There’s an early front-runner in “dumbest explanation of the Occupy Wall Street movement” — in a field with some stiff competition — and it comes from The Chronicle of Higher Education, another pseudo-pluralist right-wing outfit, which runs the equally right-shifted Arts and Letters Daily. In a piece on Occupy Wall Street, The Chronicle argues that its inspiration is not, as might be thought, more than 200 years (and more) of continuous activism, and more recently the ceaseless re-invention of political tactics and organisation. No, instead it was a dude who did a PhD on Madagascar.

The Chronicle awards David Graeber, an anthropologist at London’s Goldsmith’s college, who released a book about self-organisation among the Betafo community on the island, who had been deserted by a collapsed state. Graeber makes no such claims for himself, but The Chronicle breathlessly implies that he invented the terms “consensus decision-making”, “democracy without a government”, and that no one had developed communal self-organisation before.

A bizarre assertion, that requires enormous ignorance to make with a straight face — but good enough to make Arts and Letters Daily. Why? Simply a novelty piece — or is it there because it satisfies two obsessive ideas about such movements: one that they’re neo-primitivist, and second, that they’re run by mysterious tenured radicals, rather than wider groups of people. Chronic indeed.

Peter Fray

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