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How would building and organizing large infrastructure work without hierarchy(centralization)?

0 votes
Please explain. Basically, how would people agree to build and airport and maintain it without some hierarchy?

I ask this because someone told me that they aren't a collective socialist for the reason that some form of leadership hierarchy is needed to build and maintain large infrastructure. They said it can't be managed on a macroeconomic scale, like capitalism can.
asked Sep 8, 2016 by anonymous

the question seems to make the assumption that large infrastructure projects would be desirable or necessary in a world without institutional hierarchies. which implies the persistence of mass (and i mean mass) society.

i am not sure that maintaining mass society is possible without the institutional hierarchies that co-created/co-depend on it. so i think the question remains in the realm of (accepting) the status quo, rather than questioning what creates and underlies that status quo.

2 Answers

+6 votes
I feel absolutely a-okay with a potential anarchist future where the infrastructure needed to build an airport is non-existant. Really, if you think about it, airports are the easy bit - a large enough level field and (maybe) a building or two. If we can't muster enough organization to pull that together, then there is no way we will maintain fleets of airplanes, continue to extract the fossil fuels they run on, etc.

Snarkiness aside, why couldn't anarchists build an airport and maintain serviceable airplanes? What makes it so that capitalism does so? Markets? If so, that is invented and/or monetized needs. If there was a need and desire there is no reason some anarchists might not choose to build and maintain an airport, though I will admit that I find a hard time reconciling the building of airports and the maintaining of air travel with an anarchy I want to be involved with, and I bet things would get uncomfortable when the airport anarchists collectively decided that they needed to expand their airport into the farmlands of the next collective over who perhaps want to keep growing kale and fava beans for the masses (never mind any individualists and egoists - they are just loose cannons, and I am sure that collective immanent domain trumps their desire to live where the new landing strip should go).

What will happen when, due to expanded flights on Libertarian Air, the LibAirCollective realizes they need more fuel and that that fuel exists in a place where the residents don't have a mutual aid and trade agreement? Maybe those residents don't like the potential risks to their water quality that comes with resource extraction and the infrastructure (trains? pipelines? freeways? another airport?) required to transport said resources....

I diverge from the actual intent of your question, but I do so because I think your framing  (or maybe more accurately that of the person you were talking to who is focused on macroeconomics) deserves to be challenged on the level of assuming that an anarchist world would look anything like this one, or that we would be striving to maintain things like air travel, which are in and of themselves products of capitalism.

This anarchist suspects that it would be ultimately more desirable to abandon many technologies taken for granted in modern industrial civilization (airborne travel is in that list). Then again, I am not so interested in convincing folks who are not anarchists of the righteousness of my perspective, especially if I would need to water down my beliefs to meet their cynicism about things like collectives, or terms I feel emnity towards, such as socialism. Forget it. I am not trying to win converts.
answered Sep 8, 2016 by ingrate (21,970 points)
edited Sep 9, 2016 by ingrate
I upvoted this answer because the first paragraph makes an incredibly good point: what's so necessary about airports? They're a very recent invention, and most people don't use them on a regular basis. There are a ton of different technologies that exist that aren't in any way necessary to live an enjoyable life.

I fucking hate cars. If they had never been invented, then people wouldn't need to use them! Life would be easier if it wasn't for cars, and people wouldn't have to work as much paying for all the expenses they entail. Now adays, people think it's weird if they see you walking places. I got accused by a lady of robbing her house just because I like to go for walks.
This question also made me think about how anarchists do organize. I have helped with some anarchist projects over the years where my level of activity and/ordegree of engagement with that project might bet me pinned as having a "leadership" role, and I don't necessarily think there is anything wrong with that in and of itself. I think this sort of attitude would apply well to the building of infrastructure like airports, etc. even if it is something I personally have no desire to see for many reasons.

