"...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

Jul 2, 2010

...and the the results of this contest so far...

The form of hierarchy has remained relatively stable over the five millenniums of recorded civilization. The population groups over which hierarchy has ruled, and the manner by which persons engage in and determine membership in a ruling faction have not.

The human structure of power has a consistency which seems to indicate some enduring constant in the process of developing a society, community or group over which a smaller party rules.

The governed human population groups have such a variability - ranging from bands to tribes to tribal affiliations to tribunal republics to linguistic nations to horsemen kingdoms, to feudal and religious fiefs to nations and nation states, to companies, networks and associations, to industrial and information corporations - that one might reasonably suggest that the population group itself matters little, when determining the shape or form of the faction which governs it, except perhaps in the management of who belongs in that governing power.

Power remains stable. The project of power has not changed in any fundamental way since people first realized they could force others to labor, converting raw materials into luxury, weapons and controllable territory. The governed body, and how members of that body conceive of themselves, does not.

Changed identity, changed group membership - ranging, again, from tribe to international party to transnational corporation, and all the variations in between, and conceivable - has not altered the human shape of power, nor the relative stability of the dominant hierarchical forms.

Adherence to power, then, should occupy our attention, we who resist authority. Not the manner of group ruled. The shape of ruling factions, and the stability of that form, provide an insight into how to oppose power.

Not by changing the relations between ruled parts, but by changing the relation between ruled and rulers.

Sever the connection.

Encourage disobedience.

And wherever possible, make it exceedingly difficult for the ruling factions to recruit their replacements from whatever form of population over which they rule.

The form of power - a small order of ranks, with several adjutants answerable to a primary authority, assisted by a body of councilors and a lesser organ which interacts with the ruled parts symbolically, with enforcement done by members drawn from the population group itself and trained to identify further with power - has a stability which provides us also with its primary liability.

It replicates itself, and the replication does not depend on the shape of the ruled population.

Stop the replication process.

Again, encourage disobedience.


Jenny said...


M said...

It is mistaken to believe that just because power is in the hands of the few, it doesn't benefit the many. The oppression of women creates male privilege, i.e. benefits men, the discrimination of people of colour creates white privilege, i.e. benefits white people, the exploitation of the Third world benefits the West, etc. - there are always many people who benefit from various forms of power, the effects of exploitation are widely dispersed, hence the lack of widespread resistance to oppression. That is why power is stable.

Jack Crow said...

The relevance of the link eludes me, Jenny. Par for the course, I guess.

Jack Crow said...


To get power in the hands of the few, the many already must be subjugated first. "Giving" them "benefits" after the fact is almost exactly like a rapist "giving" a woman a kiss after he violates her.

M said...

No, no it isn't. Subjugation of the many is possible precisely because it also provides benefits for many (not necessarily the same many). The benefits are not something the few give because they feel like it, but because they make subjugation possible. How many people benefit from things exactly as they are now, whether it's cheap/unpaid female labour, the Third world sweatshops that produce cheap goods for the Westerners, the cheap (highly subsidized) meat that makes corporations billions of money, etc? The wealthy elite may be raking in billions of dollars from all this, but all of these things also benefit the many, which is why they're continuing.

Quin said...

Also, the "benefit" that power and entitlement delivers may not be particularly desirable. The soldier who kills in the name of power is left harmed just as surely as his victim. And if, to fully enjoy the spoils of being a privileged white male in a sexist, racist society, I must internally subordinate and infantilize the woman and non-whites in my life, this certainly precludes loving them in any way. What a dreary place existence would become if it were really so.

M said...

Who benefits from the fact that women earn less than men or do more unpaid work, for example? Who benefits from the fact that immigrants live on the margins of society which allows them to be exploited all the better? You personally don't have to subordinate women or immigrants to benefit from the fact that as a man you'll benefit from male privilege in society or the work place or the politics or wherever, or that as a non-immigrant you'll benefit from the cheap goods their cheap labour produces.

Quin said...

ASP, these "benefits" you describe-- they're all either things we can live without in such abundance, or they are things that people would gladly find for themselves, and better, had the system not evolved to make the powerful the only ones who could mete them out.

Do we really need so much clothing? Aren't real fruits and vegetables always healthier (and better tasting) than the corn-based edible foodlike substances on which America's poor are forced to subsist? And so on.

M said...

