Writing Out Loud: Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit

Many of the scholars of rationality included in this text (Weber, Ritzer, Bauman, etc.) emphasize the destructive nature of rationality. Graeber has a different perspective: rationality, without visionary leadership, becomes trivialized, distracting us from truly transformative social change. After you complete the reading, please respond to the questions below.

Theme: Pathway to Meltdown


  1. Graeber argues that capitalism sells us technological trinkets but markets them as technological marvels in an order to avoid truly socially disruptive technological progress—that is, technological change that would challenge capitalist accumulation and power. Why does he make that argument, and what do you think about it?
  2. Graeber argues that the United States is a society characterized by bureaucracy, and he says that bureaucracy stunts creativity and ingenuity, rather than promoting it (as we often imagine). What kinds of bureaucracy does Graeber have in mind, and why does he make that argument? Do you agree? Why or why not?
  3. Think back to Bauman’s writing about modernity and the Holocaust. Bauman worries that the use of rational bureaucracy toward socially transformative, utopian goals inevitably leads to rationalized violence. In contrast, Graeber laments the trivialization of rational systems to create technological distractions rather than to foster genuine, radical social change. What do you think? What makes the difference between rational systems being used for positive social change (what Graeber wants), destructive social change (what Bauman fears), or trivializing distraction (what Graeber thinks we have today)?
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