I think it becomes a problem when that role becomes static and relations stratify. Relationships almost always have dynamics of power and hierarchy wrapped up in them, and to pretend that anarchists are somehow free of these dynamics is ridiculous.
The same is the issue with institutions and organizations: institutions and organizations don't necessarily compromise the freedom of anyone, but when they become resistant to change, feel like the walk-of-the-dead when attending them, and become resistant to disbanding, then that is when they need to be destroyed (and of course, the resistance to disbanding will prevent this).
This planet will someday in the distant future be destroyed by a dying sun. For the human race to persist, large scale space exploration is necessary as well as the manufacturing of large spacecraft. I am new to the anarchist philosophy. I am a socialist and am trying to understand how large necessary projects that need infrastructure and massive resources can be achieved. Thank you
what large projects do you consider "necessary".....and why?
welcome, cmac. don't be too discouraged by the voices here that will challenge your assumptions.

by the time this planet dies due to sol aging, humans will almost certainly be long gone. likely (at least largely) as a result of the the kinds of massive industrial projects you are talking about.

the colonization of space that you refer to is contrary to anything i consider anarchistic, even leaving aside the physical and emotional damage done by the techno-industrial processes necessary to make that a reality. the perpetuation of humanity into the distant future is not something i find particularly important or appealing, especially when doing so requires the destruction and/or suffering of so much life in the present.

nah, imo humanity has made its bed. at this point it's only a matter of when it is time to go to sleep. it's just too bad that most humans had no say in the activities that made the bed they are/will be forced to sleep in.
0 votes
Any project of any size can emerge from a network of independent, self-employed individuals with no employees. Just think of all the people involved, from the lowliest laborer to the top engineer, as single-person contractors and contractees with reciprocal engagements that are all very, very short-term.

My vision of anarchy is simply the absence of coercion. In the relationships among those engaged in the airport project: no sticks, only carrots. It would be great to see a big project like an airport come together without any bosses or employees, just people who can and want to help make it happen.

Let's not confuse this with teamwork. I hate teamwork. There is no fusion of goals and responsibilities. Individual goals and responsibilities are clear. Everybody has to find a way to be useful in order to be appreciated. It all adds up to make the functioning airport.

Why? Ask your friend, why must there be a hierarchy? Why must someone give orders for others to follow? Why can't that person just post "wanted" adds on the internet for immediate solutions to the particular problems that arise? All so-called employers must see themselves as customers for unique services ; all active persons as solution-providers.

Look, if the project has to be forced top-down it isn't right. If it's right it would happen without authority.
answered Sep 15, 2016 by Syrphant (560 points)
i'm not sure why people are downvoting this answer by syrphant, which is saying pretty much what other posters have said in other threads -- which is, that enough people want something to happen, then it can happen without hierarchy or coercion, regardless of what the project is... the fact that many of us don't include airports as desirable doesn't impact that answer, does it?

perhaps i'm not understanding something?

1) I don't like the business centered analogy, and the presence of contractors and contractees implies the further absent-god presence of contracts which in turn imply a legal structure, making the whole thing look like, at best, backdoored anarcho-capitalism.

2) Lack of coercion is an insufficient criteria for anarchism as far as I'm concerned, which ought to exclude even a hypothetically coercionless hierarchy. If it can be all carrots, then someone is doling out the carrots, which is just financing by other words. Lack of coercion can also be said with the word voluntary, and voluntary hierarchical organizations run by those with accumulated finances is, at best, backdoor anarcho-capitalism.

3) I think there are real limits to the number of people that can actually self-organize, cf. Dunbar's Number, and so definitely disagree with the idea that any project of any size can be accomplished through anarchism. Granted, it is conceivable that very large scale projects could be accomplished through cooperation by multiple self-organizing groups, so what I mean is that it is presently indeterminable exactly what large scale projects can be accomplished anarchistically, but I do not think it is the case that any or even many large scale projects could be achieved anarchistically.

4) Finally, I disagree with the moralistic sentiment in the last line even, or perhaps especially, if it's merely a conflation of anarchy with the Good.

i downvoted for pretty much the reasons strawdog gave.

the legalistic and monetary aspects don't sound anarchistic to me, or the conception of "lowly" laborers and "top" engineers, or the conception of "rightness". the "carrots" must get created somehow, the contracts must get enforced somehow - i don't see how this works without some central authority.

i  disagree with the notion that any project of any size could happen anarchically.

i also don't understand why people couldn't anarchically share goals and activities within a given project.

i feel interested to know why people upvoted it.

i agree the business metaphor (including carrots) is counter indicated. i wonder what syrphant would think of demotivational training (a book :) )...?

