edifying and truthful dialogs
Nika Dubrovsky and friends
1st Fight DAVID GRAEBER VS THOMAS HOBBES
1/1 THOMAS HOBBES
It is true my ideas have come to structure the world. That is because my ideas are but a reflection of Nature. I merely have applied Reason to identify the organization and operations of civil society.
Like you David Graeber, I considered my studies to be political acts. I wrote much of Leviathan in Paris, where I was a mathematics instructor to Charles, Prince of Wales.
David, you and I both know what it’s like to live in political exile. You in London, and I in Paris, where I went with other royalists in 1647 in the wake of the English Civil War.
I submit that my writings from Paris in 1647 apply equally well today.
My application of Reason has revealed to me the social machinery that allows humans to reduce or even eliminate violence in our society.
For years people have been using my social discoveries, and, according to numerous studies, levels of social violence are declining and may soon disappear.
I would like to take this opportunity to quote my own biography. This is what I saw with my own eyes and I will never forget it!
In Fifteen Hundred Eighty Eighty, Old Style,
When that armada did invade our isle,
Called the invincible, whose freight was then,
Nothing but murd’ring steel, and murd’ring men.
Most of which navy was disperst, or lost,
And had the fate to perish on our coast, April the fifth (though now with age outworn)
I’th’early spring, I, a poor worm, was born….
My native place I’m not ashamed to own;
Th’ill times, and ills born with me I bemoan.
For fame had rumour’d that a fleet at sea, Would cause our nation’s catastrophe.
And hereupon it was my mother dear
Did bring forth twins at once, both me and fear
1/2 DAVID GRAEBER
My empathy is with you. This is usually called: traumatic childhood experience. Long-term psychotherapy – or even better, support and care from family and friends – is essential for healing. Childhood trauma is a serious illness that distorts your view of reality for the rest of your life.
2/1 THOMAS HOBBES
Here you are incorrect. These events, though traumatic, have had no impact on my studies, other than reminding me of the fragility of life.
It has often been said that, in a world split between those calling for Liberty and those calling for Authority, none pass through unwounded. Yet, me thinks, that I, a humble and obedient servant of God blessed with the faculties of Reason, am pursuing the highest of virtues, that of service to one’s country or Commonwealth.
2/2 DAVID GRAEBER
You know, I too have spent my life trying to make the world a better place than the one I was born into.
It’s not exactly fun to live in a world of patriarchy, poverty, exclusion, and violence. I’m not even starting to talk about our authorities: from governments to big business, from cops to the military.
Dear Hobbes, after becoming familiar with your ideas, frankly, I got upset. Unfortunately, you have effectively convinced a lot of people that the key is not to even try to change anything, or else it will become much worse.
You were terrified as a child, but as an adult have succeeded to intimidate many generations of humans to come. Behind all of your “rational” ideas, the figure of the sovereign, or simply, the king, shines through.
I was, you know, born in the USA. We don’t like kings!
On the other hand, I was a pretty happy kid, even though I too had to deal with bullies in school, with the wealth gaps in my native New York, but nothing like your horrible war experience happened to me, thank God.
My parents loved me dearly and thought I could do a lot in life. It seems to me that your experience of witnessing horrible violence is quite rare. Especially the fact that you could not overcome it.
3/1 THOMAS HOBBES
You again are incorrect. My studies are founded in the principles of Reason. Like you, I start my investigations with the most basic assumption: humans are a product of Nature and their nature is a state of war every man against every man. During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man. They are all born with a longing for wealth and power.
But what I shall call the art of man: humans can make artificial animals, machines, that imitate life. Do you not agree?
3/2 DAVID GRAEBER
Sure, I can agree that humans make machines that imitate life. You have no idea how far we’ve come in imitating life. And not only in imitating life, but also in the revision of the very concepts of “living” and “dead,” “consciousness” and “body.”
4/1 THOMAS HOBBES
Life is but a motion of limbs. For what is the heart but a spring, and the nerves but so many strings, and the joints but so many wheels giving motion to the whole body.
Humans can go yet further and imitate that rational and most excellent work of Nature, Man. There they can create the great Leviathan – the perfect machine, the Commonwealth, the State – which is but an artificial Man.
This Artificial Man is of greater stature and strength than Natural Man, in whose protection and defense the Commonwealth is intended and in which the Sovereignty is the Artificial Soul. This Artificial Soul gives life and motion to the whole body, like a perfect machine.
