Jonathan Neale writes: We start with a theatre, and two moments of astonishing gender transgression. One happened in a theatre on a hillside in the center of Athens on a spring day in late March of 431 BCE. The second happened there sixteen years later, in March of 415 BCE. Both took place as the audience watched tragedies by the poet Euripides. These plays were about gendered oppression, sexual pain, rape, slavery and the horrors of war.Continue reading
Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale review The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, by David Graeber and David Wengrow. This article was first published in The Ecologist.
Graeber and Wengrow’s new book is energetic, committed and kaleidoscopic, but also flawed. This presents us with a problem.
David Graeber died young, only a year ago. His masterwork, Debt, may be specious in parts, but its ambition was inspiring in its time.
David Graeber’s work as an activist and a leader in the Occupy and social justice movement was unusual, and exemplary. The respect and affection for him from his colleagues in the anthropology department at LSE speaks volumes. And his heart was always with the oppressed.
But precisely because Graeber was a good guy and left us only recently, there is a danger that for many people The Dawn of Everything will frame their understanding of the origins of inequality for a long time to come.
The back cover of the book carries praise from Rebecca Solnit, Pankaj Mishra, Noam Chomsky and Robin D. G. Kelley – eminent and admirable thinkers all.
Kelley is representative: ‘Graeber and Wengrow have effectively overturned everything I ever thought about the history of the world. The most profound and exciting book I’ve read in thirty years.’
The book has received considerable recent attention in the press, and it would be unfortunate if such praise became the general view.
The question of the origins of inequality in human evolution and history matters a great deal for how we try to change the world. But Graeber and Wengrow want change without attending to equality and class, and they are hostile to environmental and ecological explanations. These flaws have conservative implications.
So here goes. This is a rambunctious, and partial, review of an enormous book. We console ourselves with the knowledge that Graeber loved, and excelled at, the cut and thrust of intellectual debate.Continue reading
This interview was first published in the Austrian socialist magazine Linkswende as Frauen in Afghanistan. You can read it in German here.
LINKSWENDE: Since the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan, the situation of Afghan women has come back into focus. How does this situation look like at the moment concretely?
NANCY LINDISFARNE: I think a place to start is that we need to understand what does actually happen with the Taliban and the actual defeat of the US, militarily and politically. So we’ve got a group pf people who have fought a guerrilla war and they have actually taken over a government with the idea of continuing to be not democratic but ruling a state. And they couldn’t have done this without – nobody wins a guerrilla war, certainly not one where the two sides are so disproportionately powerful and weak – without popular support. And that means that people all over the country have decided that the Taliban are a better deal than either the occupation government or the warlords.
In Afghanistan over 80 percent of the population is living in rural areas or very small towns or villages. This popular support is from men, from women, from everybody. This has been a long time coming and has been kind of growing over a period of time. This isn’t because the Taliban are deeply loved by the Afghan people but simply that they have been a lot better than the cruelty and the corruption of the American government. So that’s the framework I think which is very important and is somehow kind of forgotten in so much of the media.
The situation is enormously precarious for many different reasons. We can’t talk about women without talk about the whole population in a sense that the American occupation, the government of Ashraf Ghani, lost because as I said of the cruelty and the corruption, all that affects everybody. You can’t have a war and bomb people and send drones out and kill only the fighters. So people are in a dreadful situation frankly, partly because the Americans have been humiliated, they’ve been defeated and one of the terrible things that they do in defeat is they exert revenge by making sanctions as a financial penalty. They did this in Vietnam, in Iran, in Iraq, in Cuba.Continue reading
Based on the experiences and incidents she collected during her field studies in Syria, anthropologist Nancy Lindisfarne wrote Dancing in Damascus, a collection of short stories, in the late 1980s.
[This review first appeared in German here in the Austrian socialist magazine Linkswende.]
