Looking at David Graeber and David Wengrow’s Chapter (2021) “Why The State Has No Origin” (Part 1 of 13)

0180 If David Graeber and David Wengrow’s recent book, subtitled, A New History of Humanity, is a breakthrough in postmodern anthropology, then it is so because it displays a semitic textual structure, instead of a greek textual structure.

These two styles are discussed in An Instructor’s Guide to An Archaeology of the Fall.  Rather than eliminating possibilities in order to arrive at the most likely correct interpretation, these authors play literary tricks, coupling chapters one and twelve, A:A’, chapters two and eleven, B:B’, and chapters three through nine and chapter ten, C:C’.

Figure 24

0182 The semitic structure is A:B:C:C’:B’:A’.  In Comments on David Graeber and David Wengrow’s Book (2021) The Dawn of Everything (by Razie Mah, available and smashwords and other e-book venues), the work is discussed in the pattern A:A’, B:B’ and C:C’.  Notably, the bulk of the book covers the last layer, C:C’, and balances seven chapters (three through nine, C) against one chapter (ten, C’).  Chapter ten is twice as long as any other chapter.

0183 Plus, chapter ten stands on its own, allowing me to place an examination in Razie Mah’s blog, with the title Looking at David Graeber and David Wengrow’s Chapter (2021) “Why The State Has No Origin”.  If the reader first encounters the blog, the commentary is available.  If the reader first purchases the commentary, then the reader can call the blog to the attention of others.


Looking at David Graeber and David Wengrow’s Chapter (2021) “Why The State Has No Origin” (Part 2 of 13)

0184 Chapter ten is the only chapter on theory in the entire book.  The rest of the book concerns the inadequacy of current theory in archaeology and anthropology.  The authors intuitively zero in on a problem.  Neither science imagines that people have minds of their own.  For example, modern histories do not admit that the so-called “Western Enlightenment” is influenced by reports coming from the Americas, including an indigenous critique of late-medieval and early-modern European civilization.

However, Graeber and Wengrow cannot pass into their promised land, because they have no models for appreciating or diagramming what is going on in people’s minds.

0185 Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913 U0′) has a model for speech-alone talk.  Spoken language contains of two arbitrarily related systems of differences, consisting of parole (speech acts) and langue (mental acts).  A model of langueshould provide a picture of what is going on in people’s minds.  So, how can we model langue?

One answer is provided in Razie Mah’s first masterwork, The Human Niche, plus its companion work, Comments on Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky’s Book (2016) Why Only Us?.  These are available at smashwords and other e-book venues.  Langue may be modeled by diagrams of triadic relations.

In the ongoing commentary, two triadic relations are presented: the category-based nested form and judgment.  If talk (parole) is related to a triadic relation (langue) then Saussure’s definition of language is satisfied.  Plus, our innate sensibility that words are associated to the things that they refer to is satisfied.

0186 Our innate sensibility that words refer to things and states of things arises in the milieu of hand talk.  Here, the relation between parole and langue is not arbitrary, because langue (mentally) reproduces the icons and indexes of parole(well-executed manual-brachial gestures).  This is the nature of natural signs.

Curiously, the word, “semiotics”, does not appear at all in Graeber and Wengrow’s weighty volume.  Yet, the term is crucial to their claim that people have minds of their own.  People have minds of their own because they are adapted to sign-processing.

0187 Fast forward through human evolution to the first singularity, dramatically portrayed in Razie Mah’s second masterwork, An Archaeology of the Fall.  The first singularity consists in a cultural change.  Hand-speech talking cultureslose the hand-component of their hand-speech talk, leaving them with speech-alone talk.  The Ubaid of southern Mesopotamia is the first culture to practice speech-alone talk.  The Sumerian language is a speech-alone creole, originating from two hand-speech languages.  Speech-alone talk spreads from the Ubaid to the far corners of the world.

0188 The first singularity is a complex transition.  There is great uncertainty about how it happens.

But, we can set down two markers with great certainty.

Before the Ubaid, in the Lebenswelt that we evolved in, all cultures practice hand-speech talk.

In the present, 2023 U0′, in our current Lebenswelt, all civilizations practice speech-alone talk.

0189 Speech-alone talk does not picture or point to its referents.  Instead, speech-alone talk projects meaning, presence and message into a purely symbolic label.  This label belongs to parole.  Parole consists of a system of differences.  Langue is arbitrarily related to parole.

So, if we are to display… or imagine… or depict what people think, we may be begin with the proposition that those thoughts have the structure of triadic relations, such as the category-based nested form.

