Reading David Graeber’s (quite awesome) Debt: The First 5,000 Years and I’m liking it just fine. As this book was recommended three times over by friends who are anarchists I expected a more anarchist nuance to the book. Instead it’s a lot of solid anthropology. Either would’ve been fine with me.
He casually mentions a bit of history, which I knew already and to me marks a rather sad footnote in Western history. Let’s take the stereotype of the greedy Jewish banker. I think most progressively-minded would like to just brush it off as crackpot anti-Semitism, but there is actually a sort of truth to it all.
One of the things now forgotten and ignored these days is that usury is forbidden in the Bible (both Hebrew and New Testament) and once upon a time society actually took that seriously. In Medieval Europe that meant no rich, Christian landlord/king could charge people interest on loans. The loophole was you could have a non-Christian perform the task on your behalf and skirt around the code. Jews in many parts of Europe at that time were being outcasted or outright killed. But, they were often pressed into jobs as bankers and lenders, it was that or death/exile. Anti-Semitism created the conditions that are now it’s trademark.
Even then there were pogroms. In a way, reminds me of the pre-Civil War American south. It’s a bad myth that slave-owners hated their slaves (in their minds.) Their slaves were what made them successful and rich. The stories of violence and abuse we hear are real, sure, but there was a great amount of violence needed in creating a slave, but once a slave they became valuable capital.
To me the similarity lies in how two groups of people were both hated and needed all at once. Medieval Europe hated Jews, but needed them to do untouchable work like banking; pre-war South whites certainly had no love for Africans, but needed them to run their estates. In order to maintain the way of things episodic violence had to break out (Norwich or Southampton.)
A lot of conflicts start somewhere and in someway and become social institutions. When nutjob Republicans want to smear Obama they suggest he’s a Muslim (the implication being that Muslims can’t be Americans, hold office or be trusted.) In such, Muslims in America provide a service. They are a quick go-to when social strife needs a quick resolution or vindication. Forget that 80% (not a real figure) of all terrorist attacks against the USA were by right-wing fundamentalists, let’s talk about the Muslim question.
The purpose of certain communities across the globe is sacrificial in nature. We like to think that we’ve civilized beyond human sacrifice, but we haven’t. We’ve just altered the rules of ceremony. WWII was just a delusional hope that by a mass sacrifice (killing off most the Jewish people in Europe, and lined half my family to be shot in the head against a wall it seems) they might earn favor with some Fascist God. The current strife between Israel and Palestine draws the same fools out. So many pricks kicked out of mainstream Christianity go on to start radio shows, drawing more pricks who think Jesus wont come until we’ve resettled all Jewish people (who they typically hate) into some vague state of Israel.
I think that, end of the day, there are no real scapegoats for sins. Pressing guilt and problems onto vulnerable others is not okay. We Christians have a word for it, it’s called being a “Pharisee.” Thankfully no actual Pharisees exist so we can now toss the word around without hypocrisy. Even the Left needs to shut up about the “fundamentalist Christian.” I am a Christian, and pretty fundamental, so quit locking me out.
To quote Sara Ahmed, who paints it wonderfully: “In such a fancy racism is ‘officially prohibited.’ This is true. We are ‘supposed’ to be for racial equality, tolerance and diversity, and we are not ‘allowed’ to express hatred towards others, or to incite racist hatred. I would argue that this prohibition against racism is imaginary, and that it conceals everyday forms of racism, and involves a certain desire for racism.”