Why hierarchies are immoral…

The proposition that hierarchies are immoral and must be eradicated is a fundamental Anarchist premise. It is safe to say that one cannot be an Anarchist without agreeing with it in some form. But it has occurred to me that I have never discussed the issue of what hierarchies are and why they are immoral. This is something that capitalists tend to ask, so it’s worth discussing if only for that purpose.

I would therefore like to present my definition of a hierarchy:
A hierarchy is any social system where control is used in a way that is both 1. systemic and 2. directed.

1. The use of control must be systemic, that is to say, part of the system, not incidental to it. For instance, a man may mistreat his wife at an amusement park because he has been raised to believe that women are inferior. In that case, the hierarchy is not the amusement park, but sexism: the control was incidental to the amusement park as a system.

2. The use of control must be directed, that is to say, from one specific person or group of people- the superiors- to another specific person or group of people- the inferiors. In the case of sexism, the superiors are the men and the inferiors are the women and intersexed.

As Anarchists eagerly point out, hierarchies exist everywhere in society. Here are the major ones.

* Government is the most acknowledged and the most demonstrative hierarchy. With pomp and circumstance, we elect presidents, prime minister, or crown kings, but we know that most of the power is vested in gigantic bureaucracies and agencies fighting a tug-of-war for resources and laws. The ordinary citizen-subject, who is subject to whoever wins, is the inferior. The aim of governments is the monopolization of a greater and greater amount of political power.

* Capitalism is the less acknowledged but just as important (if not more important) hierarchy. Here there is a clear distinction between the exploitative class of corporate managers and investors on the one hand, and their employee-subjects on the other hand, and also with the group of consumers (who are victims of the by-products of the activities of production). The aim of the capitalist hierarchies, generally big corporations, is profit.

* Religions and cults are another major category of hierarchies. Although they are of course different, I classify them in the same group because their aims (primarily, thought control) and structures (authorities which are deemed “closer to God” or otherwise more holy) are generally similar.

* Parenting and schools, which both aim to control children for the purposes of indoctrination and (in the case of parenting) status.

* Racism, sexism, ageism, and other forms of discrimination.

* Prisons and jails.

If you look at this list, it’s clear that hierarchies are all-pervasive in our modern societies. How do we come to such a state of affairs? Is the root problem the State? No. While the State created or aggravated all of these problems, it is uncontroversial that eliminating the State alone cannot eliminate all hierarchies (discrimination, for instance, existed before the creation of States). My guess would be that some were initially caused by the necessities of pre-technological tribal life and have survived because they gave power to some favoured group, who became interested in maintaining that power.

Now I must address the statist objection: “we just need good people in place and everything will be all right.” Or in this case “hierarchies are not a problem if you have good people in place who know what they’re doing.” In the capitalist case, this is also expressed as “it’s unfair to punish a businessman for the risks he took and his hard work.”

I have addressed this point in my previous entry. In fact, as long as the actors in any hierarchy do not take responsibility for their actions, they will merely keep “doing their jobs,” which in practice means pursuing the aims of that hierarchy and the processes of control. “I have to do this because it’s my job, it’s what I’m supposed to do.” While “nice people” may improve other things in the hierarchy, they will not improve the existence and methods of that hierarchy.

The capitalist who argues for the triumphant-against-adversity, morally justified businessman working in a perfectly competitive environment, the religious believer who argues for a view of religion as a peaceful, purpose-giving institution, or the libertarian who argues for a minimal government concerned with other people’s welfare, are all arguing from “ideal scenarios.” Yes, it would be better for all concerned if these scenarios were paradigmatic, but they are not. In fact, these scenarios are very rare, and generally out-norm. You cannot use a scenario that is out-norm for a given system to argue for that system itself as being desirable! This can only achieve the opposite of the effect intended, which is to say “if there are so few good agents like those you mention, then the system must be pretty bad indeed.”

The other problem with this idea is that any “good person” faced with such systematic coercion would do everything he could to deconstruct it, if he is truly “good” and not merely “nice,” and thus be on our side. But the very nature of such systems is that they do not permit any of their members to deconstruct them, just as any successful system eradicates threats to its existence as much as it can. Any true deconstruction of a hierarchy cannot take place from within it, but rather from the outside, both because such deconstruction would not be permitted to exist and because the ideology of a person in a hierarchy is implicitly or explicitly molded by the aims of that hierarchy.

