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  1. Giulia
    Giulia July 3, 2012 at 9:13 am |

    I would rather define feminism as the struggle to end sexist oppression. Some women say that they are struggling to achieve social equality to men, but that description in itself does nothing to challenge the current patriarchal structure, nor does it enlist the cooperation of men in the feminist movement — and both of those things are really important to the feminist movement (at least in my opinion).

  2. Li
    Li July 3, 2012 at 9:19 am |

    As someone who isn’t overly concerned with “equality” per se, I had a little giggle at your first sentence. But aside from the “feminism? cohesive? what?” I’d probably more specifically say that my problem with an equal world, or a society centred on some formation of equality, is that I’m not sure that society could adequately cope with differences, especially when those differences have implications for power. So I guess my answer is “mildly dystopian”. Yes, yes, I’m an optimist, I know.

  3. chava
    chava July 3, 2012 at 9:19 am |

    Idol or idel question?

  4. chava
    chava July 3, 2012 at 9:20 am |

    Heh, “idle,” sorry.

  5. Kara
    Kara July 3, 2012 at 9:35 am |

    Well, in an equal world, the expectations that society has for me as a female person named Kara would be exactly the same as for a male person named Karl who is otherwise completely identical.

  6. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. July 3, 2012 at 9:38 am |

    Grammar…I’m not a fan. :)

  7. Kara
    Kara July 3, 2012 at 10:05 am |

    (The male person in my example does not have to be named Karl, of course. That is just the closest male name that I could think of to my own name….)

  8. Partial Human
    Partial Human July 3, 2012 at 10:25 am |

    I want feminism to have more Labradogs.

  9. SamLL
    SamLL July 3, 2012 at 10:26 am |

    How is this for a proposed definition: an equal world is one where no person in that world would be overwhelmingly unhappy with the prospect of having their social position swapped with a different person, selected uniformly at random from all others in the world.

  10. Cassandra Woolf
    Cassandra Woolf July 3, 2012 at 10:28 am |

    What an excellent question. In my ideal world children would have far more equal rights. Once they can read and write at a 6th grade level, (even if they are 6) they should have the right to vote. There should be no age qualification on running for office. There would be no ridiculous rules about unattended children. Our local shopping mall bars teens under 16.

  11. alynn
    alynn July 3, 2012 at 10:44 am |

    I agree with Giulia–every time I get caught up in discussion of what “equality” means for me as a feminist, I end up frustrated. For example, people try to use military service as a “gotcha” moment for me where they say, “You want ‘equality’ but you don’t want to serve on the front lines.” It’s true–I don’t want to serve on the front lines. I think women who want to should be able to, but in my big picture ideal situation, militarization is not even necessary.

    My view of the world isn’t about getting women to “act like men” it’s about breaking down the patriarchal structures we operate within, in the first place. I don’t want to look at our society and just accept the terms of the situation. I want to subvert assumptions. So “equality” doesn’t really mean much to me in this way. But if I were to focus on a particular facet of equality, it would probably be equality of opportunity.

  12. Mxe354
    Mxe354 July 3, 2012 at 11:02 am |

    I only care about equality of opportunity. And eliminating artificial privilege – which includes but is possibly not limited to the state, private property, and kyriarchal oppression – will make way for equality of opportunity in my view.

    In regards to women’s liberation, I want to see a society in which the sexes walk hand-in-hand and see each other as individuals first and members of another sex second. In other words, solidarity between the sexes that lacks prejudice. I think that this kind of mutual respect between people is essential to creating a society that has equality of opportunity for all.

    So, in sum, I’m an anarcha-feminist. Pretty much all of my views happen to be from Emma Goldman and similar anarcha-feminists, so if you want to know my views better, I suggest that you read about hers.

  13. Mxe354
    Mxe354 July 3, 2012 at 11:06 am |

    @alynn

    My view of the world isn’t about getting women to “act like men” it’s about breaking down the patriarchal structures we operate within, in the first place. I don’t want to look at our society and just accept the terms of the situation. I want to subvert assumptions. So “equality” doesn’t really mean much to me in this way. But if I were to focus on a particular facet of equality, it would probably be equality of opportunity.

    Well, if you want to dismantle the patriarchy, you are necessarily fighting for equality because you are opposing an unnatural, unnecessary, and harmful social hierarchy. At least in my view.

  14. matlun
    matlun July 3, 2012 at 11:24 am |

    For me equality is simply equality of opportunity.

    It is another question exactly how or even if that can ever be reached with all the subtle biases that will exist in any human society, but it is a goal to strive for as I see it.

  15. IrishUp
    IrishUp July 3, 2012 at 11:27 am |

    I think of it more as justice than equality.

    This writer gets to the issue much better than I could. This is referencing Western/Euro/Anglo thinking only. I am looking forward to reading other perspectives.

    “The modern notion of justice is derived primarily from the ancient Greek concept of dikaiosune … free-born, adult, Greek men devised basic democratic rights and rules of behaviour for themselves, to the exclusion of slaves, foreigners, women and children. In the world view of ancient classical philosophy, the free man (anthropos) is the being that is ‘by nature’ in the world for its own sake.

    The idea of a dignity attaching to all human beings regardless of age, sex, ethnic origin or social rank … underlies a concept of justice which contradicts the aristocratic- androcentric view, by maintaining that every human being is in the world for his or her own sake, and not for the good life of another.
    [snip]

    The continuing struggle of women to establish that they too are included in ‘universal human rights’ is just one indication of the real political dimension of the problem. The equation of ‘human being’ (anthropos) with ‘free adult man’ in the ancient world view became the basis on which – despite all enlightened rhetoric to the contrary – supposedly universal basic rights were seen historically as the rights of the adult white man, and continue to be interpreted as such….”

    cite: http://www.warc.ch/pc/rw963/05.html#top

    Also, Simone de Beauvoir “Ethics of Ambiguity”:

    ” A freedom which is interested only in denying freedom must be denied. And it is not true that the recognition of the freedom of others limits my own freedom: to be free is not to have the power to do anything you like; it is to be able to surpass the given toward an open future; the existence of others as a freedom defines my situation and is even the condition of my own freedom. I am oppressed if I am thrown into prison, but not if I am kept from throwing my neighbor into prison.”

    And “All oppression creates a state of war.”

  16. Mxe354
    Mxe354 July 3, 2012 at 11:33 am |

    The idea of a dignity attaching to all human beings regardless of age, sex, ethnic origin or social rank

    Sounds a lot like equality to me.

  17. BHuesca
    BHuesca July 3, 2012 at 11:48 am |

    When I think of equality, I think of equality of opportunity, not equality of results. But I don’t know how a society could be created that would protect people from adverse consequences of the actions of themselves or others (here I mean what I think are commonly called dependents) without, in some cases, rewarding those who refuse to work or participate in society in productive ways.

  18. Antonia
    Antonia July 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm |

    I think the equality we should be striving for is having enjoyable, healthy choices available to everyone without regard to their identity. While I’m couching this in terms that are usually restricted to food, I think it applies pretty well across the board.