This is the proposition underlying Razie Mah’s third masterwork, How To Define the Word “Religion”.  The propositionconcerns the nature of definition.  The category-based diagram offers ways to picture the meaning, presence and message underlying the spoken word“religion”.

0190 Here is a picture.

Figure 25

The normal context of definition3 brings the actuality of a spoken word2 into relation with the possibilities inherent in meaning, presence and message1.

0191 Such a diagram offers sites for explicit abstraction, without short-changing implicit abstraction.  Standard dictionaries define spoken words with combinations of other spoken words, emphasizing the idea that words are placeholders in systems of differences (that is, “languages”).  It does not evoke the idea that a spoken word (parole) is arbitrarily related to what people think (langue).  In contrast, the category-based nested form for how to define a spoken word conveys what standard dictionaries cannot tell.


Looking at David Graeber and David Wengrow’s Chapter (2021) “Why The State Has No Origin”(Part 3 of 13)

0192 Graeber and Wengrow begin their wide-ranging discussions concerning everything anthropological with a question on the origins of social inequality.  In chapter ten, they implicate the state.  But, they face a problem.  Can the stateaccount for the origins of social inequality if there are no origins to the state?

0193 The spoken word, “state”, is the topic of chapter ten of Graeber and Wengrow’s book.

So is the spoken word, “domination”.

Here is a diagram of what these authors may be thinking.

Figure 26

The “state” is a placeholder in a system of differences for speech.  Since the spoken word cannot picture or point to anything, as would be expected for hand talk, then we project meaning, presence and message into the langue that is arbitrarily related to this speech act.  Graeber and Wengrow explicitly abstract the term, “domination”, as a label for (what I suspect is) the presence or the message underlying the term.  The state2 emerges from (and situates) the potential of domination1.  

0194 The masterwork, How To Define the Word “Religion”, offers another option.

The option arises while trying to elucidate the presence1 underlying the word, “religion”2.  Religion includes institutions.  These institutions are different from sovereign power.  How so? Righteousness1a is the potential underlying institutions3a.  Order1b is the potential underlying sovereign power3b.  Order1b belongs to the situation-level of an interscope.  Righteousness1a belongs to the content-level.

On the situation level, sovereign power3b is the normal context where sovereign acts and decrees2b emerge from (and situate) the possibilities inherent in order1b.  Sovereign power3b virtually situates institutions3a.

What we call the “state”2b should correspond to the actuality2b of sovereign power3b contextualizing the potential for order1b.

Figure 27

0195 According to Graeber and Wengrow, the term, “state”, appears in the French lexicon in the late 1500s, about a century after Christopher Columbus’s voyage of 1492 U0′.  In the late 1800s, a German philosopher defines the “state” as an institution, within a given territory, claiming a monopoly on the legitimate use of coercive force.

This implies that the term, “state”, labels something more than the actuality of sovereign acts and decrees2b.

0196 Why does the state2b require a monopoly on coercive force?

How else can it enforce order1b?

0197 Does the above figure offer a definition of state2b that is familiar to modern social scientists?

No and yes.

No, this diagram of the “state” as an actuality2 located within a normal context3 and situating a potential1 is innovative.  It belongs to the first comprehensive picture in anthropology composed of triadic relations.  The diagram relies on the differentiation of nested forms.  The first differentiation yields a nested form composed of three terms: society3, organization2 and individual in community1.  Second, each of these terms differentiates into a nested form.  Third, each element in each nested form differentiates, resulting in a three-level interscope.  The result is three tiers of interscopes, corresponding to societyC, organizationB and individual in communityA.

0198 The first two levels of the societyC tier correspond to content-level institutions3a and situation-level sovereign power3b.

Figure 28

Graeber and Wengrow do not know this diagram.  Yet, they write as if they do.  Social complexityC arises as diverse institutions3aC pursue their organizational objectives2aC, based on a righteousness1aC that interpellates individuals in communityA.  In our current Lebenswelt, righteousness1aC calls individuals in communityA into organizationB.

The need for order1bC may arise when institutions compete with one another and come into conflict.

I suppose that may occur when institutions find something to fight over.


Looking at David Graeber and David Wengrow’s Chapter (2021) “Why The State Has No Origin”(Part 4 of 13)

0199 In order to lay out their theory of state, Graeber and Wengrow recall their three foundational expressions of freedom: (1) the freedom to move, (2) the freedom to disobey orders and (3) the freedom to organize (and adjust) social relations.

The authors ask (more or less), “Can we speak similarly about elementary forms of domination?”

0200 Recall the equilibrium exchange between freedom and property rights.  The concept of property rights seems to be the inverse of the concept of freedom, as seen in the following figure, which appears earlier in the commentary.

