Sunday, December 23, 2018

Three Reviews: David Graeber's Debt, The Utopia of Rules and Bullshit Jobs

I have only recently discovered the work of anthropologist David Graeber--and wish I had done so earlier. Books written for general audiences about social science subjects that read like anything more than a drawn-out magazine article are rare these days, but Graeber certainly delivers the goods in the three titles I have just reviewed, Debt: The First 5,000 Years; The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy; and Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (the latter, I was pleasantly surprised to find, issued by publishing giant Simon & Schuster!). Rich in original, bold, conventional wisdom-smashing ideas that turn upside down much of what we (falsely) think we know about our social world (from the moral significance of debt to the efficiency of capitalism), they are not merely of intellectual interest, but relevant to our present day troubles, and like all really worthwhile research, a basis for a great deal of further thought and inquiry. It's a nice bonus that they manage to set forth their ideas as lucidly, as readably, as they do.

Besides the books I also recommand Graeber's essays for Thomas Frank's magazine, The Baffler, freely available here. Of particular relevance to his line of argument in these three works, it seems to me, is "Flying Cars and the Falling Rate of Profit" where Graeber makes it very clear that, contrary to the dismissals of Silicon Valley cheerleaders and the like, that we never got the future symbolized by the flying car does reflect something unhealthy and deeply consequential--a fear of change as destabilizing, combined with a bureaucratization and privatization of scientific research, which the Cold War's end actually encoureaged). I specifically recommend, too, his piece "Despair Fatigue: How Hopelessness Got Boring", which makes the case that, perhaps, the day of the "end of history" conservatives and postmodernist pseudo-leftists is drawing to a close, and a great movement for positive change in the world lies ahead of us.

Bullshit Jobs and the New Hollywood
Review: Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, by David Graeber
Now on Google Books . . . (Star Wars in Context: Second Edition)
Some of What I've Been Up to Lately (NYRSF, SSRN, Star Wars in Context: Second Edition)
Just Out . . . The End of Science Fiction?
Just Out . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond, 2nd edition)
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
Just Out: After the New Wave: Science Fiction Today
Preview Cyberpunk, Steampunk and Wizardry
Movies: Seasons and Years in Review
The Writing Life: An Economist's Perspective
My Posts on Star Wars

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