  19. Bridget
    Bridget July 3, 2012 at 1:07 pm |

    For me it is based on equal opportunity, with a major focus on eliminating the obstacles, which of course include patriarchy, but also things like violence, hunger, etc. I think compassion is a necessary building block when striving for equality.

  20. chava
    chava July 3, 2012 at 1:24 pm |

    I think what we mean by “equal opportunity” is the sticking point. After all, most people agree that such a thing is good–but how to achieve it and what, exactly, it IS…this is a different thing entirely.

    My current hobbyhorse is reproductive equality. In my field (academic) women are expected to sharply curtail maternal desire* and channel that into their work. Men are not. While I have an fair shot at getting hired-while-female, such ‘equality’ only exists whilst I’m not using my female parts for such icky biological things as childbearing. Example–I currently edit my Facebook feed so none of my colleagues or friends from grad school can see comments or photos I post of the baby.

    Now, there are plenty of my female colleagues who would disagree, state that children are a free choice and you should bear the consequences of having them. To them, equality of opportunity is based on non-discrimination in hiring and granting tenure–not in building in incentives to create behind-the-scenes equality (slowing the tenure clock, etc).

    *obvs, not all women have maternal desire. But a substantial majority do, and to effectively cut them off from its expression is IMO a kind of gendered violence. When I’m being inflammatory I tend to use the word ‘castration,’ but ymmv.

    In any event, I’m currently plodding my way through Rawls (Theory of Justice) and Sen (Idea of Justice), both of which have some fascinating things to say on both what justice/equality IS and how/if one should go about incentivizing such justice in our current world.

  21. Partial Human
    Partial Human July 3, 2012 at 1:29 pm |

    SamLL – that’s a fucking brilliant summation.

    A world where an able, neurotypical, high-SES, straight man would not balk at swapping lives with me – that’s the kyriarchy broken.

    I love the simple clarity, thanks.

  22. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar July 3, 2012 at 2:28 pm |

    Equality is when women are not the other; when women’s voices and experiences are not treated as some strange adjunct to the more familiar male voices and experience.

    How would that look different? Just for quick examples, half the speaking roles (of binary gendered characters, whose presence will become less hegemonic) in movies and television will be women, and a movie that failed the Bechdel Measure would be a strange anomaly, no more common than a movie that lacked two male characters with names talking to each other about something other than a woman. Reporter’s sources and talking heads will not be overwhelmingly gendered one way, except perhaps on rare topics where expertise remains heavily skewed.

  23. macavitykitsune
    macavitykitsune July 3, 2012 at 2:35 pm |

    SamLL said it. *grin*

  24. chava
    chava July 3, 2012 at 2:55 pm |

    SamLL–that’s the whole ‘veil of ignorance’ thing, yeah?

  25. matlun
    matlun July 3, 2012 at 2:56 pm |

    After reading the above, it seems to me that I have a narrower concept of equality than a couple of other posters. To me it is perfectly possible to have equality in a dystopian dog-eats-dog world. Equality is only one ingredient necessary for a just and compassionate society.

  26. Li
    Li July 3, 2012 at 5:04 pm |

    How would that look different? Just for quick examples, half the speaking roles (of binary gendered characters, whose presence will become less hegemonic) in movies and television will be women, and a movie that failed the Bechdel Measure would be a strange anomaly, no more common than a movie that lacked two male characters with names talking to each other about something other than a woman. Reporter’s sources and talking heads will not be overwhelmingly gendered one way, except perhaps on rare topics where expertise remains heavily skewed.

    Thomas, this may work fairly easily when talking about women, but how does that translate if we’re talking equality for groups with a much lower proportional presence, like queer people or trans* people?

  27. acidicimpish
    acidicimpish July 3, 2012 at 9:20 pm |

    Wow, that way of typing *F*eminism is particularly specific and familiar.

    …did you just BLATANTLY steal Ms. MMM’s coinage and particular use of “*F*eminism”

    …and use it to talk about the movement as a whole without even fucking mentioning WHY she writes it like that

    …that is, to talk about whitewashing and centering of the lives of the whitest, richest, abled women of all

    FELLOW WHITE WOMEN. TAKING THE WORDS OF WOMEN OF COLOR AND TWISTING THEM AROUND TO ERASE THEIR LIVES AND CENTER OURSELVES IS COMPLETELY FUCKING UNACCEPTABLE.

  28. Li
    Li July 4, 2012 at 1:28 am |

    acidicpimpish, do you have a cite for that? Because while I agree with your general point it’s my understanding that “*F*eminism” was coined/first used by brownfemipower several years ago (I can’t grab the precise cites because her previous blog is no longer online, but a quick google has it turning up in her writing from at least 2010). When did MMM start using the term?

  29. im
    im July 4, 2012 at 3:28 am |

    Equality is a bit of a complicated thing for me

    * NOTE: TALKING ABOUT IN GENERAL< NOT JUST FEMINIST STANDPOINT OR GENDER EQUALITY *

    For one thing, I think it is vastly overrated. I think the main problem is that there is no mobility and that the average is low enough that the people on the lowest end are doing absolutely horribly.

    That doesn't mean I turn a blind eye to inequality. Just that I don't actually think that equality is an absolute goal to always be pursued.

    Incidentally, I suspect I would not want to live in a world where I would be OK with trading places with another person; that sounds like a creepishly-nonagentic Brave New World type society, or some community with zero diversity. I don't want to trade places with somebody of a blatantly different culture, or a different gender, or a complex gender identity set, because such identities and their attendant communities are alien to me. Not bad; I would expect such people would also not want to trade with me all other things being equal. But I want to be what I am, not something else, unless I were to change my brain to be the assumed thing.

    The hope for equality I have is that people within a category would all have the same opportunity (Actually, unlike the fake equal opportunity trumpeted by economic conservatives), past achievements would not give overwhelming benefits / no head starts, and nobody would be overwhelmingly badly off. Pretty much focusing on maximum agency here, though definitely not anarchistic.

    Incidentally, I still don't get the big problem with old philosophies that categorized only white men or whoever in the 'equal to each other' category when we can and for a hundred years have been just adding every new group to said category and have adopted the theory that that category includes all human beings. It sounds a little bit genetic-fallacy-ish.

  30. debbie
    debbie July 4, 2012 at 9:45 am |

    acidicpimpish, do you have a cite for that? Because while I agree with your general point it’s my understanding that “*F*eminism” was coined/first used by brownfemipower several years ago (I can’t grab the precise cites because her previous blog is no longer online, but a quick google has it turning up in her writing from at least 2010). When did MMM start using the term?

    I believe MMM and brownfemipower are the same person.

  31. Li
    Li July 4, 2012 at 10:13 am |

    I believe MMM and brownfemipower are the same person.

    That’d do it.