Furthermore, I will add that I do not believe that the “small business owner” is inherently immoral, although he is fully responsible for all his uses of control against his workers. One cannot hold it against them for using the only tools available to them in the capitalist system. What Anarchists say is not that we should burn all “business owners” at the stake, but rather that there are better ways of doing things, that are both more ethical and that still reward hard work and intelligence.

Another common capitalist objection is that participation to most, if not all, of these hierarchies is voluntary, and thus cannot be immoral. But this is a complete non sequitur: the fact that a system is voluntary does not make it moral. To take a banal example, becoming a soldier is voluntary, but that doesn’t make the murders you commit as a soldier any more moral, or the orders from your commanders any more moral. In the same way, we do voluntarily choose to work for a corporation, but that doesn’t make our actions, or those of the managers of capital, any more moral.

Hierarchies are immoral, not only because they are based on false fundamental premises, but also because they go against the values we must seek out in our society: freedom, equality, legitimate (i.e. non-statist, non-capitalist) property rights, and the elimination of control. We must build alternatives based on self-organization, where each individual has equal power with everyone else to participate in the system and change its rules.

The strength of any philosophical position is when it forces us to examine premises that had remained hidden, because those hidden premises have a fundamental influence on our beliefs. Likewise, Anarchy, as a position on social organization, forces us to rethink the purpose of society itself. What is the goal of social action? While mainstream political ideologies disagree on various issues, there is one thing they all agree on: they universally elevate economic and technological progress as an ultimate, unimpeachable goal, and that the only disagreement is how to effect it and how fast. But this goal is driven by hierarchies that concentrate power and seek to expand that power by all means necessary. Anarchists are the only people who pipe up and say “hey, maybe this whole idea of limitless progress at all costs isn’t so great- maybe the costs are greater than we’re ready to accept.”

In contrast, Anarchists believe that a society should be driven by the values of its individuals, and that by being free and cooperating we can build a better world than by hierarchies of power. Anarchists believe in justice and peace as the primary goals of a worthwhile society, not the accumulation of wealth or technology. But Anarchists are also pointedly conscious that, as long as hierarchies of power exist, the drive for the accumulation of power will continue to exist.

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44 thoughts on “Why hierarchies are immoral…

  1. The Public Eye October 1, 2008 at 20:35

    This is an incredibly insightful post. The point is not “freedom from”, but “power over”. Any social system worth its salt will operate in such a way to minimize the power of individuals and corporations over you and I. Simply enshrining “freedom” as a principle is not sufficient. “Freedom” in a world of hierarchies will simply result in myriad localized totalitarian dictatorships rather than one centralized one.

    Freedom is not enough. Mobility of labourers, taxpayers and consumers between and within dictatorships (whether they exist in the public or private sector) is not enough. The ultimate rationale of social organization is to limit and disperse the power that individuals wield over one another.

  2. kentmcmanigal October 1, 2008 at 21:41

    I realize that wrong is wrong no matter the consequences, but… How could a large company (not a “corporation”) function if there is no one “in charge”?

    I would never start a company and hire anyone if I couldn’t insist upon them doing the work they were hired to do. Or if they could decide they owned the company just because they worked there. That would pretty much limit companies to one person each. Not that there would be anything immoral about that, just that it would seriously impact getting anything done.

  3. Cork October 1, 2008 at 23:43

    Thanks for the post, it’s extremely rare that any left-anarchist attempts to actually define ‘hierarchy’ or explain why it’s bad. Not that that gets you off the hook! :D I’ll have a response to this posted on my blog by the end of this week.

  4. johnpetrie October 2, 2008 at 07:35

    Keep in mind that in a voluntary situation of hierarchy or authority, such as an employee working for his boss, no control is being used. Direction and authority are not the same as control. Control implies some sort of involuntariness, such as threats backed by force. “Threats” backed by “or else you’re fired” are not control. So I think your definition of hierarchy makes your argument a little more limited than you’ve presented it.

