Egalitarianism - and Its Discontents

Continuing the discussion from :sparkles: ME vs THE WORLD SOCIETY LEAGUE :sparkles::

[quote=“japhroaig, post:27, topic:70758”]
Now we are getting somewhere ;)[/quote]

Is this really the first time that there has been a BB topic about egalitarianism itself? It’s about time! I find it fairly simple to understand, but challenging to put into practice. Lots of my lefty friends wring their hands about people “should be treated as if they were equals”, yet completely lose their wits and start flinging poo over acting upon it in daily life. So, what gives? Do you think egalitarianism is less practical than authoritarian hierarchies? Do you feel embarrassed and vulnerable because others don’t all subscribe to it? Do they really need to? Is it better as a vague ideal than a way of life?

Gird up your loins for the awesome freedom, responsibility, and irrepressible social organization of: The Egalitarianism Topic!


@popobawa4u do your ideas about socialization reference one or more published theorists?

No, not as such. This topic is self-documenting! But I am interested to follow up on pointers to publications or theories elsewhere.

I was never taught egalitarianism, it always struck me as being completely obvious. I am more interested in practice than theories, but how people’s practice does/doesn’t jive with certain theories could be interesting.

Then are your ideas about socialization mostly based on your unique experiences? Improvised?


I’m an anarchist so I’m all for it, but that doesn’t say much specific considering the myriad tendencies just in my political corner; I lean toward syndicalism but find many of its proponents, like the IWW, a little old-fashioned.

In my practical experience organizing, there was always at least one leader (somebody who took initiative and responsibility, and who guided others), even in groups where that wasn’t reified into a hierarchy.

Hierarchy is a power structure where the goal is to keep power stable, to keep it tiered and immobile. I heard a good anecdote once to explain the difference between a mere power differential and hierarchy: the former is like a parent-child relationship, where the goal is to raise the child so they can be their own person (abolishing the parent’s authority), whereas the latter wants to keep going like that forever. In this second case, even if the people in the positions change out, the structure is still the same–hierarchy, power over others that does not willingly allow itself to be revoked.

On the flipside, there were often people in the organizing scene who stressed “horizontalism,” which in most contexts meant that they wanted somebody else to do all the work, while they still had say-so, thus undermining the emergence of any perceived “leaders.” This dynamic was explored at length in the famous essay, “The Tyranny of Structurelessness.” Being on the other end of that–subjected to said “tyranny,” where anybody who excelled got pulled back down–it felt a lot like working for petulent bosses, so not egalitarian at all.

To me, egalitarianism, or whatever you want to call it, is pretty simple: decisions and power structures that effect people should generally be controlled by those people, people who want something should have to do the work for it, and of course, “each according to their need.” This has far-reaching implications for the organization of infrastructure, trade, and the degree of the division of labor; it requires a certain degree of organization (“Liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order”) and is incompatible with capitalism. I don’t think it’s possible to talk about egalitarianism abstractly and remain honest; the concept is as much about producing spaces and goods/services as it is about producing social relationships.

This goes back to Marx’s “secret of the commodity,” wherein commodities have been elevated to the level of social beings, and the humans producing them have been reduced to the level of objects, only so much labor-power required to produce the commodities. His basic point was that we can’t just look at objects for their face value; we have to see the social relationships embedded within them (colorfully described as “congealed human labor”).

I don’t think that egalitarianism is impractical or inferior to authoritarianism; it just takes more active engagement from more people. For millenia, Men With Power have organized societies by violence, destroying or absorbing and subjecting anti-authoritarian societies (which usually didn’t prioritize the accumulation of power and wealth). We’re now simply at a point in human history, and have been for some time now, where anti-authoritarian forms of organizing society can’t survive without intentionally dismantling opposing structures. And that’s super hard to do given that all of the ruling power structures across the globe are authoritarian, thanks to the aforementioned, terribly compressed history, and there are no more neutral spaces in which to “start over.”


Of course my ideas are based upon my experiences. I have read a bit about socialization in various places, those are other peoples ideas, based upon their own experiences. Do you assume that ideas published in books and journals have an essentially different significance or character than ideas communicated in other ways? It would seem more than likely that this would have the effect of them being filtered through the ideologies of their publishers.