  32. linoleumfloor
    linoleumfloor July 4, 2012 at 10:39 am |

    I took pause with the previous critique from Jessica about ‘choice feminism’ because that is generally how I used to define my feminism to people questioning what it all means and looking to me (as the oft token feminist in a class or social setting) for some kind of explanation. Always couching it in terms of “this is what it means to me” I would explain an equality idea using the term ‘choice’ in that to me feminism is about increasing the available choices (particularly major life choices) available to all people (noting that these choices should be made with the goal of reducing harm to each other and the planet). For the realization of these choices major power structures would need to be broken down to remove barriers and social stigma that restrict people’s ability to make or achieve these choices.
    So basically equality of opportunity for short.
    My reading of Jessica’s critique was that some who justify potentially harmful or counter-productive choices hide behind the label ‘choice feminism’ without any kind of analysis of structures that perpetuate patriarchy and other kinds of oppression. My use of ‘choice feminism’ is based on the idea that this is the goal I am working toward, but major changes need to happen for most people, and not simply the most privileged, to enjoy that kind of world.

  33. linoleumfloor
    linoleumfloor July 4, 2012 at 10:42 am |

    Edit: I wrote Jessica, meant Jill. My bad. Sorry.

  34. Angie unduplicated
    Angie unduplicated July 4, 2012 at 11:17 am |

    @354-Eliminate artificial privilege. That’s huge.
    Eliminate harassment and disparagement based on the physical.
    Eliminate erasure by the (formerly, I hope) privileged class.

  35. Mxe354
    Mxe354 July 4, 2012 at 11:42 am |

    Equality is when women are not the other; when women’s voices and experiences are not treated as some strange adjunct to the more familiar male voices and experience.

    How is this for a proposed definition: an equal world is one where no person in that world would be overwhelmingly unhappy with the prospect of having their social position swapped with a different person, selected uniformly at random from all others in the world.

    All right, these two definitely take the cake.

  36. EG
    EG July 4, 2012 at 12:04 pm |

    How is this for a proposed definition: an equal world is one where no person in that world would be overwhelmingly unhappy with the prospect of having their social position swapped with a different person, selected uniformly at random from all others in the world.

    I have to say, I’m leery of this one, because it seems to assume a uniformity of culture and of values that I don’t like. I don’t resent the social position of my job; what I want is more money, or, actually, greater access to the comforts money buys you. And somebody from a different culture in a different country may be quite pleased with zir social position…but it could still be one that I don’t want at all.

  37. chava
    chava July 4, 2012 at 12:31 pm |

    I think there’s an important difference between “just” and “equal” that bears careful consideration. Can we have an equal, but unjust system? What about the inverse?

  38. Mxe354
    Mxe354 July 4, 2012 at 1:11 pm |

    How is this for a proposed definition: an equal world is one where no person in that world would be overwhelmingly unhappy with the prospect of having their social position swapped with a different person, selected uniformly at random from all others in the world.

    I have to say, I’m leery of this one, because it seems to assume a uniformity of culture and of values that I don’t like.

    Perhaps another way to look at it is to say that it implies a basic appreciation of diversity. And because ze said that it should be a world such that no one would be “overwhelmingly unhappy” with swapping positions, I think that ze implied that there should be some clearly defined boundaries.

  39. Mxe354
    Mxe354 July 4, 2012 at 1:14 pm |

    I think there’s an important difference between “just” and “equal” that bears careful consideration. Can we have an equal, but unjust system? What about the inverse?

    I think it depends on the definition of equality.

  40. EG
    EG July 4, 2012 at 1:23 pm |

    Perhaps another way to look at it is to say that it implies a basic appreciation of diversity.

    I’m not sure I understand how. Could you explain a bit, please? I mean, I can appreciate somebody else’s culture without wanting to be part of it.

  41. This is What a Feminist Sounds Like « Shift Matters

    [...] I believe men and women – and people for whom those labels do not fit – are equal. That’s pretty much the heart of it. There’s a really interesting discussion going on right now over at Feministe about what equality would look like. [...]

  42. Mxe354
    Mxe354 July 4, 2012 at 1:51 pm |

    I’m not sure I understand how. Could you explain a bit, please? I mean, I can appreciate somebody else’s culture without wanting to be part of it.

    It’s not only about cultural diversity, but also general diversity. In other words, I think ze was saying that equality is about making a world in which one wouldn’t be too uncomfortable with swapping one’s life with another’s, cultural differences and so on notwithstanding.

    Here’s an example: The idea of swimming in wealth while having a good quality of life sounds splendid to me. However, if I didn’t have that much wealth but still had a good quality of ife, I wouldn’t be too upset. In fact, I’d eventually be content with it.

    I hope I didn’t word anything poorly. It’s kind of hard for me to articulate all of this, honestly.

  43. DouglasG
    DouglasG July 4, 2012 at 2:41 pm |

    Though, like Mr Li, not being all that invested in equality per se, I can’t quite envision arriving at equality without first attaining at least critical mass in government – only what does that look like? One of the recent US-based “have it all” pieces mentioned requiring a woman President and fifty Senators, but an exact number is bound to fluctuate, and then there are, as mentioned, minor “minorities” to consider.

    Mr Millar reminds me of Dame Helen Mirren and Natasha Richardson in The Comfort of Strangers. It’s interesting to watch now, having seen Dame Helen in so many vastly different roles, as her character Caroline expresses disbelief in the concept of an all-female theatre company or plays without male characters, and claims that two women together on stage “…would probably be waiting for a man, and then something would happen.”

  44. Mxe354
    Mxe354 July 4, 2012 at 2:50 pm |

    I’d probably more specifically say that my problem with an equal world, or a society centred on some formation of equality, is that I’m not sure that society could adequately cope with differences, especially when those differences have implications for power. So I guess my answer is “mildly dystopian”. Yes, yes, I’m an optimist, I know.

    Difference is no enemy to equality. In fact, it is because humanity is diverse that equality of opportunity is necessary. To quote Alexander Berkman on equality:

    “…equality does not mean an equal amount but equal opportunity. It does not mean, for instance, that if Smith needs five meals a day, Johnson also must have as many. If Johnson wants only three meals while Smith requires five, the quantity each consumes may be unequal, but both men are perfectly equal in the opportunity each has to consume as much as he needs, as much as his particular nature demands.

    Do not make the mistake of identifying equality in liberty with the forced equality of the convict camp…It does not mean that every one must eat, drink, or wear the same things, do the same work, or live in the same manner. Far from it; the very reverse, in fact.

    Individual needs and tastes differ, as appetites differ. It is equal opportunity to satisfy them that constitutes true equality.

    Far from leveling, such equality opens the door for the greatest possible variety of activity and development. For human character is diverse, and only the repression of this diversity results in leveling, in uniformity and sameness. Free opportunity of expressing and acting out your individuality means development of natural dissimilarities and variations.

  45. EG
    EG July 4, 2012 at 8:38 pm |

    I think I’m still not understanding, Mxe354. While I thoroughly agree with everything Berkman said (’cause he was awesome), it seems to me that wealth and social position are not the same thing. I’m thinking about what it would mean to me if my life were switched for somebody living in a subculture that valued athletic ability over intellectual achievement; I would miserable. That doesn’t mean that nobody should live in such a subculture though, or that nobody could be happy in it. Just that to switch my social position that way would make me, personally, overwhelmingly miserable.