4/2 DAVID GRAEBER
Fascinating! One must truly believe in the unbreakable rules of the universe, set up by the Lord, to follow your conclusions.
Such a believer would evolve an idea of replacement of imperfect human beings by a perfect reflection of God. Humans were actually exiled from paradise. How did we deal with that? Not so well. So, yes, we will all be much better off replaced by total rationality and artificial intelligence. It will never make mistakes or, at least, is in the constant process of self-improvement.
AI also lacks earthly desires and distractions from trying to reach the perfection of God. AI is a far better servant of God than many of us.
I want to emphasize that this is true as long as one believes in One
Infinite God, that underlies all world order. I am actually an atheist New Yorker with Jewish descendants, but I like protestants, as I like all people.
I am an anthropologist.
And if one does not believe in God, or believes in some other God, or believes in the same God, but in a slightly alternative way, then your whole idea of an unchanged rational hierarchy will invariably lead to violence and suffering.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what has happened with your ideas.
But, probably you must assume that the point of the Commonwealth is protection and defense, correct?
5/1 THOMAS HOBBES
I don’t know what an “anthropologist” is, and I’m not prepared to discuss the petty beliefs of the deluded.
So you don’t believe in God and aren’t ready to accept the underlying rules of the universe?
You see, anthropology is just the kind of weird science that takes seriously what you called the “petty beliefs of the deluded” .
One might say that what matters to me is a belief in something common in human nature, regardless of faiths, nationality, or anything else.
But yes, I do not buy into the idea of a single god, with rigid rules controlling the universe. I believe in freedom and play.
That’s why you and I are in Fight Club! It is playful!
We disagree, but which one of us is going to win?
6/1 THOMAS HOBBES
Yes, we disagree on some fundamental issues. That is why we are here. I believe in a single, all-powerful God who has sent us here because of Original Sin. We are cursed. We are condemned to this world, where humans’ natural condition is war.
Are we not fighting, Dr. Graeber? Just like those same little fish in the famous Taoist story about Zhuangzi and Huizi you cite as evidence of humans’ basic playfulness. Those fish might be playing at that moment, but once they want the same thing they will be fighting. Yes, humans love to play. They love to play war.
The power of a person is one’s ability to defend oneself. It is not absolute. It is dependent on the needs of others.
The greatest of human powers is that which is compounded of the powers of the most people, united by consent, in one person: a Commonwealth with a king.
Where there is no common power there is no law. Where there is no law, there is no justice. Force and fraud are the two cardinal virtues.
The ultimate reason, purpose and design of all men is security, the anticipation of their own preservation and a more contented life. That is, to bring oneself out of a miserable state of war.
David, my friend, life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
6/2 DAVID GRAEBER
Believe me, friend, as an anthropologist, I have studied many different societies and cultures that are inhabited by many sorts of people and an infinite variety of ways of living together.
None of them is necessarily perfect, but I would say that it is precisely when the State machine you describe is present, which supposedly guarantees the “good” behavior of people, that is when the most violence occurs.
7/1 THOMAS HOBBES
I can assure you that in the absence of the State, we would devolve to our most basic instincts, the condition of war.
I think humans are too self-aware ever to find peace.
7/2 DAVID GRAEBER
I would accuse you of lying, but I know that in your days there really wasn’t much anthropology or archaeology. Your knowledge is limited. So listen to me, who lived a couple of hundred years after you were born.
For many thousands of years there were peaceful, but complex societies where people shared food, shelter, and raised children together.
Our European society is an example of one of the most violent and bloody.
There will always be problems, but working them out collectively is much easier when there are no systems of bureaucratic coercion or artificial machines of power that alienate people with violence.
8/1 THOMAS HOBBES
There will always be violence. Humans are in a constant state of bellum omnium contra omnes.
8/2 DAVID GRAEBER
Having conflict from time to time is indeed a natural human state, but conflict can be resolved peacefully, or it can turn into perpetual discord, but it doesn’t have to end in violence.
You seem to think that violence is an essential part of the process of dialogue. On the other hand, I believe that it is the opposite: dialogue actually ends the moment violence begins. If you have nothing to say to the other person, if you have literally lost the power of speech, the only thing left is to hit him over the head with a stick. But what is especially human about the loss of the ability to talk?
On the other hand we can find playfulness and rituals in every human society as an alternative to direct violence.
9/1 THOMAS HOBBES
I agree. Humans love to play. But that play turns to war when humans want the same thing. And that is bound to happen.