Here's a good snippet from Demotivational Training (thanks for the recommendation, dot!)

"What is a motive? It is in the most basic sense that which leads to movement. By extension it is a reason to act. Motivation is, then, the
creation and communication of motives to get people to move
in a direction that is seen as useful, or (to speak the language of
our times) to make them continuously more flexible and mobile."

While I agree with Paoli in general, I think he suffers from the same paralyzing capitalism-paranoia we often see on this website.  What a jump he makes from "reason to act" to "make them continuously more flexible and mobile."  ?????   I suggest we just stop tilting windmills and stick with that "basic sense" of Paoli's: motivation is that which leads to movement.  IFF we consider self-willed movement as the defining feature of life, then motivation is the reason for living.  Knock carrots all you want, but giving and finding reasons to get up in the morning is not necessarily back-door, sneaky, cape-and-top-hat wearing curly moustache capitalism coming to steal your children.

Another good snippet from Paoli:

"The second reason motivation is more crucial than ever
is that the real needs of individuals to which social institutions
once claimed to respond (we could mention among others, the
need for stability, the thirst for social encounters, the pleasure
of mutual recognition, the hope for a better life) have been systematically
destroyed by market colonization."

I agree. But it is not the market that is really to blame but the attitudes of the participants in market exchanges. There've been a bunch of asswipes in the market that failed to recognize the "real needs of individuals." 

In a different place (http://eipcp.net/transversal/0704/paoli/en) Paoli has a wise old man advise a frustrated entrepreneur as follows:

" You can’t train a person to be motivated any more than you can teach him to be free. In both cases the training process itself eliminates any possible free will. Whoever is forced to *act* motivated cannot possibly *feel* motivated."
"But then what am I to do?" asked the entrepreneur.
"You can inspire respect and emulation by setting a good example, by demonstrating your own model behavior. You should treat your co-workers as you wish them to treat you. They should enjoy the same affluence as you do, rely on the same security in sickness and old age, have sufficient time for leisure and socializing and above all: they must find fulfillment in what they do. Then you won’t have any need for motivational trainers and your people will remain loyal to you."

Couldn't put it better myself.

Now, I see no reason -- other than human personality flaws -- why a bunch of people can't find mutual recognition, give each other reasons for moving, and helping each other "find fulfillment in what they do" in the construction and maintenance of an airport...without hierarchy or shared goals or anything, really, than mutual respect and golden-rules all around.

We can't do it, though, because it would require a level of trust that we cannot possibly get to, not with all the back-door capitalists lurking in the shadows... ;)   First the righteous have to do a big witch-hunt purge until no one remains but those who "believe that they don't believe in anything anymore." (from Demotivational Training).  ;)

(1) Contracts do not imply any legal structure. I write up and sign legally unenforceable contracts all the time. It is simply the formalization of an agreement: you do this, I do that. We write it down and sign it because we know we are likely to forget exactly what was agreed. In no contract whatsoever am I concerned with any lawyers or legal systems.

(2) Doling out carrots is not necessarily financing. A carrot can be a hug. The word voluntary is a pretty good word. I particularly like voluntary association. I'm sure a voluntary hierarchy could exist, but I would personally find voluntarily giving up one's freedom as morally disgusting. Certainly not necessary for any project I would support.

(3) Dunbar's number. Great concept and I fully agree: there are only so many individuals each of us can have in our circle on a first-name basis, and we should limit our interactions to that handful. However, the circles are not isolated, but overlapping, making a huge web. I might have a job at the airport that never brings me into contact with you, but a guy I work with works with a guy you work with.  The anarchist airport I'm imagining is just one of those wholes greater than the sum of all its Dunbar numbers. ;)
bornagainanarchist doesn't understand why anarchists can't have shared goals. They can, but need to be extremely cautious about it and vague. Too often we are duped into sharing someone else's goals, while that so-called team leader is just presenting her goals as ours. People diffusing responsibility; conveniently powerless. We've been burned too many times on this stove-eye. There's only one sure defense against such Jedi mind trickery: Strict vigilante enforcement of full respect by all for the intelligence and dignity of each and every individual involved.  That pretty much rules out teamshit.
so in this airport construction project (which i figure would take at least hundreds of people), who contracts with who to do what, exactly?

