-> Dispensing with hierarchy <-


Richard Moore

Dear Warren,

I'd like first to say that when my investigation began, I
presumed that 'representative hierarchical authority' would
necessarily characterize any possible solution to achieving
meaningful popular sovereignty.

Since then I've learned two things.

The first is that there can be no hierarchical solution.  I
learned that it is the inherent nature of hierarchies to
self-aggrandize and to become increasingly centralized. 
When a hierarchy is in charge of society, then it leads
inevitably to indirect but effective rule by one elite or
another.   Like capitalism, hierarchy is a carnivore. 
Capitalism is in fact a manifestation of hierarchy - it is
the economic system which most efficiently motivates
everyone to serve the interests of the wealthy elite who
control our political hierarchy.

The second thing I learned is that there is a considerable
and encouraging historical record of non-hierarchical
societies, and that there are other relevant social
examples, from other domains, which offer additional
encouragement.  I saw enough diverse examples to convince me
that human nature is not inherently incompatible with

Given this new information, I decided to look into the
feasibilty of a non-hierarchical approach, and to find out
which circumstances facilitate it and which undermine it. 
I've engaged in research of various kinds, including some
work with facilitators and group processes.  I'm now
convinced there is a strong case to be made, and Section 2.d
will be my attempt at that, enlightened by our current dialog.

1/10/2001, •••@••.••• wrote to WSN:
    > It is an evergreenly seductive philosophy, one in which we
    might all wish to invest our hopes, but which, in my
    fallible judgment, has no foundation in human history or
    human behavior. Its basic premise, that people are good and
    society is good and that everybody can or will work together
    for the common welfare, is contradicted by every page of
    human history.

The premise is not that 'people are good', but that people
are _capable of behaving well, _if the society facilitates
such behavior.  Not that 'society is good', but that a
society _can function well, _if it is set up in an
appropriate manner.

Now let's look at human history.  The development of
hierarchies has dominated the last mere 10,000 years or so,
but for 99% of human history we all lived in relatively
small, hunter-gatherer societies.  If we want to investigate
'human nature', to the extent there is such a thing, we
learn more by looking at the conditions under which we
evolved, than we do by investigating our behavior during our
recent confinement in hierarchical cages.  Today we may pace
back and forth in a confined space, or run a treadmill all
day, but that is not our nature, that is our cage.

We have an immense amount of information about
hunter-gatherer societies, and some of the most useful is
about the Native American societies, because they were
studied extensively and documented while they were still
functioning on a large scale. The Aztec and Inca empires are
of no interest in this investigation, nor are any other
societies based on agriculture.  What we're interested in
are the examples that match 99% of our history.

There was a striking degree of diversity among these
pre-agricultural societies, even among ones which interacted
with one another regularly.  There were warrior tribes,
peaceful nomadic tribes, and even settled communities, when
fish were plentiful enough.  A considerable number of these
tribes had egalitarian, non-hierarchical structures of
non-trivial complexity.  The one I've looked at most closely
was the Oglala Sioux.

There were elders, and there were chiefs, but they had no
authority to command.  They were looked to for leadership,
but they were only followed when their suggestions met with
general approval.  When a tribal decision was to be made, it
was made by consensus, and the chief didn't have more weight
than others, unless through persuasion or wisdom.  Perhaps
women were left out, and this would indeed be a
micro-hierarchy within the society.  But the
macro-architecture of the tribe was nonetheless
non-hierarchical, and it was stable.

Perhaps more interesting, since we must deal with the
problem of scale, is the manner in which the Sioux Nation of
tribes reached decisions for collective action.  The
invasion of the colonists forced the Sioux to make frequent
use of this collective mechanism, but it was already in
place - the result of millennia of societal evolution.

