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Descent into Anarchy? - A proto blog post
zombie
kmo wrote in fotcr
This morning, as Olga worked on plastering her kitchen walls I was reading aloud to her from Dmitry Orlov's most recent book, The Five Stages of Collapse: Survivor's Toolkit. I'm scheduled to interview Dmitry for the C-Realm Podcast on Tuesday, and I am reading his book in preparation for that interview. As I often do when reading books by authors I expect to interview, I'm reading portions of it aloud to Olga so that we can discuss the topic and help me prepare to direct the conversation once the meter is running, so to speak.

This morning I was reading to her from a section of the chapter on political collapse called "Anarchism's Charms." Dmitry defines anarchy simply as "without hierarchy." I learned from David Graeber's new book that anarchy and democracy used to be used interchangeably to describe a situation of rule by the people, a situation that our "Founding Fathers" wanted to avoid at all costs. They endeavored to enshrine a version of "liberty" in which only a select few people directed the actions of government. Their nightmare scenario which they resolved to avoid was a universal political franchise in which everyone got a vote and the majority would immediately vote to cancel debts and re-distribute real estate, thus dismantling the complexity of a socio-economic state held, at terrific expense, far from the equilibrium of anarchic human self-organization.

Today, the word "democracy" is riding high. The particular form of the US Federal Government, a construction deliberately designed to prevent the advent of democracy, is now trumpeted as the archetypal example of democracy. Democracy is now something so noble and esteemed that we justify military adventures with the magical incantation of "spreading democracy."

The word "anarchy" has not fared so well. Its etymology describes a social arrangement that is "without rulers," and so our rulers would prefer that we equate such a situation with mob violence, burning cities, and a Hobbesian "war of all against all," when a less ideologically constrained view of human history, pre-history, and the few remaining pre-literate cultures left to compare ourselves to shows that co-operation and coordination of effort for the satisfaction of human needs in the absence of any compulsion or direction from on high is the basic human modus operandi. It's what we do. As Dmitry put it:

The striking success of the human species has everything to do with our superior abilities to communicate, cooperate, organize spontaneously and act creatively in concert. In turn, the equally glaring, horrific, monstrous failures of our species have everything to do with our unwelcome ability to submit to authority, tolerate class distinctions and blindly follow orders and rigid systems of rules.



When I paused in my reading, Olga pointed out that, in English language conversation, at least in the United States, the word "anarchy" is very likely to occur as a part of the phrase "descent into anarchy." The unspoken assumption being that up is good and down is bad. We build up. We strive to climb higher, to continue the work of the great men who came before us and raise the edifice of our civilization ever higher. A movement in the opposite direction represents a loss of hard-won human achievement, a slide in the direction of the Hobbesian hell of our nightmarish origins. A descent is a fall; perhaps even a re-enactment of The Fall.

But when you are standing on a rickety, teetering scaffold that you built by bolting one kludge onto another onto another, until you are precariously perched atop a teetering structure of Rube Goldberg complexity, swaying in the wind, a move in the direction of the steady ground of anarchy might be just the thing. When the ossified and hyper-complex structure of class division, codified inequality and technological dependence starts to shake and list, and collapse seems likely, a deliberate descent sooner beats an obligatory fall later. How much later? Hard to tell. Why risk it by lingering? For the commanding view? Is it really better than anarchy?

And lest you imagine that I invoked the concept of collapse as a scare tactic, I am using the word as Joseph Tainter does in his classic, The Collapse of Complex Societies. According to Tainter's conception of collapse, a civilization that responds to challenges by increasing the complexity of its civic arrangements simultaneously increases the fragility and vulnerability of the system. Consider this excerpt from Occupy World Street: A Global Roadmap for Radical Economic and Political Reform by Ross Jackson:

While most people automatically think of collapse as a catastrophe, Tainter's theory is not that simple. Collapse should rather be seen as an "economizing process" that occurs when it becomes necessary to restore a positive marginal return on organizational investment. Collapse is simply a better economic alternative than continuing the old ways. Indeed, it is the most rational, most appropriate response to the crisis. For the population involved, it may well be experienced as a positive change to a simpler existence with both economic and administrative gains.


