amount of abundance has increased over time. However, technological advances have not necessarily helped humans; The authors agree again with Rousseau. Throughout history, for example, people did not work less, they worked more, as Marshall Sahlins wrote in 1968 in Native Wealthy Society, According to Graeber and Wengrow, the most influential anthropological essay ever: “When it comes to work and wealth, every new technological breakthrough seems to make us fall deeper.”
Obsession with property rights
So, ‘we’ is the part of humanity that in past centuries has had to watch how others place themselves above them; And not temporarily, as in previous cultures, but permanently. European settlers who set their sights on certain tracts of land liked to use what nineteenth-century scholars called the “agrarian argument” to drive out and control the natives. They argued that the peoples living in those areas did not really “work” but live in a “normal state”, which prevented them from asserting property rights.
John Locke wrote as early as 1690 that property rights necessarily derive from labour, and land used for hunting and gathering was considered “uncultivated”. For example, thousands of European invaders, plantation overseers, and colonial officials in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Oceania used the “stereotypical stereotype of a lazy, quiet native living a life without material ambitions” as an excuse to coerce the local indigenous population. people to work. According to Graeber and Wingro, the obsession with property rights as the basis of social power is a typical Western phenomenon.
the real question
But the real question, they thought while writing their book, is not what are the origins of social inequality – for for most of human history, inequality has never been an element; Freedom was a much more important concept. The real question, they say, is how we got stuck in just one form of social reality. When people lost the freedom to invent other forms of coexistence. How they came to view transcendence and submission as inescapable elements of human existence, and not as temporary aids.
They do not give an unambiguous answer to this question, which is unfortunate but also logical – anyone who pretends to get rid of myths cannot come up with a new and easy story. “We just don’t know,” they write in the middle of their account. And in their conclusion: “The best we can make are some preliminary suggestions, or starting points.” These are logical sentences at times perhaps a little strict, but on the whole it is a very deep and exceptionally rich book about the past, most of whose traces have been erased over time.
David Graeber and David Wingro: The Beginning of It All – A New History of Mankind. Translated from the English by Roger van Capel and Bart Gravendal. veteran. 655 pages 35 euros.
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