Figure 29

0201 The fact that these two are located in the category of firstness, the realm of possibility, means that they are a monad.  They are like two faces in one photo.  I do not think that I can name the foundational monad, but it must be as sacramental as a marriage.  Two faces are in one photo because they are married.  What God has joined, let no man tear apart.

0202 This union becomes more palpable when I ask, “How can property rights be violated?”

Well, the answer is the same as the question, “How can freedom be violated?”

The obvious answer is through force.  I can steal your property.  I can stop you from leaving.  I can force you into a social configuration.

The next obvious answer is through the mitigation of one’s ability to make a claim.  I can control your property through fraud and misrepresentation.  I can force obedience by denying your freedom to disobey commands.  I can change the meaning of the word, “ownership”.

The least obvious answer is through charisma.  I can seduce you into slavery.  I can destroy order through mob action.  I can demand your admiration.

0203 Who am I?

“I” am the state.  Did someone else say that?  Louis XIV of France?

Yes, “my” three principles are sovereignty (the control of violence), bureaucracy (the administration of information) and charisma (the appropriation of honor).  

Figure 30

0204 According to Graeber and Wengrow, each of these principles has served as a basis for state formation.  Access to violence, information and charisma define the very possibility of social domination.  The modern nation state is configured as a combination of sovereignty, bureaucracy and competitive politics.  Each elementary form of dominationhas its own historical origins.


Looking at David Graeber and David Wengrow’s Chapter (2021) “Why The State Has No Origin”(Part 5 of 13)

0205 When historians speculate about the origin of states for ancient Mesopotamia, India, China and Peru, they project these three principles backwards, in time and location.  They presume that each path culminates in a state2b, emerging from the potential of order1b.  “Order1b” is confounded with policing power, administration and competitive politics.

0206 Or, should I say, that “order1b” is confounded with domination2, according to the following definition.

Figure 31

0207 Graeber and Wengrow explore the concept that a state could arise from one or two of the potentials1 underlying the term, “domination”2 in the normal context of defintion3.

0208 Well, the Olmec and the Maya may have started with competitive politics.  They play “ball games” where the “ball” is a human skull (or something like that).  No wonder everyone wanted to follow the winner.

0209 What about the early large-scale societies that appear in the Peruvian Andes and adjacent coastal drainages, long before the Inca?

Monumental architecture appears in the Rio Supe region between 3000 and 2500 B.C.  Then, between 1000 to 200 B.C., a single center, Chavin de Huantar, is founded in the northern highlands of Peru.

To me, this suggests exposure to speech-alone talk before 3000 B.C., with full adoption by say, 2800 B.C.  I wonder, “Could some speech-alone talking person have made it to the coast of Peru two thousand years before the official start of the Lapita horizon in the eastern Pacific, around 1600 B.C.?”  

Hmmm, the establishment of large settlements in China’s Shandong province, on the lower reaches of the Yellow River, date to no later than 3500 B.C.

0210 Graeber and Wengrow dwell on the Chavin horizon.  Its art appears across a wide region.  Some of the pottery figures are monsters.  Do the monsters have a purpose?  Perhaps, they offer visual clues for remembering complicated mythologies, such as genealogies or shamanic journeys.  Some carved figures hold plants known for their hallucinogenic properties.  Can a “state” come together on the administration of psychoactive substances?  I suppose so.  What about today’s psychoactive propaganda?  Do our televisions offer the same appeal as the representatives of the Chavin horizon? Come experience the illusion.  Watch and enter the delusion.

0211 Graeber and Wengrow label the early civilizations of the Americas, “first order regimes”, because they seem to be organized around only one of the three elementary forms of domination.

0212 This implies that the term, “state”2b, directly emerges from and situates the potential of “domination”1b.  Plus, the potential of the term, “domination” arises from three independent sources, which look increasingly like meaning (exclusive control of violence), presence (various ministries trafficking in information) and message (honor our heroic deeds).

0213 Here is a picture.

Figure 32

Looking at David Graeber and David Wengrow’s Chapter (2021) “Why The State Has No Origin”(Part 6 of 13)

0214 Can there be sovereignty without the state?

0215 Graeber and Wengrow turn their attention back to North America.

A French Jesuit, Father Maturin Le Petit, gives an account of the Natchez in the early 1800s.  He draws parallels to the reign of King Louis XIV, the self-fashioned “Sun King”.  The story that the missionary tells is both strange and familiar.

