Friday, May 29, 2009

Decentralizing power?

I sat down (again actually, after a first attempt on the LL forums was devoured by a feral wi-fi hotspot) to write up some of my responses to what seems to me the central strategic issue in l'Affaire Preston, the question of whether or not breaking up power leads to weakening it, and found that William Gillis has addressed a good deal of what needs to be said. The references to economies of scale is elegant, and ought to be enough to get anyone started on additional analysis.

Arguably, we live in the grip of both micro- and macro-authoritarianisms at the moment, but that's just because even "the state" is not simply a problem of centralized power. State-power owes its persistence to its ability to incorporate more local power mechanisms. I think Will is right that there are certain advantages to living in a situation where micro- and macro-authoritarianisms at least partially cancel each other out.

The trick is to develop a kind of radical come-outerism that ultimately expands the various fields of freedom and opportunity for everyone, rather than letting presumably "irreconcilable" differences simply parcel out oppression. I am naturally sympathetic to some kinds of secession, but want to "come out" of the world of authority into a wider world, not a narrow enclave.

8 comments:

quasibill said...

1. Most of the discussion so far about centralized power leads me to believe that most of the critics don't have any familiarity with public choice economics and its basic implications.

2. I must be the only person around that thinks a world of soul crushing uniformity sounds scary. Dissent is pretty much the basis of freedom to me. If any form of dissent from the dominant orthodoxy is constantly hounded and pursued, even if it is only with overwhelming social pressure - sounds like authoritarianism with slightly better manners to me. In fact, I can't help but think it will automatically lead to the formation of a pretty vicious state.

To me, one of the fundamental building blocks of statism is the need to make everyone live according to your ideals, whatever they may be. I think Lucas hits that nail straight on the head with the fall of Annakin in Ep. 3. The need for control and uniformity is what drives much of the evil that we experience.

Shawn P. Wilbur said...

Well, I'm not sure how any of that is a response to what I've written. I'll admit to a lack of familiarity with either public choice economics (at least under that name) and any of the last three Star Wars films.

That said, I think I'm already on record as against "soul crushing uniformity" and for dissent as the engine of all progress in the realm of idea. That's pretty basic to the neo-Proudhonian position that I've been pursuing for quite awhile now--"It's the clash of ideas that casts the light," and all that.

The heart of anarchist support for pan-secessionism seems to be that "small is beautiful" (or at least more beautiful) when it comes to authoritarian, state or quasi-state units. And I think the concern, or at least part of the concern, of most of the anti-Prestonians, is that small may mean more soul-crushing and more uniform, even if there is more variation in the ways that souls are crushed.

quasibill said...

Since I took your linking to Gillis's essay as an endorsement of his ideals, I was a little shocked. It seemed to me that his position was fundamentally at odds with much of your previous writing. A closer reading after your comment leads me to question my original interpretation, so if I read more endorsement than existed, I apologize.

That said, I'm not sure "small is beautiful" is correct. That's more of the strawman the clique has seized upon to bash. "small is easier to control", or "small is more representative" or "small is more conducive human flowering".

I'm not sure how small equals more uniform makes any sense unless one posits eliminating 99% of the current population. It seems like a self-contradictory statement to me.

Shawn P. Wilbur said...

I disagree with the argument that "decentralism for its own sake" is a major tenet among ALLies. I mistrust some of the alternatives being presented to that alleged position, but it's spooky stuff from people I tend to think are fundamentally sound, so some of it I just have to let go. But I do also disagree with the assumption of the Prestonian crowd that dividing rulership fundamentally weakens it--at least from some far-from-trivial individual perspectives.

I believe, and defenders of Keith's ideas have confirmed rather than denied, that a significant number of the the groups that pan-secessionism appeals to are reactionary, and seek to maintain, if only on a small, local scale, certain privileges threatened both by a truly libertarian revolution and by the leveling logics of capitalism. There are some (very dangerous, double-edged) ways, I think, in which capitalism and the libertarian currents still pull in roughly the same direction, just as there are ways in which secession, even if it is just a matter of retreat, is in harmony with libertarian goals. I am, in fact, more sympathetic to the argument that bigots have some sort of "right" to go off and be bigots together voluntarily than I am to the attempt to construe their reactionary desire to withdraw as revolutionary--but, trust me, that's a matter of damning with faint praise...

This all requires a lot more thought and development, but the thing I've been gesturing at is the need for anarchists to find some way to "come out," and help one another out, of both macro- and micro-systems of rulership, and specifically to avoid being seduced by the ways in which both may appear, with some truth, to be doing part of what we desire.

quasibill said...

"I am, in fact, more sympathetic to the argument that bigots have some sort of "right" to go off and be bigots together voluntarily than I am to the attempt to construe their reactionary desire to withdraw as revolutionary"

This statement seems to encapsulate why I see Preston as the flip side of the same coin as Aster and Gillis. The constant agitation for "revolution" is as much a problem as anything else, and it leads to the pathologies displayed by both sides of the coin.

