Monday, 22 April 2013

On Hiearchies and Elites: Part 2

The quotes from last week:

From Wikipedia Anarchy
"The evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker writes:
Adjudication by an armed authority appears to be the most effective violence-reduction technique ever invented. Though we debate whether tweaks in criminal policy, such as executing murderers versus locking them up for life, can reduce violence by a few percentage points, there can be no debate on the massive effects of having a criminal justice system as opposed to living in anarchy. The shockingly high homicide rates of pre-state societies, with 10 to 60 percent of the men dying at the hands of other men, provide one kind of evidence. Another is the emergence of a violent culture of honor in just about any corner of the world that is beyond the reach of law. The generalization that anarchy in the sense of a lack of government leads to anarchy in the sense of violent chaos may seem banal, but it is often over-looked in today's still-romantic climate.[54]"
 From the Urban Dictionary on Anarchy
"Anarchy" arises from ancient Greek "An," meaning without and "Archos" meaning leader.
In modern political philosophy anarchy, or anarchism (the ideology which aims to create anarchy) is traced back, often, to Proudhon, and in particular his work "What is property?" - the origin of the still used anarchist slogan "Property is theft!"
Contrary to belief that "anarchy" is synonymous with "Disorder," anarchists generally advocate non-hierarchical, horizontal organization, typically through directly democratic structures. As such, there is a degree of common ground between anarchists and libertarian Marxists. Many anarchists are highly supportive of the practice of the Zapatistas in Chiapas.
In 1936, anarchists in the Spanish provinces of Catalonia and Aragon collectivized industry and agriculture, and established a working example of anarchy."

From the excellent blog View from Brittany; Impotence of Politics
"With the Neolithic revolution, our societies have grown far beyond what a single coalition could reasonably manage and have become fractal as a result. Modern societies are a hierarchy of nested coalitions all built upon the same model, from your average nuclear family to the G8. Inside those coalitions, everyone is jockeying for position and fighting for access to scarce resources. This the way all human groups work, even anarchies. In fact, it is far more brutal among anarchists – especially the Randite subtype – because by rejecting institutionalized power, they destroy the various social devices our species evolved to check the pack leader's dominance."

From Damien's (author of view from Brittany) response in the comments of Fascination for Death

I have glimpsed the world of the elites. I have had lunch with the man who has become the prime minister of France and my best friend gravitates around this milieu. I have the number of a senator on my cell phone... and I can tell you they are not Machiavellian, they are clueless.

They really think they can preserve the status-quo through green-washing and economic tinkering... and that it is the best thing for everybody. They don't think billions will die, because, you know, the system they game is so efficient that it simply can't happen.

As for violent revolution... both in France and the USA, today's elites have been born from such a violent revolution, so they really think they embody their values and that therefore, it can't happen to them. When lamppost day will come, they will be... indignant."

paraphrased From John Micheal Greer.
"no political system anywhere will ever be more honest than the people it governs"

Since this will also touch on morality, rights and such, some points about them, and 'philosophical' theories in general need to be addressed. Anarchistic theory is correct in that anarchism would provide the most positive freedom of any political system, however while that may make it sound like an excellent idea this is actually a fatal flaw. As it excludes many negative freedoms, or freedoms from things, such as violence. When talked about in abstract terms, concepts and ideas of this kind (free speech, freedom, justice, equality, peace etc) don't have to really conflict both with their internal sides (if any) and with each other, when they're brought closer to real life they inevitably do. Here's an example I remember someone writing about, he went around Australia debating (specifically the Bill of rights debate) and before every debate he asked the audience "do you believe in free speech?". Everyone always said yes, then he asked "would you allow ads for smoking outside of schools" and everyone would say no, which conflicts with free speech. In the first quote at the top the conflict is between security and freedom, which is one of the more common ones.

Free market fundamentalists and neoliberal economic theory also has a similar flaw, built around deregulation (read increased freedom for business and the rich). This increased freedom causes problems of inequality (which is an important value) and this then cycles through the political sphere to cause reduced freedom and prosperity for other people. The first quote from Damien is also along similar lines, by increasing freedom via destruction of institutions/social checks (such as altruism), you increase inequality and this then reduces the freedom of everyone below the pack leader (and destroy whole economies in the process as institutions are critical to economic success). Idealistic constructs and Ideas often have this flaw of ignoring the inevitable conflict between different ideals/values and thus fail to deal with them once the inevitable conflicts occur, Plato's republic is a good example. The example above of the smoking ads may seem banal, but if a society can't apply its ideals (in some form) in the day to day life of its citizens, then what is the point of them. Anarchism and Neoliberalism are in a way equivalent theories in different realms, respectively social/political theory and economic theory.

In the View from Brittany: From Russia with narcissism, Damien mentions what he calls the Sadian (as in Marquis de Sade, whom the word sadism is based off) interpretation of liberty. In this liberty is near absolute, so anyone can behave as they wish and this includes rape, murder, pedophilia etc. To quote de Sade "Laws can be so soft, and so few, that all men, whatever their character, can submit to them”, and Damien "And if you open The 120 days, you'll quickly realize that whatever their character includes Jeffrey Dahmer's". Focus on anyone value to the exemption of all others inevitable to ideas such as sadian liberty when carried to their logical extreme. After all the freedom to go around stabbing people still counts as a freedom and lying about someones products to hurt sales (slander) is freedom of speech, yet they are generally forbidden or restricted, even though that violates freedom of action and freedom of speech respectively, as they respectively violate the negative freedoms of freedom from being stabbed or slandered. Follow any ideal to its logical extreme and you get plenty of examples like the ones above. If you don't acknowledge this, then many theoretical systems that work(ed) horrendously in practice sound great in theory, especially when they ignore human nature as many inevitably do.

