"Is it normal for human beings to be unable to imagine what a better world would even be like?"Yes. It's a form of the broken window fallacy; confusing what is with what's possible.
'Who will pay for roads if the government doesn't!'
This isn't an unsolvable problem. Graeber is just looking at it in the reverse; why can't people imagine a better system than his "free market" 'capitalism.'
"Hopelessness isn’t natural. It needs to be produced."Naturally if he says something actually interesting, he fails to even try to support it. He will most likely do this again.
"that those who challenge existing power arrangements can never, under any circumstances, be perceived to win."Actually, this is a good idea in general. The perception helps cut down on people trying to win, which saves a lot of resources smacking them down. Why is this good? Consider one challenge; a murderer challenges the court system. He wins. What does that mean? He gets away with murder.
Russia challenges the U.S. government. And wins. The new gulag is right this way... Or, USG doesn't foster the perception of unchallengeable power, and Russia tries, but fails. Was the cold war expensive? Would you like to have a few more?
But lets look at this in context.
"At root is a veritable obsession on the part of the rulers of the world with ensuring that social movements cannot be seen to grow, to flourish, to propose alternatives; that those who challenge existing power arrangements can never, under any circumstances, be perceived to win."Again, he claims something very interesting; social movements are uniformly lawful good. (Well, chaotic good, actually.) But, er, wasn't National Socialism also a social movement? Wasn't the incredibly murderous Soviet 'communism' a social movement? Isn't even the pro-life crowd a social movement?* I don't know; Graeber declines to support his little thesis.
*(Note that since I already know that Graeber is pro-choice means he isn't a real person with his own preferences. He has just imported a standard suite of options. Don't be like this. This prediction is falsifiable, though just one mistake is probably a fluke.)
"Maintaining this apparatus seems even more important, to exponents of the “free market,” even than maintaining any sort of viable market economy. How else can one explain, for instance, what happened in the former Soviet Union, where one would have imagined the end of the Cold War would have led to the dismantling of the army and KGB and rebuilding the factories, but in fact what happened was precisely the other way around?"And there's Graeber's bugbear "free market," as opposed to any kind of actual freedom.
The solution is easy; ending the cold war didn't suddenly annihilate socialism. To the extend the army exists instead of factories,* the government exists instead of the free market.
*(I have no idea if his claims are factually true.)
"Economically, this apparatus is pure dead weight; all the guns, surveillance cameras, and propaganda engines are extraordinarily expensive and really produce nothing, and as a result, it’s dragging the entire capitalist system down with it, and possibly, the earth itself."Indeed, the free market doesn't produce that many 'guns' by which he means heavy military hardware, not firearms, for precisely the reason he states; it is not a good investment.
So yeah, learn what capitalism is.
"The spirals of financialization and endless string of economic bubbles we’ve been experience are a direct result of this apparatus."Last I checked, even the "exponents of the “free market”" say this. Rather than blame a poorly defined and misunderstood term, though, we blame, specifically, inflation, and blame inflation on increasing the supply side of the supply-demand equation for currency.
"It’s no coincidence that the United States has become both the world’s major military (”security”) power and the major promoter of bogus securities. This apparatus exists to shred and pulverize the human imagination, to destroy any possibility of envisioning alternative futures."I think Graeber is allergic to substantiating his assertions. Perhaps I have a partial cure; "Graeber, one of the reasons for doing so is to clarify your point. There are many possible interpretations, only one of which you mean."
Also, the logical leap from the first sentence to the second is more of a space flight.
"What is debt, after all, but imaginary money whose value can only be realized in the future: future profits, the proceeds of the exploitation of workers not yet born."That's only failed debt, like pathological gambling. The proper use of credit is to increase your cashflow far beyond the extra cost of the debt. You have a business proposition that can make $100,000, but you need $20,000 to start it up. Net, $80,000 minus fees. Healthy loan activity like this feeds actual wealth creation, and gives banks a legitimate income source.
The bank 'crisis' was not caused by this. Now I'm not substantiating things, but that's because I would just point you elsewhere.
"Finance capital in turn is the buying and selling of these imaginary future profits; and once one assumes that capitalism itself will be around for all eternity, the only kind of economic democracy left to imagine is one everyone is equally free to invest in the market—to grab their own piece in the game of buying and selling imaginary future profits, even if these profits are to be extracted from themselves. Freedom has become the right to share in the proceeds of one’s own permanent enslavement."So now you can see why 'profits extracted from themselves' aren't bad. Again, the rest of the paragraph is just wild-eyed assertions.