9/2 DAVID GRAEBER
I believe that people have the right to choose games that are dear to them. The problems start when some people force their games on the rest of us.
10/1 THOMAS HOBBES
Not believing in force is the same as not believing in gravity. If we don’t address objective reality, it’s just dangerous.
10/2 DAVID GRAEBER
I’m an anthropologist. Force in human society is called a power structure. Many power structures are based on kinship or other kinds of relatedness.
Most power structures, while not enviable, are tolerable — except when force becomes fixed at the top and can no longer be changed. That’s what the State represents.
Why do you continue to insist that we must worship the ugliest and cruelest structure possible: one single authority?
Why don’t you try other fantasies?
11/1 THOMAS HOBBES
Your childish ideas are unreasonable and contrary to God.
As for peace and self-defense, man will find it necessary to relinquish this right to all things and will be content with such freedom against other men as he would allow other men against himself.
Man surrenders his private powers to take whatever he wants to a public, social power that will keep everyone in its awe.
11/2 DAVID GRAEBER
Your reasoning is based on the assumption that people have some fixed innate evil nature.
In order to be part of your perfect State machine people must be equal to each other.
That’s why you understand “the people” as European middle-aged men with property.
Where have all the other people gone: the women, the people of color, the indigenous people?
12/1 THOMAS HOBBES
Your childish reasoning makes no sense and is blasphemous. I speak of something far more glorious.
A STATE is a super-organism, a giant artificial man, greater in size and power than any individual human being. It is virtually an organic beautiful being, its parts integrated and performing various functions, each helping to maintain the integrity of the whole.
12/2 DAVID GRAEBER
It’s a joke to accept you as the foundation of modern political philosophy. Few people today would agree with most of your beliefs.
Your description of the state is suspiciously reminiscent of the creation of a Mortal God. Your State exists in spite of us, for our own good. You say that it arises out of our individual interests through God’s invisible hand “from partial evil to universal good.”
I am, of course, curious about all human beliefs, but it seems too risky to me to force everyone to put such a weird doctrine into practice.
2nd Fight DAVID GRAEBER VS JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU
1) JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU
Mon cher David!
I think it is obvious that you have just won the battle with Thomas Hobbes! His idea of the wicked nature of man is simply impossible to defend!
I was among the first to talk about the true nature of man and democracy. I invented politics.
1/2 DAVID GRAEBER
Dear Rousseau, thank you for your flattering opinion of my fighting skills. Hobbes’s view of human beings is remarkable: he actually believed that people as corrupt and dangerous creatures have to be rescued from themselves. His traumatic war-time childhood might explain it.
But that does not make it any easier for all of us who live in the world he imagined.
However, you should not be so quick to include me as your ally.
2) JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU
Dear David, I do not see what our disagreement is!
Let us establish the principles on which we agree.
I have always said that human nature is good, when unspoiled by private property and civilization.
I know you also fought for justice and equality for all.
2/3) DAVID GRAEBER
Your idea of “human nature” strikes me as questionable.
3) JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU
As opposed to our inhumane comrade Hobbes, when we observe the savages, we see that man is by nature a gentle creature. Savages are known for their compassion, but civilization has led us to depravity. In his natural state, man was happy. At the dawn of mankind there was an age when all were equal, everything was shared: the earth and its fruits, and everything belonged to everyone.
3/1) DAVID GRAEBER
When you talk about “mankind” it seems to me that you must mean a bunch of 40-year-old men who spring from the ground without parents, mothers, fathers, or anything like that.
They never were helpless babies who were in need of years of care from loving mothers.
4) JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU
Let us not bring my mother into this. She, at least the one who raised me, was a natural beauty. My compassion is with all people: poor and rich, mothers and children, and even le savage, who walk around naked and happy, not needing property.
I believe that children and savages were closer to true human nature before they were domesticated and became homme civilisé and were domesticated
4/1) DAVID GRAEBER
Don’t you think your ideas about “savages” are not only naive, but very convenient for your fellow Europeans?
Of course, why would “savages” need property if they were happy naked and on their own, unaware of the luxuries of your civilization. So the European colonizers – precisely these 40 year old men – took from what you call “savages” both the land that fed them and the freedom that made them happy
5/1) JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU
My conviction is to make the world a much fairer place, a place where the individual can realize his individual freedom.
We have to agree that civilization has corrupted everyone, both les savages who, when they met Europeans became addicted to the pernicious vices of alcohol and an easy life of leisure, and we Europeans ourselves, who have succumbed to lives of luxury and greed.
