I’ve been involved with Occupy Wall Street and the NYCGA since before there was an occupation on wall street. I remember going to a General Assembly in Tompkin’s Square Park one Saturday and being very delighted by the gentleman facilitating that meeting. He, along with his co-facilitator, did a really outstanding job.
It wasn’t until months later that I saw the same man on Democracy Now! that I was made aware that he was David Graeber, famed anthropologist and anarchist. Apparently a very big deal. To me he was just another organizer.
So why am I bringing this up on the Tech blog? Well as silliness would have it a video has been passed to me of some activists in Germany burning David Graeber’s book. The “manifesto” of sorts cites Graeber’s celebrity, lack of true involvement in OWS, and the copyright notice printed on (allegedly) every page of his book Inside Occupy.
I have a highly technical term for this kind of activity: Dumb fucking bullshit. I also try to use every instance of DFBS as a learning experience, so lets break it down:
Information wants to be free
The obvious way to go with this activity is to point out that a bunch of German “human rights” activists are burning a book by a Jewish author, though it looks bad on paper, I doubt these people have any concern for Graeber’s background. What worries me is the celebration of the destruction of information.
One of their key arguments against the book was that it wasn’t open source. I think that falls very flat. First of all, the publisher is the one who copyrights the book. Yes they are locking away the content and they would be, arguably, better off with a copy left or Creative Commons license but this is the way publishing works, but why?
Copyright isn’t a naturally evil thing. At it’s most basic level it is there to protect the little guy. If David didn’t copy right his book and it became very popular, what is going to stop Mega Evil Printing inc. from making a copy of his book and using their superior logistics infrastructure (and team of lawyers) to out sell David with his own book? This means David’s profits for his work go to someone else, that doesn’t seem fair does it?
What we need to focus on is not copyright in and of itself, but the copyright of that which should belong to the commons. What if Mega Evil Printing inc. purchased the copyright to a specific book binding technique and began to sue all the little mom and pop book binding stores? We must focus on taking back the technology that allows us to compete with these mega industries, rather than compete with each other (or burn each other’s books).
Celebrity and Expertise
I’ve been told that David is “one of the most celebrated living anthropologists“. One might say he is a rock star of anthropology (those must be fun parties). This get confused in OWS often as celebrity. A celebrity is Paris Hilton, someone who’s only claim to fame is their claim to fame. David is an expert. Think about it, if you want to get an expert opinion on why Occupy Wall Street is happening wouldn’t you ask one of the greatest living anthropologists who has literally been involved since day 1 (and I’m not talking September 17th, I mean the “real” day one). I’ve seen this guy at many meetings and evidence would suggest that he is involved in some manner.
Expertise needs to be celebrated! Here in the U.S. there is a general disdain for educated people, or those with experience greater than our own. This isn’t to say that a college grad is more experienced than a high school drop out (like me). No, this is a matter of respect to people who know their shit. I would be perturbed if an anthropologist was talking about network technology or if a arm chair activist (like me) was talking about what it was like to sleep in Zuccotti Park.
In summation, this movement needs to stop attacking itself and stop pretending it knows everything. This guilty until proven innocent nonsense needs to stop. Most of us don’t have the full story. Be it around copyright law, anthropology, any individuals intentions or commitment, or the level of someone’s expertise. A little humility would go a long way.
I could have looked at David facilitating in that park so many months ago and said “who the hell is they guy, why does HE think HE can be up there leading this meeting? What does he know about people, society, or anarchy?” Wouldn’t I have looked stupid…