i've personally never had involvement with any type of contract that did not entail legal or monetary considerations (usually both), and i see no need for one in any other relationship or project i've ever taken part in where money and/or law did not come into play.

i guess we could go round and round here syrphant, but no matter how we both express things, i feel a significant difference in point of view...and i feel fine with that. but it seems like you mean to imply we don't see things differently.
Syrphant, can you say more about your dislike of teamwork? I find that part of your answer really intriguing, and it stimulated some stuff I've been thinking about a bit lately.

I have been liking the way your answers challenge me to think more, even though I don't necessarily always agree with your perspective.
Bornagainanarchist: Didn't mean to imply we don't see things differently; probably the only thing we have in common is whatever shared interest draws us both to this forum. I'm just glad to be able to provide some fresh insight to a group of obviously brilliant people who are unfortunately stuck in a rut; like if you've never imagined that people would write up an intentionally unenforceable contract then it is surely interesting to you to discover that such contracts do actually exist.
They don't: the legal enforceability is what makes a contract a contract, not being in writing as a contract can be verbal as well. An unenforceable piece of paper is at best just a written agreement, not a contract.

Contracts, like private property, are legal notions that do not and cannot exist without a legal framework.
Contractors and contractees are professional terms dealing with those who buy and sell legally binding contracts. Again, without a legal framework these terms do not and cannot apply.
Dunbar's Number is not about those we can have on a first name basis but rather a general limit to the ability of brains to remember and track interpersonal relationships. A person within your "Dunbar group" is someone who you know well enough that you have an accurate gauge of your interpersonal history with them as well as how they relate to every other person in the group. Dunbar's don't overlap and intertwine in the way you suggest, because they are not abstract geometries but actual relationships one must maintain (though your response is a standard initial response). One of the things about Dunbar's Number is its a theoretical biological limit (with all sorts of neat examples as to what happens at that limit), but reaching it actually takes a lot of interpersonal work ("social grooming"), which becomes more efficient the more interlinked (circular, enclosed, tied off) the group is (think buckminsterfullerene). When a group can't tie off, it doesn't interlink with others, instead it frays. The size of one's Dunbar shrinks then to whatever the actual size is of the group with whom you can maintain a constant state of social awareness, actual physical care (ie. non abstract, really taken direct actions, maintenance), and so on. For your average atomized American, this is the people you work with and maybe a few family members. For nerds, it's your immediate circle of nerds you hang out and nerd it up with. For radicals, it's your friend-politic-organizing group. My estimate on self reflection and observation of those around me puts the average Dunbar at something like 5-20 individuals, nowhere near the biological limit. To be clear, I only care about the science here to a point, what really concerns me is how atomization and sociality really work and that, for one, sociality takes real, non abstract work and daily maintenance.

In this hypothetical airport with among other things whole industrial supply chains, we aren't talking about a few, large, self sustaining and intercooperating really-existing-societies (Dunbar units): the workers involved don't have the time for that and the supply chains, which involve hundreds of additional industries, involve millions of people. At that point we are talking many thousands to perhaps hundreds of thousands of tied off inter-estranged social units with neither the time to take care of themselves (feed themselves much less anything else) nor any good way to communicate needs to the other estranged groups in the project, nor really any reason to expect these other estranged groups to care about their needs.

This scenario effectively demands: a Duty Enforcement Authority to make sure individuals fulfill their specialized roles as they've no interrelational reasons to do so and if at a juicy place in the chain potential incentive to hold their portion hostage, an Organizational Needs Communication Committee who tells all the different alienated societies what is needed from them as well as how much and to where it is to go, and Alienated Value that can be exchanged with strangers for the basic things needed to maintain oneself and go back to work the next day.

