How do we explain the wave of rebellion occurring around the world since the financial crisis of 2008? In his typically brilliant recent article "Trouble in Paradise" (London Review of Books, July 18, 2013), the social theorist Slavoj Žižek notes that analysis of the demonstrations occurring around the globe face both an epistemological and an ontological dilemma. First, it is not obvious how to interpret the mobilizations. Second, and the second leads to the first, the marchers themselves are not entirely clear on what unifies them.
Chrystia Freedland, the prominent Reuters editor just recruited by the Liberals to contest the nomination in the Toronto Centre riding vacated by Bob Rae, remarks how capitalism deserves credit as "the best prosperity-creating system humanity has come up with so far." True enough, it has done better than feudalism, slavery, hunting, fishing and food gathering. The issue is whether it is time to move past profit seeking as the answer, and on to a better economic system, or whether capitalism just needs to evolve.
I keep encountering anthropologists (mostly but not only in print) who help more in understanding how the world works today than other experts do, even in their own fields. For example, Debt: The First 5,000 Years by young U.S. anthropologist David Graeber, who did fieldwork in Madagascar, illuminates more about the current economic crisis than anything I know by economists. It even points to ways out. U.K. anthropologist Sir Jack Goody, who's 93 and studied tribal cultures in West Africa, has expanded the idea of democracy far beyond a thing invented in Athens, and then perfected in the U.S. and U.K.