Monday Smackdown: David Graeber: You Are Doing It WRONG!!

So, apropos of nothing I did that I am aware of, this appeared in my twitterstream:

That means it is time for me to resume my read-through of David Graeber's Debt!

The last three things I remember noting are:

  1. Ann Leckie: Debt: "Prostitution... on the list of mes... isn’t really a very good argument.... Did [Graeber] not actually look at the list of mes [a text that]... is easily available[?]... If he didn’t... he did sloppy research and I’m bound to wonder where else he skipped..."
  2. A Mental Gedrosian Desert: I suspect Graeber never bothered to learn anything about the Ming Dynasty.... Hongwu and Yongle nicer than Cortez and Pizarro? Nope.... It is not as though... the scale of their purges is anything of a mystery, is it?...
  3. David Graeber Monday Smackdown: Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda Edition: This phrase from Graeber: "priests and friars... committed in principle to the belief that the extermination of the Indians was the judgment of God"... is simply wrong...

And on to the reread. We look at the first Kindle screen, and have to stop:

Screenshot 10 29 15 10 48 AM

That word: "while"...

It comes before "we are used to assuming...", and it tells a reader that what we are used to assuming is wrong. In context, it tells the reader that those whom Graeber calls "contemporary observers" were right in judging that deaths from enslaving Amerindians in the mines were as big a killer as the plagues.

But what if you turn to the end, and read footnote 13? You find:

It's possible that they [i.e., Graeber's "contemporary observers" were wrong. Generally populations did decline by 90% even in areas where no direct genocide was taking place...


Graeber says, in his footnote, that the death toll from plague alone in areas untouched by conquest and enslavement was more than 9/10 as large as in areas where Cortez and Pizzaro marched and conquered, and they and their successors then brutalized and exploited.

Graeber says, in his text, that plague was not the predominate cause of depopulation.

David: you are doing it WRONG!

Your endnotes are supposed to provide reasons to think that the line of argument set out in the text is true. They are not supposed to provide reasons that the line of argument set out in the text is horse----!

Graeber's unlucky footnote 13 continues:

...But, in most places, after a generation or so, populations started recovering. In Hispaniola and many parts of Mexico and Peru, around the mines, the death rate was more like 100 percent.

It is hard to see how this is relevant to Graeber's claim in his text introduced by his "while..." that "dragooning... natives to work in the mines" was "at least equally responsible" as plagues for devastating the Mexican population.

It is hard to say what areas Graeber is talking about when he claims that "around the mines" in Mexico and Peru the indigenous pre-Spanish Conquest population was all but exterminated, so that claim is hard to evaluate.

And, for Hispaniola, I suspect that Graeber is, once again, simply wrong. As I understand things--and I may be wrong--here are people today who have good reason to and who do call themselves "Taino". Biologists and demographers agree that their X-chromosomes show every sign not of Spanish or of American mainland but rather indigenous Caribbean ancestry. It is Taino Y-chromosomes that are extinct. Female Taino have living descendants--male and female--today. Male Taino have no living direct paternal line descendants today.

Well Worth Reading...