Or as Joseph Tainter himself put it, "Collapse is not a fall to some primordial chaos, but a return to the normal human condition of lower complexity."

------------------

Okay, that's 864 words. I'm aiming for a blog post of 1,200 words, so what suggestions does anyone have for a conclusion? Of course, I would be much obliged to anyone who points out typos, factually-challenged assertions, grammar gone to seed, and tortured paragraphs in need of an "economizing process." But mostly I'm just looking to steal your ideas and present them as my own brilliance (my own personal modus operandi, in case you hadn't noticed.)

When it's complete and sufficiently groomed, I will post this to my blog and then it will be available for subscribers to enjoy on their Amazon Kindle devices.

___________________________


Edit (5 June 2013)

I just posted the official version to Blogger. http://c-realm.blogspot.com/2013/06/descent-in-anarchy.html

  • 1
"descent into anarchy." The unspoken assumption being that up is good and down is bad."

As I survey human history, the struggle between the immanent and the transcendent emerges as a theme for me too. A theme which manifests itself not only in the struggle of anarchy vs hierarchy but also in the masculine vs the feminine, and in earth/place based religions vs lineage/hierarchy based religions, in their earth worship vs kingdom of heaven polarities.

Perhaps if a system like ours cannot support the level of complexity it has become accustomed too, (as many of the c-realm guest conjecture) Then this struggle of up and down (organised vs choatic) will take place on a much simpiler scale.

Can anyone think of an examples of immanent vs transcendent playing out in our lives that could perhaps be simplified.

Ken Wilbur and the Intregal Krewe often say that the history of evolution is tending towards transendent immance.

Hi, raccoonsounds. While I know what the words 'immanent' and 'transcendent' mean, they are not words that I use spontaneously to conjure with. You asked, "Can anyone think of an examples of immanent vs transcendent playing out in our lives that could perhaps be simplified?"

I have to admit that I drew a blank on that one. Do you have an instance in mind that might help me, someone who has not read Ken Wilbur or his cohorts, map the immanent/transcendent vocabulary onto the subject of hierarchy and societal complexity?

Thank you for reading and commenting.

Heirarchy: Transendant:
Summary: Absolutistic-obedience mythic order—purposeful/authoritarian
Time of origin: c. 3000 BC - today
Description: "Sacrifice self for reward to come through obedience to rightful authority in purposeful Way." Embodied by fundamentalist religions.

Contrast this with: Anarchy/Immanence:
Summary: Relativistic-personalistic—communitarian/egalitarian
Time of origin: From 1850 on (surged in early 20th century)
Description: "Sacrifice self-interest now in order to gain acceptance and group harmony." Expressed in 1960s pluralism and systems theory.





As social order gathers suffiecient complexity. This conversion from heirarchy to anarhy comes as an outcome in part. Because the spaces inside the machine with witch imformation can flow; grow wider and wider; there is more space for deviant energy outside the social order to thrive and grow, as the machine grows.

As the machine that powers the social order shrinks, the spaces for anarchy to manifest are constrained as well. This is why collapes is a distastful Meme to those that seek to deviant while simultaniously taking part in the greater social order abundant food, credit, the artifacts of complex technical manufacter.

So in an amish community deviantion is still an important part of the social order (bringing in new ideas) this is the only example i can think of. Many Apologies.

KMO & Miss O;
Thanks for this opportunity. If any of this helps, great, if not great.

1. I learned from David Graeber's new book, The Democracy Project, that anarchy...
2. that anarchy and democracy used to be used derisively and interchangeably ...
3.The nightmare to avoid was a universal political franchise in which everyone got a vote. The equilibrium of the majority in anarchic human self-organization would immediately dismantle the state, held at terrific expense, by voting to cancel debts and re-distribute real estate.
4. It's Greek, military, etymology describes a social arrangement that is "without rulers". Our current rulers would prefer that we equate such a situation with mob violence, burning cities, and a Hobbesian "war of all against all". In a less ideologically constrained view of human history, pre-history, and the few remaining pre-literate cultures left to compare our-selves to does show that co-operation and coordination of effort for the satisfaction of human needs in the absence of any compulsion or direction from on high, backed by violence, is the basic human modus operandi.
5.structure of class division, codified inequality, and technological dependence
6.What suggestions does anyone have for a conclusion? How to rebrand/remake 'anarchy' as a 'normal human complexity'? or do we need a new word?