  46. SamLL
    SamLL July 4, 2012 at 9:18 pm |

    Thanks for your kind comments on my half-baked proposed definition.

    chava – yes, and thank you for sharing the term ‘veil of ignorance’. I was not aware of it, although I had heard of the ‘so you are going to be born as a random new child, what country do you want’ test attributed to John Rawls.

    im, EG – I was thinking in terms of some nebulous social position; the lack of an actual definition of what that means is definitely a huge weakness in my conception. I agree I wouldn’t actually want to switch lives with, well, anyone else, because then I wouldn’t be me. I was struggling towards something that envelops how you are treated by others, but not your personal identity.

    There are a bunch of other obstacles to the definition too (obviously not everyone will ever agree because people are infinitely varied and contrary; what about a notional society where only one person would be upset at the prospect because they have all the privilege; etc.) I don’t know if it can be sharpened into a philosophically consistent principle instead of a conceptual heuristic.

  47. Matt
    Matt July 4, 2012 at 9:28 pm |

    Slight problem with Berkman. Appetites are determined by circumstances. If one has the option to have more, especially if one has that option their whole life, its likely that one would almost always choose to have more.

    And before you try to point out that some people who have a lot want to have less or feel bad about it and want to share it around, its because they have been socialized to feel bad, not because they naturally feel bad about it.

    Giving people everything they want is a fucking terrible idea. And he is necessarily arguing that everyone should get everything they want because otherwise there would be someone deciding what you are and are not entitled to have, which is exactly the problem with the current system.

    Typical idealist woo woo.

  48. DonnaL
    DonnaL July 4, 2012 at 9:34 pm |

    And before you try to point out that some people who have a lot want to have less or feel bad about it and want to share it around, its because they have been socialized to feel bad, not because they naturally feel bad about it.

    How do you know?

  49. EG
    EG July 4, 2012 at 9:35 pm |

    Appetites are determined by circumstances.

    I am not convinced that this is the whole story at all. My appetite for certain things would be nil regardless of the circumstances I was raised in.

    But if appetites are determined by circumstances, the assumptions you’re making about appetite and the desire to accumulate more more more are socialized into us as well, by the capitalist ethos and culture around us. It’s not necessarily “natural” to want more stuff than you could ever use or enjoy.

    Typical capitalist “the evils of human nature” woo woo.

  50. Mxe354
    Mxe354 July 4, 2012 at 9:40 pm |

    @EG

    I think I’m still not understanding, Mxe354. While I t
    thoroughly agree with everything Berkman said (’cause he was awesome), it seems to me that wealth and social position are not the same thing. I’m thinking about what it would mean to me if my life were switched for somebody living in a subculture that valued athletic ability over intellectual achievement; I would miserable. That doesn’t mean that nobody should live in such a subculture though, or that nobody could be happy in it. Just that to switch my social position that way would make me, personally, overwhelmingly miserable.

    I think you mostly understand what I’m saying. It’s just that your scenario poses no challenge to either of those definitions.

    By Berkman’s definition, your scenario is undesirable because it is, in some way, inimical to your interest in intellectual achievement. (That’s probably a bad way to phrase it, but it works here.)

    By SamLL’s definition, the position-swapping definition of equality, your scenario is undesirable because you are being pushed into a social position in which you’re overwhelmingly miserable. Not merely slightly disappointed.

    As for my scenario, I only brought up being wealthy as a personal preference of mine. I didn’t mean to suggest that only socioeconomic prosperity is at the heart of SamLL’s definition.

    So in sum, I think you’re challenging those definitions with scenarios which are already deemed undesirable by those definitions. To force someone into a position in which they can’t live their life to the fullest is to violate equality of opportunity, regardless of how you look at it.

    On a slightly related note: I’m pleasantly surprised to hear that you know and even like Berkman. He and his partner, Emma Goldman, are pretty much my favorite political thinkers of all time. Do you happen to be a libertarian socialist? I’m just curious.

  51. Mxe354
    Mxe354 July 4, 2012 at 9:47 pm |

    Slight problem with Berkman. Appetites are determined by circumstances. If one has the option to have more, especially if one has that option their whole life, its likely that one would almost always choose to have more.

    And before you try to point out that some people who have a lot want to have less or feel bad about it and want to share it around, its because they have been socialized to feel bad, not because they naturally feel bad about it.

    Giving people everything they want is a fucking terrible idea. And he is necessarily arguing that everyone should get everything they want because otherwise there would be someone deciding what you are and are not entitled to have, which is exactly the problem with the current system.

    Typical idealist woo woo.

    It is not the case that all human beings want to do nothing but consume resources and so on. Obviously a lot of human beings are greedy, but to say that this is inevitable is to ignore the fact that this unbridled hunger is largely shaped by society and culture. Today, capitalism is the driving force of such an anti-social attitude.

    And Berkman wasn’t one of those people who thought that people should be allowed to do whatever they want. He was an anarchist, yes, but that doesn’t mean that he threw morality and common sense out of the window. Read his work before you accuse him of wanting to allow everyone to do everything.

  52. im
    im July 5, 2012 at 1:07 am |

    My take is that the hunger tends to end up being through consumption of other’s creations rather than leading people to ambition.

  53. a lawyer
    a lawyer July 5, 2012 at 8:58 am |

    There are TWO equalities to look at, and they are in constant battle.

    One is the equality of INPUTS: starting circumstances and opportunity. In that version, everyone can get 5 hours of schooling, an acre of land and a house and some seed, and they’d be equal.

    The other is the equality of OUTCOMES, which gets affected by ability. In the above example, I’d be hungry a lot; I suck at growing shit. My friend would have extra to sell to me, and might grow rich. Other folks might be entirely unable to farm due to illness or disability; other folks might not be able to learn in school; and so on.

    If you want equal outcomes, then you’re describing pure communism: The best producers get less help than the worst producers, so that everyone ends up with the same amount of food and housing and what have you. It’s “equal” in how much you have to eat, but “unequal” in that you’re not treating everyone the same.

    If you want equal inputs, then you’re basically describing pure capitalism without the starting patriarchy. 10 years down the line, some folks will be rich and well fed and other folks will be dead, or poor. But they all got the same seed, right?

    “Equality” definitions always run into the same hurdle. Most of the time, you can’t give extra to Group A without taking it away from Group B. And although it’s morally simple to imagine that you can get around that (perhaps folks just think that Jill has “extra” food, and since it’s “extra” then it’s OK to take her food to feed Joe) you will never sustain that ability. One year, Jill won’t have any extra food at all. Or she’ll work less, tired of feeding Joe. Or Joe will work even less, happily relying on Jill. Or….

  54. EG
    EG July 5, 2012 at 9:43 am |

    Or she’ll work less, tired of feeding Joe.

    Jill sounds like kind of a jerk, in your formulation.

    Or Joe will work even less, happily relying on Jill.

    Yeah, we have this already. It’s called lifestyles of the rich and useless.