That is police, government, and money.
Ingrate: Actually, I might have to review my strong aversion to collectives and teams.  I've been very surprised by peoples' irrational fear of business on this site -- equating business (ie economic activity) with capitalism (ie income and ownership unrelated to labor).  But this surprise has forced me to wonder if I mightn't have an equally irrational fear of collectives/teams/associations -- equating sharing with communism.

Probably none of us on this site like capitalism or communism: on the one hand the individual is enslaved by boss, on the other the individual disappears, absorbed into a different creature with a will and identity distinct from her own: a team.
 The individual is not free in either case. In both cases the individual is just a tool, manipulated or forced to execute the will of another, whether it be the will of the boss or the will of the team (or worse and more often the will of the team leaders). I won't accept either.

Admitting both of these as dangers that all of us must stay wary of, capitalism is a much easier enemy: it doesn't even hide its ugliness. It just comes right out and says "you suck; you are a worthless piece of shit."  The ism that calls us to unite our goals, fuse our responsibilities and share our victories is sneaky, treacherous, and even has an air of smug self-righteousness. It's the psychopath or the sociopath. It's the guy who kills for the thrill, or the charismatic leader of a suicide cult.

Personally I feel more confident in my ability to resist the obvious enemies. I am not weak when I can see clearly.  But I am admittedly naive, so I have to be more skeptical when the risk is of being tricked into willingly giving up my liberty and individual dignity (or worse, the liberty and dignity of my kids).  That has probably led me to an excessive distrust of socialism/communism/patriotism/ workers unions, etc. etc. etc.

I just like to see the natural organization of individuals into tangled webs of relationships in which each point is unique and none are overly dependent on any others.

I have to lighten up on teamwork if I'm going to ask others to lighten up on business. I know teams can be both good and evil just as much as entrepeneurs can be both good and evil.
StrawDog: Contracts may be legal notions in the sense of moral law: if you abuse my confidence in our contract I am morally justified in treating you as a parasite. I agree with that there has to be some feeling of risk of punishment for foul-play if we are going to call it a contract (written or unwritten).

However -- and this is important -- in contracts between small businesses like mine and those I work/contract with the legal system is irrelevant. The sums involved are too small to justify the involvement of any lawyers, legal advisors, or going to court. In my dealings, both parties know damn well that there is no real recourse to legal action in the case of a default. We actually laugh about it but still make our contracts solemnly with the self-imposed illusion of law (and that's all that matters). And because there is an ethical difference between being incapable of fulfilling one's side of the bargain and simply changing one's mind I always put things in like "to the best of his ability" "reasonable effort" and "neither party may hold the other responsible..." that keep the legal tone and gravity of the commitment but remove any consequences other than loss of trust and respect.
Formal agreements of the sort you are speaking are not contracts and have effectively no power outside of an existing tight-knit social network in which the relative esteem of the individuals involved matter. In specialty or insular trade relationships where all of your possible clients can know each other this might have compulsive power, but it absolutely collapses in unlicensed, non-insular small contract fields like handyman work. These sorts of formalized agreements have no special power to overcome atomization in the airplane project and so would fail in structuring it in all the same places that simple handshake agreements would fail.
To render my bias explicit, however, I don't see a way in which your use of businesses and contracts as foundational structures is distinguishable from a wild grown market libertarianism.
StrawDog: regarding groups overlapping without making large, alienating groups: It is possible for me to be in a close relationship with someone who has no relationships with any other people I am in contact with. I might know someone very well without knowing any of this person's friends other than myself.  Still, both of us are limited in the number of beings we can know intimately.
I have a few serious issues with market libertarianism. One is that libertarians seem to be OK with the idea of boss-employee relationships. I think it is of utmost importance that no one works for another except as an equal.

Another problem I have with market libertarianism is that it seems to consider legitimate the ownership of property of a value unequal to the value created by the owner's labor, or aquired by means other than the owner's labor.

I could go on and might get back to this, but I am being called to dinner.
Ingrate: just thought of a neat way to express my feelings on teamwork.

Imagine a table too heavy for one person to lift; you and I work together to move the table. In the end, the table is moved as the result of a combined effort that could be seen as teamwork.

But how are we going to look at this?

(a) the team moved the table. the team did the work and deserves the praise and pride.  Neither of us feels fully responsible for any accomplishment.