It’s a good read. I think you are arguing that simplifying our political systems in an anti-hierarchical direction would offer us more stability, not just more equality.
Any readers who tend to desire order and security might appreciate the stability part. Could anarchy really be more stable? We don’t seem to have any historical data to point to. Any way you can persuade us?
What steps might we take toward simplifying our political systems or removing hierarchies? Follow the lead of OWS or other models? Build a movement for cooperatives? Are you interested in generating or joining a movement, or do you see a different mechanism for change?
What skills or orientations will we need in order to move away from our typical reliance on hierarchy and manipulation from a distance? JMG and Dave Pollard touch on these subjects. There are very practical skills, such as Permaculture, but I don’t think they speak to this issue. Do we have to work on aspects of our consciousness that have us stuck in a submissive, docile mode? Do we need to listen more deeply and respect each other? Do we need to move beyond the idea of separation, as Charles Eisenstein suggests? How much can entheogens show us a better way? What would Neil Kramer say about this situation?
Or are you wistfully pointing in the direction you wish we were going in, knowing that we will have to wait for crisis events to eventually blow us there? Perhaps you might warn us that meanwhile we will probably be dragged through more dictatorial, perhaps totalitarian political phases, or rule by competing strong men, becoming nostalgic for our current fake democracy, before someday having an opportunity for true self-organization. Should we lay low? Resist?
You might want to end without resolution or clear direction, whether admitting it or not. You might not have the next step or answer, or even the next question. Or maybe there are several or many next questions, and your value is in making them more apparent.
I’m not sure who you intend as the ultimate audience, beyond C-Realm listeners, but I think your style could appeal broadly. I love the personal touch, bringing in “Olga and I” as characters. I love how you pull in various “authorities” with quotations and other references; the argument flows smoothly.
For me, there are implicit messages that are just as important as you explicit ones. Life goes on, and we make the best of it (image: Olga plastering her kitchen walls). The proper role of the intelligentsia is in partnership with the rest of us, rather than in an elite (image: you entertaining Olga as she works, and you two in open discussion about ideas). (Of course I know that you are working too, on this essay, and she is an intellectual too, as when she takes her turn to write an essay or organize a conversation or whatever; I don’t mean to do any pigeonholing.) We have to be very skeptical of the official discourse (witness quotation marks around “democracy” and so forth). Let’s be part of a broad critical discussion (references to other authors on the fringe).
My favorite paragraph: “But when you are standing …” Terrific, imagistic language, and I love the double meaning of “commanding”.

Re: Good blog post

paulheft: I think you are arguing that simplifying our political systems in an anti-hierarchical direction would offer us more stability, not just more equality.

Thinking back on it, I don't know that I've actually argued for any conclusion or if I even meant to. I think, mostly so far I've been pointing out what the word "anarchy" was coined to mean and what connotations have successfully attached themselves to the word over the centuries. Olga said that in contemporary discourse in the United States, the word anarchy is likely to occur in the phrase, "Descent into anarchy." Similarly, the word anarchist fits nicely into the phrase "Bomb-throwing anarchist." While some anarchists have thrown bombs, in terms of statistical correlation, "Bomb-dropping capitalist" has a lot more truck with the geopolitical reality of our moment in history and has many more concrete referents than does "Bomb-throwing anarchist." And yet, "Bomb-dropping capitalist" reeks of grumpy ideology, whereas "bomb-throwing anarchist" just seems like a reference to conventional archetype.

Edited at 2013-06-03 11:21 am (UTC)

Re: Good blog post

paulheft Could anarchy really be more stable? We don’t seem to have any historical data to point to. Any way you can persuade us?

This is a question that was central to my discussion with Gyrus about his book War and the Noble Savage in C-Realm episode 188: Hobbes and "Rousseau."

