Against the Grain – Ch 5


Today I discussed Against The Grain ch 5 with my anarchist reading group. Against the Grain is a fantastic book.

We are doing a module on slavery.

I have written this before but I will write again.

The first reading was Graeber on Debt, and I dont remember it, the second reading was about how slavery is a transgression/transformation of the social order, the third was about the performance of being a slave and the subversion of the system of slavery, and this final section is about slavery as the heart of nations – that all nations are created from slavery.

I imagine Debt by Graeber and think his notion that colonialism or imperialism has debt as its basis. That you colonized person must may be taxes in my money so you must go out and earn this money. This perhaps can lead to wage slavery or slavery (indentured servitude), but is really setting up a system of control.

In this reading, Scott is saying that slavery is at the basis of the state itself- it is the center (the imperialist/colonies are the periphery). At its core a nation needs biopower to create surplus that sustains the state. The way to get this biopower is to capture and enslave other people. There is a discussion that some early nations have capital cities with names etymologically distinct from their native tongues – like Ur in Sumer. That these represent perhaps an earlier culture or tribe that was captured and then enslaved. Notice that they are enslaved, they are not paying tribute.

In this use of people, people become tools, similar to a draft animal. Women are kept in the center to procreate and create more bodies, men are sent to the periphery and used up until they die. Using women as a machine to generate bodies for the state is behind the institution of marriage (says me not scott). Whatever the cosmic wedding is – at its core the oikos or the domus – leads to domestication – the transformation of humans (and animals) into tools for the maintenance of the state.

So this brings us to another point – is slavery and female subjugation connected at its origin? Is the nation state predicated on the subjugation of women. and that you cannot have a nation without female subjugation. What does it look like to have a society that does not being with the enslavement of women?

The title “Against the Grain” – as my friend Camille says – is about against cultivation. That grain cultivation leads to the nation state and slavery and all the rest. However in chapter 5 Scott discusses a prayer that is made before the dedication of a new temple. The prayer is called against the grain. It creates a state of exception, or a ritual space, where the slave and the master are equals. This is against the grain, because in an equal society – the state of exception – no grain will be cultivated.