Ça m'est égal

The first establishment of bureaucratic empires is almost always accompanied by some kind of system of equivalence run amok. This is not the place to outline a history of money and debt131 – only to note that it’s no coincidence that societies like those of Uruk-period Mesopotamia were, simultaneously, commercial and bureaucratic. Both money and administration are based on similar principles of impersonal equivalence. What we wish to emphasize at this point is how frequently the most violent inequalities seem to arise, in the first instance, from such fictions of legal equality.

dawn-of-everythingch. 10

cf debt

One might ask, how could that most basic element of all human freedoms, the freedom to make promises and commitments and thus build relationships, be turned into its very opposite: into peonage, serfdom or permanent slavery? It happens, we’d suggest, precisely when promises become impersonal, transferable – in a nutshell, bureaucratized. [...]

As money is to promises, we might say, state bureaucracy is to the principle of care: in each case we find one of the most fundamental building blocks of social life corrupted by a confluence of maths and violence.

dawn-of-everythingch. 10

the road to hell is paved with good intentions / "development aid" (post-dev-reader)

One is tempted to think at first of the system of monetary exchange as the catastrophic collapse of a multi-dimensional space of value into a single axis of "more" <> "less"—but that's not really it either. Because in the first place, dimensions (as they are usually conceptualised à la Cartesian space) presuppose the fundamental ordinality of elements in each of the basis dimensions, that every element belongs in that one universal space, that metrics can be constructed of their distance in relation to one another. That one thing must always be comparable to another, and that there is but a single origin, a single universal basis everyone shares regardless of where they themselves are standing.


debt Graeber, David. 2014. Debt, Updated and Expanded: The First 5,000 Years. Melville House. ↩︎ 1

post-dev-reader Rahnema, Majid, and Victoria Bawtree. 1997. The Post-development Reader. Zed Books. ↩︎ 1

dawn-of-everything Graeber, David, and David Wengrow. 2021. The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. Signal. ↩︎ 1 2