I don't have a citation for this statistic, so feel free to regard it with serious skepticism, but something on the order of 25% of adult men living in pre-contact (i.e. "pre-colonized") pre-literate societies died by homicide. People living in that environment experienced a lot more real life violence than do we in modern societies, but life in "traditional socieities" (in Jared Diamond's terms) could have seemed more peaceful because those violent episodes would have been bracketed by many years of tranquil day-to-day existence. In our technologically-enhanced environment, any spectacular act of violence anywhere in our society gets reported ad nauseum so that it seems like we are living in a terrifically violent environment, when the exact opposite is the case. In spite of the hysterical cries that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE TO STOP GUN VIOLENCE, we've never enjoyed such a low rate of violence in society as we do today, but the perception is kept far from the reality at great effort and expense.

In Jared Diamond's new book, The World Until Yesterday: What We Can Learn from Traditional Societies, he gives the highest one-day death toll from a war fought with spears in the Baliem Valley of the New Guinea Highlands. On June 4, 1966, northern Dani tribesmen killed 125 southern Dani tribesman in face to face fighting which amount to 5% of the southern Dani population. By contrast, the atomic attack on Hiroshima killed 100,000 Japanese, which amounted to 0.1% of the Japanese population at the time. As Jared Diamond puts it, "...large modern populations are associated with high absolute death tolls in modern warfare, but the methods of traditional warfare can result in much higher proportional death tolls."

What does that say about "stability?"

Provided there is no collapse of industrial civilization, we live lives in which we are much safer than those of people living in traditional societies, but we feel much less secure because we receive a continuous stream of words and images meant to instill in us a fear of violence so great that we clamor for a continued strengthening of the authority and reach of the state and the continuous curtailment of individual and local autonomy. Because, you know, "Violence is out of control."

Edited at 2013-06-03 01:58 pm (UTC)

Preparing for Anarchic Equilibrium

I'm interested in looking at various movements, examining their organizing narratives, analyzing their critiques of "the system" and evaluating their proposals, but I don't feel any need to join or start a "movement." I think that in general, the most useful thing to do is start creating alternate arrangements that do not draw the attention or the wrath of the failing authorities. Given that federal and state law enforcement agencies have been infiltrating and disrupting local, voluntary arrangements between farmers and people who want fresh food rather than food from the industrial pipeline doesn't bode well for the prospect of developing low-tech, trust-based alternatives unobtrusively while "the establishment" has any strength left. Even so, in the short term, I think that developing a facility for stealthy networking as well as developing communication and leadership skills will probably prove to be good investments of one's emotional and cognitive resources.

Typographical stuff

Italicize book titles, even when hyperlinked: The Five Stages of Collapse: A Survivor's Manual; The Collapse of Complex Societies; Occupy World Street: A Global Roadmap for Radical Economic and Political Reform

“It's etymology describes as social arrangement”: change to “Its etymology describes a social arrangement” (2 changes)

“our-selves”: ourselves

“As Dmitry Put it”: “put”

“THE Fall”: could also be (italicized) “The Fall”

“Rube Goldburg”: Rube Goldberg

Boldface is used in an apparently arbitrary manner.

Edited at 2013-06-02 12:05 am (UTC)

Re: Typographical stuff

Thank you, Paul. I think that I have incorporated all of your corrections except for the arbitrary use of Boldface. I don't see any words in bold in the document. If you still see them, would you tell me where they occur?

Now, I'll tuck into your comments on the content. Thank you, again.

Re: Typographical stuff

What I thought was boldface was a strange thing my web browser did: when I zoomed the page to 125% to make it easier for my poor eyes, some of the paragraphs looked bold--the ones with size 10.5 pt. ("When I paused in my reading ...", "According to Tainter's conception ...") Weird web wonders!

Nice.

For a conclusion, I would start by changing the title to "Ascent Into Anarchy." That gives a conclusion questioning the speculative actual results of shedding complexity and hierarchy some foreshadowing (which is where the entry logically goes, for me).

Small point, but I've always read the word as spelled "kludge." Otherwise, it seems to rhyme with "luge," that sledding thing.

