Self Management Implies Parpolity
This is the chapter three of Occupy Vision, which is the second volume of the three volume set titled Fanfare for the Future. In coming days we will post the book's eight chapters. You can find out more about Occupy Theory, Occupy Vision, and Occupy Strategy, as well as how to purchase the books in print or for ebook reading, at Z's book page for them – which is at: http://www.zcomm.org/topics/fanfare-for-the-future
"I would like to believe that people have an instinct for freedom, that they really want to control their own affairs. They don't want to be pushed around, ordered, oppressed, etc., and they want a chance to do things that make sense, like constructive work in a way they control, or maybe control together with others. I don't know any way to prove this. It's really a hope about what human beings are like, a hope that if social structures change sufficiently, those aspects of human nature will be realized."
– Noam Chomsky
Current times make a loud argument, by example, that contemporary political structures are decrepit and redundant. Every day hammers home the realization. The U.S., for example, arguably has one of the most democratic political systems now operating. Yet even if there weren’t huge concentrations of corporate wealth and power dominating political outcomes, even if media didn’t constrain and manipulate information to distort political preferences, even if the two parties weren’t two wings of a single corporate party, even if there weren’t diverse, idiotic, and at best anachronistic structures like the electoral college, even if elections weren’t winner take all affairs in which upwards of half the voting population have their desires ignored (as do most of the other half, but that’s another matter), and even if elections weren’t easily hijacked by outright fraud, clearly modern electoral and parliamentary democracy would still diverge greatly from a system that maximally facilitates participation, elicits informed opinion, and justly resolves disputes.
So, what do we want instead of current political systems? When activists take to the streets in the Mideast, North Africa, Europe, and America too – protesting governments that range from dictatorships to “democracies,” what, beyond indignation, fuels their tenacity? What do they want? What do we want?
With polity encompassing legislation of shared rules or laws, implementation of shared programs and pursuits, and adjudication of contested claims including violation of rules and laws – our task is to determine our values (adapting those we have already elucidated generally to the political sphere of life) and, more particularly, a set of institutions able to actualize our values.
Positive political vision has not yet, at least in context of the values of Fanfare, been as fully spelled out, explored, and challenged as participatory economics, which was presented last chapter. However, the U.S.-based activist and political scientist Stephen Shalom, among others, has at least begun the process in his preliminary presentation of parpolity (available on the internet via the Participatory Society subsite of ZNet at http://www.zcomm.org/znet/topics/parsoc). In this chapter, we lean heavily on Shalom’s work as his parpolity is a political vision that seeks to further the same values as parecon.
“Such was law; and it has maintained its two-fold character to this day. Its origin is the desire of the ruling class to give permanence to customs imposed by themselves for their own advantage. Its character is the skillful commingling of customs useful to society, customs which have no need of law to insure respect, with other customs useful only to rulers, injurious to the mass of the people, and maintained only by the fear of punishment.”
– Peter Kropotkin
The French anarchist Proudhon wrote,
“To be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated, regimented, closed in, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, evaluated, censored, commanded, all by creatures that have neither the right nor wisdom nor virtue… To be governed means that at every move, operation, or transaction, one is noted, registered, entered in a census, taxed, stamped, authorized, recommended, admonished, prevented, reformed, set right, corrected. Government means to be subject to tribute, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, pressured, mystified, robbed; all in the name of public utility and the general good. Then at first sign of resistance or word of complaint, one is repressed, fined, despised, vexed, pursued, hustled, beaten up, garroted, imprisoned, shot, machine gunned, judged, sentenced, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed, and to cap it all, ridiculed, mocked, outraged, and dishonored. That is Government. That is its justice and morality!”
The problem that arises for people responding to this outcry, and many other similar anarchist formulations, is that they do not specify how to transcend the regimentation typical of state and government. They don’t explain how each citizen and community can organizationally freely determine its own actions. How do we legislate shared norms, implement collective programs, and adjudicate disputes, including dealing with violations of law? How do we prevent humans from being reduced to “atomistic units clashing and jangling,” as Barbara Ehrenreich once described, and instead compose a society where the actions of each person collectively benefit all other people?
The anarchist desire for freedom from constraint imposed on the populace by a state operating separate from, and above, the populace is apt and accurate. When this morphs into a claim that any effort to accomplish political functions is doomed to be oppressive that goes too far. Accomplishing legislation, adjudication, and collective implementation by way of lasting institutions is not, itself, the problem. The problem is doing this in ways divorced from the will and needs of the populace. We must not have states existing above people if we are to attain our values. However, we must still collectively accomplish needed political functions. Thus, we confront the same type of problem as last chapter. What institutions can fulfill the functions of the polity, while also fulfilling our overall social values?
The Need for Political Vision
“I swear to the Lord I still can’t see ?Why Democracy means Everybody but me.”
– Langston Hughes
One thug with a club can disrupt even the most humane gathering. Thugs with clubs, in all variants – whether aroused by liquor, jealousy, arrogance, greed, pathology, or some other antisocial attribute – won’t disappear from a good society.
Likewise, a dispute that has no means of resolution will often escalate, even in the best of environments, into a struggle that vastly transcends the scope of its causes, whether the escalating dispute occurs between the Hatfields and McCoys, northern and south states, rural and urban areas, France and Germany, or Pakistan and India.
What prevents social degradation from thugs? What prevents escalating disputes? More generally, if we lack agreed social norms, people will have to repeatedly start social projects from scratch. We won’t be able to benefit from a set of previously agreed on responsibilities and practices. We will have to repeatedly negotiate to the point of never implementing.
In a good polity will we have known responsibilities we cannot violate, or will everything we do be up for grabs with each new day? In the former case, we might attain civilized existence. In the later case, we would have only chaos. To have social success, in other words, we need political structures. Roles certainly eliminate some options, but they also fantastically facilitate others. When options that are precluded are all harshly harmful, and options that we gain are all desirable, the limitations and facilitations of institutional roles benefit us.
Put differently, it is true that even the most desirable mutually agreed roles and responsibilities will, to some degree, limit our range of options. Laws do restrict what we are permitted to do. So do conventions, norms, and agreements. In fact, for any role, role conflicting behavior disappears, typically, even as an option. However, desirable mutually agreed roles also make the range of all options available to us vastly larger and more attainable by facilitating their accomplishment. Having red and green lights at intersections constrains our driving options since we must stop at red and go at green, but this also keeps us alive to do all else we might choose, not to mention permitting driving through intersections without crashes and jams halting our motion. More generally, having diverse collectively established rules that we all abide, permits us each to operate far more effectively and diversely than if we had no such rules, even as having rules also narrows our choices in some contexts. If our political institutions limit options agreeably, and if they facilitate option