The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber & David Wengrow, a Review

The “Dawn of Everything” is a Western anthropological tome that will see few Native American readers outside of that peculiarly Western, politically correct, academic institution euphemistically called ‘Native Studies.’

This book review sets out to challenge what those in academia might not.

What the book got right: Ancient matriarchy was decentralized and (by comparison to patriarchy) non-violent, yet capable of governing large polities. What it may have got wrong about that: the suggestion we can get back to this from where we’re “stuck” for the simple reason today’s patriarchy shapes the mentality of women to point of they’re not really women in any sense of what that had meant prior to the Western mentality’s ego-individuation. [1]

The book is audacious, and in the same moment, pretentious & myopic. The cultural bias is stark; in a presumed self exam of failed assessments by anthropology, in effort to grasp how Western civilization has come to be stuck in a murderous hierarchy of the present day, there is little exploring of the literature exterior to mainstream. Rather this work, although interesting in many respects, uses a deck of old cards to posit an alternative future.

The work credibly sets out to identify commonality in the roots of male hierarchy across the world; with some success in near Asia and Europe would be my presumption (I’m no expert in these areas, probably just a bit better read than your average passing interest) and this was interesting reading (for myself, at least.) Where the book goes off the rails altogether is in the Americas, particularly in North America. What the authors cannot have known (and more than likely their historical sources as well) is, outside of ceremonial context, oral histories are given in euphemisms and figures of speech. The cultural point of this is, is to negate any possibility of drawing the attention of the past into the present in a somewhat literal sense among peoples who saw the power of speech in far greater terms of causality than Westerners.

In fact the abandoned Mississippi River ‘civilization’ of Cahokia was not “erased” from the oral histories, rather some subjects are so sensitive, they were not spoken outside of certain ceremony at all. The example I would give is, in the historic Blackfeet heartland there is a geographic-ceremonial location called “Bear River” whose location is argued over by anthropologists to this day, after two hundred years. The precise location is known to myself, courtesy of an oral historian (an elder woman) in a ceremonial context/relationship.

Of my many years acquaintance with, and interactions in (40+ years), Native American communities, 25 years were more or less immersed (10 of these years were full immersion) with peoples of the native languages of Plains culture, where I had encountered, on numerous occasions, oral historians who fluently spoke Blackfeet (Amskapi Pikuni dialect), Chippewa (Plains Ojibwa), Cree and Metis. Nearly all of their kids spoke only English, reflecting the end of the oral histories era. I witnessed this end of era, at least in the communities I had been familiar with. My understanding is, this is an accelerating process of loss that has been underway for a very long time. In some areas, where the language ‘survives’, it is so modified away from the ancient (original), it would be more than a fair question to ask; would the ancient speakers even recognize the same words use in modern dialect? In languages of what had been observation of process, nouns were nearly unknown. In the ‘new’ dialects, Western thought is encroaching to point an Indian born 200 years past wouldn’t understand what his great, great grandchild is talking about, without some significant difficulty. Nor would the descendant easily grasp this close ancestor’s mental process.

This goes to the book’s sweeping (and absolutely absurd) assertion all languages share the commonality of nouns. This is a serious mistake and a very telling one. To be the ophthalmologist in this case will be take us a bit roundabout but we’ll attempt to arrive at the penetration of this Western cultural bias (ethnocentric myopia) with a gift of sight.

One of the books claims is the absolutely correct thesis Native Americans were a significant source of ideas motivating and moving forward the Enlightenment philosophy. Throwing out the male gender and substituting “The Mystery” for Deism & God (I’ve tinkered with the following passage), the enlightenment thinker Thomas Paine’s description of our existence could have come from the mouth of any Native orator addressing Jesuits:

“The Mystery needs none of those tricks and shows called miracles to confirm our faith, for what can be a greater miracle than the creation itself, and our own existence? There is a happiness in The Mystery, when rightly understood, that is not to be found in your system of religion. The system you describe to us have some things in it that either shock our reason, or are repugnant to us, and we, if we think at all, must stifle our reason in order to force ourselves to believe them. But in The Mystery our reason and our belief become happily united. The wonderful structure of the cosmos, and everything we behold in this system of Mysterious creation, prove to us, better than any book can do, the existence of what cannot be known in its origins, and yet at the same time express its’ attributes. It is by the exercise of our reason that we are enabled to contemplate The Mystery in its’ works, and imitate it in our ways. When we see The Mystery’s care and goodness extended over all the creatures, it teaches us our duty toward each other, whilst it calls forth our gratitude to the whole of it” [2]

The book’s authors altogether miss (or avoid) this (immediate preceding) contribution to enlightenment thinking, rather focusing on personal “liberty.”

