Joho the BlogRevolutions in common sense - Joho the Blog

Revolutions in common sense

…the great world historian Immanuel Wallerstein…argues that for the last quarter millennium or so, revolutions have consisted above all of planetwide transformations of political common sense.

This is from David Graeber‘s 2013 book The Democracy Project, excerpted that year at The Baffler.

The excerpt argues that the 1960’s political movement did not fail. It changed expectations by changing our sense of what’s possible. One effect of this: it limited the ability of American politicians to blithely engage in foreign wars for a full generation…and then changed the way we engage in those wars, albeit not necessarily for the better.

Obviously we can argue about this. But that’s not my main interest in the excerpt. Rather, I’m interested in the power of changes in common sense, which I’m taking to mean our most basic ideas about how the world is put together, how it could be put together, and how it should be put together.

This is the very core of my fascination with technology for the past thirty years. It’s why I studied the history of philosophy before that.

And btw, this is not technodeterminism. “The link between technology and common sense is indirect, but real”The link between technology and common sense is indirect, but real: new tech opens new possibilities. We seize those opportunities based on non-technological motivations and understandings. When tech is radically different enough that new strategies successfully exploit those opportunities, we can learn a new common sense from those strategies. That is, in my view, what has been happening for the past twenty years.

Anyway, I now I have three books to read: Something by Wallerstein, The Democracy Project, and Graeber’s early work, Debt.


A tip of the haat to Jaap Van Till for pointing me to this. His recent post on the current French protests fills an important gaap in American media coverage. (I tease because I love :)

3 Responses to “Revolutions in common sense”

  1. Debt was a great book. Very readable despite the seriousness of the subject. As much a spur for discussion as a resolution of the question, perhaps, but a tremendous overview. Definitely recommended.

  2. David, you may know that “Debt” is famous or infamous for a capsule history of Apple that at first read seems to be a parody (the kindest review of the matter might be in a “Businessweek” review, ). And while many seem to have learned from the book, others have pointed out other nits, indeed Brad Delong, on his blog, frequently goes after them in a way that verges on cruel, something that Graeber’s prickly reaction may promote (for example, ).

    How do you plan to winnow out the valuable material from the rest? Will, how did you do it?

  3. Lots of people have told me to read Debt. I hadn’t heard the criticism. Thanks for the pointers.

    As to how to winnow it? That problem will likely be solved by the ever-lengthening queue of books to read. Sigh.

Web Joho only

Comments (RSS).  RSS icon