relation of power, ignorance and stupidity

This year’s Malinowski Memorial Lecture at the London School of Economics was presented by David Graeber, until recently an Associate Professor at Yale, entitled Beyond Power/Knowledge: an exploration of the relation of power, ignorance and stupidity. PDF link, via metaFilter, with neat follow-up and comments such as,

Every time intellectuals have the chance to speak yet do not speak, they join the forces that train men not to be able to think and imagine and feel in morally and politically adequate ways. When they do not demand that the secrecy that makes elite decisions absolute and unchallengeable be removed, they too are part of the passive conspiracy to kill off public scrutiny. When they do not speak, when they do not demand, when they do not think and feel and act as intellectuals … they contribute to the moral paralysis, the intellectual rigidity, that now grip both leaders and led around the world.

—C. Wright Mills, The Causes of World War III (1958)

In the late nineteenth century most people honestly believed that war between industrialized powers was becoming obsolete; colonial adventures were a constant, but a war between France and England, on French or English soil, seemed as unthinkable as it would today. By 1900, even the use of passports was considered an antiquated barbarism. The ‘short twentieth century’ was, by contrast, probably the most violent in human history, almost entirely preoccupied with either waging world wars or preparing for them. Hardly surprising, then, that anarchism quickly came to seem unrealistic, if the ultimate measure of political effectiveness became the ability to maintain huge mechanized killing machines. This is one thing that anarchists, by definition, can never be very good at. Neither is it surprising that Marxist parties —who have been only too good at it—seemed eminently practical and realistic in comparison. Whereas the moment the Cold War ended, and war between industrialized powers once again seemed unthinkable, anarchism reappeared just where it had been at the end of the nineteenth century, as an international movement at the very centre of the revolutionary left.