"The mark of an intelligent and educated man is one who does not really accept the idea of "work". That is to say; he does not accept the process of doing chores every day, that aren't in the least bit interesting to him, just in order to go on living." - Alan Watts
From about 1500 BC to 1200 BC, the Mediterranean region played host to a complex cosmopolitan and globalized world-system. It may have been this very internationalism that contributed to the apocalyptic disaster that ended the Bronze Age. When the end came, the civilized and international world of the Mediterranean regions came to a dramatic halt in a vast area stretching from Greece and Italy in the west to Egypt, Canaan, and Mesopotamia in the east. Large empires and small kingdoms collapsed rapidly. With their end came the world’s first recorded Dark Ages. It was not until centuries later that a new cultural renaissance emerged in Greece and the other affected areas, setting the stage for the evolution of Western society as we know it today. Professor Eric H. Cline of The George Washington University will explore why the Bronze Age came to an end and whether the collapse of those ancient civilizations might hold some warnings for our current society.
Considered for a Pulitzer Prize for his recent book 1177 BC, Dr. Eric H. Cline is Professor of Classics and Anthropology and the current Director of the Capitol Archaeological Institute at The George Washington University. He is a National Geographic Explorer, a Fulbright scholar, an NEH Public Scholar, and an award-winning teacher and author. He has degrees in archaeology and ancient history from Dartmouth, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania; in May 2015, he was awarded an honorary doctoral degree (honoris causa) from Muhlenberg College. Dr. Cline is an active field archaeologist with 30 seasons of excavation and survey experience.
The views expressed in this video are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Capital Area Skeptics.
DEBT: The First 5,000 Years
While the "national debt" has been the concern du jour of many economists, commentators and politicians, little attention is ever paid to the historical significance of debt.
For thousands of years, the struggle between rich and poor has largely taken the form of conflicts between creditors and debtors—of arguments about the rights and wrongs of interest payments, debt peonage, amnesty, repossession, restitution, the sequestering of sheep, the seizing of vineyards, and the selling of debtors' children into slavery. By the same token, for the past five thousand years, popular insurrections have begun the same way: with the ritual destruction of debt records—tablets, papyri, ledgers; whatever form they might have taken in any particular time and place.
Enter anthropologist David Graeber's Debt: The First 5,000 Years (July, ISBN 978-1-933633-86-2), which uses these struggles to show that the history of debt is also a history of morality and culture.
In the throes of the recent economic crisis, with the very defining institutions of capitalism crumbling, surveys showed that an overwhelming majority of Americans felt that the country's banks should not be rescued—whatever the economic consequences—but that ordinary citizens stuck with bad mortgages should be bailed out. The notion of morality as a matter of paying one's debts runs deeper in the United States than in almost any other country.
Beginning with a sharp critique of economics (which since Adam Smith has erroneously argued that all human economies evolved out of barter), Graeber carefully shows that everything from the ancient work of law and religion to human notions like "guilt," "sin," and "redemption," are deeply influenced by ancients debates about credit and debt.
It is no accident that debt continues to fuel political debate, from the crippling debt crises that have gripped Greece and Ireland, to our own debate over whether to raise the debt ceiling. Debt, an incredibly captivating narrative spanning 5,000 years, puts these crises into their full context and illuminates one of the thorniest subjects in all of history.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Graeber teaches anthropology at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He is the author of Towards an Anthropological Theory of Value, Lost People, and Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire.
This talk was hosted by Boris Debic on behalf of the Authors@Google program.