Most of what I have read has tended to be more descriptive. I think it’s quite odd to prioritize theories about why some people socialize the ways they do. This neutrality makes sense for the perspective of an outsider documenting them for anthropological study. But the balance of this in any given culture tends to be prescriptive, trends exploited by hierarchical groups such as governments, religions, businesses, etc. What surprises me is that even in nominally “western” cultures which claim to be based upon personal freedom, freedom of association, etc that there seems to be hardly any prescriptive/facilitatory non-hierarchical socialization.

No, simply systematized based upon my experiences and interactions with others, rather than defaulting to schemes devised by strangers. The idea of egalitarianism, as I understand it, is that such systems are best negotiated and agreed to by the participants.


Do you mind sharing? What are a few of the books or articles that you have read about socialization?

I would be happy to share, but I honestly don’t recall. I have read quite a few books over years touching upon it, some more from the cognitive science disciplines, some more social/cultural in nature, some more political science/propaganda/warfare stuff. None of it anything recent. Some names might pop into my head this weekend as I work.

I have to agree with @Comrade on this topic. If we want true egalitarianism, we have to work to dismantle what exists, because it’s so powerful and pervasive. We can, of course, drop out and ignore the problems of our neighbors, etc. but we’re not all truly free until we’re all free.


I think that’s interesting too because it suggests it’s possible to make and share non-prescriptive/facilitatory non-hierarchical socialization.

For me, it also suggests another question that’s even more interesting: How to distinguish between (a) socialization that is non-prescriptive/facilitatory non-hierarchical; and (b) socialization that is prescriptive and hierarchical?

Mind if I toss out a third option?

One of the problems with any national ‘ism’ is that it places the same requirements and standards on every human within simply because they were born there.

This has turned every society to date into a sort of ‘race to the bottom’ where we end up with generic solutions for millions of people that almost nobody particularly likes. In fact, I’d argue that our current governmental solutions actually are a net negative when it comes to the point of civilization, which is enabling us to work together in groups larger than 150-ish without disrupting each other.

That in mind, I’d argue that the only really viable system is one that people are invited to join, but must ‘raise the bar’ to a certain level before doing so, and it must be something that people can leave if they choose to.

I think that’s a huge fundamental flaw in almost any governmental system I’ve seen so far, with the only exceptions being small planned communities that are designed to keep under Dunbar’s number but are not designed to gather more people and are, as you describe, just ‘getting away’


How would these groups be distinguished from “white flight” types of gated communities? How would the risk be reduced of less advantaged communities being isolated from economic resources by race? Or citizenship … status as a property owner?

In the latter category, I’m thinking of examples like the Warsaw ghetto before WWII or colonias (i.e. former labor camps) in California or Texas.


Why would somebody choose the latter? Again, they’d have to choose it and they couldn’t be trapped in it…that kind of covers that, right?

As for the former, IMHO it’d be much better as a large entity that contained a multitude of options within, otherwise Dunbar’s Number isn’t being taken into account at all…so that’s a different solution entirely.

Either way, the requirement for people to be able to join and leave means this would be better riding on top of existing nationalities rather than trying to supplant them (which would also defeat the ‘of choice’ bit)

That’s partly why the question interests me.

Presumably no one would choose to live in a racist, economically unfair system unless coerced, traumatized, misinformed, etc.

And many have chosen to live in a gated community despite the suspicion that doing so may disproportionately burden others.

For models, think Corporation, Religion, or NGO…those are the three I’m aware of that can pull this off.

And don’t forget[quote=“William_Holz, post:11, topic:70851”]
That in mind, I’d argue that the only really viable system is one that people are invited to join, but must ‘raise the bar’ to a certain level before doing so, and it must be something that people can leave if they choose to.

Lots of corporations and co-operatives already have viable ethical hiring models. The religion would have to be fundamentally agnostic (Unitarian, Pastafarian, etc.). An NGO would likely need some sort of advance agreement to make it work.

Also: Let’s define this ‘raising the bar’ as to the level at which somebody is willing to treat learning and growth as an ongoing process, prioritize logic and reason, and explicitly avoid ruining other people’s days. Mondragon and others have already incorporated far more detailed variants of that, but that’s better than ‘let’s bomb Agrabah!’, right?