  55. EG
    EG July 5, 2012 at 10:18 am |

    Mxe354 —

    I really admire Goldman and Berkman, though I’ve read far more of Goldman. My user name…let’s just say it’s not my initials at all. I picked it years and years ago as a hat-tip, though now that I’m older I feel it’s kind of presumptuous of me, but there it is. I don’t really subscribe to any particular leftist ideology, because every time I tried to, I ran up against constraints or strictures I found fundamentally inhumane…and finally I figured that since nobody was asking me to be the architect of the revolution, it didn’t matter if I had a name for my philosophy anyway. That said, I do find the perspectives and aims of leftist anarchism to be more congenial to me than most other schools of thought, and I’ve always admired the role anarchism has played on the left, which is, as I understand it, to remind everybody else that you do not, you cannot make a happier society by abridging human rights.

  56. a lawyer
    a lawyer July 5, 2012 at 10:19 am |

    I’m trying to point out that you LITERALLY CAN’T HAVE equality. People aren’t alike, so you’ll either have to treat folks differently to “make” things equal, or you’ll have to treat folks equally and have unequal outcomes.

    All that you can do is to define your own personal meaning of equality, and try to get other folks to buy into it. That’s where the wiggle room comes in. And that’s where the interesting stuff comes in.

    Outside unicorn land, stuff requires work to get. When Berman says

    If Johnson wants only three meals while Smith requires five, the quantity each consumes may be unequal, but both men are perfectly equal in the opportunity each has to consume as much as he needs, as much as his particular nature demands.

    I assume that most of you would recognize this as the “to each according to his/needs” half of communism.

    Oddly enough, this isn’t communism so long as Johnson and Smith produce according to their needs. If Smith produces five meals/day, that’s fine if he also east five meals/day.

    It’s a lot more complex, though, when the situations are switched.

    That’s where you make the decision about how much of Johnson’s food supply to classify as “extra,” and take as a tax–without putting TOO much burden on Johnson, and without interfering TOO much with Johnson’s desire to work super-hard and make lots of extra food.

    And that’s where you make the decision about who (Smith? Johnson’s family and friends? Johnson’s enemies?) is entitled to that extra food, and why, and on what basis.

    And that’s where you make the equally-important decision about who decides those questions, and how they resolve disputes, and such.

    EG 7.5.2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Or she’ll work less, tired of feeding Joe

    .
    Jill sounds like kind of a jerk, in your formulation.

    Or Joe will work even less, happily relying on Jill.

    Yeah, we have this already. It’s called lifestyles of the rich and useless.

    Seriously? You may not LIKE the aspect of human nature which is inherently selfish, but attempting to ignore it has never worked.

  57. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. July 5, 2012 at 10:31 am |

    @a lawyer,

    There are far more definitions of equality than just outcome vs. resources. There’s Rawlsian justice, utilitarianism, equality of opportunity/access. Moreover you are relying on a highly suspect model of labor and output. No one works in isolation with their own labor as the sole input. Survival, and thriving, are collective endeavors. That we believe that one person has no right to the product of our collective resources is a fundamental flaw IMO in USian logic.

  58. hutch
    hutch July 5, 2012 at 11:01 am |

    Equality for me is the end goal of a diverse and respectful society, a political and cultural ideal- equal representation and access to. So yeah, we’re all different, we all like different things, but we don’t have equal access to pursuing our own goals. Really respecting diversity, and supporting everyone’s growth as human being means you have to have equal, and actual, access to social and political resources. The only way to do that is through a proper distribution of social/cultural/political capital, relinquishing privilege, critiquing ourselves and our cultures. It would require massive social change. An equal society would be one with everything from proper paternity leave, an end to rape culture, 50/50 representation in parliaments, music, film, art-all of it. It would look amazing.

  59. Mxe354
    Mxe354 July 5, 2012 at 11:15 am |

    @EG

    I don’t really subscribe to any particular leftist ideology, because every time I tried to, I ran up against constraints or strictures I found fundamentally inhumane…and finally I figured that since nobody was asking me to be the architect of the revolution, it didn’t matter if I had a name for my philosophy anyway. That said, I do find the perspectives and aims of leftist anarchism to be more congenial to me than most other schools of thought, and I’ve always admired the role anarchism has played on the left, which is, as I understand it, to remind everybody else that you do not, you cannot make a happier society by abridging human rights.

    I understand what you mean. Personally, the only leftist ideology I like is anarchism; I’ve never been fond of Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, etc. Also, I hope we’re not derailing too much, but I’m curious about what you mean by the fundamentally inhumane constraints of strictures you have found in leftist ideologies. Can you elaborate, please?

  60. Mxe354
    Mxe354 July 5, 2012 at 11:43 am |

    I’m trying to point out that you LITERALLY CAN’T HAVE equality. People aren’t alike, so you’ll either have to treat folks differently to “make” things equal, or you’ll have to treat folks equally and have unequal outcomes.

    I honestly have never heard a single egalitarian base their egalitarianism on the desire to make everyone exactly the same. And anyone who has is an idiot.

    Regarding your stuff on Berkman: I hope you know that he wasn’t a state-communist. He was an anarcho-communist. Also, I suggest you read his work before you go on to make ridiculous arguments about equality of input. It’s like you don’t even know what capitalism is.

    Seriously? You [EG] may not LIKE the aspect of human nature which is inherently selfish, but attempting to ignore it has never worked.

    Not a single person in this thread has tried to deny that people can be selfish.

  61. EG
    EG July 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm |

    I guess I’m thinking of stuff that I mentally categorize as “Dictatorship of the Proletariat stuff.” I fundamentally cannot get behind a philosophy that espouses dictatorship as a necessary stage, as Marxism does, and the human rights violations that have ensued every time a country has tried to put Marxism into practice strongly suggest to me that they are inherent in the system. And while I’m not anti-big-government in the way the US right wing is–I think big government is one of the only things that can ameliorate the abuses of big business, although, as my mother points out, it almost always works as a tool of Big Business instead–I do distrust the idea of the State having as much control over people’s lives as the various forms of Marxism give it. And I don’t think I want a society in which there are no individual small business owners with idiosyncratic tastes and stock, etc. I need a leftism that allows for a full range of expression of individual tastes and perspectives.

    In many ways, anarchism is very congenial and would be ideal…but then I run up against my own cynicism…and then I start to wonder how, even if we grant a successful revolution, the alleviation of misery on such a scale as we have going on at this point could possibly be managed without some kind of centralized co-ordinating and processing organization…and that’s pretty much a government.

    So I don’t find anarchism inhumane–quite the reverse. But much as I want to, I can’t quite bring myself to believe it could work, either.

  62. chava
    chava July 5, 2012 at 12:38 pm |

    I

    n many ways, anarchism is very congenial and would be ideal…but then I run up against my own cynicism…and then I start to wonder how, even if we grant a successful revolution, the alleviation of misery on such a scale as we have going on at this point could possibly be managed without some kind of centralized co-ordinating and processing organization…and that’s pretty much a government. So I don’t find anarchism inhumane–quite the reverse. But much as I want to, I can’t quite bring myself to believe it could work, either.

