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David Graeber: For the Record...

Henry Farrell:

Seminar on Debt: The First 5000 Years – Reply — Crooked Timber: Henry 04.02.12 at 9:58 pm: David Graeber is now on teh Twitter, telling folks that he’s going to stop paying attention to me, because I’m apparently a Bernard Lewis groupy, as well as a denier of the Nakba and Armenian genocide. This on the basis of a driveby tweet from a random nutter. I’ll merely note this for the record in re: his standards of good argument as described above. My personal feelings about Graeber are much as you might imagine, following this display, but I will genuinely do my best to put this aside in my reply to his reply, since I think there are some interesting issues to be discussed. In addition, as I stated in the original post, I still think there are many good elements to the book, contra his claim that I am lying about the book in order to delegitimize him. I just don’t think those bits are present in the last chapter.

David Graeber 04.03.12 at 4:47 am:

Someone else said Farrell was a wingnut genocide denier on twitter so I just shrugged and said “oh, I didn’t know, I’ll just ignore him then.” So Farrell’s claim that I am out there spreading aspersions about him is yet another example of his utterly dishonest mode of argument. In fact, I did not say anything other than exactly that: “oh I didn’t know.” Really I have no idea whether the guy was right or not – how would I? But Farrell’s history of dishonest argument, of which the above remark is just the latest example, was indeed more than enough to lead me to want to take any excuse not to have to further engage with him, since, frankly, who would benefit? And believe me, I have much better things to do.

Maria 04.03.12 at 9:01 am:

David: I don’t know anything else about you than I’ve read from you on this blog and your Twitter account. Gabriel Rossman has graciously shrugged off your appalling behaviour and engaged with you on the merits of your arguments. Henry wrote a favourable piece on your book and took issue with one argument, but you repeatedly say he’s a liar who only wants to “de-legitimize” you. Is it remotely possibly for you to step back from what you are doing and see how deranged-seeming and nasty your actions are?

The only person who is “de-legitimizing” your work is you. Count me among the many who read the seminar pieces – including Henry’s – and were engaged by your work, and now would have nothing to do with it. You’ve been given a platform to discuss and promote your book, and lots of smart people – including Henry Farrell – have spent many hours, gratis, supporting this. If you cannot conduct your public persona in a civilised manner, than you really should take your toys and go home.

K. Williams 04.03.12 at 1:55 pm:

“a person’s ideas change their value when that person is grumpy on the Internet.” It isn’t that Graeber’s ridiculous and childish behavior (evidenced both here and in myriad other Internet exchanges) changes the value of his ideas. What it does is make it harder to trust his judgment and his intellectual honesty, since he clearly has no respect for viewpoints that are different from his own. And trusting Graeber’s judgment is especially important when it comes to a book like “Debt,” because it covers such a wide range of material, material that most of us are unfamiliar with and therefore have to trust that Graeber is representing accurately. Similarly, that’s why the last chapter is so disconcerting—it’s material that most of us are familiar with, so when we see what Graeber does with it (making assertions that seem obviously wrong) it makes one wonder whether he’s as wrong about the unfamiliar stuff.

I’d add, though, that Graeber’s reaction to Henry isn’t all that startling—reading “Debt,” I couldn’t avoid the nagging feeling that the author was, to put it bluntly, just kind of a self-enamored, self-aggrandizing jerk. The final footnote in the book exemplifies this—it’s a quintessential humble brag, a self-elevating statement in the guise of self-criticism:

I can speak with some authority here since I was myself born of humble origins and have advanced myself in life almost exclusively through my own incessant labors. I am well known by my friends to be a workaholic—to their often justifiable annoyance. I am therefore keenly aware that such behavior is at best slightly pathological, and certainly in no sense makes one a better person.

That is, “I work much harder than any one I know, and all of the success I’ve enjoyed in life is the result of this incessant work. But I’m not a better person because of it. No, really. I’m not.”