I think revolution is a bad, bad idea, and here I'll agree that even small ones are generally bad, bad, bad. I prefer evolution (or devolution depending on what we're talking about) and bottom up as opposed to top down. Top down solutions, such as revolution, are antithetical to anything I recognize as a libertarian value.

I also think Gillis exemplifies a strain of New Anarchist Human thought (I doubt he'd deny it, as he has called those who don't agree with this vision essentially primitivist). His vision doesn't work unless we sacrifice our humanity and become part of a hive mind. Otherwise, there will always be conflicts, crime, and people who believe in abhorrent things. Best we let them go away than try to fight with them for control of our institutions.

William said...

quasibill,

> "I think revolution is a bad, bad idea, and here I'll agree that even small ones are generally bad, bad, bad. I prefer evolution (or devolution depending on what we're talking about) and bottom up as opposed to top down."

I understand the take on the term "revolution" that you're using, but it's not a very common definition in anarchist circles. Revolution, in the sense of dramatic shifts in social relations and paradigms are, in fact, RARELY imposed from the top (and it's debatable as to whether the exceptions really constitute substantive change). One is also forced to question your dichotomy between revolution and evolution. Surely all evolutionary processes are punctuated.

> "His vision doesn't work unless we sacrifice our humanity and become part of a hive mind. Otherwise, there will always be conflicts, crime, and people who believe in abhorrent things."

The term "hive mind" is quite nebulous and almost an anti-concept in such venues, I'd appreciate a clarification as to what exactly you're accusing me of. You seem to be appealing to the notion of "human nature" that -- irregardless of what precisely its composition may be -- I do indeed find quite abhorrent and would like to liberate myself from (and obviously assist everyone else). I am a transhumanist. I have no use for identity of any form, biological or subjective. I am not a pluralist in any sense. The only thing I respect is the universal spark of creativity and consciousness behind, localized in, and subjugated under said identities.

The ridiculous romantic notion that strife is some quintessential component to our freedom is just pompously conveyed social myth based on emotionally associative thinking and utterly unproven or even really argued. Yes because the only way to have a society devoid of people thinking evil things is to coerce them into some collectivist vision. (Do you see how this ridiculousness depends critically upon the assumption that there's no such thing as objectively reachable truths regarding morality?)

> "Best we let them go away than try to fight with them for control of our institutions."

Yes. Because they'll totally "go away." What privileged nonsense.

quasibill said...

"Revolution, in the sense of dramatic shifts in social relations and paradigms are, in fact, RARELY imposed from the top"

Actually, they all were. But I can see that you're more interested in re-defining your terms so that your argument makes sense than in actually discussing actual revolutions, and how they depend on small groups overthrowing an existing power structure and replacing it with their own, preferred power structure.

"Hive mind" is exactly what you're describing. Eliminating all of our humanity and limits. Perhaps you have a utopian notion of what technology can accomplish, but I think your vision is slightly less likely than Kunstler's, and that is in no way a compliment.

Furthermore, yes, I do believe that what makes humans "human" is our limitations. You can't be "great" at something unless you've overcome failure at it. I think the greatest triumphs of humanity are the stories of people like Einstein and Hawking, who overcome tremendous obstacles but still display the spark of human flowering. When all individuals are subsumed by the grand collective transhumanist hive mind in the ether - well, that's the stuff of nightmares to me. Count me out.

As far as the seeds of totalitarianism and states, I use the following "test": Does your future allow for the existence of the Amish society? They've been a stable, peaceful society for hundreds of years, surrounded by a dominant culture and economy. I disagree with some of their tenets, but I don't think you can ever dispose of their society without resorting to violence and statecraft. If your world vision doesn't allow for them to exist peacefully where they are, you will eventually form a state to accomplish your goals.

I see your basic vision (whether or not you yourself hold to this position) as one that cannot accept the permanent dissent embodied by the Amish, and eventually, a large number of those who subscribe to your vision will pick up the pitchfork and axe and do away with the dissenters.

And yes, I don't believe that there is much in the way of objectively reachable "truths" in morality, much like physicists are starting to come to the conclusion that there are many different (mutually exclusive) ways to mathematically describe the universe, depending on what variables you are interested in.

So to me, your quest for objective morality that you can enforce on everyone is the ridiculousness here. But I don't think we'll ever reconcile these differences. I'm willing to let you live in peace in my vision for the future. Can you say the same about me?

William said...

Oh poppycock.

"And yes, I don't believe that there is much in the way of objectively reachable "truths" in morality, much like physicists are starting to come to the conclusion that there are many different (mutually exclusive) ways to mathematically describe the universe, depending on what variables you are interested in."

Right, that's it, you're an idiot. We're done.