On Tor.com, author and reviewer Jo Walton has an insightful look at why so many science fiction readers and writers are discussing David Graeber's Debt: The First 5,000 Years, a book that is already a darling of the Occupy movement:
One of the problems with writing science fiction and fantasy is creating truly different societies. We tend to change things but keep other things at societal defaults. It’s really easy to see this in older SF, where we have moved on from those societal defaults and can thus laugh at seeing people in the future behaving like people in the fifties. But it’s very difficult to create genuinely innovative societies, and in genuinely different directions. As a British reader coming to SF there were a lot of things I thought were people’s amazing imagination that turned out to be normal American things and cultural defaults. And no matter how much research you do, it’s always easier in the anglosphere to find books and primary sources in English and about our own history and the history of people who have interacted with us. And both history and anthropology tend to be focused on one period, one place, so it’s possible to research a specific society you know you want to know about, but hard to find things that are about the range of options different societies have chosen.
What Debt does is to focus on a question of morality, first by framing the question, and then by examining how a really large number of human societies over a huge geographical and historical range have dealt with this issue, and how they have interacted with other people who have very different ideas about it. It’s a huge issue of the kind that shapes societies and cultures, so in reading it you encounter a whole lot of contrasting cultures. Graeber has some very interesting ideas about it, and lots of fascinating details, and lots of thought provoking connections.
For a more academic discussion of Debt among political scientists and economists, see this Crooked Timber seminar on the book, and the author's reply. I liked Debt, but was also frustrated by the amount of circling back and meandering the author engages in. That said, it was one of my more thought-provoking reads of 2011.
The Best Science Fiction Ideas in any Non-Fiction Ever: David Graeber’s Debt: The First Five Thousand Years
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Evan Kimbrell, founder of the digital agency Sprintkick, recently released a series of online courses that feature some of the best advice we’ve come across. These courses are well worth your time, and will save you from making many typical mistakes down the line if you ever want to start your own business.With this Business […]