Nancy Lindisfarne actually wanted to use the visit to a fellow student in the Syrian capital Damascus as an introduction to studies on the working class there. By chance, she got caught in the middle of the marriage policy of a wavering middle class, which fluctuated between tradition and “modernization” according to the Western model. In nine short stories, she describes the everyday life of a society under dictatorship, tells of the search for identity, gender roles, and the struggles for a self-determined life.Continue reading
The COP26 United Nations climate conference in Glasgow is the third key moment in the history of the talks. At the Copenhagen COP in 2009 the movement was defeated, and we knew it. At Paris in 2015 the movement was fooled. Both COPs left the movement exhausted and demoralised. This time it is obvious going in that Glasgow will be a shitshow. So this time we need to think going in, how we can come out fighting.
My basic argument is this: the climate movement is at an impasse. The leaders of the world will not act. That means we must build mass movements from below to replace those leaders. But those mass movements will wither if they only protest. We have to fight for action that will halt climate change.
Promises are no longer enough. The most important task right now is to stop almost all burning of coal, oil and gas. We could start that process immediately and go all the way. To do that we have build enough renewables to provide energy for all electricity, all heating, all industry and almost all transport. Then we can ban coal, oil and gas.
But to get there we must move beyond the market, because only governments can spend that much money and pass the necessary laws. And doing that can create hundreds of millions of new, permanent jobs around the world. And we cannot do that without an explosion of democracy – the power of the people.
This is not a personal manifesto. I am trying to bring together feelings and ideas I can see bursting out all over the climate movement. And to explain how they give us reason to fight for love against death.
Along the way I will paint a picture of what runaway climate change will do to human society that you may find surprising. I take up the common arguments in the climate movement about why a fully renewable world cannot work. I touch on other confusions and controversies that cannot be ignored.
Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale
Last month we wrote about the end of the American occupation of Afghanistan and the Taliban victory. This piece is about climate change in Afghanistan. The topic is urgent. Afghanistan is one of countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change.
This year a long-running drought caused by climate change has reduced the harvest by almost half. Hunger and famine threaten unless Afghans receive a great deal of aid, quickly. But there is the looming danger that US financial sanctions will make aid work impossible and combine with hunger to create economic collapse.
This article begins with the effects of climate change in Afghanistan over the last 50 years. Then we talk about the situation now. We argue that instead of making war for twenty years, the Americans could have worked to create climate jobs and prevent the climate crisis. We end with ideas of what people in other countries can do politically to help Afghans facing climate disaster.
In many parts of the world people see climate change as a terrible threat in the future. In Afghanistan that threat has been eating away at the fabric of the economy and society for half a century.
Since 1750 climate change has already warmed the world by an average of 1.1 degrees centigrade. Afghanistan is warming at more than double the global average. Scientists and the UN now urge us to keep the total increase below 1.5 degrees if possible, and absolutely to avoid the dangers of passing 2.0. Afghanistan warmed by 2.0 degrees between 1951 and 2020. By 2050, thirty years from now, temperatures in Afghanistan are likely to rise by another 2 degrees.
This is happening in what is already one of the poorest and most arid countries on earth. On the plains, and in the summers, it is already very hot. Only 5% of the land can produce crops, and most of that only with irrigation. Most people live on 2 dollars a day or less. Now that the crops have failed, the price of food will rise rapidly.
The most important effect of rising temperatures is drought. Andrej Přívara and Magdalena Přívarova write that, “Striking droughts in Afghanstan have become a solid feature of its climate. Several severe droughts have been recorded with a tendency to increase the frequency of the drought cycle, for instance, 1963–64, 1966–67, 1970–72 and 1998–2006. The period 1998–2006 appeared to be the longest and most extreme drought in the climate history of Afghanistan.”
Notice that the drought from 1998 to 2006 lasted eight years. Since then, there has been the drought of 2013-14, and the drought that started in 2018 continues today.
Two accounts of the early days of climate change in Afghanistan can help us understand what that could mean. One account is from the north of the country, and one from the south.
Nancy writes: In 1971 and 1972 Richard Tapper and I lived with Afghan villagers, the Piruzai, for nearly a year. Hajji Tuman was our host throughout our stay with the Piruzai. This is a picture of Tuman and his daughter, Maygol. They were crazy about each other.Continue reading
Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write:
Our recent post on Afghanistan has been translated into several languages, and there is a nice interview with Jacobin Radio and an interview in Chinese with The Paper. The links are below.
