"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Dec 30, 2010

Quelle Question?!

So, I don't know much. Yadda yadda yadda.

I take the interrogative pose, or something, to existence.

So the question, for me, comes down to this:

Can people get shit done without dividing into bosses and staff?

I know. That's a loaded question, because it assumes "get[ting] shit done" is of any value. So, let's dispense with that, at face value. Let's reject the teleology of progress, of meaning in events, of history which has goals.

It's a dodgy proposition, anyway. All it's advocates can do is assert, and then argue from the past that didn't happen, in order to propose a future that may never occur.

I just mean, "can people make stuff, live in relatively close proximity, and survive for any given period of time, without dividing into hierarchies?"

Anyway, I read a series of arguments (h/t to BDR and Wayne Kaspar, for the links) which sort of come close to the origin of the question.

Here and here. In the first, an argument against this. In the second, an argument from this. Too many points, and too many entries, to do a fair synopsis. Read them, or don't. I don't care. I have a root canal in a few hours and like some sort of fantasy fate what comes down and balances out the heart of my luck with the root of my suffering, I came into some money (won, heh) about sixteen hours before I cracked a tooth. So, now instead of getting a bow and archery lessons for my oldest, I'm giving that cash to a guy who already has a whole lot of it. Two guys, in fact. The endodontist who will make a zombie of my molar, and then the dentist who will take an additional $1500 I don't have to crown the traitorous and newly undead tooth, as a reward for its treason. A lesson there. Or not.

My dentist and I don't have a boss-client or boss-staffer relationship (gawds, I hate that word; it presumes an etheric connection between persons, when it fact all that holds the relation is data in memory, memories which have no identity with each other, since they exist as such in entirely different heads). But, he does have an advantage. A license, a reward for education. He can pull teeth for money. I could pull teeth and go to prison. Or give my wife cause to have me committed. Well, more cause. He obtained that license from a top-down organization - l'État. So, I get my tooth rebuilt because some men govern.

Or something.

What say you?

ADDED IN EDIT: I am sick of the stupid "Somalia" argument. It's stupid. That's the sum of it.  Somalia is a Western financed war zone. It sucks to live there, not because it lacks a central authority, but because it's a competition zone between several very strong foreign centralized authorities. Asshats.


Justin said...

"Read them, or don't. I don't care."

I am going to try and put some thoughts together on this because its a question I think about fairly often too.

As for Somalia, I've dealt with that before, here are some useful links in the text.

(So why leave a comment that only promises to comment later? Because I want to procrastinate at the moment, and this comment puts pressure on me to follow up.)

Anyway, good luck with that crown. I had a root canal 4 years ago and fucker is still giving me trouble.

Al Schumann said...

I'll take a nibble. The credentials are useless where actual performance is concerned. Most medical training occurs on the job.

I've never been to any doctor, except out of desperation, unless I first got the lowdown from people whose judgment I trust. The board certifications, licensing, academic background and so forth have never been a factor. I don't care about them. What qualifies a doctor, as opposed to credentializes one, is the continued vitality of the people who seek the service. Tangentially, I'd have much more confidence in some kind of apprenticeship system for credentials.

fish said...

Long ago I read a book about non-hierarchical economies by Michael Alberts (Participatory Economics, Parecon). There was a newspaper called the NewStandard that worked on parecon principles and generated a pretty good product for several years. Ultimately it failed to generate enough profits to sustain itself. So I think it is possible, but difficult. I can't imagine horizontal organization larger than 5-10 people working very well, and I think in order for it to work with even the small number, you have to have unusually good people. This was also my reaction to Parecon concepts in general. They probably work great if you can preselect the 5-10% of people that are smart enough and dedicated enough to make it work. I am not sure it is a functional model for humanity though, as I have a rather poor view of humanity in total.

Jack Crow said...


That's a more patient, better argued rejection of the "well, look at Somalia" argument than I could have rustled up.


I'm not sure there's any way to do away with formal education, even in the sense of guild/trade apprenticeship. I'm just musing on how - or if - it's actually possible to do the "being human" stuff without the boss/staff divide. I don't honestly know, though I rather obviously prefer to believe it's possible.


I have only disdain for participatory economics - because I loathe the fuck out of the underlying and oft unquestioned assumption of all econologic: that human persons make economic choices, as economic choices. That applies equally well to Friedmanism, academic Marxism or classic economic theory and theorists. The majority of the world's people make survival choices and it's one hell of a conceit for academic coddled burgher boys to assume that they in fact do otherwise. "Economics" is a gloss, and a deceptively simplified one, for all the numbers and graphs and theorizing involved. It attempts to summarize the brainbody choices of a hungry person according to a logic which never has to define itself with any real reference to that brainbody. It assumes a reducibility of need - and that is perhaps even more arrogant than the claims of the Abrahamic creeds which laid the groundwork for it.



Jack Crow said...