The system, such as it is, does not rest only on the ability of the few powerful to mete out the benefits, but also on the willingness of the many to enjoy those benefits. Of course we could live without the benefits, but we don't, because there is no will among people to change things. Engaging in any form of activism towards social, political and economic change requires work and sacrifice, and people, as a group, do not display much desire for that. When it comes to oppression of groups of people - system-wide oppression of women and people of colour may be supported by ideology in general, but in the end the ideologies of patriarchy and racism to a great degree rest on every individual interaction between people that discriminates against women and people of colour in society, in the workplace, in academia, in the laboratory, wherever. When it comes to oppression of workers and the poor - while it is true that Nike, for example, earns a lot of money by exploiting sweatshop workers in Indonesia, or wherever they have their factories, their ability to do so rests firmly in the hands of the people who take their money and spend it on Nike's overpriced, sweatshop-produced goods. The same goes for many other products, as well as animal food. And when it comes to energy and sustainability, the fact is that oil companies exert great influence over policies, but a great role is also played by ordinary people, by the many, who do not use public transport when they can, or ride bicycles if they don't need to travel far, preferring always to enjoy the comforts of their cars, and such people are many - they are also those who, through their consumption, make it possible for oil companies to have such great influence on policies.

I argue that all of these things point to the fact that, whereas power and wealth may be concentrated in the hands of the few, that is not because the many are subjugated, but also because the many are participating in the subjugation themselves. Some have no choice but to participate (for example, because they cannot afford to buy anything but products of cheap and exploited labour force, or abused animals, and they need their cars to travel to work, etc), but many, I argue, do have a choice, but are not taking it. Because, even though the could live without them, they prefer to enjoy the benefits.

Quin said...

ASP, I pretty much agree with most of what you've written. What I don't quite understand is how you see your point of view conflicting with Jack's.

M said...

I understood Jack as saying that it is obedience that makes concentrations of power possible in the hands of the few over the many. I guess I don't think that's the whole picture because it is often also the case that the many facilitate oppression not through obedience, but through choice.

Jack Crow said...


I don't mean that at all. I don't draw arbitrary boundaries between "choice" and "obedience." In fact, in discussing rather repeatedly how people are educated, shaped, formed into modes of adherence I believe I've tried to rather explicitly blur the distinction, because drawing it to clearly implicates the governed for choices they may not even understand they've been assumed to have made.

The function of power, especially where authority is not hereditary, must include the dual inculcation of belief in both those who rule and those who are ruled.

Both broad groups - the governing factions and the ruled populations - have to believe in the rightness of the arrangement, or at least in its relative unassailability.

But, whereas those trained to rule are educated in the methods of control, those trained to obey are educated in the beliefs of subservience.

I know that it can be more fluid than that, since there are a lot of surplus persons who receive a fair or decent training in ruling class methods, but never obtain that sort of employment - but generally, the abstract rule I've tried to isolate has less to do with the shape of the governed population, and more with the stable configuration of power which seems so enduring and widespread.

M said...

I don't draw arbitrary boundaries between "choice" and "obedience." In fact, in discussing rather repeatedly how people are educated, shaped, formed into modes of adherence I believe I've tried to rather explicitly blur the distinction, because drawing it to clearly implicates the governed for choices they may not even understand they've been assumed to have made.

This is what I disagree with. There is more than an arbitrary boundary between choice and obedience, and there is frequently plenty of understanding about choices made, but are being made precisely because, like I said above, people benefit from them. There are forms of resistance against ideologies of power within society - resistance which focuses on the issues of women's rights, worker's rights, racism, climate change, whatever - which inform many media and are available to a large public, yet the large public is still perpetuating the oppressive behaviours that support power. That is not because to all of them the distinction between choice and obedience is blurred, but because they benefit from discrimination, they like their sweatshop-produced goods, they ignore climate change because they like (as opposed to need) their cars. Is it really hard to find a distinction between choice and obedience in an act of buying Nike's products, even though you know they've been produced by an exploited workforce? At least when buying things (if we have money to buy expensive stuff such as Nike's) we could choose not to participate in the perpetuation of oppression, but we are not doing that, we still choose to support an abusive corporation. I don't think this behaviour is a product of beliefs of subservience, as you put it, although much of the behaviour of the governed population certainly is. In many cases, there is a clear distinction between obedience and choice, the choice is perfectly understood, and is still made.