I will not argue there was significant contribution of Native American notion of liberty to the Enlightenment; but this contribution is a perverted understanding of Native American individual liberty; sans the crucial aspect of self-restraint (gone missing) in the European semi-grasp of native philosophy.

“thinkers who do seek to knit together the findings of specialists, to describe the course of human history on a grand scale, haven’t entirely got past the biblical notion of the Garden of Eden, the Fall and subsequent inevitability of domination. Blinded by the ‘just so’ story of how human societies evolved, they can’t even see half of what’s now before their eyes”

The authors themselves miss the one half of European thought, that is to say they focus on ‘the fall’ but entirely ignore the other half of it; the out-sized influence of Plato. Where is Plato? Considering their astute observation that modern society is ‘stuck’ in our current predicament, one should consider Plato versus indigenous ‘integration’ to consciousness of their respective cosmos (environment) or objectivity versus theoretical physicist d’Espagnat’s observation consciousness (demonstrated via experiments in quantum mechanics) demands one cannot be separated from environment or surrounding awareness, whether the ‘objects’ of the house you’re in (including the house itself) or a boreal forest or savanna. Here is the glaring omission:

[Plato’s] “The doctrine that the world is made up of objects whose existence is independent of human consciousness turns out to be in conflict with quantum mechanics and with facts established by experiment” -theoretical physicist Bernard d’Espagnat [3]

Plato’s invisibility in the text (but visible in the approach) determines certain conclusions are correctly radical (excellent cultural self-criticism) relating to ‘the fall’ and in a paradox are also quite conservative in Plato’s European tradition and thusly observations in overall context remain highly limited from certain indigenous American view; for the fact their material must be drawn practically 100% from the tradition of Plato’s objectivity, whether ‘mainstream’ archaeology or Western interpretation of indigenous narrative.

The book jumps willy-nilly across the globe, hither & thither and back; when contrasting a presumption of matriarchy; but whether Minoan Crete versus Greece might be cast in the overthrow of the Titans & and the end of Gaia (victors wrote the ugly history of Gaia’s children as monsters) are events which do not enter the picture and it does not occur to the authors to search ‘mythology’ of Western history depicting the overthrow of matriarchy on the European side. Had this found its way into the text it should contrast well to aspect of Native American matriarchy which purpose is the absolute prohibition on the emergence of ego in any form (ego being essentially diagnosed as a mental disorder.) The purpose of the near universal Native American ‘god’ (deliberate small ‘g’), the trickster, is euthanasia of sustained ego or what the Western psychology calls “individuated ego” (better described as ‘ego-priapism’ from the native side.)

The Mississippi River city of Cahokia, and abandoned surroundings, is correctly inferred as a rejection of a philosophy of life but this was not a ‘self-rejection’ of lifestyle by the city’s inhabitants; in fact the oral histories had NOT been silent (the authors’ presumption is “erased” from the oral histories) but in fact Cahokia presumably erased from the oral histories points to the Western anthropological sources ignorance of ceremonial story-telling; you cannot speak of the great evils except under the protection of a ‘shield’ (to prevent notifying or calling forth ‘ghosts’ much effort had been made to banish.)

Cahokia’s founding date coincides with oral histories timeline of an inter-tribal ‘peace chiefs’ alliance establishment; that is when an international warrior/priesthood became emissaries opposed to deviation from the way encountered in cosmology of integration to natural determination as dictated by a greater gnosis of (emanating from) environment, not any individual (and especially ‘ego-individuated’) humans. Cahokia was ‘rubbed out’ quite literally by a far-flung alliance of tribes determined to eradicate a spreading cancer correctly inferred (in the book) as originating in the region of Central America (Blackfeet oral historian Floyd HeavyRunner had narrated to myself it was these peoples had strayed farthest from the “true way.”).

