David Graeber passed away earlier this month. Around the same time, I tested positive for Covid, hence the late post. I kept reading the condolences and remembrances pouring on the internet, as tweets, articles and newspaper obituaries, starting with his partner Nika Dubrovsky tweeting about his demise:
She later also shared Graeber’s plans for his childhood home:
I had in a passing reference sort of way come to learn of David. His work, as I realised over time, is important for work of economists and economic historians who are keen on interdisciplinary work. But for the book I have been working on unemployment, his importance can’t be stated enough. Graeber made the case for the dismantling of a work situation where it offered no opportunity or incentive to develop or share creativity/brainpower. Here, in conversation with Peter Thiel, he made the argument that much of creativity in the world is scuttled because of unimaginative or uncreative jobs people were given to do. This happened this year.
Here is another very popular talk he gave in 2018:
A tribute in Tribune Mag described Graeber as a happy and kind man, quintessentially seeing kindness in people and what they can be beyond capitalism. To quote:
David thought that we all needed to act as though we are already free. We need to challenge – play with – the oppressive structures that seem to dominate our lives; even if that’s as simple as a small rebellion like, as Nathalie Olah puts it, ‘stealing as much as you can’ from your employer by reading, writing or learning in the hours your chained to your desk. We might not be able to destroy capitalism by pushing at its ideological boundaries in such a way, but we’ll probably learn something about just how fragile the system is, how much it relies upon our obedience, and how powerful we could be if, together, we just said ‘no’.
But perhaps, David’s most abiding belief – the belief that was the foundation of his politics, his research, and his friendships – was that people are, at their core, good. More than his writing, more than the organisations he set up, David’s life – and the way he impacted the lives of the people he left behind – is a testament to the fact that by believing human beings are capable of great altruism, compassion and solidarity, you’re helping to create a world filled with just those qualities. As he put it – far better than I ever could – “the ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it‘s something that we make, and could just as easily make differently.”
With Graeber and Steinmeier sitting together on stage side by side in front of 750 people at the Admiral’s Palace, Graeber gave an invigorating no-holds-barred summary of his research about how debt had historically been used as a tool of enslavement. Some of the first prisons built in England were debtors prisons like The Clink, and debt repayment is a common justification for human slavery and imprisonment continuing even today.
Graeber concluded his presentation by detailing how Germany’s demands for Greek debt repayment were in practice merely a tool of punishment promoting immoral violence, and not an effective way to solve the wider European problem. A question from the audience to Graeber and Steinmeier asked, “What should be done then to solve this crisis?” Graeber turned to Steinmeier and bluntly told him in no uncertain terms, “Germany and the banks need to wipe out this debt now.” Cheers broke out in the audience, and many rose to their feet.
Here is a collection of moving tributes from some of his friends and colleagues who worked closely to him and were influenced by his work.
On Twitter, through some of his tweets, heartwarming glimpses of his personal life appeared from time to time, including this announcement of his wedding to Nika last year:
Later, Nika shared pictures of the hospital where David breathed his last. Looking at these photos, I could only pray he is at peace wherever he is, even as he lives on with his work in our world: