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What are the benefits and drawbacks of hierarchical organizations?

+3 votes
I've been presented with this argument how hierarchical organizations have faster decision making, and are therefore more "efficient" and better in some aspects of life as opposed to non-hierarchical organizations.

Examples given were: military formations, sports with referees, moderated discussions...
There are some sort of "leaders" in those situations such as officers, moderators, coordinators etc.

For me this is acceptable only as long as those hierarchies are really consensual and/or authority is rational.

Also, would such organizations be labeled Platformist?
asked Dec 9, 2015 by Pearchy (600 points)
a few thoughts....

what makes "faster" or "efficient" more desirable? (and i question whether hierarchical organizations make decisions quickly, or operate efficiently in the first place).

what does "better" mean? better how? better for who? better for what?

sports with referees or moderated discussions don't necessarily imply hierarchy. you can easily have temporary rules or guidelines where people mutually agree to have someone interpret them....and then end the game (or discussion) whenever you desire...i play games and sports like that all the time. i don't see that as hierarchy.

edited to add: personally, i don't see any benefits to hierarchical organization...not in the experiences i've had. and the drawbacks seem so large, so permeating into every aspect of life, that i don't know where to start.
Efficient just means doing something in a optimal way. It's usually regarded under capitalism where time and money is the their main concern (i.e. doing something in a faster and cheaper way). But doing something faster or efficiently doesn't necessarily mean it was effective whatsoever.
any benefits accrue towards the top of the hierarchy, while any drawbacks accrue towards the bottom. what are benefits/drawbacks are of course contextual: those at the top will likely see as a benefit, something that those at the bottom see as a drawback. and that alone is kind of a meta-indicator for hierarchical orgs, in my mind.

3 Answers

+5 votes
others have already touched on some of the issues (a significant one being questioning efficiency as the most important goal).

the direction that i go in is that structures teach us how to interact. one of the things that hierarchies are efficient at is teaching us how not to make decisions or take responsibility for ourselves, and the idea that when something is really important is the best time to become part of a group that takes away our autonomy seems wrong-headed to me.

schools are notorious for teaching mostly how to suss out teachers. assembly lines are efficient at producing people who don't look beyond the next widget they're putting together. etc.

and, as you say, the purpose for a structure is absolutely part of the issue. a game is one thing, as it implies fully voluntary participation. military is entirely another (at least as we currently understand militaries...)

(yay! i like this question! :) )

edit: but i realize i did not answer the benefits part... so i will add that there are some times for all of us (and many times for some of us) that we don't want to make decisions, that we don't know or don't care about the details of a process, but still think the goal should be achieved. it's hard to be celebratory about that, but it's a real thing, and space does need to be made for it in any realistic vision.

another reason why realism isn't my favorite.
answered Dec 9, 2015 by dot (50,520 points)
edited Dec 10, 2015 by dot
i like this answer!

points made in 2nd paragraph == fucking bullseye
+1 vote

Hierarchy and non-hierarchical relations alike are interwoven with how we interpret/perceive the ineffable, that which is indicated when we say 'self' and 'world.' I'm not saying that intra-human hierarchies are caused by cosmology or the reverse, that one's cosmological hierarchy is due to intra-human hierarchies. I am saying that I see these as completely interwoven ( 'cause/effect' here needlessly separate that which I cannot see as separate).

God- and/or priest-kings bespeak an expected tithing of egocide on the part of those 'below' every bit as much as the technocratic expert, wildlife manager and factory farmer play out ecocide on those held 'below' what's held as 'human.' However, there's no real antithesis at work here, between 'ego-' and 'eco-'. Different hymns are sung to the same Great Chain of Being on both occasions, and more likely than not, given their common ground, the hymn is actually one and the same; always in praise of the Great Chain of Being. To illustrate, the factory and the state demand simultaneous eco- and ego-cide , to varying degrees depending upon the industry and government involved to be sure, but always along on the same road-map of cosmo-anthropology as all the other factories and states.

As such, 'benefits' and 'drawbacks' may be answerable only in terms of how one perceives/interprets 'the world,' and one's own actualization as 'self' or 'one's own.' So, your question is rather deep in that it's prefigures upon how we desire to commune/dance with our immediate, sensible, throbbing 'world' and the songs we come to sing about it to one another - 'human' and 'non-human' alike.

edit for typos

answered Dec 10, 2015 by AmorFati (7,780 points)
edited Dec 10, 2015 by AmorFati
+2 votes
I agree with both of the previous answers, and am highly suspicious of hierarchy, but will offer a possible (highly situatinal) defense of what might be argued is hierarchical decision making.

Because hierarchical decision making can in fact be more efficient in situations where time ind decisiveness are important, it can serve as a temporary (and willingly agreed upon) model for things like animal liberations (should that be the sort of thing one does - I have seen this argument put forward in ALF literature, which is why I thought of that example) where there is a particular shared goal, and speed and focus are important. This presumes some previous degree of comfort and trust among the participants, who all would've willingly chosen to be involved in said action, and would've also then consented to this structure, for the duration.

I would assume that up to the point of the actual action, all voices would be equal, otherwise there is an extremely unhealthy dynamic at work in the group with the beginnings of an expert vs. layman sort of situation that any anarchist should be extremely wary of.

I think it could be argued the example I gave is not actually hierarchical, as there was choice throughout, and there are no real formal consequences to choosing to break with the agreement at any time, as well as the temporality of it, but it at least muddies the waters a little.
answered Dec 10, 2015 by ingrate (19,810 points)
i think what you have described is one possible (and not unrealistic) context where "hierarchy" is actually acceptable to (some?) anarchists; temporary, voluntary, non-binding.

kind of like anarchists playing football: someone has to call the plays, but once the game is over...
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