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+3 votes
I think this is an important question and I all I have really seen about it is some evidence 'that the first RECORDED anarchists were against ALL hierarchy.

I personally do not know how to come to the correct meanings or words or if words should be able to change meaning somewhat in modern times but something doesn't sit right with that for me. For example, not all hierarchy is bad. My relationship with my parents is a voluntary hierarchy that I find beneficial and also my relationship with the CEO of the charity I work for also works. I respect his experience and maturity. Plus he wouldn't need to sack me, he could just ask me to leave. But if he did I am sure I would of deserved it.

Maybe there are 'better alternatives' to hierarchy but is it not for the individual to decide mostly, in relation to the specific circumstance?
by (160 points)

"My relationship with my parents is a voluntary hierarchy..."

the voluntary aspect only occurs when you turn 18 years of age....of course, a lot of patterns have set in by then based on the non-voluntary hierarchy during those years.

respecting somebody's expertise and maturity is fine, but that has nothing to do with hierarchy. the staticly defined working relationship - with him as your boss - however, does indeed. accepting that others may know more than you about certain things, or be more skilled than you at certain things, is not the same thing as accepting a boss as your institutionally hierarchical superior.

as ba@ alludes to above, "the family" is one of the most prominent and ubiquitous examples of hierarchical institutions. i have a great deal of respect for my father's intelligence, common sense, and communication skills. but i don't accept him as an institutional superior (nor would he think of himself as such), and we do not have a hierarchical relationship. though 50 years ago we did. :-)

i guess you can tell by now, it is institutional - fixed - hierarchies that i consider to be hugely problematic. anything else may be dynamic and contextual, in which case it is less likely to be problematic for me.

gary cook, you're hitting on once again the most prominent confusions of modern culture: the schizophrenic relation between "individuality" and "collectivity"
ba@ & funky, don't you think parents ought to have authority over their children? Without their reproductive organs (and the ways they were used in) the children wouldn't even exist. They expand the child's options from [A. not existing] to [A. Not existing + B. Existing on said conditions].

AD, the idea that parents have authority over children is baggaged with the ownership of children that many people assume/act on/grew up with.

other cultures have groups of people raise children, and/or children raise each other, and they seem to do fine, as i recall from readings past.

as an aside, what a weird way to talk about the relationship between parent and child... "reproductive organs?" very mechanistic.

edit: not to mention that there are parents who should absolutely not have authority over their children, unless for some reason we're deciding to ignore parents abusing their children...

ad: i wouldn't say with a sweeping generalization that "parents ought to have authority over their children". like with all relationships (at least in my desired world), context would determine if and when some particular situation called for some authoritarian type behavior.

this raises the huge question about when a kid is old enough to make their own decisions. i would say there is no single age that applies universally. every child is different, as is the situation they live in.

and of course there is the question of what constitutes "authoritarian" behavior in an intimate relationship.

also, i agree with dot. your way of expressing the parent-child relationship comes across as a bit bizarre to me.
you also need to consider that 2 people raising a child alone isn't very healthy of easy, "it takes a village to raise a child", the way that people tend to raise children these days is humiliating and controlling, it shouldn't be based on authority but guidance

AD: "ba@ & funky, don't you think parents ought to have authority over their children?"

what authority? as granted by the state? for how long? in what ways?

in my comment, I referred to the legal authority, as defined, backed by (and mandated by) the state.

but to answer your question, no. i don't have any interest in relating through a concept of "authority" as I've heard it defined.

...How about responding to the original argument, i.e. "Without their reproductive organs (and the ways they were used in) the children wouldn't even exist. They expand the child's options from [A. not existing] to [A. Not existing + B. Existing on said conditions]."
i don't see an argument there.

yes, I assume we all know about how babies come into the world. but i thought you wanted to talk about authority, not biology.
oops, i accidentally hid your embarrassing repetition AD.

why on earth are you just repeating yourself? people are absolutely responding to your (odd, awkward, and bemusing) question. but perhaps you'll hear me if i say it this way: children do not have any responsibility to the people who brought them into the world. they had no choice in the matter, and it is not necessarily some favor that the progenitors bestowed upon them.

but actually, this topic deserves its own thread.

fwiw, your argument is humanist as i understand humanism, which is to say that (among other things) it assumes that human life is the best, and that more human life is better than less.

i for one find that perspective to be obviously fallacious.