We must return to our true human origins by renouncing corruption and overindulgence.
5/2) DAVID GRAEBER
Well yes, I met people who share this opinion. They too argue for a primate-like state of nature where people are happy and solitary, presumably living in trees, after which we came together into a society, but then the seeds of war are created with agriculture – “wheat and iron” – whereby war can ensue, and the state emerges.
6/1 JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU
I was fortunate enough to be born in Geneva and to be able to reflect on the equality that nature has prescribed to men and the inequalities that man has introduced such as poverty, crime, and injustice.
The way Geneva society is organized reflects profound wisdom. It combines both the natural laws favorable to the maintenance of social order and to the pursuit of individual happiness.
What, after all, is better than individual human happiness?
6/2) DAVID GRAEBER
Indeed, your ideal of equality is very much a reflection of Geneva’s Calvinism: no wonder bourgeois and capitalists love you so much! For you, human beings become equals as soon as you strip them of everything that makes them human: of everything that is joyful and useless, and eventually of social relationships themselves. Having fun together, doing useless things like dancing or drawing for free, taking care of each other, imagining, moving … all of this, for you, is not human nature, but, on the contrary, something artificially and surreptitiously added to it!
7/1) JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU
Without dismissing man’s natural curiosity and compassion for one another, I would nonetheless point out that people are also burdened by corrupting passions such as sloth and gluttony.
These passions must be restricted by laws to which every citizen consents, submitting his will to the majority.
It is through subordination to the general will that we become equal and free.
As we all know: freedom is the power to choose our own chains.
7/2) DAVID GRAEBER
The idea of equality is used not because it has real content, but rather for the same reason seventeenth-century natural law theorists speculated about equality in the State of Nature: ‘equality’ referring to that kind of protoplasmic mass of humanity one imagines as being left over when all the trappings of civilization are stripped away.
‘Egalitarian’ people are those without princes, judges, overseers or hereditary priests, and usually without cities or writing, or preferably even farming. They are societies of equals only in the sense that all the most obvious tokens of inequality are missing.
8/1) JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU
I’ve tried to talk to you politely, but it’s hard for me to keep it up!
( J’ai essayé de rester poli, mais c’en est trop!)
Yes, I am talking about equality! I am also talking about love. I’m talking about how we must look to the family to understand how the well-managed machine that is the State should be organized.
The family can be called the first model of political societies: the ruler corresponds to the father and the people to the children; and all, being born free and equal (libres et égaux), surrender their freedom only to benefit themselves.
The whole difference is motivation.
In the family the love of the father for his children repays him for his care, while in civilized society that love is replaced by the pleasure of command, as the leader cannot feel love for the people under his rule.
8/2) DAVID GRAEBER
Before we talk about family, let’s talk about private property.
It’s amazing that our lives are divided by hundreds of years, but you and I have lived in the exact same society, which has its origins in ancient Roman law.
Property, which was for the Romans the most basic form of law—was the owner’s absolute power to do anything he wanted with his property: use it or destroy it.
If you think about it, this really is an odd place to start in developing a theory of property law. It is probably fair to say that, in any part of the world, in any period of history, whether in ancient Japan or Machu Picchu, private property was never the foundation of the whole system.
It looks like the notion of absolute private property is really derived from slavery.
One can imagine property not as a relation between people but as a relation between a person and a thing if one’s starting point is a relation between two people, one of whom is also a thing.
(This is how slaves were defined in Roman law: they were people who were also a thing).
9/1) JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU
In spite of everything, I will once again generously agree with you, David.
Slavery is inherently unnatural. No man has authority over another man. We must therefore conclude that laws constitute the basis of all legitimate authority.
We all see that the laws that should have restrained injustice and inequality are clearly not sufficient. We see this in the never-ending crime and disorder around us.
Should we not ask ourselves whether laws legislated by the Sovereign are themselves unjustified and the origin of violence itself?
That is why we need ‘le contrat social,” Sovereignty is constituted by its citizens, rather than how Thomas Hobbes conceives the Sovereign usurping the power of the people.
9/2) DAVID GRAEBER
Your social contract, dear Rousseau, fits into an understanding of society that goes through several stages: the pleasure stage, the property stage, and finally the political power stage–each of which creates increasing inequality, but eventually becomes circular and collapses in on itself, because once you have the tyranny of one man, a sovereign with absolute power, this very fact makes everyone else equal with respect to him.