The peace-chiefs’ inter-tribal diplomacy corps were initially formed as a result of determination by surrounding peoples to make Cahokia vanish from the surrounding peoples’ (multiple cosmos) proximity. After, their purpose morphed into that of healer-teachers intended to get the associated, culturally deprived peoples (survivors) back on track in the proper direction.

The Osage descendants of Cahokia having experimented with constitutional reform on multiple occasions simply exhibits a series of fits and starts (basically fumbling) their way towards reintegration to the original indigenous concept of cosmology or becoming integral to a natural order where their place is one of pruning, and away from the destructive nature of plowing (plowing here is certainly not meant to be literal but employed as a metaphor.) In this case, it would have happened the allied peace chiefs had, subsequently, instructed the Osage in recovery of the way or reintegration to a natural order of things; and clearly this ‘peace order’ would have stopped short of explicit instruction of how the Osage should determine their own cosmos arrangement; pointing the way and arrival are distinct things. To point the way in sense of process does not determine outcome at arrival, where each tribe’s adopted (or newly adopted) territory constitutes a cosmos expressing the respective ‘real peoples’ who must establish a niche in peer relationship to the ‘others’ (other manifestations of life) in the natural order of things. The established cosmos must accept the people, i.e. grant permission to occupy the land, the people do not determine this.

In fact one of the arguments dismissed by the authors is nearly spot on:

“If the indigenous peoples of North America aren’t being imagined as living in a separate time, or as vestiges of some earlier stage of human history, then they’re imagined as living in an entirely separate reality (‘ontology’ is the currently fashionable term), a mythic consciousness fundamentally different from our own”

They ‘disprove’ this preceding by pointing to the narrative skills of the indigenous orators in making comparisons to Western thinking; not realizing there was an entirely different ability to think on the indigenous side; an ability to think entirely failed by Western language with no working grasp of an aboriginal system’s vocabulary that compares well to modern quantum reality. The ‘nearly spot on’ (or near miss) is the idea of “mythic consciousness”, this a rank fail. There would be no sense of ‘mythic’ at all in practical application of this ‘other’ way of thinking on the native side; it is scientific, realizable and would be perfectly comprehensible with modern tools of understanding except for the wall of ‘objectivity’ or legacy of Plato:

“…the Diné are just as capable of thinking objectively as Western people and of using their language to make objective statements. However, they are also always aware of “an intrinsic subjective relationship which is not nullified by an objective statement [..] The capacity of intra-subjective knowing is not done unconsciously or automatically, and it does not preclude Western ways of knowing. It is an added capacity of awareness, not a primitive one” [4]

Western anthropology and archaeology would be incapable of grasping this prior to the 20th Century at earliest (with the conceptual vocabulary of quantum mechanics) and have yet but to dance about the edge with radical genius co-opted by none other than Western myth-making; Benjamin Whorf’s ‘linguistic relativity’ as related to David Bohm’s ‘rheomode’ has been hijacked by new age persona and westernized ‘Indian’ novelists. [5], [6], [7]

And there you have the wall… the Western (and ‘westernized’) peoples cannot know what (through language, particularly) they have no capacity to understand. All of the European expectations demanding explanations solely in objective mode from the native side must fail for the fact there is no capacity to grasp the intra-subjective knowing by the (limited to objectivity) ego-individuation structure of the modern European mentality.

Here it should be noted archaic terms like ‘ghosts’ actually refer to ‘energies’ in a sense of string theory (the universe is made up of tiny vibrating strings that resonate; in the native observational sense of a spider’s web) and this is why the idea of archaeology is abhorrent; vibrating past (perverse or deviant, negative) energies into ‘life’ (again) is counter to intelligent outcomes & positive present and future. Digging things up is tantamount to causing wounds in time and allowing the past to bleed into the present.