"...How about responding to the original argument, i.e. "Without their reproductive organs (and the ways they were used in) the children wouldn't even exist. They expand the child's options from [A. not existing] to [A. Not existing + B. Existing on said conditions].""

the reverse perspective is more true than this: parents have responsibility towards the children since they brought them in the world to begin with, whereas BA and dot point out, the child didn't have anything to do with their parents reproductive organs.

To me, the argument that AD is making isn't really a "humanist" argument, but an argument for some debt that doesn't actually exist, like owing God your love, owing respect to soldiers...the list goes on.

they're not mutually exclusive rs666, but i think you're right: that is probably more the point of AD's insistence.
gary cook, i'd like to hear your definition of "hierarchy", in particular what you mean by a "voluntary hierarchy with your parents". in what ways does your relationship with them function hierarchically?

it would help me to understand your question better. thanks.
I have recently begun using the phrase birth debt and womb capital for these ideas.
i missed this comment by strawdog - birth debt and womb capital are horrifyingly excellent terms/concepts... or excellently horrifying. EW

2 Answers

+2 votes

I'm not sure that there is a simple A, B, or C answer to this. Although if forced, I would say C: Both.

I think part of the problem is what we mean by hierarchy when we say that. If you are talking about parents (or, in societies without nuclear families, adults- parents, aunties, grandparents, etc) in relation to children, some hierarchies will likely always exist, although it is important to note that in many societies where the power of adult influence is more diffused, there is less rigidly hierarchical relations between generations. Words like hierarchy, power, and authority get thrown around in a pretty reckless way in anarchist circles (I am certainly guilty of this), and that tends to leave all of them meaning maybe the same thing? But certainly nothing concrete.

In regards to the relationship of an employee to a boss, that is a clearly hierarchical relationship in a concrete way. Your boss maybe wouldn't sack you, but as your boss, he could sack you, which cuts you off from your means of survival in a relationship that is purely about capitalism (even if it is a charity - I work for a not-for-profit myself, but we are still complicit in and help maintain the larger system of capitalist relations).

Unless your parents are wielding your financial dependence on them over you in a similar way, this is different (and the way you refer to them in your question, I am assuming your relationship with them is mostly okay, so if not, my answer might change).

(Aside: There is a dumb old Bakunin quote about boots or shoes or something that you can look up if you really want, but I never particularly liked it.)

Regarding individual choice: sure, it is up to the individual, but I would be careful about this argument - it is really easy to fall into anarcho-capitalist terrain if you uncritically use arguments like this. As an example: I have a friend who is a pro-dom. People pay this friend to dominate them, but they are choosing to do so. Entirely voluntary relationship. That is different than me going to work and having to do what my boss tells me because I need to or I don't get paid anymore and then I can't pay rent and am homeless. 

This gets back to capitalism, but I think there are other forms of capital that need to be considered, such as our social capital. It might not be a monetary relationship, but there can still be hierarchies that are undesirable or constraining.

I'd try to write more about that, but I am tired and need to sleep now...

by (22.1k points)
edited by
In context, the dumb old Bakunin quote only makes sense if he "bows" to his own inability to do everything and know everything. And it's hard to imagine Bakunin, who hates, he says, even the word "authority," being very happy bowing to anyone or anything.
+3 votes

to speak directly to the primary question:

literally - at least etymologically - anarchy is about no rulers. which means government immediately falls by the wayside. hierarchy is somewhat more vague, depending on how one defines it and in what context. i would say any institutional hierarchy gets tossed. in direct relations between individuals, there may be some situations where what some might call "hierarchy" are necessary. 

i guess this brings up a question for me: what is the relationship between hierarchy and authority?

by (13.4k points)
@Shinminmetroskyline: I've seen this general story and attitude before. I'm fine with the story - the whole quote beginning with "Peasants produced more..." but the first part, the attitude, is confused and confusing. He just doesn't get concepts like "productivity" and "organism." Knee-jerk mental shut-down triggered by certain words he's probably heard too often used by egotistical oppressors.