I guess from his crack about 'permanent enslavement' he doesn't know how to pay down his debts. Probably has a lot on plastic with no assets to back it up.
Regardless, the rest of the article is like this, except:
"Rarely has a term come to be so utterly reviled. The standard line, which we accept more or less unthinkingly, is that communism means state control of the economy"It's the 'standard line' because that's the actual definition. If that's not what you want to talk about, you need to use a different word so you can have a different meaning.
Incidentally, communism is the very opposite of freedom, for the simple reason that if you leave people alone, you get a free market. (Go on, just try it! Science to the rescue!) You have to impose communism. This would be fine if Graeber just accepted that he doesn't value freedom, but rather control.
"But in fact communism really just means any situation where people act according to the principle of “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”"Graeber is confused. He just said, "Communism isn't pie. Really, in fact, it's pie!" Yes, that's exactly the part that "doesn't work," because if you leave people alone, you get a free market. To get communism, you have to impose it, which means you need a State. And once you have a State, you have taxation, which is theft, which means corruption, and then you don't have real communism OR capitalism! You just have a bunch of corruption.
('Social assistance.' Has nothing to do with the social network and is the opposite of assistance, the epitome of which is the term 'welfare dependence.' Throwing money at people, especially people who are bad at managing money, is not assistance.)
"“from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”—which is the way pretty much everyone always act if they are working together to get something done. If two people are fixing a pipe and one says “hand me the wrench,” the other doesn’t say, “and what do I get for it?”(That is, if they actually want it to be fixed.)"This is Graeber humour. At least, I'm laughing, out loud no less, not just inside. 'What one gets' is a fixed pipe, so they don't need to ask.
"They apply principles of communism because it’s the only thing that really works.""Actually you just proved the opposite. Good job!"
"But the fact is that even private companies are, internally, organized communistically."And here Graeber shows his hand. Companies are organized as absolute dictatorships. Thus, when Graeber thinks of communism, he thinks of an absolute dictatorship. (Or possibly a joint-stock ownership structure? I hope he's not that dense...)
"Communism then is already here. The question is how to further democratize it."Graeber really needs to learn some definitions. While we're not very good at it, 'democracy' essentially means 'the country is owned by the people.' Of course the people are not technically proficient at running a country, so it sucks. However, democracy is certainly very different than communism. Graeber seems to just be using cult words for the emotional impact; really I'm being a dick by pretending he's going for any kind of logical consistency at all.
And note, this is a perfectly valid value system. You don't have to value cold rationality if you don't want to, and people can communicate on an emotional level in preference to a logical one. Of course Graeber should stop pretending to have enlightenment values if he doesn't actually, but there you go.
"Capitalism, in turn, is just one possible way of managing communism—and, it has become increasingly clear, rather a disastrous one."The People do not know how to run a country any more than they can do other technically difficult things like collectively design a computer or pilot a spacecraft.* The banking 'crises' has nothing to do with capitalism. "Deregulation" never happened - it was a total farce. Banks always had to comply with a stack of regulations higher than a person, and as a result can only be called 'capitalist' in the loosest possible sense. They still were supported by the central bank as the lender of last resort. (LLR)
*(I just imagined having 'the people' proscribe solutions for the astronauts to implement. Sounds like fun times, doesn't it? Great spectacle. Lots of dead astronauts, though. We'll call it the "EARAK" space plan, to better democratize space. To better approximate our system, remember that many companies supply NASA, and they all have a financial incentive to run ads... and don't forget that certain effective measures will be unpopular, and that testing astronauts for intelligence is 'discrimination.' Everyone should have the opportunity to be an astronaut!)
What happened is that some missteps caused a bank run, which is a vulnerability all the banks in the world share, as they all share the LLR. Shockingly, if you have a stack of regulations a person high and try to remove one in the middle, the stack falls over.
"This is why, as the Great Depression showed, the existence of any plausible-seeming alternative—even one so dubious as the Soviet Union in the 1930s—can turn a downswing into an apparently insoluble political crisis."
Be helpful if Graeber knew any economics at all.
"Those wishing to subvert the system have learned by now, from bitter experience, that we cannot place our faith in states."Unless they do exactly what Graeber says.
Incidentally, 'civil disobedience' is just a euphemism for lawbreaking. The only distinction is that the disobedient think it shouldn't be a law. I may agree, but contravening is not an argument. In a democracy you can get laws changed by entirely legal means.