  5. Francois Tremblay October 2, 2008 at 14:38

    “Keep in mind that in a voluntary situation of hierarchy or authority, such as an employee working for his boss, no control is being used. Direction and authority are not the same as control. Control implies some sort of involuntariness, such as threats backed by force. “Threats” backed by “or else you’re fired” are not control. So I think your definition of hierarchy makes your argument a little more limited than you’ve presented it.”

    So your position is what? That firing someone is not backed by force?

    Why don’t you try to get fired and not leave, and find that out?

  6. johnpetrie October 2, 2008 at 21:27

    I think voluntariness is of the utmost importance, in contradiction to what you said. I say voluntariness makes something moral and non-coercive, and involuntariness makes something coercive and therefore immoral. I also want to add that I recognize the problem we face in “voluntarily” agreeing to participate in some system or serve some function in a system that is inherently involuntary or unjust, like Statism. I wouldn’t assert anything as stupid as “paying taxes is voluntary, because you voluntary work for taxed wages and you voluntarily mail in your 1040 form every year.”

    But in a free society, working for wages in a hierarchical system (say, a company, established and run by other people with either their money, someone else’s money, or all employees’ money collectively) is a situation that does have parallels to our Statist world and that would be voluntary, non-coercive, and therefore free of (involuntary) control. This is because it is perfectly plausible for me to agree to work for a boss who doesn’t pay me as much as my co-workers and doesn’t value my opinions as much as those of my co-workers, in a free, libertarian society, without having my rights violated, my will constrained, or my body or property harmed. I am not harmed and neither are they, as long as my actions are constrained by their rights equally as much as their actions are constrained by my rights; these rights, I argue, are defined and delimited by what is voluntary and involuntary to each person.

    I wrote a little bit about this here.

    The problem with the military is not (only) that its membership might be involuntary, it is how it funds itself; what it does with its money, equipment, and manpower; the fact that the State’s subjects are forcibly prevented from seceding and not paying for it and not being “protected” by it. Voluntarily joining the army is bad because of what the army does to other people, not because of the fact that someone voluntarily joined a hierarchical unit; voluntarily joining a company softball team, whose coach can tell you where to play and when to bat, is fine both because it is voluntary and because it does no harm to anyone. The hierarchical nature of both organizations has nothing to do with their justice or injustice. Only their commission of a single involuntary act against someone could make it unjust.

    If I get fired and refuse to leave the premises, I either immediately or eventually become a trespasser. Therefore I’m the one who has initiated force against someone else’s (personal or collective) property. If they force me out, it is some form of self-defense, not aggressive force. Their “threat” of “do your job or else you’re fired” is backed by their intent to cease their voluntary agreement with me, of money in exchange for labor. There is no force in there anywhere, unless I attempt to take their money against their will. They can’t demand my labor without an agreeable remuneration, and I can’t demand their money without an agreeable labor-service.

    Getting fired and not leaving is, itself, an act of aggression.

    I have to say, I think in the past my disagreements with other libertarians over what “capitalism” means/should mean and what “self-ownership” means were largely semantic, but here the difference is more fundamental, unless we misunderstand each other. Voluntariness is the beginning, middle, and end of morality. Regardless of whether “voluntariness” is an actual word or one I just made up.

  7. Blagnet.net » Blagnet.net survey October 2, 2008 at 22:10

    […] What did you do instead of watching the debate between two professional-criminal VP candidates? I debated with Francois over the morality and voluntariness of hierarchies and attempted to learn about banking and finance […]

  8. Ethan Lee Vita October 3, 2008 at 00:18

    An insightful post, but I have my disagreement.

    “Another common capitalist objection is that participation to most, if not all, of these hierarchies is voluntary, and thus cannot be immoral. But this is a complete non sequitur: the fact that a system is voluntary does not make it moral. To take a banal example, becoming a soldier is voluntary, but that doesn’t make the murders you commit as a soldier any more moral, or the orders from your commanders any more moral. In the same way, we do voluntarily choose to work for a corporation, but that doesn’t make our actions, or those of the managers of capital, any more moral.”