    I DO find it inhumane. Every time it’s appeared, anarchism does nothing but encourage the most ruthless players to take power and eventually ends up in fiefdoms or dictatorships. It’s lovely to think about the American style anarchism where everyone owns a gun and looks out for themselves, Wild West Style…but it rarely works out well for the weak. Peaceful anarchy, IMO, is an oxymoron.

    That said, the freedom from the law in anarchism is appealing, and it certainly would create raw equality of opportunity for a spell.

  63. Mxe354
    Mxe354 July 5, 2012 at 12:51 pm |

    @EG
    Ditto on the stuff about state socialism/communism.

    In many ways, anarchism is very congenial and would be ideal…but then I run up against my own cynicism…and then I start to wonder how, even if we grant a successful revolution, the alleviation of misery on such a scale as we have going on at this point could possibly be managed without some kind of centralized co-ordinating and processing organization…and that’s pretty much a government.

    So I don’t find anarchism inhumane–quite the reverse. But much as I want to, I can’t quite bring myself to believe it could work, either.

    I admit that I can be pretty cynical about anarchism as well, especially since I’m so used to authoritarian ideologies. So I definitely understand your criticism. It’s one of the strongest criticisms against anarchism in my view.

    However, I don’t think that the picture you paint is inevitable. It’s only inevitable if the great majority of the population simply doesn’t care about alleviating the misery of others; after all, anarchism is based on cooperation among equals. But one purpose behind an anarchist revolution is to engender the very ethos that encourages people to care about others more – among other things. I personally can’t call a revolution that merely involves the destruction of hierarchical institutions a good thing. I don’t even think that’s possible, because anarchist direct action necessarily has a radicalizing effect on people.

    Social revolution, at least in anarchist thought, is a comprehensive, generalized, gradual process. A profound social change can’t happen overnight. And it can’t even start when the general public doesn’t care about dismantling hierarchy. A revolution must start with the people directly concerned.

  64. Mxe354
    Mxe354 July 5, 2012 at 1:03 pm |

    @chava

    I DO find it inhumane. Every time it’s appeared, anarchism does nothing but encourage the most ruthless players to take power and eventually ends up in fiefdoms or dictatorships. It’s lovely to think about the American style anarchism where everyone owns a gun and looks out for themselves, Wild West Style…but it rarely works out well for the weak. Peaceful anarchy, IMO, is an oxymoron.

    Very few genuine anarchists espouse that conception of anarchy. The idea that anarchy implies chaos is a distorted image of anarchism that people just mindlessly agree with. And if an anarchist society doesn’t even have the will to oppose people who want power over others, then it can hardly be called an anarchist society. At least not one that can stand by itself for very long. Like I said in my recent reply to EG, an anarchist society can’t work unless the anarchists in that society actually care about defending their liberty.

  65. matlun
    matlun July 5, 2012 at 1:47 pm |

    Very few genuine anarchists espouse that conception of anarchy.

    True. The question is whether they are espousing any realistic society at all or if political anarchism could ever form the basis of a stable large scale society.

    My belief: Like communism, it is a theoretical construct that would never work well in practice.

  66. matlun
    matlun July 5, 2012 at 2:12 pm |

    And also a question about SamLL’s definition of equality above: How is this not just equality of outcomes as opposed to equality of opportunity?

    Unless we have equality of outcome, at least some people would not be happy to switch places with a random person.

  67. EG
    EG July 5, 2012 at 2:12 pm |

    it is a theoretical construct that would never work well in practice.

    But how do we define working “well”? Is US capitalism working well? Doesn’t that depend on for whom we think it should be working?

  68. chava
    chava July 5, 2012 at 2:35 pm |

    True. The question is whether they are espousing any realistic society at all or if political anarchism could ever form the basis of a stable large scale society.

    Yep. I’m not “mindlessly agreeing” on a general concept on anarchy; I am instead looking at history and seeing that it has never gone in any direction except chaotic violence.

    I understand that leftist anarchists don’t have that chaos in mind in their ideal anarchist society…I just don’t see how it could fall out any other way.

  69. matlun
    matlun July 5, 2012 at 2:36 pm |

    EG:

    But how do we define working “well”? Is US capitalism working well? Doesn’t that depend on for whom we think it should be working?

    It is of course a subjective question. I think that it has been working fairly well. Where “fairly well” means compared to other systems which is sadly not a very high bar to meet.

    There are most certainly problems with western democracy and market economy as systems, but it seems to me far better than for example feudalism, Soviet communism, or other authoritarian systems.

    If we are talking about the US specifically, then I personally, as a Swede, see US society as very far right politically and I do not agree with much of current US politics. But the general idea with a modern democracy and market economy system is not really US specific, and I do not believe any other system is better than this.

    In short, I do not believe in revolution, but action within the current system. As difficult as that is, I see no better alternative.

  70. Mxe354
    Mxe354 July 5, 2012 at 2:43 pm |

    I’m not “mindlessly agreeing” on a general concept on anarchy; I am instead looking at history and seeing that it has never gone in any direction except chaotic violence.

    I understand that leftist anarchists don’t have that chaos in mind in their ideal anarchist society…I just don’t see how it could fall out any other way.

    Sorry for misrepresenting your position. Most people I know who oppose anarchy just do so because they read the dictionary definition.

    Anyway, I think that previous anarchist revolutions were largely incomplete. Even the most successful one during the Spanish Civil War had its fair share of flaws. For example, despite libertarian norms, women were often marginalized in the workplace due to the sexist culture that still existed. A true transformation to an anarchic society requires profound, general social change beyond the destruction of hierarchy. If a society is full of horrible people, then clearly there is more to be done before anarchy can work in that society. And unless everyone is inherently greedy and evil, it’s certainly possible for them to change and so change that society.

  71. Tomek Kulesza
    Tomek Kulesza July 5, 2012 at 3:17 pm |

    Chava,

    Every time it’s appeared, anarchism does nothing but encourage the most ruthless players to take power and eventually ends up in fiefdoms or dictatorships.

    I can’t think of one example. What cases did you have on your mind?

  72. chava
    chava July 5, 2012 at 3:58 pm |

    currently? Somalia.
    That’s taking anarchy in the strict sense of “no hierarchical control,” not in the sense of ‘an anarchist mov’t which failed,’ though.

  73. Tomek Kulesza
    Tomek Kulesza July 5, 2012 at 4:11 pm |

    Chava,

    currently? Somalia.
    That’s taking anarchy in the strict sense of “no hierarchical control,” not in the sense of ‘an anarchist mov’t which failed,’ though.

    Okay, i see that i interpreted what you said differently, about organized anarchist movement, not simple lack of central authority/presence of warring factions.

  74. EG
    EG July 5, 2012 at 5:29 pm |

    My understanding of anarchism, limited as it may be at this point (much of my reading was done in the past), suggests that the stateless society advocated by anarchism has nothing whatsoever in common with Somalia or US fantasies of the Wild West. For instance, doing away with authority based on hierarchy does not, in my understanding, do away with all authority, such as that based on learning. Further, an anarchist society is not a disorganized society. My understanding is that the guiding principle of anarchism is statelessness, not lack of organization or lawlessness.

