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A Critique of Anarcho-Primitivist Analysis of Technology, Complexity, and Mass Coordination: A Case for the Compatibility of Anarchism with Modern Technology/Modern Production Processes

Submitted by PerfectSociety in debate

This is something I posted on r/DebateAnarchism, but I think makes for good discussion here as well.

AnPrims hold the view that any form of mass coordination and complex production of technology beyond the Pre-Neolithic level is inherently hierarchical/cannot occur without hierarchy. I'm obviously simplifying their point of view on this matter for brevity's sake, but that is the essence of it.

On a surface level, this seems to make sense: An industrial mining operation or Factory producing things must claim exclusive control over the resources in its domain of operation. This claim to exclusive control would need to be protected by either the operators of the mine or factory themselves, OR defense needs would have to be outsourced to some 3rd party organization that keeps others from accessing the resources in that area. Furthermore, I have heard the argument made by AnPrims that only market-based mechanism and processes of Capital accumulation (i.e. capitalism) are capable of efficiently coordinating modern production infrastructure and technologies. And, as I have been told, this clearly must involve hierarchy.

But when we dig below the surface we find that the core of what has made mass coordination/production and complex technology hierarchical, is the mechanism by which these productive forces are distributed. In the modern context, it is the market mechanism for distribution and its complement - private property - that form the basis of this hierarchy. It is not simply the nature of this kind of production.

I will demonstrate this by showing how a technologically modern form of production can be compatible with Anarchism. Note that there is nothing "utopian" about this, as I am not advocating that we ought to or that we will live in this way. What I am doing is merely providing a hypothetical to show that Anarchism and modern technology/mass production are not inherently incompatible.

Picture a federation of Anarchist communes in which the most powerful instruments of violence are maximally decentralized. This will be progressively more feasible especially in the future as a result of developments in 3D-printing technology. This would address the first point made by AnPrims about how complex production requires violently-enforced control of resource domains - such use of violence to control resource domains would be unfeasible in a context where the instruments of violence are unable to be centralized due to advances in additive manufacturing technology.

Regarding the second point about market-based mechanisms and processes of Capital accumulation...Picture a federation of Anarchist communes whose economic activities are characterized by the following:

(i) All individuals freely access the natural resources required for their subsistence. In this federation, individuals primarily subsist via Permaculture. Those who wish to engage in permaculture activities communally and in groups do so via communal permaculture projects, while those who wish to associated less with others work on individual or family permaculture projects on land that is sufficient for their personal/family's subsistence.

(ii) Because satisfying one's desires beyond basic subsistence is most feasibly done through social cooperation/coordination, Anarchists in this federation have a unique way of coordinating economic activity (described in subsequent points below). Note that individuals only participate in this if they desire to. There is no requirement to participate, nor any means to force someone to do so against their will.

(iii) Individuals enter the things they want (examples - "a smartphone", "a laptop", "a hammer", etc...) into their Personal Consumption Lists (PCLs) on a database shared by a series of network nodes. They can select specifications for each of these entries ("X kind of hammer rather than Y kind", "A kind of smartphone rather than B kind", etc...). Most importantly, the PCLs are structured in such a way as to reflect prioritization - the things listed at the top of a PCL are what are most desired and those at the bottom are least desired.

(iv) The Anarchist Federation has a custom/tradition of Competitive Gift Exchange, in which participants strive to be become something analogous to a "Big Man" - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_man_(anthropology). In order to become a "Big Man" (not intended to be gender-specific, I just don't have a better word off the top of my head to replace this at the moment), an individual or group must satisfy the reported desires (as per the PCLs) of others in the federation to a greater extent than other individuals or groups. Because the contents of PCLs are ordered based on priority according to the preferences of the individuals who made them, there is a point system that encourages people to prioritize satisfying the desires listed higher on the PCLs relative to those that are listed lower. The greater the proportion of desires listed on people's PCLs that you satisfy (weighted based on the priority of those desires as per their ranking on the PCLs), the higher your point score. The Producer with the highest point score is a "Big Man" (a status without hierarchy enjoyed by the winner of the competitive gifting contest at the heart of this economic system).

(v) Individuals can opt to have a personal point score and/or a group point score (if, for example, they are working with others in the form of a cooperative to produce things). For simplicity's sake, I'll use the label "Producer" to refer to any individual or group that opts to have a point score in this competitive gifting process. Producers coordinate with one another form a production chain from start to finish - raw materials extraction, refining, manufacturing, distribution (I'm using the example of a manufacturing supply chain to illustrate the concept, but it's not merely limited to durable goods). Instead of coordinating via money/market-relations, they coordinate via Synchronous Mesh Networks - mesh networks that can scale effectively.

(vi) Let's look at what kind of incentives and behaviors this generates:

  • Let's first analyze a simplified example - The use of metal to produce a variety of products that are listed on PCLs: A Producer of raw metal can maximize his point score by satisfying the greatest possible proportion of listed desires (based on prioritizations) on PCLs submitted from throughout the federation. This would mean that this Producer of raw metal would find it in his best interest to distribute metal to a broad variety of manufacturers (each one manufacturing a different kind of metal product), to maximize the proportion of desired metal products (products involving metal that were listed on PCLs as desired by people in the federation) that his metal is going into.

  • Speaking about incentives more generally...Individuals will prefer to uniquely be recognized as Big Men (as much as possible) rather than having to share that status with several others, which is what would happen if they work together to form a cooperative that would then have its own point score. (Note that a point score for a cooperative cannot be split up among the individuals that comprise that cooperative.) This preference for unique recognition as a Big Man, will have to be balance with the reality that an individual as a Producer is less likely (in most cases) than a group working together to satisfy as high a proportion of desires on PCLs from across the federation. This "tug-o-war" between the former preference and the latter reality/likelihood will function to establish a steady-state (so to speak) organizational size for Producers. Furthermore, this will bring into the fray a kind of inherent instability that manifests evermore the larger a Producer grows in size, which will prevent the formation of large, bulky Producers that remain in perpetuity. The aforementioned "tug-o-war" dynamic will also prevent the domination of the Big Man title by small sized Producers that simply possess individuals of rare/exceptional talent.

(vii) In addition to providing a mechanism for coordination between Producers, the Synchronous Mesh Networking provides a mechanism for iteration - This is so that individuals can adjust/reorder their PCLs (if they so choose) as they receive estimates for what things they listed are likely to be produced and delivered to them (these estimates would be based on coordinations between producers and projected outputs).

What are the ultimate results of this? - We have a federation that lacks hierarchy and we have a framework of incentivizes and mechanisms through which we can efficiently produce (in a technologically modern way) to satisfy people's desires.

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Tequila_Wolf wrote

I won't be able to engage directly with this right now - just wanted to say that I agree that these posts you're making would create good discussion, but perhaps you're posting too many of them at once to get substantial engagement from the userbase right now, since there's only so much we can engage.

Separately, if anybody doesn't know about it, Bellamy wrote a book called Corrosive Consciousness, it's a critique of Anarcho-Primitivism from someone who used to be into it, and apparently it's worthwhile. Unfortunately I haven't come across a free version of it yet so I've not been able to read it - if anybody does find a free copy they should definitely post it here!

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ziq wrote

yeah no one can process this much theory in one day