Certain, specific ceremony (sometimes using relics), on the other hand, is a safe means of traversing time that doesn’t disturb (when properly functioning) those many phenomena best left alone when/while in pursuit of cultural continuity. [8]

At the end of the day, ‘The Enlightenment’ got 1/2 the picture of Native American liberty; missing altogether is the individual self-restraint demanded by these native nations’ original understanding; the fact they merely occupied a niche integrated into a cosmos demanding a sentient-aware natural environment is constructed to include what should be seen as environment integrated to peers (in effect, everything else) might be gardened but never dominated. European folk traditions of terror notwithstanding, let’s not forget wolves live in a practical matriarchy whose purpose is to prune, not plow. The land was not ‘communally owned’ at all except that one were to include the practical grasp of native science indicating ‘the whole of it owns itself’ supporting d’Espagnat’s assertion opposing Plato’s doctrine:

“The knowledge and use of any or all the powers of the objects on Earth around us, is as liable to lead a man wrong as to lead him right, because it is merely power, with no way of knowing how to use it correctly- except that spirit is with a man’s spirit for the light” -Red Tomahawk, Sioux (1918.) [9]

Red Tomahawk’s ‘spirit’ (relates to “naaks” in Blackfeet) is the sentient awareness of collective creation, our very surroundings are intelligent expression integrated via consciousness to nature, or one might say (in Western terms) omnipresent god. When he says ‘spirit is with a man’s spirit’ (for the light), we are looking at what d’Espagnat stumbles upon nearly 100 years later; recognizing an innate consciousness embodied in our surroundings plays in everything we can experience. Moreover, Red Tomahawk is discriminating between a sole, intimate knowledge of any single object’s raw power, and an understanding of the larger purpose concerning the nature of that very object, recognizing these are distinct things. His understanding (different to the European concept) opens to the possibility of allowing for the trees, stones, or for that matter (again), everything surrounding us, to possess consciousness and to ‘know’ purpose exterior to the European self-centered or ‘individual’ cultural shaping and resultant ‘imperative’ perception. It is only when the ego-individuated concept of the European mentality is overthrown will this larger Native door of understanding be opened, where we can know how to listen, to intelligently ‘see’ our way through the intra-dimensional nature of our existence. In retrospect, who are the primitives? The tribal people? Or the people who, if they were to work out honest equation, must discover their ‘advancement’ & ‘progress’ via method of sustained development exploiting, desecrating one could say, the omnipresence of what amounts to the living mystery expressing us through creation, must point to our ceasing to exist and nullify awareness? Jesus admonished “Know you not you are gods?” What sort of gods should we propose to be? Those who put creation to death through the arrogance of the individuated ego? That would be the effect of sustained development, globalism, the international oligarchs’ and not least, the Western science enabling it all, a cancer (a larger concept of empire) on the very expression sustaining us. The authors of “The Dawn of Everything put their toe in the water here, and as Westerners, deserve great credit for that, but they haven’t yet learned how to swim. Plato’s objectivity is the problem. As a matter of fact, for the simple phenomenon of the missing “intra-subjective knowing” capacity, the Europeans could not have accurately reported on Native mental process, not yesteryear or now.

Insofar as the authors’ conclusion:

“Nor does our evidence support the notion that major innovations always occur in sudden, revolutionary bursts, transforming everything in their wake”

Setting aside the word “always” one would think the atom bomb & internet might have been given at least a small paragraph … and it is in this regard we’ll step outside of the mainstream of anthropology to (briefly, I promise) explore just a few of those ‘explosive’ possibilities, while noting ‘ideas’ can be infectious like disease, in our conclusion.

I will quote here the oral historian (speaker of Blackfeet ancient dialect) Floyd HeavyRunner “We know who [plural, multiple parties] arrived by sea, when they came, and who was already here when we arrived.” Considering Blackfoot oral history extends back in time to migrating with mammoth herds in the south of North America prior to the ice sheet retreat, we’ll put the Blackfeet precursor people in South America before that:

“When North America was an ice-age tundra, the first Americans were “cooking” their cultures in the tropical south, moving northward and settling as the glaciers retreated, according to new linguistic evidence from indigenous languages throughout the New World.

“The evidence suggests that humans have been in the Americas for a very long time, perhaps 40,000 years. It also suggests that most native American languages derived from Ice Age inhabitants who were isolated in the Western Hemisphere for many millennia.