To the first part of your comment (I like the way you write better than the way the person you quoted writes, by the way): The interdependence arising from and allowing individual specialization isn't alienating ! Being a faceless number among many undifferentiated, redundant things is alienating, and being alone is alienating. I just cannot see how you could possibly say that. Except, maybe, you associate specialization so strongly with globalization (which I also hate) and the Ford's factory system (which I also hate) you strain to see that specialisation/interdependence are useful concepts even when talking about a spontaneous system with only 2 individuals. In little groups of human friends someone will fill the role of comedian, someone will play the brainy one, someone will be the strong one... the same person is likely to have different roles in different groups. This specialization is not the result of any man-made norms or coercion, it just happens. Must be instinct.

As for your dismissal of my "strongly suggests": Here's an analogy: You stumble upon a pick-up soccer match. You are unfamiliar with the sport, but after watching for a while you can figure out the "rules" and the objectives. The way everyone acts "strongly suggests" that the players have divided themselves into teams; the objective is to get the ball into the far goal and keep it out of the home goal. Why? You don't know, but you don't really need to know in order to join the game. You see there are no referees, yet the players clearly follow rules. You see the players have specialized: defenders, attackers, left, right, etc. and are spread out, each filling a space.

You also notice you are bigger than any of the players, and you are an egoist-anarchist. So you join the game, you pick up the ball and throw it into the goal. You say, "there are no rules! It's all about me!" Now, the others are pissed; they object. You are bigger, so you punch one in the face to set an example and say, "I make my own rules, and you will do as I say, quietly, or get punched in the face."

So that's the current state of affairs. You've shared the quote, "The wealth they produced could be stored, sold and stolen, taxed and taken away by kings, nobles and priests. Since it could be, in time it was"  Hmmm, those kings, nobles and priests were egoist-anarchists. They reject all ethical rules just because there is nobody to enforce them and they are, well, egoists.

They think they are winning the soccer game but in fact they've ended it. They just understood that the objective is to score. They didn't see that the objective is really to play.

It's also why I'm disgusted by Libertarianism. I really, really like the book Philosophy of Misery by Prudhon. Competition leads to monopoly when someone wins. Monopoly is wrong - according to my understanding of the rules of soccer - because it stifles the innovation necessary for adaptation in a changing environment.

Total freedom of individuals to differentiate, explore, adapt and colonize new frontiers of existence. And if any individuals start getting too powerful - to the point of limiting the freedom of others -- it is right to stop them. Ocasional big revolutions are hurtful, too. I much prefer continuous small uprisings. When things have already gotten too big -like Amazon and Google and the USA - the opportunity for small but effective uprisings might've already been missed.

perhaps we are talking about different 'specializations'.  i wouldnt consider the differences in peoples interests, mannerisms, and personality 'specialization'. it seems a bit like saying a small rock is 'specialized' at being small... or like saying that i specialize in having brown hair, or having an interest in philosophy, or in playing pokemon.  its not a wildly incomprehensible use of language, but -to me at least- it doesnt seem quite right; its not necessarily the most intuitive use of the words.  i would describe specialization as deliberate practice and learning of a given behaviour for some sort of material or economic benefit.  this broad use would of course include the development of direct skills for ones own survival and pleasure, like running, navigation, hunting, trapping, socializing etc.  however, that broad use isnt really how i was meaning either.  when i have used it in this conversation i was picturing specialization more along the lines of smithian 'economic' division of labour.

people in social situations dont 'play' roles, at least not the sort of people i would like to spend time with.  i prefer genuine people, as opposed to those addicted-to/stuck-in societal norms, social roles, and acting a character  -acting being of course euphemism for lying-. some people might be funny, some people might be 'brainy', whatever, but i tend to try not to think of people as an instanciation of a general type.  people are people, they cant be reduced like that without you cutting something away from them.  i like to think of everything and everyone as unique; identical only to themselves, and understandable only through direct experience.