    Yes, voluntary action does not necessarily make something moral. However, you do seem to skip over the fact that a soldier volunteers to help initiate violence against others that haven’t aggressed against him. His very action is quite involuntary against others. However, I do not see an employee volunteering to initiate violence against others who haven’t aggressed against him.

  9. Francois Tremblay October 3, 2008 at 03:24

    “Yes, voluntary action does not necessarily make something moral. However, you do seem to skip over the fact that a soldier volunteers to help initiate violence against others that haven’t aggressed against him. His very action is quite involuntary against others. However, I do not see an employee volunteering to initiate violence against others who haven’t aggressed against him.”

    The employees are not, for the most part, the coercive agents: the employers are. And we can see that capitalism is the source of a great deal of coercion, using governments in third-world countries to gain monopolies and even pass its own laws. Employers do a great deal of violence against others. Child slavery is still used in Chinese manufacturing corporations (not just child labour, child slavery). People are oppressed by capitalism around the world.

  10. Francois Tremblay October 3, 2008 at 03:59

    johnpetrie, my position is that the voluntary nature of an action is a necessary criterion for it being goodly, but not a sufficient one. And your position is that the voluntary nature is necessary and sufficient? Is this a correct restatement?

    If this is the case, then how do you make a distinction between the capitalist monopoly and the democratic monopoly?

  11. Mike Gogulski October 3, 2008 at 08:40

    Franc: General agreement with Kent, John and Ethan above.

    This, to me, is a poor example of what you’re illustrating: becoming a soldier is voluntary, but that doesn’t make the murders you commit as a soldier any more moral

    Well, of course not. “Becoming a soldier”, assuming no conscription, may be voluntary. It is voluntary because no coercion or threat thereof is essential to the “becoming a soldier” transaction. One may even “volunteer” to fire the round that kills an innocent person, but this is meaningless. The thing to look at then is the soldier-victim transaction, one in which there is a clear aggressor. From the victim’s perspective (assuming he’s not committing “suicide by soldier), the transaction is anything but voluntary. The voluntariness in the “kill” transaction can (and, rightly, ought to) be considered without reference to or awareness of the “join the army” transaction. Responding to your last point above, and to reiterate, we should consider not the action, divorced from its social context, in finding things good or evil, but rather consider the transaction by looking at how the action affects others.

    The juxtaposition of this example with the abstract “choosing to work for a corporation”, in my mind, does nothing to illustrate moral principle. The soldier’s job is coercive by its nature; the corporate staffer’s job may or may not be such.

    Employers do a great deal of violence against others.

    This is true, but it is not essential to the nature of employment that they do so. Some employers do commit and/or order violent acts. When we spot them doing so, we ought to treat them as we treat any other criminal.

    At the risk of being tarred as a “vulgar” libertarian, I will offer a quote from Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart: “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” I offer this because it illustrates how business hierarchy differs from state hierarchy. The consumer has considerably more power in relation to the business in that he can quit patronizing the business without fear of getting shot — not so in the case of citizen-customer versus state.

  12. David Z October 3, 2008 at 14:01

    I want to file this post (and discussion thereof) in my “to blog about in the near future” folder…

    thanks all.

  13. Francois Tremblay October 3, 2008 at 15:53

    Mike, you just basically repeated what johnpetrie said, but longer.

  14. Mike Gogulski October 3, 2008 at 17:13

    Maior est melior, non?

  15. Sunni October 4, 2008 at 13:04

    It appears to me that the “immorality” of any hierarchy originates in your definition, in large part because you have made control an integral part of the concept. The online dictionary I referenced as a quick check does not make such a stipulation; nor does it restrict the concept to social systems, which is also a curious narrowing of the concept.

  16. Francois Tremblay October 4, 2008 at 19:11

    Sunni, my post was about politics, therefore I am talking about the political concept. I thought that was obvious.

  17. Sunni October 5, 2008 at 14:08

    How can it be “obvious” if the term “politics” or a relative is nowhere in your title, introductory paragraph, or definition? I know I can be exceedingly dense at times, but when such a broad subject is broached without explicit qualifiers, is it wrong to take the author at his word, or lack thereof? I’m not trying to be a smartass here, seriously.

    (The rest of my comment was getting very long, so I shall move it to my own web site rather than burden you/WordPress with it.)