Hi, peristaltor. Thanks for that. I've changed the title to "Descent into Anarcy?" with a question mark, and then I'll look for a way to work in "Ascent Into Anarchy" in my conclusion. Wikipedia agrees with you on kludge.

Edited at 2013-06-03 10:52 am (UTC)

Collapse? Descent into Anarchy ?

Just because past collapses resulted from increased complexity does not mean that increased complexity is inevitable. In fact, the trend could very well be in the other direction. Tainter found that Rome collapsed because they solved their energy problems by expanding the empire, which became too complex to maintain. In other words, Rome didn't collapse because it ran out of energy, it collapsed because their solution made things worse. Well obviously, all problem solving does not increase complexity.

Sure, we might fail, but not because we can't solve problems and do it without making things worse. Of course we can. The real question is: even if you assume that such solutions are possible, will our political system support them? It was the same with the Romans. They weren't corrupt because they went for overly complex solutions, they went for overly complex solutions because they were corrupt.

The idea behind America is that our media is supposed to keep the Democracy from becoming corrupt.

The Navy's Polywell reactor is now on its ninth prototype, cannot meltdown, produces very little radiation, and basically runs on boron. Its achieved fusion hundreds of times. The idea is to produces pure electricity, so there is no need for a turbine to generate electricity. A building the size of a gas station could product enough power for a small city. I'm convinced that such an energy source is possible, and will not necessarily create large complex problems. The only question is, are we ready for it?

Why is it such a constant struggle to get something like that funded? The inventor, Robert Bussard, was the head of the other fusion project which eats billions and billions and he realized it was a total fiasco. He had a better idea, but he didn't go to the Department of Energy because he knew it was so corrupt they would kill it as soon as it threatened the other much larger fusion project. So he went to the Navy, and the whole thing has been done in secret. The biggest breakthrough occured just as funding was cut, an he spent the rest of his life begging anyone to resume the experimant, which never happened until after he died. The results of the Navy's last prototype were peer reviewed, and passed with flying colors. As far as I know, its never mentioned in the media except by a few geeks.

That in a nutshell is our real problem. Its not the technology, or the resulting complexity, or even the politics and the absolute total corruption of our government, which is after all, just the inevitable result of a corrupt media. The solutions are there, the government would respond, but most people are being kept in the dark, not to deprive them of knowledge for any particular reason, but just because the people who own the media are lazy and ignorant. That's it, that's our problem.

So maybe you could say that the complexity of our media is causing problems; it works too well: everyone has their 15 minutes and we now live under the din of a tower of babel where everything is meaningless. Hopefully, it will collapse soon, as people search for meaning, and as more good writers emerge.

Re: Collapse? Descent into Anarchy ?

Thank you for reading and commenting, Peter. As far as I understand what you're saying, it seems like a topic to explore in a completely different essay but a little too far from the starting point of this essay to serve as a guide in revising it. The question of whether we are "ready" to deal intelligently and adaptively to even more energy abundance was central to my discussion with Guy McPherson in C-Realm podcast episode 354: Rapid, Unpredictable & Non-linear Responses.

Edited at 2013-06-05 02:00 am (UTC)

From a motel room in Flagstaff

Some random thoughts:

I still haven’t read Graeber’s book, but I’d like to see the evidence for his assertion that anarchy and democracy were at some point in time used interchangeably. By Plato maybe, but not by a general populace in any period I’m familiar with.

Democracy in its purest form is “one man/one vote – majority rules”, which is markedly different from “I am ruled by no one,” or “I make my own rules.” Democracy necessarily means submitting to what is essentially a flattened hierarchy, rule by majority.

People love to flog the notion of “democratic institutions”, but can you think of a single one other than one man/one vote? I can’t. What we have in this country is some bizarre form of a representative republic (of which Plato might approve), a codified separation of powers replete with checks and balances, but just whose interests it represents is a matter up for debate.

I understand Graeber’s point concerning anti-democratic features of the Constitution (de Tocqueville made similar arguments), but what you (or Graeber) are presenting is a false dichotomy: it’s not about a choice between hierarchy (or entitled aristocracy) or the “equilibrium (?) of anarchic human self-organization.”

