February 12, 2021
High Falls, NY
David Graeber died this past fall. He and I met on Fire Island in the summer of 1968 when we were seven years old. We were friends every summer and spent a huge amount of time together, as we were virtually each other's only friend in summers. Today is his birthday, and I remember him at least on this day every year. I haven't seen him since we were 12 years old but we did correspond occasionally. He was 59 when he died. Since we were the same age, it falls uncomfortably close to me. It's also terribly sad because he was a very accomplished and recognized anthropologist.
When we played, one of his favorite toys was his set of toy soldiers. He knew a lot about war strategy and tactics and weapons, and although we were just little boys, he was like a teacher to me.
Then he became fascinated with Mayan history and culture. He became such an expert in the subject that someone anonymously donated enough for him to attend Phillips Academy at Andover. So his fascination was a foreshadowing of his career.
In adult life, he told me that he was turned away from Yale where he was teaching because his ideas were too radical. I understand he was unhappy in his subsequent places, not sufficiently understood or embraced.
He was one of the leaders of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and it was exciting to hear his voice on WNYC at the time. He sounded almost exactly as he did before his voice changed. I could hear familiar mannerisms. David was credited with coining the saying, "We are the 99%" but he insisted that it came from a collaborative effort.
He wrote some pretty important books such as Bullshit Jobs. The idea is that the economy has many job positions which the economy would be better off without because they don't create value and don't nourish the soul of those in the jobs. I was alarmed at the concept, wondering if I held one of the jobs. It turns out that I didn't, which is a relief.
There are wonderful videos of his lectures, and I recommend them. One is on the history of debt.
I never learned his cause of death but I know it was sudden and unexpected. Several of my good friends died suddenly in the last year, and I think the lesson is that it does happen and that it will happen with increasing frequency for me now that I'm 60 years old. Improving our health is a worthy cause, to reduce the chances of unexpected death, although we are not in control of when or how we die
I have a couple of mementos from him. I hope to find them and shoot pictures. He did some Mayan style art on some giant clam shells from the beach we played on. They are beautiful.
I miss my old friend.