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Braydon Cutak

Prof. Daymon Smith


Anthropology 1010
May 1st, 2016

Ancient debt

This anthropology class focused on the study of culture and how


it affects our everyday lives. Culture is the study of humans acting
as humans. This seems like a circler definition and it kind of is. But if
you think about it, this poses to the question of why we act the way
that we do. Anthropology studies this question and tries its hardest to
make sense of it. So where did this idea of debt come from? When
many of us think of debt we think of a person who is not paying his or
her credit card bill or has defaulted on a load. Both of these examples
are terrible and are only applicable in the 21st century, but that doesnt
seem to be the case. As Graeber describes in his book, debt has been
around as a social construct for much longer than that and it is only
recently that we have given this idea the name debt. In this
dissertation I will attempt to bring together some of the ideas Graeber
describes in his book as well as my personal thoughts on each topic.
In Graebers chapter: On the experience of moral confusion,
Graeber starts with an experience he had at a garden party. He meets

a lawyer and they get on the topic of debt. Graeber was up all night
with this idea stuck in his head. What is debt? What is the basis of its
power? Why do debts have to be repaid? Graeber realized that debts
are not an economic idea rather they are a cultural concept. I mean
think about it. Repaying ones debts isnt about paying someone back.
Its about making good on your promise. When accepting that loan
you entered into a social contract stating that you are good for that
money. You put your name on the line and if you dont repay that debt
you are tarnishing your name. A man is only as good as his word.
From the dawn of time man has had this primordial debt that
must be repaid. Adam fell so that men might live. We are in debt
simply for existing, but why? We had no choice in this. This is where
Graebers idea of moral confusion comes into play. Graeber states
that without out this sense of morality to repay debts the only way to
receive payment would be through threats of violence. These threats
of violence go back so far that in ancient Hindu culture if you didnt
repay your debt it is said that you would be reincarnated in the house
of your creditor as a slay or in later texts as a horse or an oxen. This is
a form of punishment and is seen as a way to repay old debts.
Graeber later goes on to describe how the credit system is as old
as civilization itself. This credit system was usually regulated by some
sort of religious temple complex and was really used to pay taxes. But
who are these taxes for? Well these taxes are just a way to try and pay

off that idea of primordial debt that we talk about early. Thats right
these taxes are a payment to the gods. But in order to pay the gods
you need to have a group to represent them. This is when you have
the priests and oracles start to appear. But who is going to enforce
these new taxes? This is when you start to see soldiers or warriors
start to collect these taxes for the gods who are represented by the
priests and their temple complexes. When looking at these temple
complexes you start to see a division of power and the person with the
most power is also the person with the least amount of debt.
In taking this class I learned that life, as we know it is a lie. Well,
maybe not a lie, but the people before us and before them have drilled
a way of life into our heads and this is what we believe is natural. By
realizing that debt is not this new concept that has only been around
the past few hundred years you are able to experience life in a whole
new filter and in turn, by learning this concept and accepting it, it will
open your mind to a whole new way of thinking.