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So how would very large social projects work under anarchism?

Submitted by edmund_the_destroyer in Anarchism

If this question is more suitable for the anarchy101 forum (Subraddle?), just let me know.

Say you have a set of anarchist communities and there is enough interest from individuals in each community to pursue some large project. I'm thinking most of medical research but it could just as easily be autonomous vehicles or air traffic control systems or building a cellular network and the devices that go with it.

I can understand how self-organizing, non-hierarchical groups can tackle just about any project you can imagine at a community level. Construction, infrastructure, medical care, and of course food production and so forth.

But if you have 15,000 people that all are able and willing to devote some time to tackle problem X, how do you organize the work without introducing hierarchy?

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[deleted] wrote

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edmund_the_destroyer wrote

Interesting. I thought anarchists believed that hierarchy was fundamentally bad - that even in cases of a project for the best of reasons like research to cure cancer or increase food production it would inevitably be subverted into something abusive and self-serving.

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rot wrote

It has to be justified, if it's a project that helps me in anyway or helps the community then I'll volunteer. Listening to someone's good idea and following along is not a coercive hierarchy.

Construction workers would have to follow the architect's blueprints or nothing would be built, they can suggest altercations but ultimately the group has to follow the agreed upon plan.

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Yunlunuae wrote

The problem is that english as a language doesn't lend itself very well to distinguishing between authority (as in unjustified and coercive) and authority ( as in a knowledgeable person in their field). A leader for a specific task is reasonable and so long as those wishing to partake in the task agree it would be justified, they're deferring to experience or knowledge in such an example.

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buzz wrote

also things like the family unit or elders in communities can be seen as justified hierarchies

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throwaway wrote

Look at it like this: natural "leaders" will occur in every field. Some are good strategists while others are good fighters, for example. Naturally, the fighters will go to the strategist for advice on strategies. This is natural and justified hierarchy.

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robottroymacclure wrote

its just expertise, theres nothing Hierarchical about it. everyone is an expert on something. we all pool our mental resources and everyone benefits.

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robottroymacclure wrote (edited )

Edmund, you jammed together two different ideas in this statement. the premise is not related to the conclusion.

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theblackcat wrote

It's a little strange seeing the word 'under' used to describe anarchism, haha.

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anarchist_critic wrote

Anarchism means being against all hierarchy, or at least all formal hierarchy. Being against "unjust hierarchy" is liberalism.

The answer to the question would look quite different depending if the future anarchist society consists of ancoms, primmies, egoists, or some other variety. Ancoms are quite happy to use general assemblies with mass votes, or even democratic systems with delegates provided the delegates are elected and recallable (and probably mandated by the voters as to how to vote). Primmies are opposed on principle to large-scale projects, as division of labour and technological complexity are believed to lead to hierarchy. Egoists believe it is possible to create a "union of egoists" for a common purpose, only if the autonomy of each actor within the project is respected.

This text: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/george-barrett-objections-to-anarchism written in 1921 doesn't directly discuss large-scale projects, but includes a lot of consideration of matters like roads, bridges and sewage systems. Answers 5, 12, 13, 15, and 23 all relate indirectly to the quesion

Ursula LeGuin's novel The Dispossessed involves a more-or-less ancom society with a regulated industrial economy. To avoid hierarchy, regulative functions are performed randomly by computer algorithm.

Generally a large-scale project can be broken down into smaller-scale projects assigned to subgroups which function like affinity groups. Each group would focus on its own small area without hierarchy.

I'm not sure why you mention medical research, as most medical research is carried out by small research teams or individuals. Are you thinking of clinical trials? In this case, an anarchist society would just need volunteers. For groups other than primmies, there's nothing objectionable about a researcher or research team putting out a call for 15,000 volunteers who give consent to take part in a predesigned study. The researcher has authoritative status but they don't have command authority as the participants give informed consent. Also in the news today: https://anarchistnews.org/content/meet-anarchists-making-their-own-medicine

By the way, there's a lot of examples of large-scale processes which are organised as emergent or swarm systems, without leadership or hierarchy.

The anti-capitalist protests of 1999-2001 mobilised hundreds of thousands of people without formal leadership or command power.

