The Dawn of Everything

An essential reminder that we are in charge of our own destiny.

Cory Doctorow


We’ve lost so much to the pandemic. Every day I wake up and think of all the lives snuffed out, all the plans smashed, all the stories never told. I think about poor David Graeber, whom I spoke with just a few weeks before his sudden and tragic death in September 2020.

David was a superb writer and an insightful scholar and activist. He helped formulate Occupy’s rallying cry, “We are the 99%” and he wrote magisterial popular works of anthropology like “Debt: The First 5,000 Years” and the incredible “Bullshit Jobs.”

Last autumn, Macmillan published David’s final book, a collaboration with the equally brilliant archaeologist David Wengrow, which they worked on together for a decade and finished shortly before Graeber’s untimely death.

I’ve been reading the book since its publication, taking it slowly and digesting the wealth of beautifully presented evidence for its core argument: that the shape of societies — hierarchical or non, authoritarian or free — is not foreordained by our technology or living arrangements. That we are free to choose who we want to be: equal or unequal, coercive or free, warlike or peaceful.

The Davids begin their book with the Enlightenment and the two poles of its views on civilization. First, there’s the Hobbesian view that we once lived as violent “primitives” whose bestial natures were tamed by the emergence of the hierarchies that inevitably arise with agriculture and are needed to manage the complexity of cities. Then there’s Rousseau, who argued that our “primitive” past was a time of pastoral equality and freedom, but that could not survive the hierarchies that inevitably accompany agriculture and are a regrettable necessity of cities.

Both Rousseau and Hobbes make it clear that these views are thought-experiments, not based on any observation or evidence of these “pre-civilized” ways of…