The Dawn of Everything Summary

Summary of The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber & David Wengrow

The Dawn of Everything summary

Chapter by Chapter Summary and analysis of David Graeber & David Wengrow´s book The Dawn of Everything, including detailed summaries of the chapters of the original book.

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The Dawn of Everything Book

OVERVIEW

David Graeber and David Wengrow work to upend numerous entrenched assumptions about the origins of complex human societies, urban settlements, and nation-states, as well as the global problem of social inequality, in their 2021 book The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity.

The authors, an anthropologist, and an archeologist examine the most recent archeological evidence and reinterpret decades of anthropological research to provide detailed accounts of how early human societies developed.

Their project seeks to debunk the conventional wisdom that small hunter-gatherer bands of humans lived in egalitarian harmony before discovering agriculture, settling down, expanding their populations, and instituting hierarchical administrative and political control systems. Instead, the authors contend that organizing processes were far more complex and revealed a high level of conscious self-determination.

The Dawn of Everything, published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in 2021, has sparked a lively debate among academics and armchair historians alike.

PLOT

The authors discuss the enduring impact of two early political philosophers, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) and Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), on historical scholarship and anthropological research. Both thinkers are refuted by the authors, who propose a new way of looking at early human history and its contributions to the present.

They want to restore specificity and complexity to early human societies, allowing evidence to reveal that the past was far more complicated and the people far more sophisticated than current historical accounts would have it.

The authors argue that the solutions to the problem of social inequality are complex and varied. They exemplify the «Indigenous critique» of Western culture, in which Indigenous Amerindians pointed out flaws and contradictions in European society.

Indeed, such critiques reveal the political sophistication and democratic leanings of Amerindian philosophy and society in the 17th and 18th centuries. The authors argue that this way of thinking influenced Enlightenment ideals rather than the other way around, even though centuries of conquest and dominance have obscured Amerindian contributions.

The authors present evidence demonstrating the fluidity of early human societies. It was not uncommon for a society to live as an egalitarian hunter-gatherer band during one season of the year when food was scarce and groups were dispersed, and then to live as a centralized tribe, with some type of ruling authority, in one settled area during another.

While remnants of this social fluidity can be found in certain modern festivals and celebratory times of the year, the authors believe that the more pressing question is why modern society has lost most of this fluidity. The standard arguments, which hold that once humans settled into agricultural communities, the concept of private property inevitably followed, resulting in social inequality, do not hold up in light of recent archeological evidence.

The authors dispel common misconceptions about agriculture and its impact on civilization. Agriculture did not usher in some new and inevitable form of human society, complete with top-down organization and social inequality. Farming was often the last resort, and archeological evidence suggests that its adoption in some parts of the world, such as Central Europe, was a failure. As previously stated, many early societies relied on a combination of methods to ensure their survival.

The first cities were formed and operated in a variety of ways. There does not appear to be a single path to urbanization, nor a consistent pattern of governance across societies. In such areas, the mix of farming, foraging, fishing, and hunting could be preserved. Furthermore, while archeological evidence is not always available, the authors believe that many of these early communities practiced some form of democracy.

The authors contend that there is no single, original form of social organization that preceded the solidification of what is now the world’s dominant form of political control, the nation-state. Instead, numerous beginnings stemmed from various forms and combinations of social control.

Different societies around the world use different degrees and combinations of three central forms of social control: sovereignty, bureaucracy, and politics. They present archeological and anthropological evidence from Mesoamerica, Ancient Egypt, Africa, China, and Mesopotamia societies.

The authors return to the Indigenous critique concept. They use Cahokia as an example, claiming it was the first «state» to exist in the Americas. According to reports, as the city-state grew, so did authoritarian rule and extreme violence. Cahokia is abandoned and the area is left unpopulated after centuries of what appears to be surveillance, brutal punishment, and constant warfare.

Most Indigenous peoples return to tribal systems of government and consciously reject authoritarian forms of rule, instead of adopting democratic debate and communal forms of social organization.

In the final chapter, the authors summarize their main points and investigate the role of myth. They emphasize that there was nothing inevitable about how human history and society developed and that the problem of social inequality is not fixed and unyielding.

David Graeber Biography

David Rolfe Graeber was an anthropologist and anarchist activist in the United States who lived from February 12, 1961, to September 2, 2020. His work in economic anthropology, particularly his books Debt: The First 5000 Years (2011) and Bullshit Jobs (2018), as well as his role as a leader in the Occupy Wall Street movement, established him as one of the most influential anthropologists and left-wing intellectuals of his generation.

Graeber was born in New York into a working-class Jewish family and attended Purchase College and the University of Chicago, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1996 after conducting anthropological research in Madagascar with Marshall Sahlins.

He was an assistant professor at Yale Institution from 1998 to 2005, when the university controversially chose not to extend his contract before he became eligible for tenure.