The Tupi-Guarani people (who were not entirely anarchist as they had gender hierarchies, but they did not have any central power structure) were able to put out armies of tens of thousands against the Spanish conquistadors.

The Open Source/Free Software movement has managed collaborative projects involving significant numbers of researchers without formal hierarchy.

These are just a few examples. There's more in Colin Ward's "Anarchy in Action", Barclay's "Societies without the State" and Gelderloos's "Anarchy Works!"

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succtales_backup wrote

Establish a worker Syndicate of Volunteers, that manages the "Very large Socual Projest," whatever that may be. Of course, to avoid any vertical structure, it comprises of all voulenters for it.

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robottroymacclure wrote

would it be necessary to offer an incentive to further motive people towards action? if so how do you keep one group from accruing more of that incentive then the others effectively gaming the system for the advantage of their tribe?

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anarchist_critic wrote

would it be necessary to offer an incentive to further motive people towards action?

Incentive theory (RCT, game theory etc) generally assumes self-interested rational actors. Anarchism generally doesn't.

Also "incentives" doesn't have to mean material wealth. The potlatch system was all about giving away/destroying wealth in order to accrue status. This is the basis for the "gift economy" idea - originally, gifts would be given competitively to confer status (among the Tlingit if I remember rightly). I'm not quite sure if unequally accruing status through socially beneficial actions is a problem for anarchists or not.

There's also a concept of "emotional incentives" which explains seemingly irrational actions (see: Elizabeth Wood on peasant insurgency in El Salvador). In other words, people do stuff because it feels good, empowering, self-expressive, rehumanising, etc. This overlaps a bit with ludic (play) anarchism as theorised by people like Bob Black - basically, we motivate people to do stuff by turning everything into a game (I've found this works miracles at getting kids to do useful stuff BTW).

In all the varieties of anarchism I'm familiar with, I'd also expect the amount of work to be a lot less than today - which means the level of motivation needed would also be less.

Your mention of "gaming the system" makes me think of the free rider problem. Again, the free rider problem doesn't really exist unless we assume rational subjects. But, in practice, I've seen plenty of issues at communes, social centres and gatherings along the general lines of free-riding (drainbows, collective resources getting re-privatised, small core groups who get fed up of doing all the work...) It's not so much that it makes the project unviable as that it pissed off and demoralises the other participants. And this gives rise to things like minimum compulsory work requirements and communally imposed rotas to make sure people "do their share". I don't know if this is a learnt reaction which is carried over from living in capitalism. I know that some stateless societies (Ilongot, Bushmen) effectively make a public secret out of differential task-performance so as to avoid hierarchies emerging, e.g. they'll say everyone caught the same amount of game even if they didn't.

TBH I think a bigger problem is, how do we stop ancaps with Recreational Nuclear Warheads (TM), or random gangsters/bandits, from stealing our land and starting hierarchies up all over again. It seems to me, there has to be some technological advantage of defensive over offensive weapons to avoid this.

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edmund_the_destroyer wrote

So wait, what's your proposal as a solution to the free rider problem?

I don't expect you to solve the complete problem, I'm just wondering what your ideas are.

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anarchist_critic wrote

People aren't self-interested rational individuals, so the free rider problem as formulated in rational choice theory/game theory/neoclassical economics doesn't really exist as far as I'm concerned. People won't overexploit resources or free-ride just because there's an opportunity to free-ride, and it won't necessarily overstrain systems even if they do. There's a meme went round recently about people who get free water (or pay a fixed sum for free water), they don't leave their taps on all day or drink as much water as they can stomach, just because it's free. And I can think of a lot of examples where a small number of people put in all the energy to run projects which benefit a much larger number - everything from Indymedia back in the day, to something like Calais Migrant Solidarity, to social centres where a small core group do most of the work.