One of the central ideas of anarchism is that when their isn't any hierarchy and/or authorities, people will still act in a moral, rational and mutually beneficial manner. However there exists solid disproof in the modern world. The internet, where antisocial behaviour is rife when it isn't moderated. The Archdruid moderates his site for a reason, so do most sites now days. Trolls and equivalent behaviour are problems for any society, one which humans have evolved rather effective means of solving. The justice system, moderation, laws, informal rules and such which are backed up by an accepted authority when needed and the common idea that their are limits to behaviour.

Terrible ambivalence is an Archdruid report specifically about a debate between Monbiot and Kingsnorth but there is a sentence at the end which sums up a great many things "So many of us want things all one way or the other, all good or all evil, without the terrible ambivalence that pulses through all things human as inescapably as blood." Humans are never solely one way, we can be rational or emotional, cooperative or competitive, good or evil, strong or weak and values are no exception. Freedom is never absolute or even good, see the paragraph above, peace is similar and so on. Any social system has to be able to deal with these conflicts, anarchism on the level of a whole society can't achieve that. Instead it leads to extremes and this is partially why there have been no long term 'true' anarchies but only short lived ones. Most tribal societies have some level of hierarchy (even if its just by age) and it varies from almost nil to almost a state level. It generally depends on their social complexity and as that increases, they become more state like, its a spectrum.

The problem we have now is not that we have a hierarchies when we shouldn't, but that we have too many hierarchical layers and need to reduce them, along with simplifying our societies along other lines. There is a large gap between the almost global system we have now and a fully localized system, going all the way down to the village level is unlikely to happen to whole countries (certain areas might though). Put it like this, we currently have a hierarchical value of say 20, while we will end up with say between 5-15. The fact is that human societies have hierarchies for a reason, they provide benefits, allow complexification as a problem solving tool and allow societies to function in numbers well above what human mental hardware can do on its own.

There is a concept known as the monkey sphere (also the Dunbar number) which tells you roughly how big a group a primate can live in based of its brain. For humans its around 100-300 and with family ties it can be extended to 700, after which massive problems appear. The Fayu had an extreme form of these troubles happen to them when they reduced their numbers via violence (mostly revenge killings) from 2000 to 400 within 1 to 2 generations. The great achievement of the original centralizing of power is abolishing that limit and having large societies in which cycles of revenge killings don't kill 80% or so of the population. Yes you have all the problems with impersonal dealings, lots of strangers and some degree of alienation, but you don't have people murdering each other constantly and people can live without fear of constant violence. It's a trade off that has been made many times and chances are will continue to be made.

Just to be clear, I am not against relocalization, reducing the complexity of our society or getting rid of some of the levels of hierarchies , I'm for those. That is what's going to happen, but it isn't going to progress all the way and anarchism is certainly not a viable option. When the Archdruid was talking about local school boards, an important element of that system was the hierarchies of local, state then federal school boards. That hierarchy was integral to the system and while increasing the hierarchies and complexity hasn't worked, reducing them below certain levels would be just as counter-productive.

After the Roman collapse what rose was not anarchism, but feudalism which is (roughly speaking) a strict hierarchy built on the controlled and highly regulated use of violence in order to have at least the semblance of the rule of law and the security it provides. Even through it theoretically offered the best chance for anarchy to arise, after all if anarchist societies work better and its what humans naturally do, then a large scale disruption of hierarchies should allow anarchism to flourish, but that hasn't happened in most of the times our species has been through the process of overshoot, in the times it has (such as the South  American apocalypse) it was when the destruction was all but complete and quickly followed by the survivors adopting tribalism which is distinctly non-anarchic though not necessarily hierarchical.

There's a common quote “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.” and it derives from a Benjamin Franklin quote "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."  The dropping of essential in front of liberty and temporary in front of safety changes the meaning by a fairly significant amount. It now refers to all liberties instead of the key ones, so minor or harmful liberties can be defended under that label now, like smoking even when it harms other people. Smoking is a non-essential liberty and restricting the liberty to use it has been a good choice and in a way reinforced the more essential liberty of not being poisoned. This is how ideals are used in everyday life and compromise is necessary. But it also means that giving up a non-essential/harmful liberty (such as sadian liberty or full freedom of speech) for security is now considered bad and ineffective, which can be absurd as their are times when this is necessary and workableHowever, giving up non-essential liberties in exchange for permanent peace and security is something our species has reliable done when possible and its worked out pretty well, though only to certain extents as there is significant grey ground about what is the best amount/what essential freedoms are. The grey area is around what Ben Franklin's society had, you could argue for slightly less security and more liberty or more security for less liberty. It's basically a tradeoff in which humans have pegged the optimum (other sentient species could chose another point) at around his societies level.

If the choice has been between security or a theoretically high level of freedom, people have consistently chosen the security. And as history and tribal societies show, this security is normally gained by having hierarchies. The only time anarchism has appeared after a collapse is when the collapse has been almost total, and the situation hasn't changed anywhere near enough for that pattern to change. From the first quote "The generalization that anarchy in the sense of a lack of government leads to anarchy in the sense of violent chaos may seem banal, but it is often over-looked in today's still-romantic climate." That is as true now as it has ever been.

Related to hierarchies are elites and that's for next week.

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