Friday, October 3, 2008

Hierarchy vs. the Alternatives: A Response to Francois Tremblay

So Francois Tremblay has a new post up called Why hierarchies are immoral. To his credit, he at least attempts to define and explain "hierarchy," which virtually no left-anarchist ever attempts to do.

He still doesn't make much of a compelling case. Like most leftists, he is big on criticism but not so big on solutions. However, the act of criticizing something is pointless without offering actual alternatives. Francois never really discusses what the alternatives would be to the hierarchies he loathes, so we will discuss them here.

He starts off on the right track:

Government is the most acknowledged and the most demonstrative hierarchy. With pomp and circumstance, we elect presidents, prime minister, or crown kings, but we know that most of the power is vested in gigantic bureaucracies and agencies fighting a tug-of-war for resources and laws. The ordinary citizen-subject, who is subject to whoever wins, is the inferior. The aim of governments is the monopolization of a greater and greater amount of political power.

So far, so good. But as Walter Block has pointed out, the hierarchy of the state is different from the hierarchy of other institutions.

Libertarians oppose the initiation of coercion or the threat thereof, not hierarchy. Yes, all groups that violate the non-aggression axiom of libertarians are hierarchical. Governments, gangs, rapists, impose their will, by force, on their victims. They give orders. And yes, in all hierarchies, people at the top of the food chain give orders to those below them. But the difference, and this is crucial, is that the recipients of orders in the latter case have agreed to accept them, but this does not at all apply in the former case.

When the rapist orders the victim to carry out his commands, this is illegitimate hierarchy. When the conductor orders the cellist to do so, this is an aspect of legitimate hierarchy.

Bah! Time to overthrow the conductor and seize the means of production (that baton belongs us all, dammit)!

Ok, time to get serious again. What happens when you condemn all hierarchy, instead of just coercive hierarchy? Answer: batshit insanity. We can see this when we take a good look at what the alternatives would be to the hierarchical institutions Francois wants done away with.

We'll start with Francois' dismissal of capitalism.

Capitalism is the less acknowledged but just as important (if not more important) hierarchy. Here there is a clear distinction between the exploitative class of corporate managers and investors on the one hand, and their employee-subjects on the other hand, and also with the group of consumers (who are victims of the by-products of the activities of production). The aim of the capitalist hierarchies, generally big corporations, is profit.

So what is the alternative to capitalism? In the comment section, Kent McMaginal asks the question:

How could a large company (not a “corporation”) function if there is no one “in charge”?

I would never start a company and hire anyone if I couldn’t insist upon them doing the work they were hired to do. Or if they could decide they owned the company just because they worked there. That would pretty much limit companies to one person each.

So the first alternative is a luddite, primitivist economy--presumably with some form of state apparatus to ensure that it remains an impoverished hell-hole.

The only other alternative is communism, where a dictator (or "anarcho"-communist council, which is the same thing) would plan the economy at gun point. This is about as hierarchical as things get.

These are the alternatives to the "hierarchy" of capitalism. Any takers? I didn't think so.

Of course, I dispute the whole "capitalism is hierarchical control" argument in the first place. A poster at ASC explained this better than I can:

EVERYONE is self employed. Everyone who does something for which they receive monetary compensation is self-employed. Self-employed means offering your services to clients willing to pay, and getting a fee based on mutual agreement. When a "self-employed" plumber fixes your toilet for a fee, that act is fundamentally the same as when a "wage slave" offers his skills to a "boss" for a fee, aka a wage. He "bills" the boss an amount referred to as the wage. Put most succinctly: the rich have clients, the poor have bosses. It's the same damn thing.

Barry Loberfield also discusses this in his article, The Coercive Anarchism of Noam Chomsky.

Let's move on to the other hierarchies Francois opposes.

Religions and cults are another major category of hierarchies. Although they are of course different, I classify them in the same group because their aims (primarily, thought control) and structures (authorities which are deemed “closer to God” or otherwise more holy) are generally similar.

As big of an atheist as I am, the solution to this is pretty simple: don't go to church!

Now, if Francois truly believes that hierarchy is immoral, he must believe it is morally justified to coercively prohibit these hierarchical institutions from forming. So I challenge him to:

1) Demand the compulsory abolition of churches (along with all the other hierarchies he opposes), and

2) Explain how this will be done without some form of hierarchical authority.


Ok, so Francois is apparently against parenting. What is the alternative, then?

Are children going to be raised by wolves? I assume that would also be "hierarchy," so Francois would oppose that too.

Should parents drop their newborns off in a random place to let them fend for themselves, instead of raising them? Most would consider that to be child abuse. Child abuse is a big reason why some people oppose families, so that doesn't make much sense either.


Schools would also not exist in the Tremblayan order (not much would, after all).

What would this mean? We would have a society of uneducated idiots and morons. We would not have doctors, engineers, scientists, or anyone else necessary for civlization.

We would starve to death. Pointlessly.

Let's be clear...

None of this is meant to imply that hierarchy is always a good thing. Many hierarchical institutions violate liberty.

But once you start on a crusade against all hierarchy (instead of coercive hierarchy), you are naturally going to have to oppose everyone and everything. I touched on this in a previous post:

...without the use of threat or coercion, nobody really is being "ruled" or "dominated." If your "submission" to an authority figure is voluntary, then it ceases to be domination.

Should libertarians battle S&M sex games, along with the state? How about asshole football coaches (some of the most authoritarian people on the planet)? Should libertarians fight against teachers, parents, and sports referees? Should we lead the fight against online message board moderators?

Consider the alternatives, and the whole thing reduces to absurdity.


Francois Tremblay said...

Is this a serious post or a parody of capitalists?

Because if this is serious, I am laughing... and not with you.