However, I think there's a slightly different problem in actual collectives which looks quite similar. If a lot of people are perceived as freeloading then other people sometimes become less emotionally motivated to participate. It doesn't seem to affect all projects the same way (e.g. FNB or refugee solidarity don't fall apart because some recipients "freeload"; it doesn't seem to affect Bushmen or Ilongot hunters) but probably impacts more on projects where there's a goal of building community, or where a few people are doing a lot of work. Communes, festivals, social centres, even black blocs (I remember hearing about an older group getting fed up with younger people expecting them to always take the lead in the bloc). Sometimes community work if it's expected the community will graduate from "service users" to activists and they never do. This kind of reaction seems to correlate with the core group suffering burnout or overwork. So, there can be a social centre run for years by a core group with a lot of "freeloaders", and it isn't a problem, but then the core group get fed up with the situation and stop putting their energy in. When people are buzzing with the energy of a new project or an effective project, they have energy to spare and they don't really care if everyone's pulling their weight. When people are more stressed and frustrated then it becomes a much bigger issue and the recriminations start.

I don't know if resentment of freeloaders is an emotional hangover from capitalism or if it's deeper in human psychology. If the former then it might be enough simply to expect freeloaders and treat it as a legitimate kind of engagement, so it no longer affects motivation. Otherwise it's a question of how to increase motivation to contribute. And there's quite a few possible answers to this, other than the usual ones of economic incentives, coercion, or tying benefits to contributions. Emotional incentives, ludic practices, social status benefits, learnt values, etc. I think if people value a project, and know it needs their contribution, they will usually contribute. I also think the resentment of freeloaders is itself a hurdle we probably need to overcome, so as to enable us to provide and receive free services (which we're gonna need to live without markets and states). Capitalism both encourages us to treat services as provider/user binaries and not contribute, and also encourages us to resent people who don't contribute. So the problem's mainly psychological - abundance versus scarcity mentalities. I'd expect that if participation is rewarding enough for contributors, and there's enough redundant supply/capacity that it exceeds demand from contributors, then the existence of free riders shouldn't be a problem. So, it's a question of how to configure emotional and energetic flows within an assemblage so as to maintain the buzz which makes people want to "contribute". It's not an exact science and I can't theorise it much beyond this, because nobody AFAIK has done concrete research on how these kinds of energies are summoned, maintained, or dissipated.

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edmund_the_destroyer wrote

But I think this is a core problem, maybe the core problem, with many community systems or projects.

My kids' soccer teams are at the intramural level, so it's not highly competitive. The children are in it to have fun with their friends. A few parents are actively involved and put a lot of work in. Most just show up. Sometimes the organizations fold for lack of contributors, even though the kids love it.

Or on a larger scale, I think of free software (free-as-in-freedom, open source). A tiny core of contributors do almost all of the work, a larger set of hobbyists do the rest, and hundreds of millions more just use the results.

Or look at the Open Source Ecology / Global Village Construction Set project. There are billions that would benefit from the project when it matures. It, or an equivalent, should be buried in resources. Instead it's a motivated but laughably tiny community.

Now, maybe there is a compelling argument that capitalism poisons everything it touches so much that even these non-business projects crash and burn. Maybe citizens of a capitalist society are unable in some cases to contribute but more importantly just ingrained with a mindset alien to contributing without tangible rewards.

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anarchist_critic wrote

Well, there's lots of reasons people don't contribute. Yes, a belief in rewards is one of them. Others include time pressure (from overwork and social obligations), illness, depression, certain disabilities, lack of "skills", lack of self-confidence, and all kinds of attitudes towards the people doing the work (from hero-worship to resentment and "feeling excluded"). The thing is, a lot of initiatives keep running in spite of a lot of the participants not contributing. Yes, some fold. They fold at the point where the core group burn out, or the resources needed are greater than those the core group can put in. A lot of others keep going. I think there's less energy now than in the recent past, but the main reason is that everyone's overworked and overstressed. It's a lot easier to put energy into projects when you have a stable job with low hours or better still, you're managing to survive without working.

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edmund_the_destroyer wrote

I hope you don't find the late response irritating. I think you're right.

I have an outstanding income but all of my time and money goes into my brood. In another fifteen years if medical problems for me or for a loved one don't derail my plans, I'll have the time to contribute to some worthwhile project. But only a painfully small portion of society is in that luxurious position at any one time. And I'll still be working full time.

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buzz wrote

if everyones needs are met, what would be an incentive to sabotage production?

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anarchist_critic wrote

if everyones needs are met, what would be an incentive to sabotage production?

For the lulz?

Seriously, we all need to build our bolos a long way from Troll-Bolo.