For the original post in English on this site, link here.
For the FRENCH translation, link here
For the GERMAN translation, link here
For the GREEK translation, link here
For the ITALIAN translation, link here
For the KOREAN translation, link here
For the SLOVENIAN translation, link here
For the SPANISH translation, link here
And for a longish interview with Jacobin Radio, link here. Our interview begins 21:15 in.
For an interview in Chinese, link here
In INDIA, it has also been republished here in English.
A big thank you to all the people who did this work.
For a selection of some of our other work on Afghanistan, link here.
Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: A lot of nonsense about Afghanistan is being written in Britain and the United States. Most of this nonsense hides a number of important truths.
First, the Taliban have defeated the United States.
Second, the Taliban have won because they have more popular support.
Third, this is not because most Afghans love the Taliban. It is because the American occupation has been unbearably cruel and corrupt.
Fourth, the War on Terror has also been politically defeated in the United States. The majority of Americans are now in favor of withdrawal from Afghanistan and against any more foreign wars.
Fifth, this is a turning point in world history. The greatest military power in the world has been defeated by the people of a small, desperately poor country. This will weaken the power of the American empire all over the world.
Sixth, the rhetoric of saving Afghan women has been widely used to justify the occupation, and many feminists in Afghanistan have chosen the side of the occupation. The result is a tragedy for feminism.
This article explains these points. Because this a short piece, we assert more than we prove. But we have written a great deal about gender, politics and war in Afghanistan since we did fieldwork there as anthropologists almost fifty years ago. We give links to much of this work at the end of this article, so you can explore our arguments in more detail.Continue reading
Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale
UPDATE, Jan. 8, 2022: The student workers at Columbia have now their strike. They stayed out for ten weeks and they did not buckle. The dispute was very hard fought because the management desperately did not want to concede arbitration in disputes over sexual harassment and racial discrimination. But the students refused to give in. This article, first published in November, 2021, explains why that victory over how to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace is important for feminists and trade unions around the world.
This is what we wrote in November, 2021:
In the spring of 2021, graduate student teaching assistants and researchers at Columbia University in New York went on strike for the first time to win proper pay and conditions. But they were also on strike for fair arbitration of grievances over sexual harassment. And their strategy on that issue has important implications for trade unionists and feminists all over the world – and for activists on the climate and other issues.
The Columbia Student Workers are now back on the picket line this autumn. It is the second largest strike in the United States at the moment, and one of a growing number of strikes and disputes by student workers at American universities.
The strikers are graduate students who do much of the teaching for a low wage. They have organized themselves into a branch of the United Auto Workers. There are three main issues. One is union recognition. The second is increases in wages, childcare supplements and health insurance. The third is independent arbitration of grievances over sexual harassment and discrimination of all kinds.
The Indypendent reports: Lilian Coie is a 6th year PhD student in Columbia’s neuroscience department and a member of Columbia Union’s bargaining committee. She told The Indy that there’s a little black book that circulates in the neuroscience department that contains a running list of abusive professors and labs to avoid based on claims of harassment or sexual abuse.
We really need more protection. We need more than little black books to keep people out of abusive labs… [Neutral third-party arbitration] would incentivise Columbia to stop abuse before it starts, and to remedy abuse before it reaches the level of arbitration … Everybody here is fired up because they see exactly what we are fighting for and exactly how reasonable we are.
We wrote about the background to the strike earlier this year. What we said then is worth revisiting:Continue reading
In the first two weeks since The Ecologist and AIDC co-published Jonathan Neale’s book, Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs, 7200 people downloaded it as a free pdf or a free e-book. We think there may well be a similar demand for the book in other languages. So we want to encourage translations.
We also want to encourage the model of publications we have used, with a free pdf and a free e-book for download in order to get the ideas to as many people as possible. There might also be a paperback edition for sale. We do not have any money to pay translators, so this will have be volunteer work. Continue reading