Like the Sun King, the Natchez ruler has total authority.  Unlike the Sun King, the Natchez ruler cannot delegate his power.  If any Natchez “citizen” does not live close to the Great Village, then there is no reason to obey the one who embodies the total authority of the state.

0216 What does this imply?

Sovereign power3b is a normal context3, not an actuality2 or or a potential1.  The Natchez ruler2b is sovereign3b, but only for those within the Great Village at any moment in time1b.  The sovereign3b stands above all other institutions3a, because sovereign power3b arises from the potential of one type of righteousness1a: order1b.  On one hand, order1b is not the same as violence, knowledge or charisma.  On the other hand, it1b may be.

 0217 Graeber and Wengrow go over examples of apparent anomalies, where the normal context of sovereign power3b is operational, yet the actuality2b does not meet the definition of a state2, emerging from the potentials of exclusive control over force1, knowledge1 and charisma1.  Besides the Natchez, the authors mention the Suillah, along the White Nile, as well as the Chavin and Olmec, already mentioned.

0218 Then, the authors turn their attention to one apparently reliable indicator of state formation: mass killings at royal burials.  Such mass killings are familiar to students of ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and China.

For example, mass killing marks the beginning of Egypt’s first dynasty, starting in 3100 B.C.

Yet, sovereignty is clearly evident during the predynastic periods, starting around 4000 B.C.  Modern archaeologists speculate about the material conditions behind the transition.  However, these matter-oriented speculations distract from the main point of Graeber and Wengrow’s insights in layers A:A’ and B:B’. What goes on in people’s minds matters.

0219 What is going on in people’s minds at these mass killings?

Well, let me speculate.  The king is dead and I serve the king so, let me get in line to serve the king on his journey to the source.

Or, let’s get rid of these throwbacks to a bygone era.

0220 Clearly, the state2b, as the actuality of sovereign power3b, differentiates from all other organizational objectives2aand institutions3a.  Yet, the state2b remains like an organizational objective2a in regards to three principles1 that may be endowed with righteousness1a (control of violence1, adminstration1 and charismatic status1).

0221 Of course, these principles associate to domination2a, but so does the word, “outlaw”.  The state2b is like an outlaw2b that works for the good of its institutions.  In contrast, the outlaw2b, is defined solely by self-interest.

Here is a picture of the definition of the term “outlaw”2b, as opposed to the “state”2b.

Figure 33

Just something to think about.


Looking at David Graeber and David Wengrow’s Chapter (2021) “Why The State Has No Origin”(Part 7 of 13)

0222 Starting around 3500 B.C., during the proto-dynastic period of Egypt, petty monarchs are afforded fine burials all along the Nile Valley.  These petty kings give every indication of maintaining military and administrative control in their respective territories.  Graeber and Wengrow ask (more or less), “How do we get from these monarchs to the massive agrarian bureaucracy of First Dynastic Egypt?”

0223 Could it be about death?

The authors imagine debates about the responsibilities of the living to the dead.

Here is an institutional diagram for each little kingdom along the Nile.

Figure 34

0224 The dyadic actuality2a consists in two contiguous real elements, the living (people) and the dead (ruler).  The contiguity is placed in brackets.  The brackets contain a modern term, “responsibility”.

However, I must keep in mind that the term, “responsibility”, is an explicit abstraction.  The ancient substance in the brackets is not an explicit abstraction.  The ancient substance arises in various questions.  Does the dead hunger?  Does the dead thirst?  The answer is apparent.  Grave goods include bread and pots of fermented wheat beer.

0225 Two innovations, one agricultural and one ceremonial, reinforce one another.  Agricultural improvements include ploughs and oxen, introduced around 3000 B.C.  Ceremonial innovations include networks of obligations and debts, centered around the provisioning of the dead.  Facilities dedicated to baking and brewing appear, first, alongside cemeteries, then later, near palaces and grand tombs.  By the start of the First Dynastic (around 2500 B.C.), bread and beer are manufactured on an industrial scale, enough to supply seasonal armies of corvee laborers working on royal constructions.

0226 The transition from proto-dynastic to First Dynastic differentiates the above institution into the Egyptian state2bCand the people’s “religious” obligation to the afterlife2aC.  The conundrum about the local ruler3aC blossoms into separate social levels for the Pharoah3bC and the people3aC.  Order1bC arises from righteousness1aC.

Figure 35

0227 Needless to say, the Pharaoh’s order1b does not reduce to the actuality of the term, “domination”2a.


Looking at David Graeber and David Wengrow’s Chapter (2021) “Why The State Has No Origin”(Part 8 of 13)

0228 Why does each early ancient civilization exhibit a unique historical trajectory?

Mesopotamia differs from the Mayan lowlands.

