Unfetter your institutions

In a post this morning Dennis Hewlett refers to Andrew Keen on institutions and makes the comment that “What is clear is that unfettered, society and professions could run into many difficulties.” I, rather facetiously perhaps, commented that “It’s not as if “fettered” institutions haven’t been managing to “run into many difficulties” themselves recently!”

In an uncanny coincidence I am currently reading Noam Chomsky on Anarchism and specifically the Spanish Civil war. He discusses the way that collectivisation by the anarchists was portrayed by both communist and fascist governments as chaotic and unsuccessful. In fact this would appear not to have been so clearly the case and Chomsky explores the tendency of those in power, of whichever political persuasion and sometimes bizarrely even in collusion with each other, to create the impression that without a select group of grown ups in charge we would all run amok!

Discuss …..

12 thoughts on “Unfetter your institutions

  1. Hi Euan,Chomsky is an anarcho-syndicalist, so anything he says in praise of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists probably needs to be taken with a bit of a pinch of salt.The UK’s anarcho-syndicalists themselves are by the their own admission the very *last* people you want to have involved in your post-capitalist, co-operative future, if you want it to actually have any chance of thriving!I base this conclusion on an article in the UK (anarcho-syndicalist) magazine ‘Direct Action’ from 2001 – which surveyed the worker co-operative movement.It found that the people attracted to this attempt at building a post-capitalist milieu were in fact “committed individualists” who not only rejected authority, but “also chose not to recognise their own co-operative responsibility”.They wouldn’t recognise democratically arrived-at decisions, even though they were involved in them, they wouldn’t turn up for agreed tasks etc etc.“In a word, they were selfish, not co-operative”, says the article.“The co-op movement attracted the very people who did it no good”, the article concluded.So, this is what the partisans of anarcho-syndicalism found – I’m sure their critics would be even more scathing.I think I’ll opt for keeping a few ‘grown-ups’ around, until the stateless utopia is definitely upon us… ;-)Discuss… Matthew


  2. I keep seeing flashes of Life Of Brian and the people’s front of Judea and labeling oneself as an anarchist, not washing often enough and wearing lots of black gear does little to dispel this impression. However I don’t believe that this means that with the right encouragement more people might not be encouraged to grow up and take responsibility for themselves than do now without the necessity of an ideology to cling to!


  3. I generally concur with Matthew on this (and still waiting for you to complete The Disposed). Chomsky needs to be read with caution on political matters (and linguistic for that matter). George Orwell as Eric Blair say the divide between POUM and the International Brigade in the final days of the Civil War, all of which are recorded in the excellent Homage to Catalonia. It remains the case that disunity amongst government forces resulting in a fascist Spain, and that anarchism in its various forms contributed to (despite personal bravery etc) to that terrible state (sic). Anarchism is viable as a radical dissenting movement only within the context of a non-anarchist State, its an indulgence, a way of avoiding taking responsibility. The great irony is that in ideological terms the various libertarian movements of both left and right had far too much in common. Chomsky condemns Ayn Rand as evil (agreed) but her views and his on governance are very similar, and Randian Laissez-faire capitalism the likely outcome of that ideological position.


  4. I love the irony that my post was about the tendency of subsets of society to save the rest of us from ourselves and here I have two "grown ups" leaping in to warn me that Chomsky was an anarchist and worth being wary of – as if I didn’t know! As your comment came through Dave I was writing a post prompted by your own post about balance between experts and the mob which is the same sort of issue as this re-stated. I agree about libertarianism and anarchism being as bad as each other but I am also very wary of ideologies, including religion, because these too easily absolve people of taking responsibility and can too easily be abused. Organised and "grown up" groups from the Nazis to the Soviets along with other religious groupings have caused untold mysery and destruction which makes the projected risks of chaos caused by faith in emergent order seem trivial in comparison.


  5. I almost referenced that blog in the post so pleased you saw the connection. I think the thing we are agreed on (or at least I hope we are), is that any ideology (we all have one or two including you) that allows people to disengage from acting morally in the here and now is dangerous.As to the irony, well when friends show concern it may be on the basis of previous evidence …..