10/1) JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU
Civilization should not necessarily mean increasing inequality. It is our duty, David mon ami, to grasp rationally the laws of necessity and to base our actions on the public good.
10/2) DAVID GRAEBER
Going back to what you called the “loving family,” it is worth remembering that Roman law used the word dominium, derived from dominus, which means “master, slaveholder.”
Roman family originally consisted of people under the absolute and complete
(domestic) power of the male paterfamilias, who was allowed to beat, torture, sell his household into slavery, and even kill his children.
Naturally, he could do the same with slaves.
In creating the notion of dominium and thus creating the modern notion of absolute private property, that is the basis of all our laws.
11/1) JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU
To prove my good intentions, I will continue to agree with you, David. I am also convinced that property is the cause of all our evils (‘de tous nos maux’).
The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, thought to say “This is mine”, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one of us have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, “Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody)..”
11/2) DAVID GRAEBER
Property is the basis of the most dominant institution of our present economic life: wage labor, which is, effectively, the rental of our freedom in the same way that slavery can be conceived as its sale.
12/1 JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU
You are so wrong about me, David! Contrary to Hobbes, who was justifying the absolute power of the Sovereign, I am talking about the sovereignty of the individual and the social contract that are the foundations of democracy, not monarchy.
There is a big difference.
12/2) DAVID GRAEBER
There is, of course, a difference. At least you mention democracy, but is there such a big difference?
You are simply substituting two things for one: your social contract is a kind of business arrangement, where citizens voluntarily give up some of their natural liberties to the king or the general will.
And your democracy, if you think about it, is described in a strangely totalitarian form, in the idea of the “general will” – basically, of stripping away all those intermediary forms of connections between us and having the people express their desires directly through some form of sovereign power or state.
In reality, all that is all created by our imagination: nations, state, none of it exists.
Reality is always infinitely more complex than these concepts, even if belief in their existence is an undeniable social force.
the end of the play (end of copy editing)
13/1) JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU
The more violent the passions, the greed, the laziness, and the endless desire for pleasure, the more laws are needed to curb them. In this I agree with Hobbes, who clearly saw the shortcomings of existing laws: but his conclusions are false. Hobbes justified the absolute power of the sovereign, but I am talking about the social contract.
This is a big difference.
13/2) DAVID GRAEBER
There is, of course, a difference. At least you mention democracy, but is there such a big difference? You are simply substituting two things for one: your social contract is a kind of business arrangement, whereby citizens had voluntarily given up some of their natural liberties to the king or power.
14/1) JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU
The citizen gives his consent to all the laws, including those which are passed in spite of his opposition, and even those which punish him when he dares to break any of them. The constant will of all people is the general will; by virtue of it they are citizens and free.
When a law is brought before the people’s assembly, the people are not asked whether they approve or disapprove of the proposal, but whether it is in accord with the general will. Each man, in giving his vote, states his opinion; and the general will is found by counting votes.
When therefore the opinion that is contrary to my own prevails, this proves neither more nor less than that I was mistaken, and that what I thought to be the general will was not so.
14/2) DAVID GRAEBER
It is very touching that you have sacrificed your desires and given some of your freedom to your imagined society. I look at the engravings of the assemblies of your time. They depict adult men dressed in black. You, though, say that women should stay at home and raise children, while savages are happy naked in the woods.
In reality, all that is created by our imagination: nations, ideologies, none of it really exists. Reality is always infinitely more complex-even if belief in their existence is an undeniable social force.
15/1) JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU
I try to follow your logic, but you divert us with trickery, David!
15/2) DAVID GRAEBER
Well, we have come to a conclusion: in order to keep our noble souls from becoming corrupt, we must either return to nature, that is, abandon all kinds of brass and complicated arrangements, or settle for the baton of a policeman and the constant presence of superiors somewhere nearby.
I’ve already thanked you for your benevolent gesture toward what you call democracy – something sorely lacking these days.
However, your democracy, if you think about it, is described in a strangely totalitarian form, in the idea of the “general will” – basically, of stripping away all those intermediary forms of connections between us and having the people express their desires directly through some form of sovereign power or state.
This is the basis of the most dominant institution of our present economic life: wage labor, which is, effectively, the rental our freedom in the same way that slavery can be conceived as its sale. So I don’t see what you have to be particularly proud of in terms of your contribution to the liberation of humanity. In my opinion, you are perpetuating the same axioms.
So we’re back to the exact issue about which my first fight with Hobbes was about: the need for a sovereign.