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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time to think for ourselves?, 9 April 2013
This review is from: The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement (Kindle Edition)
You can't predict revolutions, David Graeber points out. The collapse of the Soviet bloc, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Arab Spring to name a recent few were only foreseeable in hindsight. It's time, he thinks, as do presumably all the thousands of others who have joined in Occupy style events, for another revolution and to his own surprise, there was for a short while what seemed to be the beginning of one near Wall Street in New York in 2011.

But there is the problem of words. Revolution is a scary word. But we all in Europe, bar the elite or apathetic, probably would agree that some drastic change would be good. And there are few words so misunderstood as "democracy" and its apparent opposite "anarchy". Graeber makes a strong case, on historical analysis, for the proposition that the United States was never, and was never meant to be, a real democracy - its an oligarchy with an elite which distracts, not with bread and circuses, but meaningless electoral reshuffles and adverts for consumer goods. As for anarchy, which most people take to mean chaos, the breakdown of law and order, murder and mayhem galore. Graeber does a good job of dedramatising the word, or at least showing what it means to him - the absence of coercive violence as a means to impose some (mostly a minority) people's ideas on others (the vast majority often). But it involves a positive view of human nature, the idea that without prisons, judges, lawyers, armies of SWAT teams and police we might actually get along more or less the same as we do already (minus the car parking tickets in my case) or perhaps even better...

I loved the way Graeber describes how the police are stymied when the people in the streets they are trying to control don't have a leader or spokesperson. It shows in a particularly graphic way that our ingrained habit of accepting leadership by others is just another way of turning ourselves into herdable sheep. From what I had read so far about anarchist ideas I had had insufficient imagination to deduce how it would be practicable for a group of people to organize themselves without a leader and formalised authority - in my own of line of work, people seem often to abdicate from participation in decisions and literally cry out for some-one to tell them what to do. But that is, I suspect, habit, laziness, lack of engagement. Graeber's depiction of how consensus can work is very enlightening, for me at least. And he anticipates many objections (endless meetings, the annoying people who will never agree or who won't shut up, the limelight hoggers) and provides common sense and practical solutions.

Of course, Graeber does not have the answers as to what would replace the current abusive structure of power and privilege. He admits that clearly. As some-one else put it, you don't replace a brain tumour. You remove it, leave the hospital and get on with life. And that is a whole, new exciting endeavour if you can let go of the fear of the unknown. And when enough people reach the point that the inequality, corruption and downright destructive madness of the capitalist system is too much for them to bear, maybe the change in thinking and approach that Graeber identifies in the occupy movement will become mainstream and a hundred years from now it will all seem to have been an inevitable and natural development.

So, read what he has to say. Allow your assumptions to be challenged. And think for yourself what you would like a democracy to be.
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