He went into «academic exile» in England, working as a lecturer and reader at Goldsmiths’ College from 2008 to 2013, and then as a professor at the London School of Economics beginning in 2013.

He gained a reputation for his caustic and insightful criticism of bureaucracy, politics, and capitalism.

«I counted David as a much-valued friend and ally,» Labour MP John McDonnell wrote. His controversial research and writing exposed us all to new ideas and approaches to political activism. We will all miss him tremendously.»

The historian Rutger Bregman described Graeber as «one of the greatest thinkers of our time and a phenomenal writer,» and the Guardian columnist Owen Jones described him as «an intellectual giant, full of humanity, someone whose work inspired, encouraged, and educated so many.»

Graeber’s editor at Penguin Random House, Tom Penn, described the publishing house as «devastated» and Graeber as «a true radical, a pioneer in everything that he did.»

«David’s inspirational work has changed and shaped people’s perceptions of the world.» His constant, inquisitive curiosity, as well as his wry, sharp-eyed provoking of received nostrums, shine through in his books. «Above all, his singular ability to imagine a better world, born of his own deep and abiding humanity,» Penn said. «We are honored to be his publisher, and we will all miss him: his kindness, warmth, wisdom, and friendship.» His loss is immeasurable, but his legacy is enormous. His legacy and spirit will live on.»

Graeber was born in New York in 1961 to two politically active parents – his father was a member of the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, and his mother was a member of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union – and his adolescent hobby of translating Mayan hieroglyphs first drew academic interest. After studying anthropology at the State University of New York at Purchase and the University of Chicago, he received a coveted Fulbright grant and spent two years conducting anthropological research in Madagascar.

In 2005, a year before he would have been eligible for tenure, Yale declined to extend his contract. After over 4,500 colleagues and students signed a petition in support of Graeber, Yale offered him a year’s paid sabbatical, which he accepted and moved to the UK to work at Goldsmiths before joining LSE. In 2015, he told the Guardian, «I guess I had two strikes against me.» «For one thing, I seemed to be having too much fun at work.» Plus, I’m from the wrong class: I’m from the working class.»

His book Debt: The First 5,000 Years, published in 2011, catapulted him to prominence. Graeber investigated the violence that underpins all monetary social connections and argued for the cancellation of sovereign and consumer debts in it.

Despite dividing critics, it sold well and received praise from everyone from Thomas Piketty to Russell Brand.

Graeber published The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement in 2013, about his involvement with Occupy Wall Street, and The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy in 2015, inspired by his struggle to settle his mother’s affairs before her death.

His 2018 book, Bullshit Professions: A Theory, was inspired by a 2013 piece titled On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs, in which he claimed that most white-collar jobs were worthless and those technological advancements had led to people working more, not less.

«Huge swaths of people, particularly in Europe and North America, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they believe are unnecessary.»

This situation has caused significant moral and spiritual harm. It has left a scar on our collective soul. «Yet almost no one talks about it,» he told the Guardian in 2015, admitting that his work may be meaningless: «There can be no objective measure of social value.»

Graeber, a lifelong anarchist, supported the Kurdish independence movement and the «amazing democratic experiment» he saw in Rojava, Syria’s autonomous zone.

He became deeply involved in activism and politics in the late 1990s. He was a key figure in the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011, but he denied coining the phrase «We Are the 99 Percent,» for which he received widespread recognition.

«At first, I proposed that we call ourselves the 99 percent. The ‘we’ was later added by two Spanish indignados and a Greek anarchist, and the ‘are’ was later added by a food-not-bombs veteran. And they say it’s impossible to create something worthwhile by committee! «I’d include their names, but given how police intelligence has been targeting early OWS organizers, it might be best not to,» he wrote.

David Wengrow Biography

David Wengrow (born July 25, 1972) is a British archaeologist and Professor of Comparative Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London.

Wengrow earned a BA in archaeology and anthropology from the University of Oxford in 1993. After receiving an MSt in global archaeology in 1998, he went on to complete a D.Phil. under the supervision of Roger Moorey in 2001. Andrew Sherratt was a major influence on Wengrow during his time at Oxford.

From 2001 to 2004, Wengrow was a Henri Frankfort Fellow at the Warburg Institute and a Junior Research Fellow at Christ Church, Oxford. He began working as a lecturer at the University College London Institute of Archaeology in 2004, and he was promoted to Professor of Comparative Archaeology in 2011. (a post formerly held by Peter Ucko). Wengrow has worked on archaeological digs in Africa and the Middle East, most notably with the Sulaymaniyah Museum in Iraqi Kurdistan.

He has published three books and numerous scholarly papers on the origins of writing, ancient art, Neolithic cultures, and the formation of the first Egyptian and Mesopotamian states. In 2020, only three weeks before Graeber’s death, Wengrow, and anthropologist David Graeber finished a book on the history of inequality.

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