The only alternatives to capitalism are dictatorships or primitivism? Come on! You didn't even notice you were replying to a mutualist? Do you even know what mutualism is?

Cork said...

Yes, I know what mutualism is (though I have found that most self-described mutualists don't). For a detailed explanation of why I reject it, see my post "Why I Am Not A Mutualist." It's an older one back in August somewhere.

And yes, an economy where nobody can organize efficiently, hire someone else or own anything is a primitivist economy.

Francois Tremblay said...

Wow, you're serious. All right. Well, I wrote a response entry which should be up in a couple days.

Cork said...

Thanks, I'll be sure to read it.

For the record, I am a fan of your blog and much of your work, so this is not to be taken personally. I just don't see how a market economy without hierarchy, organized structures, or a division of labor can exist without returning to a pre-industrial system (or perhaps earlier).

Francois Tremblay said...

So your claim is what exactly, that self-organized groups cannot run factories?

In case you didn't know, there already exist self-organized factories, so that's a pretty easy claim to refute.

Cork said...

Can you name a large business that operates successfully without any semblance of hierarchy, leadership, or specialization? Even if you could, you would be a long way from proving an entire economy could operate that way.

Nonetheless, if you have a real example (not Mondragon, which I've debunked a million times) I'll be open to reading about it.

Francois Tremblay said...

What does size have to do with it? Do smaller factories not count?

And how does Mondragon not count?

Cork said...

If it can't work on a large scale or with a lot of people, it can't work (at least in our modern industrialized economy).

Why doesn't Mondragon count?

First of all, only around half of their companies are "cooperatives."

The ones that are "cooperatives" clearly have varying degrees of hierarchy.

Francois Tremblay said...

Your premise is absurd. A "modern industrialized economy" does not need corporations of the size they have attained due to the concentration of power and wealth. Unless you mean that it wouldn't look like what we have now, which we both agree on but is irrelevant.

Cork said...

Can you point me to a big airport run by a synidcalist worker's cooperative? How about a Six Flags theme park? It doesn't happen.

I do agree many businesses would shrink or collapse without the state holding their dick, but there are few examples of businesses being run in a 100% purely democratic non-hierarchical fashion with everyone having an equal say. Perhaps a small bookstore or cafe could be run that way, but isn't it kind of naive to think these structures could run an entire economy?

Francois Tremblay said...

Even if a bunch of socialists could get their hands on an AIRPORT (how?), do you really think they would be allowed to run it socialistically? Come on.

Cork said...

My point is that it would be unlikely to work, even if it was possible.

Do you really think our modern economy could be run by these things? I don't see it working.

Francois Tremblay said...

That's great, but "I can't imagine it" is not an argument.

Cork said...

The reason I can't imagine it is because no economy works that way (because it doesn't work).

They all use hierarchy and specialization, so that the people who actually know what they're doing are in the right positions.

Francois Tremblay said...

Yea, obviously the reason why no Anarchist society exists (apart from the Zapatista, but they are not industrial) is because it doesn't work, not because every society in the world is ruled by a statist ruling class. Your reason is totally more sensical than mine.

Cork said...

Poor comparison. Anarchist societies don't exist because states control all the land, meaning nobody can set one up.

But anyone is free to set up a completely non-hierarchical, democratic cooperative any time they want.

Francois Tremblay said...

I wasn't making a "comparison." There's no non-capitalist place in the Western world to start a coop in. There are a lot of coops, but they are forced to compete in the capitalist profit-driven system.

Cork said...

They are aided by capitalism, and would collapse even sooner without being able to leech off of it. And they often get special treatment by the state (not only in the US, but other countries as well).

Face it: they aren't prevalent because they're failures (just like communes). Even some socialists admit this.

Francois Tremblay said...

That's ridiculous. How are coops aided by the capitalist system?

Cork said...

They use it to buy all the things they need, and the money they spend on their little projects usually comes from paychecks that came from capitalist firms.

Francois Tremblay said...

And where the fuck is it supposed to come from? From magic?

As far as I'm concerned, this discussion is over. I have no intention of debating this capitalist nonsense. My entry about your reply has just been posted, anyway, so that's something else for you to talk about.

Cork said...

Thanks, dude!

anarcho-mercantilist said...

I support both centralization (top-down) and decentralization (bottom-up), as long as they form voluntarily. I reject all the pro-decentralization nonsense of the "anarcho"-interventionists. If centralization did not exist, then computers would not exist since the computers have a highly centralized design. If centralization did not exist, the human mind would not exist.

Face it: they aren't prevalent because they're failures (just like communes). Even some socialists admit this.

Co-ops would not fail if workers believed to work in a co-op, even though it may result in inefficiency compared to sole proprietorships. We should not assume competition as perfect. For example, even though I consider religion as an inefficient allocation of resources, workers would still waste their resources studying the bible. Why did not atheism outcompete religion? Simple: human irrationality.

I frequently encountered some market anarchists that believe that their utopian ideology would solve all the problems inheretly created by human irrationality. For example, they believe that in market anarchism, humans will suddenly disbelieve in propaganda or cults.

Francois Tremblay said...

"If centralization did not exist, the human mind would not exist."

Wow, this is a major fail. Actually, the human brain and mind is a wonderful example of DEcentralization. Computers are but an imitation of this.

"Face it: they aren't prevalent because they're failures (just like communes). Even some socialists admit this."

They are not failures. Just because capitalism makes unjust impositions on coops does not mean that they are a failed model. It is capitalism that is the failed model. If capitalism was eradicated as it should be, then the profit-motive will mostly dissipate as well.

Cork said...

Capitalism is here to stay, and if it pisses off the world's losers, that's just some extra frosting on the cake ;)

Cork said...

Just in case there's any confusion: that last post is not directed at Francois