  18. Francois Tremblay October 5, 2008 at 15:36

    Fair enough.

  19. johnpetrie October 5, 2008 at 16:45

    Francois, I have to admit that if I put your assertions about hierarchies and employment and control in the context of corporate-state socialism (what you and many others call capitalism) and not in the context of much more innocuous interpersonal relationships, the explicit or implicit force behind the creation and maintenance of the hierarchy is completely immoral. One of the things I’ve thought about recently is the movement of workers from the farms to the factories during the industrial revolution. On the surface, it is a voluntary act to work in a certain place for a certain company for a certain wage. But the conditions in those factories were terrible, deplorable, even. It doesn’t make them immoral, but it makes them pretty crappy.

    And I think Kevin Carson and a lot of others had argued that in the context of a free society, the industrial revolution would have happened differently because maybe it wouldn’t have come at the expense of so much agriculture and workers would have had more say in their working conditions and wages; in other words, the industrialists would have had less control over them. It wasn’t exactly the act of taking a bad job at low wages that is immoral; it is the entire corporate-state socialist system that we rail against.

    Therefore, in summary, I think all hierarchies aren’t today immoral because they don’t involve force or control (involuntariness) and certainly wouldn’t be in a free society. That’s why I think your argument was too broad, that it should have been limited to hierarchies backed with State violence, whether from the State specifically or from companies propped up and protected by the State.

  20. johnpetrie October 5, 2008 at 17:16

    Francois:
    johnpetrie, my position is that the voluntary nature of an action is a necessary criterion for it being goodly, but not a sufficient one. And your position is that the voluntary nature is necessary and sufficient? Is this a correct restatement?

    Yes, my position is that complete and total voluntariness from all parties is necessary and sufficient for the action or situation to be moral.

    I really, really want to stress that “immoral” does not encompass bad, crappy, mean, cruel, unfortunate, unfriendly, unpleasant, or general douchebaggery. I contend that, in a free society, it is crappy and cruel to offer workers poor conditions in a factory for low wages, but it is not wrong. Only through State-crippled economies, State-distorted societal structures, or personal factors that are no fault of the factory owner, could very many workers face a choice of working in a sweatshop or dying of starvation. Lying about working conditions to an applicant or using any type of threat against a worker, beyond saying they’ll be fired if they don’t like it, is still immoral even though it doesn’t come from the State.

    I think children are not at a stage when they can fend for themselves or vouch for themselves against adults, so they are not on the same playing field as adults, especially employers, so employing a child, at least a young one, in deplorable conditions is either usually or always immoral. If children or adults are working in miserable, deplorable conditions for disgraceful wages or cruel bosses, it is probably because of a State-distorted market&#8212hell, a State-distorted world. Which adds a further layer of immorality to the situation.

    No, I don’t claim to be an authority on what precise conditions are deplorable and what conditions cross the line into acceptability.

    And no, I have never worked in a factory, so I am not qualified to speak about factory-workers’ choices, conditions, or lives.

    Francois:
    If this is the case, then how do you make a distinction between the capitalist monopoly and the democratic monopoly?

    Mmm, I’m not quite sure. Most libertarians think almost every monopoly gains its monopoly status directly or indirectly from State actions. I think the history of the United States has backed up that assertion. If by democratic monopoly you mean monopolistic government fueled by majority votes, then even the most minarchist government that enforces its monopoly on the legal/justice system with force is completely immoral. We all know that.

    Any economic monopoly that exists in a free society is perfectly moral unless and until it starts acting like a state&#8212violating arbitrators’ decisions, threatening workers, defrauding customers, workers, or shareholders, etc. Fortunately, monopolies wouldn’t last very long in a free society.

    My definition of “morality” is pretty strict. It concerns only what actions are just and unjust, right and wrong, permissible and impersmissible. Not what we’d like people to do or what they should do in our opinion to be considered a good and respectable person.

    As far as delineating what is a question of justice and what is simply nice and preferable, that’s what moral philosophy is for, right?

  21. Francois Tremblay October 5, 2008 at 20:18

    “I really, really want to stress that “immoral” does not encompass bad, crappy, mean, cruel, unfortunate, unfriendly, unpleasant, or general douchebaggery. I contend that, in a free society, it is crappy and cruel to offer workers poor conditions in a factory for low wages, but it is not wrong.”