It would seem that there is a movement afoot to rehabilitate – or perhaps redefine – the word “anarchy”. I imagine people are taking up the cause of anarchy as a form of nostalgic longing (or “democratic” yearning) for a time that never was in the face of a new and potentially more disruptive form of hierarchical authority, an expanded tyranny of digital systems grid-tied to older forms of governance.

Marshall McLuhan, who I always turn to when trying to grapple with issues surrounding media revolutions, talked about the “rear-view mirror” effect – specifically, he used as an example the way in which the content of the medium of television in the fifties reflected a backwards-looking obsession with an idealized mythology of the “taming” of the Old West, while the technology of television itself plunged forward into the future, wreaking unintended and unremarked-upon societal havoc.

In much the same way, a good part of our media landscape is filled with tales of anarchy (not democracy) versus hierarchy, e.g., “The Matrix” or even “Game of Thrones” (reflecting our new variation on feudalism?), in which new, simpler forms of order are established through conflict with and conquest over the forces of disruption. This is called, I believe, “wishful thinking”.

I wonder if we aren’t registering some sense of our own deeply embedded predicament in hierarchical networks by conjuring up notions of anarchic revolution and overthrow as forms of rebirth and renewal?

The Founders' arguments against democracy

warnwood: I still haven’t read Graeber’s book, but I’d like to see the evidence for his assertion that anarchy and democracy were at some point in time used interchangeably. By Plato maybe, but not by a general populace in any period I’m familiar with.

Thanks, Bruce. That's Chapter 3 of The Democracy Project. I won't try to encapsulate the whole chapter, but since they are all on-line, just go and search through the Constitution of the United States, The Declaration of Independence, and (most tellingly) the Federalist Papers for instances of the word "Democracy." I think you'll be surprised by the results. Some of the examples that Graeber cites include John Adams, who wrote:

Suppose a nation, rich and poor, high and low, ten millions in number, all assembled together; not more than one or two millions will have lands, houses, or any personal property; (...)if all were to be decided by a vote of the majority, the eight or nine millions who have no property, would not think of usurping over the rights of the one or two millions who have? Property is surely a right of mankind as really as liberty. Perhaps, at first, prejudice, habit, shame or fear, principle or religion, would restrain the poor from attacking the rich, and the idle from usurping on the industrious; but the time would not be long before courage and enterprise would come, and pretexts be invented by degrees, to countenance the majority in dividing all the property among them, or at least, in sharing it equally with its present possessors. Debts would be abolished first; taxes laid heavy on the rich, and not at all on the others; and at last a downright equal division of every thing be demanded, and voted. What would be the consequence of this? The idle, the vicious, the intemperate, would rush into the utmost extravagance of debauchery, sell and spend all their share, and then demand a new division of those who purchased from them. full quote


and James Madison used the following reasoning to support his belief that "one man/one vote" was a dangerous and irresponsible idea and one to be avoided:

From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.

A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking. Let us examine the points in which it varies from pure democracy, and we shall comprehend both the nature of the cure and the efficacy which it must derive from the Union.source


I'm not really channeling Graeber in this post. I did mention him in passing to tie this post to previous posts, but mostly what I'm talking about here relates to Dmitry Orlov's new book as well as Chip Walter's book, Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived


Edited at 2013-06-03 01:38 pm (UTC)

Re: The Founders' arguments against democracy

Something that Chip's book illustrates and brings home is that for most of our time here on Earth, we have lived without rulers. Our primary genius as a species is to be found in "our superior abilities to communicate, cooperate, organize spontaneously and act creatively in concert."(Quoted phrase is from Orlov) That's what we do in the absence of hierarchy (which has accounted for most of our time spent as up-right, tool-using, speaking apes), and it's the mode we automatically re-assume when hierarchies collapse or worse, when they turn on us or when they are no longer able to provide for human needs but refuse to relinquish their power and see people exercising the human genius for cooperation and collaboration as a threat to authority and spend their remaining strength attempting to prevent people from doing for themselves what the hierarchy claims but fails to actually do for them.