the egoist anarchist you describe participating in that hypothetical soccer match kinda sounds like a wanker, i doubt many people want to be around him, or play games with him.  i wouldnt.  its certainly odd behaviour.  most people i know /like/ being around other people, and most people enjoy playing games.  if i where in the position of that person, i might think it was in my best interest to try and participate in a friendly manner, so as to not rule out the possibility of meeting new people to relate and connect to, and to give myself the opportunity to play new games and have fun.  now the egoist anarchist /might/ deliberately fuck up the game and start a fight -thought not many people are big enough to take on two football teams worth of people in a fight, even if they are playing five a side-, then throw the ball in, shout there are no rules, laugh to himself about how clever he is, then get weird side eyes from a bunch of people for a long time.  not sure why he would want to though.  must be a very unusual fella
the point i am trying to make is you dont have to use 'objective morals', some sort of transcendental totalitarian rule book, to go 'this guy is a fucking loser, lets not hang around with him' or 'this guy is obviously a physical threat, lets a) run away b) fight back'.
same goes for kings and queens and nobles.  for me, morality just doesnt come into it; i dont understand moral reasoning, no matter how many times people try to explain it to me.  these people /might/ be acting from their own desires and engaging with the world as they find it as both as critically and playfully as they can.  seems unlikely to me though; these sorts of 'powerful' people tend to reify notions such as power, glory, honour, wealth etc like they are actual existing objects they can physically have.  they seem to go to much length, and put themselves at great risk and under immense stress and strain, just to get these things. what actual benefit does a king starting a risky war with a neighbouring kingdom?  he risks losing what he has if the war takes a turn, and if he wins?  they can draw new maps?  woohoo?  your example of a game is a good one.  the rules of soccer are made up, arbitrary, but people choose to use them to have fun.  society, civilization  -whatever you want to call it- is exactly the same; its just a game.  except, with this game, people have taken it way too far, forgotten its a game, got super serious, and actually made the whole thing kinda scary.  like dungeons and dragons, or magic the gathering. or pokemon.

as an egoist looking at these 'powerful people', they seem less like free individuals acting from their desires and engaging playfully with their world, and more like people /possessed/ by some notion they are powerless to criticise or question.  to give a biological example, as you seem to prefer, it seems kind of like those insects whose behaviour is altered by a fungus, and so use the last of their energy to climb up a leaf so that when they die the spores of the fungus will travel further.  except, in the case of the rich and powerful, the fungus exists only as ideas, as an arrangement of neurons perhaps, all in the mind.  this is my interpretation of max stirner's -saint max's- idea of the 'spook', and my response to your general attitude towards economical society in, and specifically you understandable if mistaken notion of egoist anarchism as 'fuck the world ahaha there are no repercussions for my actions'.  egoist anarchists, at least those i think are worthy of the name, do not think that there are no consequences, just that there is no universal rulebook.  i like friends just as much as the next guy.
anyway,  thanks for keeping the discussion so civil and interesting!  its like im not even on the internet anymore; this forum actually has the best atmosphere

edit: removed a dumb emphasis and 'fixed' some spelling

i'm loving this back and forth skyline and syrphant, and it's icing on the cake that that skyline manages to fit pokemon into everything!

and syrphant, skyline's right, you take us right out of being online, it's remarkable.

@dot: one neat thing about this forum is that casual passers-by can quickly see the anarchist dream attracts people with different philosophical views about life, self, morality, history -- actually, we can argue with each other about pretty much anything. Sometimes when you can't trust your own eyes you ask others what they see. When you get lots of people reporting the same thing, even though they are looking at it from different angles (especially if they are clearly happy to disagree whenever possible) you can assume your eyes are working properly.

I don't think any individual who seriously and carefully contemplates the existential mysteries of life can arrive at any social ideal other than anarchy.
@shinminmetroskyline: I'll go fight with you on another question. I see there's some action over at the one about money !  I'll see you there.

As for not feeling like we're on the internet, I disagree. It feels like I'm on the internet.  But it feels like this forum has recreated, thanks to the internet, the Parisian salon of yore (at least the way I imagine them). We're all wearing our powdered wigs, each jumps up on the table in turn to deliver an eloquent monologue - inaudible, of course, to the others who boo and laugh and applaud over their mojitos.  Wait, how did mojitos get here?