    It’s cruel and bad, but it’s not wrong. You shouldn’t do it, but it’s not wrong.

    Why has the cognitive dissonance not blown your head off yet?

    “Any economic monopoly that exists in a free society is perfectly moral unless and until it starts acting like a state”

    So capitalism is moral as long as it doesn’t do the dirty work itself?

    Yea, uh that sounds perfectly reasonable.

  22. Francois Tremblay October 5, 2008 at 20:20

    “That’s why I think your argument was too broad, that it should have been limited to hierarchies backed with State violence, whether from the State specifically or from companies propped up and protected by the State.”

    So other hierarchies are okay. It’s okay to be dominated and that obedience is enforced, as long as it’s not done by State violence. Is that what you’re saying?

    So like… non-State racism is okay with you?

  23. […] under: Deconstructing statism, Links | I received some interesting responses to my entry “Why hierarchies are immoral,” mainly from my Market Anarchist friends who lean more on the capitalist side. In case this […]

  24. johnpetrie October 5, 2008 at 22:46

    “So capitalism is moral as long as it doesn’t do the dirty work itself?”

    Being the only company selling a product or offering a service is not immoral. A monopoly that arises naturally, if it can, has violated no one’s rights.

    “It’s cruel and bad, but it’s not wrong. You shouldn’t do it, but it’s not wrong.

    Why has the cognitive dissonance not blown your head off yet?”

    Once again my conciseness has led to misunderstanding. There is no cognitive dissonance.

    Everything that is unpleasant and mean is not immoral. A lot of things are, and they do come from places other than the State. Mean bosses who drive their workers hard and don’t give them a lot of vacation haven’t violated anyone’s rights. Manipulative bosses who lie or violate the terms of their contracts have.

    Parents who home-school their children and teach them Creationism are factually wrong but have violated no one’s rights. Parents who beat their children and exert psychological dominance and abuse over them have.

    Men who sleep with women and don’t call them back are total douchebags and we might refer to such douchebaggery as “wrong,” but unfortunately people have a right to be a-holes to each other. Men who force or control or manipulate women to stay in physically or psychologically abusive relationships have violated the rights of property and/or liberty of the women.

    “So like… non-State racism is okay with you?”

    No. I check myself if I ever feel like I’m judging someone based on their race, and I am sure I have never committed a racist act. But unfortunately I have no dominion over, say, a boss who doesn’t hire an applicant because he’s black, or a landlord who refuses foreign tenants. We often call that “wrong,” and it is in one meaning of the word (bigotry, douchebaggery), but unfortunately it is equally wrong for the victim to claim a right against the employer’s money or against the landlord’s property. Both parties’ rights are equally constrained by the other’s rights, so no rights-violation has occurred in those instances of racism.

    It doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do something about it, but it does mean we can’t use offensive or defensive force to combat it. We would have to use non-forceful means to express our disapproval.

    That doesn’t mean it should ever happen, and it doesn’t mean our failure to use the power of the State to force them to act in a non-racist way makes us complicit. We can say, “That company shouldn’t treat its workers so poorly, and I’ve heard they discriminate based on race, so they are a bunch of wretched people and I’m not going to do business with them,” but we have no right to force them to do what we want with their company, even though racism is based on false ideas and hateful feelings. We can say the same about landlords or parents or whomever else.

    “So other hierarchies are okay. It’s okay to be dominated and that obedience is enforced, as long as it’s not done by State violence. Is that what you’re saying?”

    No. I shouldn’t have said only State-backed control or hierarchies. There I was limiting my argument too much. But everything I’ve ever understood about the word “hierarchy” tells me it doesn’t automatically entail control backed by force, threats of force, psychological domination, fraud, or other immoral acts. I haven’t delineated in my mind exactly which hierarchies are okay and which are based on involuntariness, but the latter wouldn’t be okay with me and any voluntary hierarchies would. (This is because of the voluntariness and voluntariness alone.) Maybe you say that if a hierarchy has been established, it must necessarily have arisen from control backed by force or threats of force (involuntariness). I think that is incorrect.