A tribal council would be called by one of the tribes.  Each
tribe would then hold its own consensus session to decide
its position regarding the issue at hand.  A contingent from
each tribe, led by the chief, would then go to the tribal
council -  where another consensus session would be held.  A
chief had no authority to agree to anything contrary to what
had been established locally.  If he exceeded that
authority, his tribe would simply not back him up.  On the
other hand, if the tribe had committed to something, then
the chief knew he could promise the tribe's cooperation and
that they would follow through.

In this way, collective action could be effectively planned
and coordinated, without there being any central authority
with the power to pursue an agenda of its own. What was
delegated to the chief was not 'decision-making power', but
rather the 'authorization to say on our behalf that which we
have decided'.

The Sioux were not an isolated example, by the way.  The
pattern was a common one, and the interaction between
unrelated tribes also exhibited the success of various kinds
of consensual relationships.  One tribal nation was studied
by some of the Constitutional framers, and they allegedly
borrowed quite a few ideas.

These kinds of non-hierarchical, non-federated tribal
nations persisted stably for long periods of time.  They
were able to function collectively as a nation with
considerable effectivenes and coherence when the need arose,
without the need for hierarchical government of any kind. 
Rather than being contrary to human nature, and
'contradicted by every page of human history', I submit that
non-hierarchy may be at the very heart of human nature, and
that it appears prominently on every page of human history,
except for that most recent page which began only an
evolutionary instant ago, and which is called 'civilization'
(and which might be better called 'domestication of the

Once stored surpluses came into existence, with agriculture
and herding, then it became possible to maintain
professional soldiers, and so the tools of conquest and
empire building became available.  It required only one
society to pursue this path, and then all the rest were
doomed - sooner or later - to either abdicate or emulate. 
Once the infection of hierarchical domination begins, the
dyamics of its spread are all too apparent.

But people have not forgotten how to cooperate, despite
every attempt of our culture to inculcate competitiveness
and selfishness, both in education and in the societal
reward system.  There are all sorts of organizations and
associations that are entirely voluntary and for mutual
benefit.  Some are hierarchical, and others are not.  The
recent conditioning has not unlearned the lessons ingrained
by millions of years of evolution.  We may have forgotten
the social structures we invented formerly, because those
can only be passed on culturally, but our ability to
function in freedom within such structures remains

    > Let's not kid ourselves.  There is no real "movement" out
    there. The vast (99%) majority of the human race today has
    no commitment to revolutionary transformation, either out of
    ignorance and abject poverty, or misguided hopes of joining
    the microscopic elite that runs everything. You or I are not
    going to play messiah.  It is our solitary task to witness
    to the promise of better times, keep flickering flames
    burning, and never let the dream die.

No, there isn't a real movement yet, and I find disturbing
the naivetee of those who claim that globalization has been
significantly stalled by recent protests.  And there is
certainly little support for any kind of 'anti-capitalist
movement' among your 99%.

And yet, the 'objective conditions' are clearly that a
majority of the world's people are not being well-served by
the current regime.  In particular, the Western middle
classes - which had always enjoyed a visibly privileged
position by world standards - has now in effect been
abandoned to market forces.

Those 99%, with 'no commitment to revolutionary
transformation' are, as you bluntly put it, ignorant of
their circumstances.  This ignorance needs to be overcome. 
That will be difficult, but the problem is not
insurmountable, and diverse efforts are now underway from
many quarters.  Many of us are talking about the movement in
a systematic way, and looking for ways to help it evolve to
the next level.  I do not believe that the difficulty of
'arousing the masses', given all the ammunition capitalism
is giving us, will prove to be an insurmountable barrier.

I believe much greater barriers are presented by the
problems of movement organization and platform.  If we do
not get those together pronto, then the inevitable societal
discontent will be channeled toward fascism, and we can
already see those seeds sprouting at home and abroad, and
even in the new White House.

We know that we need a post-capitalist system, and we know
that will require, eventually, a complete restructuring of
how everything is done in our Western societies.  No one in
their right mind is going to sign up for such a
restructuring (ie, join the movement) unless they can see a
very strong light at the end of the tunnel.  No one will
throw everything away for an unknown, as long as they have
any way at all to survive as is.