(b) you moved your side of the table; I moved my side of the table. You could not have accomplished your goal without my help; I could not have accomplished my goal without your help, but our goals were distinct -- yours to move your side of the table, me to move mine. Both of us feel fully responsible for individual accomplishments and each of us feels grateful to the other for helping.

Point of view (a) is a total waste of an opportunity for individuals to feel dignity.

syrphant, in your last example, one can take a point of view that both a) and b) occurred. one can feel a sense of connection and shared accomplishment and a sense of individual accomplishment. i don't see it as an either/or situation.

i disagree with your notion that your goals were distinct ("you moved your side, i moved mine") because as you both move your sides of the table, you must adjust, balance, steer, make eye contact with another, feel and sense the combined movement of your efforts, etc. as you move with the other person....much different than each lifting and carrying their side independently of the other. you also share the goal of moving the table from one spot to another.

edited to add....

tthe idea of "deserving praise and pride" doesn't resonate with me. "deserves" according to who? it sounds as if some authority exists which determines who deserves something, and who doesn't. the word "deserve" itself smacks of authority to me.

bornagainanarchist: I suppose you are right. In my simple example the attitudes a) and b) coexist and both parties recognize the existence of the team as a third party without losing sight of the relationship of mutual support between the team's two members and between each member and the team.

But let's complicate the example now: the table is too heavy for two persons to move; you and StrawDog join the effort. Together we move the table up a staircase and through a narrow door -- an effort in which the delegation of strategic-thinking and coordination to one person is useful. A leader naturally emerges. In this case there is a serious risk that attitude (a) dominates to the total exclusion of attitude (b).

With attitude (b) there is simply a more complex division of labor where one person's individual responsibility and achievement includes planning and coordination. This activity helps the others achieve their respective individual goals. Still each person retains the sense of personal worth and this feeling comes from looking into the eyes of the others individually (not determined by any authority). There is a sense of equality and reciprocal esteem because each member recognizes that every member has achieved a personal goal, that each member has benefitted in her individual achievement from the labor of every other as an individual partner in a sort of labor exchange. The equality is maybe in the idea of specialization -- of the uniqueness of each particular task (moving this side, moving that side, directing...) that each member has performed equally well.

In this case attitude (a) could dominate through the idea that the person to whom the role of coordinator and planner was delegated actually represents that third party undeniably created by the collaboration - the team or collective. The idea that this person thinks and speaks for the team and that the team has moved the table with the individuals acting as its tools... I find this unsettling and see it as a very common problem.  For some reason I can't explain, it is attitude (b) that is lacking in society and results in widespread feelings of irrelevance, unimportance, alienation.
 I don't challenge the truth of perspective (a) in its simple sense, I only notice that without (b) we tend to fall into situations of hierarchy and general acceptance of submission to authority.
And while I don't deny that a team emerges inevitably from productive interaction, I don't think it is right for any team members -- alone or as a group -- to even try to subjugate the team's free will to any sort of management structure or government. Not by voting, not by consensus, not by delegating or seizing power.  The team just happens. It is not really existing on the same plane of perspective as the members. No member or members can decide what the team should do. Only encourage other members individually to make and pursue specific personal goals of value to others.

Imagine that the organs or cells in my body decided to do a coup d'état and form a government. Then I wouldn't really exist as a living thing with a free will. No, my cells can't decide my actions and I can't decide theirs. Sometimes they agree voluntarily to pursue objectives that I have suggested/requested. Sometimes they don't. Also vice-versa.

To take away the free will of another being is like reversible murder. Sometimes reversible murder is OK, if it is about reversibly murdering a parasite or predator. So those who usurp the will of the team even democratically are killing the team.

We should just concern ourselves with the things on our level of perspective in time and space. Let Mother Earth or the Great Oneness of the Universe take care of herself. Just take care of each individual individually in your Dunbar number ;)

(not preaching or trying to affect your opinions in any way, please understand, just getting my two-cents in.)
i like doing stuff and creating with other people.....playing music or games, growing/foraging/cooking/eating food together, staring at birds and stars, talking for hours, even moving a table....let perspectives a) and b) merge until we don't even think about them any more....