David Graeber’s Pirate Enlightenment with Lewis-Krauss, Heffernan, Ongweso, and Ross
Virginia Heffernan, Edward Ongweso, Jr., Gideon Lewis-Krauss, and Andrew Ross discuss David Graeber’s Pirate Enlightenment, or the Real Libertalia, the final posthumous work by the coauthor of the major New York Times bestseller The Dawn of Everything.
Pirates have long lived in the realm of romance and fantasy, symbolizing risk, lawlessness, and radical visions of freedom. But at the root of this mythology is a rich history of pirate societies—vibrant, imaginative experiments in self-governance and alternative social formations at the edges of the European empire.
In graduate school, David Graeber conducted ethnographic field research in Madagascar for his doctoral thesis on the island’s politics and history of slavery and magic. During this time, he encountered the Zana-Malata, an ethnic group of mixed descendants of the many pirates who settled on the island at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Pirate Enlightenment, or the Real Libertalia, Graeber’s final posthumous book, is the outgrowth of this early research and the culmination of ideas that he developed in his classic, bestselling works Debt and The Dawn of Everything (written with the archaeologist David Wengrow). In this lively, incisive exploration, Graeber considers how the protodemocratic, even libertarian practices of the Zana-Malata came to shape the Enlightenment project defined for too long as distinctly European. He illuminates the non-European origins of what we consider to be “Western” thought and endeavors to recover forgotten forms of social and political order that gesture toward new, hopeful possibilities for the future.
Virginia Heffernan writes a monthly column and regular features for WIRED, where she recently profiled David Wengrow. She is also a frequent contributor to the LA Times, The Atlantic, The Economist, and MSNBC. She has written for The New York Times since 2001. Her most recent book is Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art. She has hosted several podcasts about politics and culture, notably Trumpcast on Slate and This Is Critical on Stitcher. In 2003, she received a Ph.D. in English from Harvard.
Edward Ongweso, Jr. is a staff writer at Motherboard, VICE’s technology section. His work focuses on the political economy of technology, finance, crypto, the gig economy, and Silicon Valley. He’s also the co-host of This Machine Kills, a podcast that critically examines our technology, its design, funding, development, and deployment.
Gideon Lewis-Kraus, a staff writer at The New Yorker, grew up in New Jersey and graduated from Stanford. He writes reportage and criticism and is the author of the digressive travel memoir A Sense of Direction as well as the Kindle Single No Exit. Previously, he was a writer-at-large at The New York Times Magazine, a contributing editor at Harper’s magazine, and a contributing writer at WIRED magazine. Gideon co-edited, with Arnie Eisen, Philip Rieff’s Sacred Order/Social Order III, and edited Richard Rorty’s Philosophy as Cultural Politics. He teaches a reporting seminar in the Graduate Writing Program at Columbia. He has lived in San Francisco, Berlin (where he was a 2007–8 Fulbright Fellow), and Shanghai, and now lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two small children.
Andrew Ross is a social activist and Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU. A contributor to the Guardian, The New York Times, The Nation, and Al Jazeera, he is the author or editor of more than twenty-five books, including Sunbelt Blues: The Failure of American Housing, Bird On Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City, Stone Men: The Palestinians Who Built Israel, The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty and Property Values in Disney’s New Town, and Fast Boat to China: Lessons from Shanghai. His most recent book (co-authored with Julie Livingston), is Cars and Jails: Freedom Dreams, Debt, and Carcerality. He is a co-founder of several advocacy groups, including the Debt Collective.
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