Edited at 2013-06-03 01:46 pm (UTC)

Re: The Founders' arguments against democracy

Humankind invented the Rule of Law about 4000 years ago. Alas, it was a lamentable mistake.

It came to be known as Humankind's Original Logic Error (HOLE).

Re: The Founders' arguments against democracy

Hi Barry,

Would you be interested in recording a C-Realm interview on the topic of Humankind'd Original Logic Error? I'm heading out on a month-long road trip, and I'm looking to have a surplus of recorded interview material in reserve when I hit the road so that I can keep up the weekly production schedule while traveling. You'd be helping me out.

Re: The Founders' arguments against democracy

Not sure that Chip has his anthropology straight. We naked apes, like almost all primates, seem genetically predisposed to some form of hierarchy. We are exquisitely sensitive to cues, in every social situation, that tell us who is on top, how we can form coalitions to support our own positions, and how to curry favor, attention, and rewards; in other words, we play "spot the hierarchy" wherever we go. That's why we fear anarchy (no order) and attempt to re-establish some kind of an order as quickly as possible in the absence of one, usually by letting the "Guy With A Plan" have his way. I saw this same game being played in the OWS encampment at City Hall here in Los Angeles under the guise of building consensus; in whatever form it takes, it is nearly always a dispiriting spectacle to behold.

I think the Founding Fathers, children of the Enlightenment, as they attempted to cobble together their version of a representative republic, were channeling Platonic fear of rule by the rabble, but it should be remembered that while Plato, son of an aristocratic family, was railing away about the evils of democracy in his "Republic", the democratic city/state of Athens was happily enjoying the fruits of one (propertied) man/one vote "rule by the many".

Re: The Founders' arguments against democracy

I think the founders were channeling Plato (and other anti-democratic Greek philosophers) via the fear-mongering medium of Thomas Hobbes.

I would submit that the difference between a tribal hierarchy that arises organically as a small band of human personalities sort themselves out in the process of making a living together and the sort of hierarchy that uses laws, constitutions, bureaucrats and soldiers to command the obedience of hundreds of millions of people over thousands of miles is a difference of kind and not just a difference of degree.

Re: From a motel room in Flagstaff

warnwood: I understand Graeber’s point concerning anti-democratic features of the Constitution (de Tocqueville made similar arguments), but what you (or Graeber) are presenting is a false dichotomy: it’s not about a choice between hierarchy (or entitled aristocracy) or the “equilibrium (?) of anarchic human self-organization.”

Are you sure I'm presenting a dichotomy? I much prefer continuums to dichotomies as concepts to conjure with.

Re: From a motel room in Flagstaff

Here's an article critical of Graeber that I just found:

http://www.thenation.com/article/174599/anarchy-project

In part, it's a critcism of anarchy and the idea that much can be accomplished without specialized leadership and hierarchical structures.

Not to second guess...

KMO, I would first say that I imagine you have this quite a bit more well thought out than I, so have some grains of salt handy while reading this...
It strikes me that hierarchy and anarchy are pretty much organic conditions, not choices. That is to say, depending on the density of population, more and more complexity is inevitable.
So the level of complexity depends on the level of population, which all comes back to food, which, as is becoming glaringly obvious, comes back to climate.
Water and weather then, (that is to say Gaia), are the determining factors of the level of complexity of human society.
I really don't think people acting to create hierarchy vs. anarchy is a matter of the conscious choice of individual, but rather non enlightened individuals are marionettes to the will of the unconscious hive mind of the planet. (We, by seeking enlightenment, try to peer behind the curtain to ascertain the will of the hive mind, perhaps to harmonize with it, or to seek our ultimate freedom from it.) My gut tells me that the trade off for obtaining power/wealth over one's fellow humans is that one becomes ever more the slave/puppet of the hive mind.
Descent into anarchy then, is naught but a die off, Gaia's chance to internalize the lessons we, her "Brain cells" all have been learning for her, before she re-embarks on the next cycle of lessons.
In conclusion, due to the cyclic nature of the universe, and the planet, complex hierarchy and simple anarchy are not only inevitable, but desirable. They are the inhale and exhale of God herself.