  6. Anarchy is always an interesting concept. Can remember my time at Aberdeen University talking about it with a number of staff members and senior students. As well as looking at the Spanish model we also went back to the Russian inception based on the know ecology of ants and bees in the 19th Century.I am currently reading The Age of the Unthinkable by Joshua Cooper Ramo and I would suggest that the Hizb’allah organisation could be defined not just as Chaotic but also Anarchic in its manner as set out in the book.The problem with an Anarchic community is that it needs all those within it to think of the whole and act for its benefit. When applied to politics the actions of those in the Westminster Parliament demonstrates that when the community stops functioning social controls fall apart. Once an MP realises that the Cabinet and Whips Office have the power they no longer seem to wish to act for the good of others but rather seek just to benefit for themselves. It is not just the current group that have failed the Conservatives over the last ten years of their last Government also failed and we saw genuine sleaze. I am sure with more insight I could highlight similar actions in the European Parliament, Italian Politics, French Politics and the US.


  7. Hi Euan,There are an inordinate number of strands of anarchism – some of them very ‘grown up’, others quite the reverse: opportunist, violent and selfish (far worse than those selfish individualists that ‘Direct Action’ magazine found were most attracted to worker co-ops).Think of, say,Gandhian or Tolstoyan non-violent anarchism versus some of the ‘might is right’ libertarian or even Bakuninist varieties – or the Black blocs, chaotics and autonomen of German anarchism.When protesters arrested at the Berkeley (riots?) in the 60s were assessed using Kohlberg’s moral development scale, it did indeed find a strange mix of selfish, pre-conventional rebels (‘no-one tells me what to do’) and post-conventional idealists, who actually cared about the ethics of bombing the Vietnamese etc. (No convetional conformists of course: as they don’t see any reason to protest!)These people would often look the same, would chant the same slogans – but if you ask why they are doing it – you will hear radically different reasoning at work. Plus it’s the pre-conventional reasoners that are usually the violent ones etc…I think it’s important to make these distinctions – but almost no-one does (you have to really get inside someone’s head to be able see this material).It’s utterly frowned upon to distinguish adults by their differing levels of maturation – even though this can explains an awful lot about their values, their behaviours, even their ability to build a ‘Learning Organisation’ (ie most leaders are not mature enough to risk the vulnerability and loss of command-and-control that this entails. Prof Bill Torbert reckons only about 7 per cent of leaders have reached the late stage of maturity that is needed. Hence we hardly ever get real ‘learning organisations’, even when they’re flavour of the month).We live with a ‘Flatland’ ideology, where all these distinctions mustn’t be noticed…That’s what I currently suspect, anyway…Cheers,Matthew PS Re anarchism – I must own up to a certain level of past involvement, I once offered Chomsky a compelling bit of war on terror-related research, which he told me he’d integrated into some of his more recent books. The founder of the green-orientated anarchist movement – the late Murray Bookchin – once, to my surprise, even whipped out and showed me the gun he carried, which once possibly saved his life (as he was about to be robbed).And as for all that protesting I did… 😉


  8. I’m not even touching the question of Chomsky and the politics of anarchism during the Spanish Civil War. But the idea that organizations bother fettered and un-fettered can run into trouble reminds me of one objection large enterprises sometimes have to open source projects: what happens if the project dies?To which I often respond, how many commercial projects have you purchased which changed owners, made radical shifts in roadmap and focus, were end-of-lifed, or just faded out of support?Dries Buytaert likes to quote Clay Shirky: "Replace planning with coordination" in reference to how the Drupal community manages the Drupal project. It isn’t the same as having a corporate "product manager" who determines the roadmap based on some broad "market feedback" – but it is remarkly effective nevertheless.


  9. Thanks for the comment Matthew and I must confess to feeling guilty of a knee jerk reaction to what I wrongly assumed was a knee jerk reaction on your part! Great comment about the learning organisations or lack thereof and thanks for the greater insight into some of the various flavours of anarchism.


  10. You are right John that we place new ways of looking at things under scrutiny in a way we rarely do to current orthodoxy and it doesn’t always stack up very well when we do.


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