Y'know, Al - this question is the bitter root of my ongoing and increasingly less civil dispute with Dawson and Op-san. [Well, Dawson is a very smart guy who makes excellent observations, and then negates them by being a dick to everyone who disagrees - so there's that.]

They argue as if the alternatives don't exist, that the possibility should not even be considered. And I refuse to assume, on faith alone, that people can only be divided up into bosses and bossed, however voluntary the initial agreement.

I think the assumption (hierarchies must exist, human nature, etc, demands it) is poison - not because it's untrue, but because those who believe it end up building monstrous societies.

Assuming for a moment that people - until the structure of the brain, and the nature of our mammalian-primate infant/childhood dependency changes - will always require some sort of leadership framework in which to operate, I think it's important to assume a default position of doubt, all the same.

That doubt - and doubt, in general - is what keeps us, well, human.

Without doubt, we become attempted angels on the way to acting as inhuman demons.



Al Schumann said...


I'd say the bosses and hierarchies are indispensable under certain conditions. Broadly, that's mass production, maintaining mass output in the teeth of real, natural scarcities and hanging on to it when scarcities affect the sustaining basis of other organized societies. Timing and efficiency of allocation make a difference. Concentrated ownership of fixed and liquid capital follows from that, as does specialization. They're efficient. With specialization, you do have classes that can make privilege a condition of their cooperative participation. The logic is impeccable and bugfuck nuts.

The C4SS people have proposed a really interesting solution. I'm not sure I can do it credit, in a blog comment or any other format. But for whatever this is worth, in industrial production it amounts to mass redundancy—ownership that's fragmented, distributed and fixed capital that's made around as many interchangeable parts as possible. It's not unreasonable. We already have elements of it.

The rub comes in agricultural production. I think it has to be treated as a public good.

I'll need to get back to this (my eyes are going in out of focus). I've digressed all over the place and still haven't gotten to a direct address of your commentary.

Al Schumann said...

Can people get shit done without dividing into bosses and staff?

Yes. It would necessarily mean a much less efficient form of social organization. In areas where coordinated labor and timely allocation were critical, it would entail "wasteful" redundancy, but the redundancy is preferable to the efficiencies born of constant maintenance of the infrastructures of punishment and war. Overall, it would mean a much higher standard of living for the many.

The only remaining problem, in my opinion, is the transition.

Landru said...

Can people get shit done without dividing into bosses and staff?

Sure, as long as they're working by themselves and their success is not dependent on the labor of others. But that's a glib non-answer to a question you didn't ask. Yay me.

My opinion is tainted--I'm a boss--but my answer is "sometimes." An answer to the question that (I think) you'd find to be a happy one is far too dependent on an assumption that all persons have the capacity for productive social behavior--and for refraining from the imposition of power (and it is a fallacy to argue that labor has no ability to impose power).

On the other hand, I'd also argue that bossing does not necessarily require the imposition of power (and I believe that I am using the word in the classic Crowvian sense, as is only appropriate here). I'd prefer to say the distasteful imposition of power, but I have a guess as to what the adjective would attract.

Happy New Year, my friend.

AlanSmithee said...

"Can people get shit done without dividing into bosses and staff?"

Well, yeah, I think so. At least, there's a lot of "recovered factories" in Argentina that seem to work well without bosses. I think it's called "autogestion" or summat.

DPirate said...

Why not get your tooth pulled for a couple hundred bucks? You are going to lose them all eventually, anyway, and then you will buy a shiny new set of teeth, for a lot less than you spend on the ones you have now.

davidly said...

Actually, I think you've summed up "Somalia" perfectly, Jack. Anyone uttering it relegates themselves unto some variant of Poe's/Crow's/some other O(e)'s Law. It's beyond irony.

Al Schumann is spot on regarding "transition".

Are you familiar with time banking? In short: that dentist's hour is worth no more than yours. I'm no practitioner or participant in time banking, but from that standpoint, at least, it seems like an opt-in worthy of practice.

Jack Crow said...

Thanks, folks. It's been better than expected.

Good replies, all. More later.

fish said...

I have only disdain for participatory economics

I don't have disdain for it. I just recognize it as a luxury model. I am pretty sure workplaces that incorporate such philosophies are much more enriching places to work, I just think they are never going to be adopted large scale because they are too empowering and don't afford good opportunities to concentrate capital.

Jack Crow said...


I'm a "seize" the means of production sort of fellow. ParEcon is a "beg corporate for ergonomic chairs and more committee meetings" sort of approach. I know that's not what it's advocates argue for, but given the world we live in, the only way to achieve ParEcon that doesn't involve seizure and insurrection is to pleas with corporate to change its business model. And if corporate institutes ParEcon style dynamics, you can wager on it being good for the bottom line, some how...

That's my point of disdain.



fish said...

Agreed. I only imagine parecon models working in startup situations with employees dedicated to an alternative. The (seized) Argentinian coop factories are a decent example of this.
Regardless disdain or no, I don't see it really competing on the big stage.