    The previous two sentences are the entire reason I wanted to comment to this post.

    As we have established, any immoral, rights-violating things do not have to come only from the State, and in a free society, those things would certainly still exist and would, by the definition of a free society, not come from a State.

  25. Francois Tremblay October 5, 2008 at 22:54

    Let’s go down to brass tacks, john petrie.

    Can you name any hierarchy that I listed (or any other you can think of) that was not founded on control?

    Can you name any hierarchy that I listed (or any other you can think of) which persistence does not depend on the continued use of control?

    If you have an answer, then let’s go from there. Otherwise this is all lost time.

    Still, I must comment on another aspect of what you said. You seem to be making a lot of insinuations of this sort:

    “It doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do something about it, but it does mean we can’t use offensive or defensive force to combat it. ”

    I don’t know where this is coming from. Are you using the same “immoral=justified in using force again” equation as Cork? If so, I already refuted it in my latest entry.

  26. Jeremy October 11, 2008 at 08:47

    Good post, Francois. I feel you and where you’re going with this.

    I would only make the ever-so-slight quibble with your thesis that – as much as I’d like to be able to say that “hierarchy” is the problem – I don’t think it’s as central as you argue (maybe I’m reading too much into your argument). I agree with you that any system which demands the subordination of one’s self-interest to an authority who is vetted only by his position in an abstract pyramidal graph is, let us say, a bad deal for most people (I’m trying to be sparing about when I invoke the term “morality”). Whether or not hierarchy is the root of this “evil”, it should still be well understood by anti-authoritarians because it is a crucial social dynamic. We seem to be hard wired for it to a certain extent.

    But to me, situations in which some direct others can arise spontaneously, too. Somebody who has more knowledge of local wildlife or finance or computers has an advantage over me, and to benefit from that knowledge I may see it as in my interests to adopt their recommendations. I may even make this decision to obey without knowing the full consequences of my actions. In this sense, I have subordinated my autonomous volition to another’s direction, and created at least a two-level hierarchy. Yet is there anything fundamentally wrong with this?

    As you well know, libertarian-leaning types have had this argument with more lefty anarchists for a long time, and while I believe like you that we need to be much more skeptical towards the entire concept of hierarchical organization, I can’t bring myself to demand the abolition of hierarchy as itself the “evil” to be vanquished. I’ll go as far as to say that the existence of hierarchy is a clue to a power differential, and that more investigation is needed, but it is not itself the crime in my opinion. Differences in humans will always lead to SOME sort of power differential. The parent-child relationship is a perfect example of this – it simply is true that all of us, in some way, shape, or form – cannot make all the decisions that comprise our best interests in *any* sense of that term, be it an individual, a social, a cultural, etc.

    However, I think you hit the fucking nail on the head when you bring up the *systemic* nature of what you’re condemning. The problem with hierarchies, to me, is not that they are the direction of some by others, but that they seem to persist themselves beyond those circumstances where I might see it as in my interests to obey or direct another. This is the institutional critique that Butler Shaffer makes, and Francois I cannot recommend the book any more highly, especially given the direction you’ve been headed lately. I think it would sharpen your point tremendously to say that it’s not the hierarchy so much as the institutionalization of the hierarchy.

    By institutionalization, I mean the creation of an abstract organization that retains its own identity as a function of individuals acting in ways dictated by the organization’s interests as separate from the individual’s own. I believe there is such a thing as a natural leader, for instance – but such a role doesn’t require the title “CEO” or “President” or “General”. Instead, the leadership is a spontaneous outgrowth of particular circumstances, people, and other contextual facts, and once the leader is no longer needed it does not perpetuate itself. This is wholly different from an organization like a government or a corporation, where you obey the CEO, not because of the person he is, but because he occupies the higher position, arbitrarily, and you occupy the lower, arbitrarily. The health of the organization lies in perpetuating this power differential as a permanent artifact of the unique identity of the organization rather than as a spontaneous apprehension of individual interests at a given moment.