    I do think that invoking Somalia is not quite the thing, because anarchism is not quite the same thing as “wipe out all authority and let the chips fall where they may.” A better example would be one where anarchism has actually been deliberately attempted.

  75. chava
    chava July 5, 2012 at 5:43 pm |

    @ EG
    I take the point, although anarchists come in flavors of both the Wild West and Parisian commune variety. I have always been suspicious of anarchist movements in general due to the potential for overall violence/chaos, which I maintain as a possibility.

    While I’m not a huge fan of the State, I never have been able to visualize a meaningfully different alternative. Even in an anarchist collective/commune/group or what have you, most will still admit the need for courts or some form of juridical system. And from there you need an instrument to punish offenders on behalf of the group…aaaand before you know it, you’re re-creating the State writ small.

  76. matlun
    matlun July 5, 2012 at 5:46 pm |

    My understanding was also that we were referring to anarchism as the political idea. It is kind of fuzzy class of idealogies really, and I am not sure which Mxe354 is referring.

    As usual wiki has some information and overview.

  77. Mxe354
    Mxe354 July 5, 2012 at 6:52 pm |

    @matlun
    The kind of anarchism I’m talking about is a type of social anarchism: anarcho-communism.

    @chava

    While I’m not a huge fan of the State, I never have been able to visualize a meaningfully different alternative. Even in an anarchist collective/commune/group or what have you, most will still admit the need for courts or some form of juridical system. And from there you need an instrument to punish offenders on behalf of the group…aaaand before you know it, you’re re-creating the State writ small.

    Anarchism is based on free association, collective self-management, and decentralized social organization. As long as the social institutions you’ve mentioned are based on those things and are not hierarchical, they cannot become statist.

  78. chava
    chava July 5, 2012 at 7:11 pm |

    Anarchism is based on free association, collective self-management, and decentralized social organization. As long as the social institutions you’ve mentioned are based on those things and are not hierarchical, they cannot become statist.

    See, that’s exactly it. I have a very hard time seeing how a society without hierarchy would *work.* That could just be the kyriarchy talking through me, but much to the angst of my colleagues in philosophy and complit, I’ve never been able to get behind the idea of a group without hierarchy.

    Bringing it back to equality, I suppose I’ve never seen the inherent contradiction between hierarchies of power and a just society.

  79. chava
    chava July 5, 2012 at 7:18 pm |

    the stateless society advocated by anarchism has nothing whatsoever in common with Somalia or US fantasies of the Wild West.

    Some of the movements various subspecies have quite a bit in common with the Wild West fantasy, AFAIK., particularly the American strains of anarchist thought. This isn’t my wheelhouse, though, so ymmv.

  80. Mxe354
    Mxe354 July 5, 2012 at 7:26 pm |

    I suppose I’ve never seen the inherent contradiction between hierarchies of power and a just society.

    Well, here’s how I see it: if hierarchy is unnecessary, then the imposition of hierarchy is necessarily anti-egalitarian and hence unjust. Social anarchists basically see the abolition of hierarchy as the logical extension of egalitarianism.

  81. EG
    EG July 7, 2012 at 9:33 am |

    Some of the movements various subspecies have quite a bit in common with the Wild West fantasy, AFAIK., particularly the American strains of anarchist thought. This isn’t my wheelhouse, though, so ymmv.

    That’s true, and I should have acknowledged that, but I think it’s fair to say that nobody citing Alexander Berkman on a progressive/liberal/left blog is advocating that.

  82. Emily
    Emily July 7, 2012 at 11:44 pm |

    I like your definition, SamLL. I think I know what you mean. Like, if I were to wake up in a new body chosen at random, as another sex or color or sexual orientation, another age or level of ability, I’d still have the same opportunities. I’d still be treated like a human first.

    I really like that definition, as I understand it. Equality should mean that all people are treated like people, with all the dignity and rights that humanity entails.

    But that’s an abstract definition. Living in privilege like I do, it’s hard to imagine a society where things are really just. Would Band-Aids come in primary colors, or a range of skin colors? Would every workplace have an equal distribution of men and women, races, ages, and ability levels?

    This week I’ve decided to finally de-lurk on all the blogs I follow, and I’ve been dealing with the immediate deluge of antifeminist criticism. Came here for encouragement. Was not disappointed. :)

  83. Matt
    Matt July 8, 2012 at 4:35 am |

    Please explain how a hospital would function in your society? And how would you deal with land ownership? I have seen many strains of anarchists float high on their clouds of egality, but anyone who has ever designed anything knows that it doesn’t mean shit till you execute. And anarchy has executed a grand total of never times.

    The reason that we have hierarchical societies is because they kicked anarchy’s ass.

    And how are you going to have anarchy with children? Hierarchy. Are you going to let your 11 year old child freely disassociate from your anarchist collective? Either say no and prove anarchy is a lie or say yes and prove anarchists are liars.

  84. A.Y. Siu
    A.Y. Siu July 8, 2012 at 6:13 am |

    Well, here’s how I see it: if hierarchy is unnecessary, then the imposition of hierarchy is necessarily anti-egalitarian and hence unjust.

    But imposition isn’t the only way for something unnecessary to exist. People could actually choose for themselves something unnecessary.

  85. EG
    EG July 8, 2012 at 10:49 am |

    anyone who has ever designed anything knows that it doesn’t mean shit till you execute. And anarchy has executed a grand total of never times.

    Interestingly enough, that’s exactly the same number of times that complete gender equality has been executed. And yet, I’m still in favor of it, because patriarchy, which has been executed over and over again, sucks.

  86. EG
    EG July 8, 2012 at 10:58 am |

    Let me also point out that anarchist philosophers have actually been working on such issues for years–they aren’t the brand-new dazzling stumpers you seem to think they are. If you are generally interested in how hospitals and health care would work in a left-anarchist society, a little googling will bring you easily to articles such as this one.

    Is there a reason you’re so hostile? Or are you just being obnoxious?

  87. Mxe354
    Mxe354 July 8, 2012 at 11:29 am |

    But imposition isn’t the only way for something unnecessary to exist. People could actually choose for themselves something unnecessary.

    I’m just saying that hierarchy is only important if it’s necessary. What you’re saying is irrelevant.

    Please explain how a hospital would function in your society? And how would you deal with land ownership? I have seen many strains of anarchists float high on their clouds of egality, but anyone who has ever designed anything knows that it doesn’t mean shit till you execute. And anarchy has executed a grand total of never times.

    Self-managed free association is the cornerstone of all anarchic organizations, including hospitals. As for land ownership, all genuine anarchists oppose private property. Oh, and you know what? Anarchy has been executed. Yes, it’s not nearly as common as authoritarianism, but many hunter-gatherer societies were anarchic, for instance. Moreover and most notably, during the Spanish Civil War, there was anarchy in Catalonia, Barcelona, and other cities. And despite a few problems, shit worked out pretty well. The only things that stopped it were some very unfortunate political circumstances, but that doesn’t mean in any way that anarchy as a concept is to blame. To make such a conclusion is to completely ignore what exactly led to the downfall of anarchy in Spain.