“Only along the west coast do languages appear to come from immigrants who arrived after the Ice Age 14,000 years ago, a Berkeley linguist reports” [10]

Think that’s far-fetched? Then try this next, where a 2019 DNA analysis pins the Blackfeet journey as plausibly located in the region of Arizona 17,000 years ago, on what could only be on a long-term journey towards the north:

[Blackfeet tribal member] “Crawford’s DNA story suggests his ancestors came from the Pacific, traveled to the coast of South America and traveled north […] The DNA group’s closest relatives outside the Americas are in Southeast Asia […] Its path from the Americas is somewhat of a mystery as there are no frequencies of the haplogroup in either Alaska or Canada” [11]

Yeah, a mystery so long as denial of perfectly plausible 40,000 years past voyages by sea persist. It should be noted here that Floyd maintained people were already here when the remote ancestor (long before mega-fauna extinction) Blackfeet precursor people arrived by sea.

Moving on…

“I saw in this land an Indian woman and a child who would not stand out among white blonds. These people [of the upper class] say that they were the children of the idols” [gods] – Pedro Pizarro, chronicler of the Spanish conquest of Peru

“The remarks made by Pizarro as to the skin-colour of the Peruvians are very important and, probably, truthful. Today one finds people who claim to be pure Indian in blood who are very light in colour, but it is not possible to be sure that they have not some white blood” [12]

The ‘culture zones’ miss (entirely) plausibility of different cultural origins from abroad i.e. 40,000 vs 13,000 years, intervals between, and more recent pre-Columbian arrivals (other than Viking) from both West & East.

Was there a lost boatload of Phoenicians in Brazil? It’s possible. [13]

And what about that sunken load of Roman amphora found in a bay in Brazil? [14]

Did the Olmec begin at the site of a seafaring landfall? It’s a fair question. As the ‘cradle of Meso-American civilization’ was the Toltec, Inca, Maya and Aztec ‘cultural ancestry’ handed down from the Olmec? There’s a likely source of the ‘misdirection of spirit’ ultimately expressed in Cahokia

On the other coast (Peru) we have the knotted string records system of Polynesia (and China before that.) [15]

On the other hand, Tlaxcala (the Cortez allied city mentioned by the authors) exhibits a deliberative council no more or less remarkable than the original indigenous councils of numerous tribes from the Rocky Mountain Front to the Atlantic seaboard and the Canadian woodlands to the present day northern Mexico. Nothing unusual there (except for the authors wondering at it located in a Meso-American city.)

Back in the Pacific Northwest of North America, just suppose the coast Indians are a culturally Polynesian precursor people. That would explain a LOT about a group of late arrivals (by North American oral history timelines) who differ radically from the inland groups. Did they bring the identical mathematical principles of oracle shared by the Western tribes’ Native American stick game & the I Ching of China? [16], [17]

Moving on again […] well, actually, what could go on and on is already enough. Now, finally closing this out, close your eyes and listen to a music composition from a West Papua Melanesian people and hear something identical to what you’d expect to be a ceremonial sound experience on the plains of North America:



[2] Unmodified Paine quote: “The Deist needs none of those tricks and shows called miracles to confirm his faith, for what can be a greater miracle than the creation itself, and his own existence? There is a happiness in Deism, when rightly understood, that is not to be found in any other system of religion. All other systems have something in them that either shock our reason, or are repugnant to it, and man, if he thinks at all, must stifle his reason in order to force himself to believe them. But in Deism our reason and our belief become happily united. The wonderful structure of the universe, and everything we behold in the system of the creation, prove to us, far better than books can do, the existence of a God, and at the same time proclaim His attributes. It is by the exercise of our reason that we are enabled to contemplate God in His works, and imitate Him in His ways. When we see His care and goodness extended over all His creatures, it teaches us our duty toward each other, while it calls forth our gratitude to Him”









[11] (note: the ‘native’ academic, Shelly Eli, quoted in this story, is a typical product of Western education, blissfully ignorant of her own oral history

[12] Note 139, page 528, The Discovery and Conquest of The Kingdoms of Peru by Pedro Pizarro in Two Volumes, Volume II, translated into English and annotated by
 Philip Ainsworth Means, The Cortes Society, New York (1921)