    It is in this sense that I think we can understand hierarchies like familes better. Yes, they do require the surrender of volition from some parties to others, but they are also completely different than the impersonal hierarchies of government. The personal connection between nodes in the hierarchy – let alone the biological imperatives involved – makes it something much closer to spontaneity than the typical board of directors or military brigade. Love and trust is what makes people cooperate in groups, and while you can certainly find families that lack this, it seems that this personal connection makes a difference in whether or not the hierarchy works to the net advantage or disadvantage of the participants (keep in mind that being higher on the hierarchy is not necessarily an advantage – parents sacrifice much of their freedom to bring a child up, and out of love, not the need to perpetuate their self-image in the world, though I admit some yuppies do this).

    Anyway, great post – I love to see libertarians bash hierarchy!

  27. […] that I want to force everyone to follow my ideology, Jeremy from Social Memory Complex made a comment on my post on hierarchies which deserves further discussion. It seems like most people who […]

  28. Blagnet.net » Immorality and control October 24, 2008 at 11:07

    […] liked this post by Francois Tremblay about hierarchies and control. One of the good things about being a libertarian blagger is that you […]

  29. […] the Taliban aren’t agorists, or anarchists of any stripe. Francois Tremblay of the Check Your Premises blog submits a controversial article entitled “Why hierarchies are immoral“. He writes: […]

  30. charles-john November 4, 2008 at 06:18

    It is completely true that hierarchies pervade every aspect of collective living in a capitalist or socialist, industrial, complex, modern society. It is also true that the state comes second, the hierarchical principle comes first. But to understand hierarchy as an organizing principle one should not look at its moral content only, one should rather look at its historical, anthropological and sociological nature. Organizing people based on a ranking system (which is what hierarchy is all about) is an extremely effective way to organize people, mobilize their productive force, channel large redistribution networks, and so forth. Egalitarianism is less effective in that respect but mre appealing from an other point of view: it grants individual freedom. Inasmuch as it grants freedom it can be seen as a moral principle.

  31. Francois Tremblay November 4, 2008 at 16:09

    “Organizing people based on a ranking system (which is what hierarchy is all about) is an extremely effective way to organize people, mobilize their productive force, channel large redistribution networks, and so forth.”

    Yes, coercion can be very “efficient.” But that only applies if your main social value is efficiency. For most people, it isn’t.

  32. charles-john November 5, 2008 at 14:46

    Thank you for your response. Well, hierarchy and coercion are not exactly the same thing.
    Hierarchy is both a form taken by actual social organizations and a way of thinking.
    what I am saying is that social sciences so far do not explain how non hierarchical organizations work.

  33. Francois Tremblay November 5, 2008 at 15:10

    I agree that hierarchy and coercion are not the same thing.

  34. Francois Tremblay November 5, 2008 at 15:12

    I agree that hierarchy and coercion are not the same thing.

  35. charles-john November 6, 2008 at 10:08

    there is an intriguing sentence in your post about the “necessities of pre-technological tribal life”. could you explain this point?

  36. Francois Tremblay November 6, 2008 at 15:11

    Well, the necessities of segregating sexes due to the need to hunt, for instance.

  37. charles-john November 7, 2008 at 09:13

    sexual division of labor and gender asymmetry are not necessarily conducive to hierarchy as many ethnographic examples clearly show.

  38. […] rents out to tenants because he is not using it himself. Occupancy and use property rights prevent harmful capitalist hierarchies from emerging, but they sidestep all the problems created by abolishing private property […]

  39. […] also talked about the issues of machoism (the faggot mentality), the manichean worldview, and hierarchies. I believe that all these elements come together once we start analyzing how they influence […]

  40. […] how they fail to fulfill some fundamental property of a consensual system. I have done the former in a previous entry; now, I intend to discuss the […]

  41. […] Why hierarchies are immoral… 6. “Hierarchies are […]

  42. […] hierarchies have already been disproven by many of the principles I’ve established. I have already defined a hierarchy as being any system where control (force, the threat of force, indoctrination, […]

  43. […] saying that all forms of coercion are by definition unjustified. As an Anarchist, I do believe that all hierarchies are by definition unjustified. This should go without saying (but sadly, must still be said). I can think of some rare situation […]

  44. […] the magic hierarchies… Why hierarchies are immoral… “Hierarchies are […]

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