Without an effective movement organization, there can be no
movement.  And without an appropriate manifesto / platform,
there can be no mass recruitment.  If these problems can be
satisfactorily addressed, then I submit to you that
perceived mass apathy will vanish like a mist.  It needs
only a few degrees of hope and excitement before it
vaporizes.  I saw a film of a Santiago crowd on the day of
Allende's inauguration.  I'll never forget the tears of
exhuberant joy and empowerment on the people's faces,
particularly the women.  That is a powerful energy.

The appropriate organizing paradigm, I have suggested, is
something one might call 'inclusive harmonization', or
'networked consensus circles', but I would be loathe to give
it a fixed name or to start a 'harmonization movement'.  The
process itself is the thing, in whatever diverse evolving
manifestation.  It is a non-hierachical process, and
requires no institution to function.  It can work with
hierarchical organizations quite easily, as long their
representatives keep their word - with both the movement and
their constituents. The process builds community, develops
bonds of trust, and erodes factional disputes.  More about
this in Chapter 3.

In some sense the manifesto / platform arises naturally out
of the networking process of the movement - some
deliberations are about platform, and some are about
coordination of efforts.  But in another sense there needs
to be an ideological kick-start.  Someone, or some group,
needs to do the basic analysis of what is possible and what
is necessary, from an overall systems perspective.   Marx &
Engels, in 1848, rose to that challenge and evidently did a
creditable and servicable job of it, within the context of
industrial, nation-based capitalism, in class-based
societies. There have been socialist success stories.

He, fortunately, was engaged in more than keeping the embers
burning.  He was both preparing the kindling and pointing
out where plentiful logs could be found.  Why is it
inconceivable that anyone could again 'play messiah' in that
way?  Is that not what we need?   Does humanity now lack the
analytic or creative ability, in any of its members, to rise
to the challenge?

What I'm doing, while waiting for my betters to solve the
problem, is trying to work out a solution that at least
makes sense to me.  Fortunately, there are a considerable
number of people, such as yourself, who have been willing to
step up to debate at critical times, and thereby focus the
development of the ideas where most needed, while
shedding new light into the process.

From a systems perspective, as I see it, both hierarchy and
capitalism are incompatible with a world that I would call
in any meaningful sense 'livable' - not if we want a decent
balance of liberty, participation, stability, peace, and
economic well being in our societies.

Also from a systems perspective, it is clear that there have
been a number of stable societal models that have proven
their vitality in our long history.  Among those are
non-hierarchical models which are capable of scaling upwards
without introducing layers of power.  This is an
architectural observation, not an engineering prescription. 
There is work to be done, but I think the architectural
space does exist in which to do that work successfully.

It _is possible for humanity to live in harmony, based on
trust and mutual benefit.  But not if hierarchical forms are
allowed to crystallize in any aspect of human affairs. 
Hierarchy needs to be contained the way plague is contained
- as a similar threat to public health.  Once we rid
ourselves of it, we'll realize what a nuisance it has been
all along.  

It is difficult for us to imagine now what freedom would
feel like - as it would be for a man born in prison.  That
difficulty is what Neo's awakening scene in "The Matrix" was
trying to express.  And fortunately, the freedom to which
_we will awake does not yet have scorched skies.  There is
still time, barely.

From this perspective, I suggest that THE movement is made
up of those who believe that humanity can learn to harmonize
itself, and who believe that building the movement is the
best way to creatively develop that concept in practice.  
If their efforts bear fruit in microcosm, then our
globalized world is likely to facilitate exponential
infection by this  counter-hierarchical vaccination.  The
vision, fortunately, is "evergreenly seductive", and when
people see it in practice they will begin to perceive its
objectives and potential in a new way.

Don't give up hope.  It's always darkest before the dawn.

best regards,