China differs from the Olmec, Chavin and Natchez.

The Inca empire differs from ancient Egypt.

0229 Yet, there are commonalities, which Graeber and Wengrow attribute to the three elementary forms of domination.  Each ancient civilization passes through its own sequences of first-order, second-order and third-order regimes.

The Olmec, Chavin and Natchez develop first-order regimes, displaying primarily one elementary form of domination.

Egypt’s predynastic rulers develop two: sovereignty and administration.  Mesopotamian kings start with administration and heroic status.  Classic Maya elevates sovereignty and competitive politics.

Eventually, each civilizational state manifests all three elementary forms of domination.


Looking at David Graeber and David Wengrow’s Chapter (2021) “Why The State Has No Origin”(Part 9 of 13)

0230 However, unbeknownst to Graeber and Wengrow, there is another definition that arises from a historical differentiation of category-based nested forms due to the explicit abstraction afforded by speech-alone talk.  Society3, organization2 and individual in community1 are the first to differentiate after the first singularity.  The differentiation continues until situation-level sovereign power3b differentiates from content-level institutions3a in the societyC tier.

0231 Here is a picture comparing the two situation-level category based nested forms.

Figure 36

0232 The first nested form is from the chapter on presence in Razie Mah’s masterwork, How To Define the Word “Religion”.

The second nested form is from chapter ten in David Graeber and David Wengrow’s masterwork, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity.

0233 From this comparison, I conclude that Graeber and Wengrow’s definition of the “state”2b coincides with sovereign acts and decrees2b.  The potential for order1b parallels the possibility of domination1b.   The potentials underlying the term, “domination”1a by extension, associates to the possibilities inherent in righteousness1a.  Or even worse, the potentials underlying the term, “domination”1a, defines righteousness1a.


Looking at David Graeber and David Wengrow’s Chapter (2021) “Why The State Has No Origin”(Part 10 of 13)

0234 What does it mean for sovereign power3b to be confounded with a situation-level definition3b of the spoken term, “state”2b?

0235 A pair of two-level interscopes stand before me.

The first corresponds to the first two levels of the societyC tier.

Figure 37

The second corresponds to the situation-level definition of the term, “state”, derived from Graeber and Wengrow’s theory, plus a content-level definition of the term, “domination”.

Figure 38

0236 Normal contexts3 exhibit the logics of exclusion, complement or alignment.

Once again, I ask, “Do the situation-level normal contexts exclude one another, complement one another, or align with one another?”

The first option is sovereign action without the state.  Or, is it a state without sovereign acts?

I suspect that this option describes the conditions where situation-level sovereign power3b has not differentiated from other institutions3a.  Every institution3a exercises disciplinary power, which is similar to sovereign action without the state.  Every institution enforces its disciplinary powers, which are similar to domination.

The second option may correspond to the first and second-order regimes illustrated by Graeber and Wengrow.

The third option is the civilizational state (you know, like the one that the indigenous people of the Eastern Woodlands of North America criticize before their utter ruin).

0237 It makes me wonder whether the fashionable terms of “liberty, equality and fraternity”, used by the so-called “left”, in favor of state intervention for every social organization, might be a form of righteousness1a that manifests as the potentials1a underlying the term, domination”2a.

0238 Consider the Ubaid period of southern Mesopotamia, ranging from 5800 to 4000 B.C.

The administration of information seems to be devoted to mitigating social domination as an unintended consequence of labor specialization.  Some Ubaid labor specializations are more rewarding than others.  So, a sovereign bureaucracy strives to prevent the more affluent from lording over the less affluent.  Was this bureaucracy itself a form of domination?  Well, yes, it dominated in order to mitigate… um… domination due to spontaneous social inequality.

0239 Indeed, the history of coincidences between order1b and controlling coercion1a, administering information1a and championing charismatic power1a, is mixed, suggesting that the state2b has no origin.

Instead, the term, “state”2b, stands as a sign of contradiction to the term, “outlaw”2b.  The “domination”2a that supports the “state”2b is precisely opposed to the “domination”2a that supports the “outlaw”2b.

It is no wonder that, over time, Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Chinese rulers proclaim themselves to be protectors of the weak, feeders of the hungry, and solace for widows and orphans.

What better way to distinguish the “domination”2a underlying the “state”2b from the one2a underlying the “outlaw”2b?

0240 What goes unseen in this discussion?

The meaning, presence and message1a underlying the term, “domination”2a, does not coincide with the potential of the content-level of the society tier: righteousness1a.

0241 Yes, a strange contradiction can no longer hide.