Reply To: Asking About Parecon/Parsoc

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Michael Albert

“I think this is an important achievement- not because I think that exact model could ever be instituted, in exactly the form in which he describes it, but because it makes it impossible to say that such a thing is inconceivable. Still, such models can only be thought experiments. We cannot really conceive the problems that will arise when we start actually trying to build a free society.”(p283, kindle version)

People get a lot of mileage out of this type of statement – but I am damned if I can see why. What it says is true but also false depending on how we take the words. And the true part is trivial. If we propose anything at all for the future, including, say, a new building or any policy, much less core features of a new type economy, etc. etc., we can’t know, in advance, for certain, everything it might entail, arouse, or require. That is a truism. So?

If someone says, for example, long experiences shows that predicted time frames for programming projects will bear tiny resemblance to the reality that follows – well, we can test that claim, see if it is true, then try to explain it, perhaps by the pressures on programmers and their mindsets in making predictions – and keep it in mind when judging programmers predictions.

What is false, though, is that Graeber’s words, perhaps unintentionally, imply that proposing for the future is just announcing hopes, or something like that – whereas it can be taking great care to use available knowledge and insights to propose structures that are consistent with values that we decide we favor. In the latter is the case, pronouncements about not knowing everything aren’t helpful, I think. What would be helpful is to show flaws, if one can, in the arguments offered, or to describe even hypothetical possibilities that might not be accounted for, but might matter. In lieu of that, one should either support or oppose the proposal based on ilking or not liking the values and outcomes it would engender.

When he says, not that he thinks it could be implemented, I think that that is arguably irresponsible, especially in a book length work, honestly. What reason has he for saying that, if any at all? He should offer the reason. If the reason is simply because this would occur in the future and we don’t have crystal balls, that would mean he would have to say the same thing about having justice, equity, gender equality, an end to racism, no private ownership, anything anarchistic – in fact anything proposed for the future – and he would not have to provide the slightest reason – not that I think anything anyone proposes could be instituted – heaven forbid…

The second quote is simply wrong…

Having an equal say means what: probably one person, one vote, and majority rule. And yes, that can sometimes best deliver self management. But often, in fact way more often, it wouldn’t. Instead, what I propose is that we opt for structures that deliver, as well as sensible, a say proportionate to the impact on the person in question… That is quite different.

I don’t know, but my guess is Graeber hasn’t read anything much about parecon, and thought much about it. This stance is quite consistent with his first quote – why bother, it is a proposal for the future. But it leads to the second quote – misunderstanding what is, in fact, proposed.