So from the Twitter account of David Graeber (as in Debt, among other things) come the following tweets:
I am cleaning out my family home in New York. Evicted. (police intelligence seems to have played a role.).— David Graeber (@davidgraeber) April 2, 2014
There is a pattern here: almost everyone mentioned in press as involved in early days of OWS has been getting administrative harassment— David Graeber (@davidgraeber) April 2, 2014
There have been evictions, visa problems, tax audits… Endless minor harassment arrests— David Graeber (@davidgraeber) April 2, 2014
I am sure that there will be people right along to ask how anyone can really know whether he’s being evicted, and if so, whether it is really for the reasons he states. And of course, I don’t know; I’ve never met the guy, and I am not acquainted with his circumstances. I don’t know the functionaries either, nor the officials who ordered them to act. I know that I have seen the tweets, but beyond that, I am out of the world of facts and into one of speculation, inference, and guesswork. So are most of us. Even Graeber himself cannot really know the reasons why anything has happened to him.
But, assuming arguendo that the facts and causes of the matter are exactly as stated, we are back to the matter of knowledge from a different angle: the knowledge of who was involved in Occupy Wall Street from the beginning. And not just abstract knowledge, but usable knowledge on an institutional level, knowledge that can be dispersed and acted upon, both officially and unofficially.
Knowledge is power, and there are people who have more of it than we do. Some work for governments, but some don’t. Call them, if you will, the Powers that Be. We individuals have to filter out our knowledge out of a soup of misdirection, denial, fragments1, and propaganda. TPTB, meanwhile, seem to get their knowledge undiluted at source2.
This imbalance is a palpable problem, not just for Graeber, but for us all. Whether it’s prosecution for the three felonies a day we are all alleged to commit, or mere public humiliation, the risk of abuse by means of knowledge (and the lying pretense of knowlege) is a real engine of fear. I don’t know anyone who has not chosen to do or let be, speak or be silent, with an eye to whom they might piss off and what the consequences could be.
Back when The Wire was new, I was much struck by this speech3. But even then, the choice to overlook the minor crimes of ordinary people passing their evenings in “the poor man’s lounge” seemed more of a dream than a realistic idea. Now it just sounds hopelessly naïve, even in such a gritty show. Who is using what is intelligence, to be collected, collated, and kept.
In contrast, there’s a recent novel on the subject of surveilance4 in which the protagonist who knows too much can only escape from the clutches of officialdom by pleading guilty to a minor crime. That rings more true: people in those circumstances are not acquitted in real life. TPTB, even when thwarted, do not let their critics go without a macula, a smudge, to diminish their credibility. The vindictive impulse is universal, but it’s usable knowledge that gives it teeth.
But this desire to know is not limited to the powerful, or I wouldn’t be reading Twitter. And it’s not modern, either. One aspect of Catholic doctrine is the perpetual virginity of Mary: the idea that even after the birth of Jesus, she and Joseph did not have sex. I’ve never been comfortable with that, not because I have an opinion either way, but because it’s an incredibly intrusive thing to have a doctrine about at all.
What’s modern is the amount to which the thirst for knowledge is rewarded, even for hoi polloi. I can read and muse about the troubles of relatively ordinary people I have never met, and about whom I know very little. And that curiosity has led to the kind of indexing and searching technology that allows me to check if their stories have been denied yet, and if so, by which people affiliated with what organizations. I can then research the organizations, and read critiques of the tools I used to do so.
Most of my knowledge may not be actionable, but it sure is interesting.
And at times like this, I think about how the grain for the bread of Rome came from conquered Egypt, and how her circuses were paid for by the tribute of the empire, and how the social structures that permitted the taking and holding of the empire produced the population that needed to be appeased with bread and circuses. The mitigation is the fruit of the problem, as always.