    And how are you going to have anarchy with children? Hierarchy. Are you going to let your 11 year old child freely disassociate from your anarchist collective? Either say no and prove anarchy is a lie or say yes and prove anarchists are liars.

    I don’t believe in controlling my children’s lives unnecessarily, but that doesn’t mean that I can throw common sense out of the window and let my hypothetical kid do whatever they want. Unless my kid would be in good hands, I would be worried if my kid just left the collective suddenly.

    That my answer is “no” doesn’t mean that anarchy is proven to be a lie. Anarchists don’t oppose all authority. Parents are a natural authority over their children, although they shouldn’t control their kids lives unnecessarily, indoctrinate them, etc. It’s not imposed “I’m your parent and you need to listen to everything I say” hierarchy. It’s a natural loving relationship based on caring for and protecting your children. If I found my hypothetical kid throwing rocks at my neighbor, I would stop my kid right way – with force, if necessary. If I, god forbid, found my hypothetical kid about to be hurt by something or someone, I would try to rescue him or her. When a caring non-authoritarian parent exercises authority over their children, it’s not a matter of power and subjugation. And you can clearly see that.

  88. Mxe354
    Mxe354 July 8, 2012 at 11:58 am |

    I have a comment in mod, but here’s a correction for my reply to A.Y. Siu:

    I should have said the “establishment” of hierarchy, not “imposition”, although I’m inclined to believe that all hierarchy is established through coercion.

  89. matlun
    matlun July 8, 2012 at 3:04 pm |

    Hospitals seem a very strange “counterexample” to anarchy. Why would this differ from any other industry?

    There are much more fundamental problems with for example how to replace the justice system. How do we deal with crime without ending up with vigilantes and mob rule or a government?

    As EG points out above these are not new issues but have been debated as long as anarchism has been debated.

  90. chava
    chava July 8, 2012 at 3:16 pm |

    Well, here’s how I see it: if hierarchy is unnecessary, then the imposition of hierarchy is necessarily anti-egalitarian and hence unjust. Social anarchists basically see the abolition of hierarchy as the logical extension of egalitarianism.

    I think that’s the best I’ve ever heard it explained, thanks. I’m still on the “hierarchy is necessary to get shit done” bandwagon, but I understand the opposition to it better now.

  91. Niall
    Niall July 11, 2012 at 12:07 pm |

    This is a question I’ve been pondering a lot lately. Defining what equality means is obviously important because without it, it’s hard to know when it’s been achieved or at the very least if we’re heading in the right direction. In terms of gender equality one of the most common refrains I’ve heard (and read) in the last ten years around this question is “Yes we’ve come a long way, but we’re not there yet. Not by a long shot.” So one asks ‘well if so much has been achieved, what is it that’s left to be done? And the answers range from things that are tangible and measurable like full and equal access to a woman’s right to choose including unrestricted access to abortion, birth control and emergency contraception, full equality before the law in countries where this does not yet exist etc. And then you have goals and ideals that are defined largely in terms of societal attitudes towards women and gender; like the eradication of beliefs (explicit or implicit) such as women should put family first before their career, the idea that women who are raped are somehow deserving of it or at least partially responsible for what someone else did to them, that men who are aggressive and tough are to be celebrated and lauded, while women with these traits are “ball-busters” or bitches etc.

    It’s these latter set of goals that puzzle me the most because they can’t be measured as easily and concretely as the former. Sure opinion polls about people’s beliefs and attitudes can be helpful, but I would think they can also be deceptive because we all know people don’t always say what they mean.

    So that leaves me wondering – how can we know when cultural attitudes and norms have truly shifted and changed in the right direction?

  92. Gorb
    Gorb July 17, 2012 at 1:26 am |

    The problem with anarcho-communism is that, while even prettier than communism itself in that it will detest authoritarianism from the get-go, it’s designed for a different species of animal.

    Both male and female homo sapiens engage in fierce status competition. All social mammals do the same. It’s inherent to the condition of social mammals. Those with political instincts show all behaviors normally associated with people: wars for those with organizations of any kind, murder, gangland violence, coercion, manipulation, alliances, treachery, even hoarding.
    Social insects, while more removed, show all the tendencies of human organizations, as well, especially concentrated, vicious warfare. Often, those best organized are capable of the greatest violence, just like among humans. And this violence often has clear goals. It’s not just random.

    So while interesting, that kind of equality is likely not in the cards for humans as they exist and are born today. We forget that we are animals, nothing more, nothing less: Most of our consciousness is a programmable evolutionary accident. We are chemical machines, even if of the highest order.

    As chemical machines, social mammals, the descendants of millions of years of hominids, we’re both independent thinkers and not nearly as independent as we think. Much of our social order is predicated on base human instincts.

    It’s a massive ego trip to think that we’re all that different from our relatives, the other great apes. We’re just *more* – more complex and more of the same, but not something altogether different.

    Given that, anarchism, while ideal, is a very rarefied goal, and is ideal – for rational minds that are interchangeable.

    The small percentage of both men and women who would take advantagae of others in such a system would almost immediately render the system useless, and send it into complete and irrevocable chaos. Remove those people, and someone else would need to take their places.

    It’s conceivable that yo ucould literally breed passivity into people and opportunism out, but this would take a machiavellian breeding program and many generations of savage culling before you could reprogram the instinctive human brain and human nature.

    Huamsn are like dogs. You could do it. But the social costs would be unbearable.

    And whatever we’d be, we wouldn’t be human like we are now. Even with all of our flaws.

  93. Gorb
    Gorb July 17, 2012 at 1:35 am |

    In short:

    Humans are instinctively hierarchical animals. We do this from birth, and all human societies throughout time have had hierarchies. Whenever any surplus of anything accumulates, hierarchy immediately results.

    Social sniping, backbiting, alliances and plots aren’t second-nature to humans .They’re actually the core of human nature.

    No society exists without some sort of hierarchy. The most “primitive” human societies have divisions of labor, injustice, and gender-issues. All of them. There are no exceptions.

    Some people are more attractive as mates than others. Some are better at some things than others, and some of this is innate and not learned. Some categories exist: Without birth control the fact that one human carries the child and feeds it milk and the other does not so radically alters the biological nature of the animal it’s almost impossible to imagine them being exactly the same in a social structure: biology programmed us for efficient reproduction, like rats or cockroaches, not for social egalitarianism.

    So counteracting this requires active agency. Alas, it likely requires permanent active agency.

    Our instincts and the default social instincts we use emerge from tens of thousands of generations of inequality, unequal survival and the endless quest to steal as much of the genetic future as possible. This is the entire purpose of all living things: To breed as much as possible, and maximize genetic survival. There is no other biological command more powerful, or more basic. All else is an elaboration on this.

    As social mammals, we’ve not escaped this at all: We’ve just layered overtop a massive number of extra structures designed to refine this process and make it easier.

    So if we want to create a society without any hierarchy, where all people have precisely the same amount of power, where no person commands any more attention or less, where all are treated exactly the same –

    then this needs active, constant, vigilant reinforcement, and natural human instincts need to be counteracted.

    because this is not our default state.

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