I read the new and enlightening book “The Dawn of Everything” by David Graeber and David Wengrow during the same week that I watched COP 26 unfold in Glasgow Scotland. At the same time when I saw many leading national politicians at COP 26 retreat from the potential that we have to save ourselves and the planet and to actually improve living conditions around the world and our global society, I saw a world of potential unfolding within the pages of “The Dawn of Everything.” The contrast could not have been more stark for me.
Wonderful speeches at the beginning of COP 26 quickly turned to a realization on my part that the participants at COP 26 are letting the goal of 1.5 degrees slip out of their grasp. Even the Biden Administration has taken a step back from taking an aggressive approach to ending the reign of fossil fuels.
Like watching rats in an endless maze, I wondered why as global citizens we cannot extricate ourselves from the predicament we have foisted upon ourselves. This is a question that many people have been asking not just about climate change but also about many other conditions that seem to be embedded in our various societies.
With this as my context, I began reading “The Dawn of Everything.”
Among the questions posed in this book are: “can we make our own history” or are we stuck in one form of social reality in which violence and domination have come to be normalized? Are we destined to live with the concept of property based on Roman Law which specifically arose out of the Roman way of dealing with slaves as property?
Throughout its five hundred pages, the book asks and then attempts to answer with a plethora of archeological evidence the question: are we destined to remain locked into mental constructs of history fostered by an Eurocentric view.
These constructs have relegated indigenous people and societies over the last ten thousand years to a historical path perceived as devoid of choice following an arbitrary path dictated by this Eurocentric schema unrelated to the archeological facts on the ground. These constructs posit a historical path in which ancient-indigenous cultures are seen as existing in a ream of ignorance which then progresses to the “enlightened” Western cultures of the industrial age. The authors point out that this is erroneous in so many ways. These same constructs applied to ourselves without reflection ironically are depriving us of a future based on choice?
I believe that the authors are offering this refreshing view of the last ten thousand years as a means of freeing us from our confining mental constructs.
The authors ask: can we imagine, enact and live in different social or economic orders? Is the social order known as the “state” our only destiny?
They ask us: can we make our own history just as people of the remote past have done in organizing their societies in a variety of sophisticated ways often without embedding within them practices of violence and domination.
Ultimately, the authors offer the perspective that the possibilities for human intervention are far greater than we are inclined to think.
I was unrealistically hoping for a definitive solution in the concluding chapter or at least that the book would continue for a few hundred more pages.
The longer answer is reflected in the body of the book. I believe that in order to approach our future as the authors suggest, we need to do the challenging work of gaining a more accurate understanding of our global past. The book offers its content as a path as well as highlighting the value of ongoing dialogue amongst all of us.
As for extending the book beyond its five hundred pages I have contented myself with reading the footnotes.