Re: Not to second guess...

Hi, Joe. Thanks for following the link from FB and for reading and commenting. Population density can be related to societal complexity, but it's not as direct a correlation as you are suggesting here. When Westerners (or "blue-eyed colonial devils" - depending on your ideological commitments) finally made it into the interior highlands of New Guinea, they were astounded to find a great many people living there, closely packed together farming small plots of land with intensive effort but for small returns in terms of protein and caloric density. The New Guinea highlanders did not have a central government, high speed conveyance or communication, or even metal tools. They had the population density consistent with your image of complex societies, but they didn't have some of the other necessary ingredients for social complexity. Agricultural productivity is essential. If everyone has to farm to feed themselves then you don't have the agricultural surplus needed to support specialists and the advanced technologies that allow for central authorities to govern numerous and/or far-flung populations.

Their climate was favorable, but the New Guineans lost out in the genetic distribution of potential crop plants around the globe. The big winners where the folks in the Middle East who got wheat and barley as well as pigs, goats, and sheep. The new Guineans eventually acquired pigs, but they didn't have any animals that they could harness to a plow or use for muscle power the way the civilization that spread out from the fertile crescent did.

In terms of the understanding the familiar complexity of technological society, the ability to do work concentrated into fossil fuels deserves a place on your list along with water and weather.

As you can probably tell, I'm borrowing heavily from Jared Diamond's book (and NatGeo TV series) Guns, Germs and Steal.

Edited at 2013-06-05 02:12 am (UTC)

Thanks, everybody!

Just in response to comments from paulheft and warnwood I have written as many words as contained in the original proto-blog post. With your help, I think I have clarified my intention with this essay and will now set about incorporating the additions and boiling them down to bring the final product in at somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 words. I'll post the revised essay as a separate post, and again, help spotting typos, formatting errors, and such would be much appreciated.

Edited at 2013-06-03 03:00 pm (UTC)

From FotCR on FB

Jaret Johnston posted the following to the Friends of the C-Realm group on Facebook:

It reads well, but consider this: what human systems of order have really collapsed into a lower state of complexity? I can only point to the loss of the Ark of the covenant in Egypt to an orphan who stole it causing dynastic and societal catastrophe. There have been genocides and collapses of societies but did not impeded human progress toward more complex states. The fall of the Roman Empire was a blip which didn't impede human development. Since that time we have built a really large card house with the same holy ghost in the machine to ever higher degrees of complexity. Also Terence McKenna referred to nature as a novelty producing engine which always seeks more complex systems as the Universe cools from primordium. So it is more like a pendulum with more force exerted on the sway of complexity than simplification. This implies that the pendulum too is on a moving body. We polarize things to understand them, by drawing an axis to separate the poles. But by doing so one has abstracted the subject matter and artificially removed it from its environment to study it alone. Any Biologist can tell you that you cannot talk about a species without describing its habitat. But this is the first time that we are now in a global habitat, and we are at the cutting edge of this complexity as Nature's most complex Earthling. Semantics aside for the word anarchy, we are obviously entering unknown territory because the very tools we build with freedom are used to imprison and kill people too. But it takes both halves to make the whole: we can't have the villains without the heroes. So a collapse of any kind would just be a redistribution of resources into another arrangement. This is the death/re-birth cycle of life. Physics dictates that energy just takes another form and is neither lost nor gained in the transfer of energy. Why worry if tomorrow will happen when it was written in the book before we learned how to read? Which rock to stand on when the floor drops out is an important question, but debating over whether anarchy is a good or bad thing is like Cicero serenading the fall of the Roman Empire. It is a good song, though.

No such thing as collapse?

In the afterward of The Five Stages of Collapse: Survivors' Manual, Dmitry Orlov posed the question of what it means to be "properly socialized" and offered up the possibility that it is "being able to ignore the obvious signs of incipient collapse that makes you a well-socialized individual."

Later he added, "...collapse is not a nightmare scenario to be avoided at all costs but part of the normal, unalterable ebb and flow of human history, and... the widespread tendency to block it out of our worldview is, to put it very mildly, maladaptive.

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