I think this caveat adds a third (super-interesting) question.

Legal ownership and control of assets in corporate entities is generally separated from their daily operation.

So to what extent does consensus by the equity holders trump consensus by those participating in day to day decisions resolve questions, e.g., which policies raise or lower the bar for admission to the community?

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See, now this is getting fun, right? At this point I’m also going to throw in a ‘try to think of some solutions to the problems you’re seeing’, because that way I’m not priming the pump too much. We’re definitely in untrod territory here (or rather a combination of other well traveled paths combined in an unusual way) so we should be looking at multiple approaches, right?

First off, while I think there needs to be a minimum threshold for initial entry, each ‘mini-community’ should have their own choice of governmental, economic, and social systems from top to bottom. So the target is 24/7 campuses that fully support everyone within rather than just a cool office. No point in sending people back to Detroit at all, right?

There’d need to be some mechanism for large ‘corporate wide’ decision making, but those decisions should be kept to a minimum. My thought is that each X years, at least three different voting systems are used to vote for which of those three are used for those votes. That should only apply to enterprise-wide decisions though, communities should get to choose their own methods for internal and mutual decision making.

With those in mind, my thought is that the distribution of resources should be to communities and not individuals, and then the communities (which were chosen by the individuals) would handle it from there. You’d want to set up some competition between them (people can move every quarter or something so they’re not trapped) and there’d have to be a number of non-invitation-only ones to start with.

However, within there’s not reason not to have very heavily customized ones filled with people who are on very specific pages. This could include lifestyle/entertainment things (Cosplay island, Paintball Forest), types of job roles (Nursing/medicine, Science/research, etc.) specific commitments (vegetarians, peanut-free zones, etc.) or whatever groups decide to form. Use a pen-and-paper RPG style system so that people are choosing to sacrifice things they don’t want (lawns for example) for points to get things they do, and so on.

Basically, it’s voting with your feet, but taken to a slightly different level. Mini-governments/corporations are competing for people.

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Yes!! :smiley:

That’s fair, and I will share a “spoiler alert” that I think that we’re headed into a fascinating and inevitable cul de sac.

I think the challenge here is how to establish the legitimacy of the desired outcome for the members of the community by consensus of the members. In order to do so, the community must result from sufficient consensus of members to affirm that the organization of the community is fair overall even if it does not seem fair to every individual member at every particular moment.

Because the assets that form the economic foundation of the campus are legally controlled separately from it’s administration, that consensus is tougher to obtain. The “owners” will ordinarily expect and want more control than the non-owners. The non-owners will feel coerced to acquiesce. Both dynamics undermine the legitimacy of the consensus, esp. when the community faces hard times.

We know that communities’ economic systems — like states and countries — share dependencies with external economies. So the effort to externalize the costs of the community, say, of removing sewage, contributes to privatizing gain for that community and socializing its costs for other communities.

That’s the dynamic that reproduces the “gated community” problem mentioned above. I don’t see a solution to the problem if we start with (a) the premise of creating a community separate and apart from the community we currently occupy and (b) the premise that we will create a separate system that does not engage systemically with the nuts and bolts of the injustices in the current systems.

On the other hand, it reads as a potentially terrific and energizing place to live and work — way better than working on the Google campus.

And, at the same time, it reminds me of Dave Eggers’s book, The Circle. And of past efforts to create “company towns” generally, like Pullman before the 1893 recession.


You actually nailed the approach here by pointing out the flaw. And also, Kudos for knowing about company towns, almost nobody makes the connection!

Don’t try to compete with the people who need to be motivated or who are going to nitpick over this or that, don’t worry about the ones who are going to constantly compare themselves to others, and so on.

Instead…compete with unemployment, Wal-Mart, and being an orphan or a refugee…while still inviting in the over-enthusiastic, creative, and semi-gregarious types. Don’t sell it as a ‘new life that you work in’, sell it as a ‘safe place to work that you can also live in…also, bonus awesomeness’.

So, addition by subtraction. It’s all about the people that you don’t have to motivate first.


I want to go to there. :smile: