He’s not outrageous, he’s Corktageous!

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 was not clear enough (and apparently it was not, judging from the responses), I am a mutualist.

One criticism that was leveled at my entry was that I gave no solutions. But the point of my entry was to define hierarchies, not to provide any solutions. The general Anarchist solution is to grow organizations and societies which are self-organized, and to dissolve those which are coercive or hierarchical. As for the mutualist principles, anyone can go on Wikipedia and read about it. This does not concern me in this discussion, because my points were solely about hierarchies, not mutualism.

Frequent commenter on this blog Cork, however, seems to think my entry was about proposing solutions to hierarchies. At least, about half of his response was on that very topic. In his entry, Cork uses a great number of arguments of the type “if you’re against X, then you must be insane because the only alternative is Y!”, where Y is something that no one would possibly accept. Consider for instance:

Schools would also not exist in the Tremblayan order (not much would, after all).

What would this mean? We would have a society of uneducated idiots and morons. We would not have doctors, engineers, scientists, or anyone else necessary for civlization.

We would starve to death. Pointlessly.

I am not sure if this is a parody of capitalism, or if he’s serious. Melodrama apart, it seems that Cork is confusing “schooling” with “education.” Of course knowledge is a very important value. But there is no reason why it should be acquired in a vast coercive, authoritarian system driven by the State. I am referring to the schooling system as a whole, more specifically public schools: certainly there are some alternative schools that promote excellent values such as student independence, self-governance and freedom (many democratic school models are worthwhile from an Anarchist standpoint). But they are the exception, not the norm.

In essence, what Cork is saying is that if we do not have schooling hierarchies in place, no one would ever teach anyone else, for any reason, and we’d all end up starving because there wouldn’t be anyone capable of doing anything technical. But that’s an absurd conclusion. I learn things every day by reading people’s blogs, and there’s no hierarchy there. I am taught things at work by my co-workers, people who are on an equal footing with me. I am taught things by people who write books. How is it any less a learning activity to read a book than to be read a book by some unionized moron with a felt pen?

Sunni Maravillosa used pretty much the same argument in another blog response, saying that my worldview must be bankrupt because… she’s a good mom (as if her good conduct in a coercive system should make the system acceptable). And because there’s no other possible way to raise children but by giving complete power over them to the two people whose sperm and egg started the process of their birth. To breeders like Sunni, having working genital organs is the only criterion for possession and control of a human being. And people call me cuckoo for being against breeding.

But I don’t want to get bogged down by the details here. I trust the main gist of my argument is clear: hierarchies are wholly unnecessary for anything socially valuable. Cork makes it sound as if I oppose “everyone and everything.” That’s bullshit. I don’t oppose education, only schooling. I don’t oppose production, only capitalism. I don’t oppose religion, only churches.

The issue of religion brings out another major misunderstanding for Cork:

Now, if Francois truly believes that hierarchy is immoral, he must believe it is morally justified to coercively prohibit these hierarchical institutions from forming. So I challenge him to:

1) Demand the compulsory abolition of churches (along with all the other hierarchies he opposes), and

2) Explain how this will be done without some form of hierarchical authority.

The first sentence here is key. Cork is stating that:

(1) Francois truly believes that hierarchy is immoral.

Is equal to:

(2) Francois believes it is morally justified to coercively prohibit hierarchical institutions from forming.

But this is almost a contradiction. If one believes he is morally justified to coercively prohibit something, then he must do so on the basis of some principle (otherwise morality wouldn’t be part of it at all). On the basis of what principle does one morally justify coercion? Rights. (2) would therefore imply that I believe that I have the right to stop hierarchical institutions from forming. But such a right can only be valid if I posit that my values are superior to the values of the people forming the institution, and that I am therefore their superior in some way, morally justified in ordering them to desist on the basis of having superior values. From here we seem to be only one rock’s throw away from a hierarchy.

The truth of the matter is that I do not believe that I am morally justified in coercively prohibiting hierarchies from forming. I certainly do not believe that I have any right to stop immoral actions simply for being immoral. To take an example, suppose you are smoking, and that I consider smoking to be immoral. Does that mean I believe I should use force to stop you from smoking? No, obviously not. This would seem to be the actions of an arrogant asshole who has no respect for human freedom.

Of course, Cork is free to think that about me, but I can assure you that I have the utmost respect for human freedom and would never do such a thing.

(But two out of three ain’t bad!)

31 thoughts on “He’s not outrageous, he’s Corktageous!

  1. Cork October 5, 2008 at 21:41

    Thanks for the response, Francois.

    First off, I never claimed your goal was to offer alternatives. In fact, that was pretty much the point of my post. It’s easy to criticize, especially without offering any alternatives to what you are critical of.

    After reading your take on schools, I’m still confused about what exactly your position is. You start off by condemning public schools (which we all oppose), then you say that you dismiss “the schooling system as a whole,” in favor of “teaching.”

    Well…ok. So teaching is okay as long as it’s not in a school? At what point does it become a “hierarchy?” Does it become hierarchy when one person (the teacher) leads the class? Or when a class exists? Or what?

    Next you say that you don’t oppose religion, just churches. What difference does the location make? If someone worships in their garage, does it suddenly become ok?

    And what about parenting?

    You say: “The truth of the matter is that I do not believe that I am morally justified in coercively prohibiting hierarchies from forming.”

    In that case, you admit that coercive hierarchies are the real problem. If someone tried to beat you up, my guess is that you would claim a right to coercively prohibit him from doing so, because it is an obviously immoral act that violates rights (just as you seem to view all hierarchy).

    So you seem to be admitting that non-coercive hierarchies are not “immoral” in the same sense of coercive hierarchies.

  2. Cork October 5, 2008 at 21:46

    Looking back, it seems like your real argument is that hierarchy is undesirable (not so much immoral). Maybe this is what is causing some of the confusion between us?

    Thanks for the cool title btw :D

  3. Francois Tremblay October 5, 2008 at 21:55

    “First off, I never claimed your goal was to offer alternatives. In fact, that was pretty much the point of my post. It’s easy to criticize, especially without offering any alternatives to what you are critical of.”

    So… the point of your post was to criticize me for not writing about something that was irrelevant to my entry?

    “Well…ok. So teaching is okay as long as it’s not in a school? At what point does it become a “hierarchy?” Does it become hierarchy when one person (the teacher) leads the class? Or when a class exists? Or what?”

    I already gave the criteria for a hierarchy. It has to be a system where control is directed and systemic.

    “Next you say that you don’t oppose religion, just churches. What difference does the location make? If someone worships in their garage, does it suddenly become ok?”

    Same answer. It’s not the specific location that I am talking against, but the structures that they house. Someone can reproduce a hierarchy in their garage.

    “And what about parenting?”

    What about parenting?

    “In that case, you admit that coercive hierarchies are the real problem.”

    I don’t know how you got from what I wrote to this, but no, I am not “admitting” this because it’s not true. All hierarchies are a “problem.”

    “If someone tried to beat you up, my guess is that you would claim a right to coercively prohibit him from doing so, because it is an obviously immoral act that violates rights (just as you seem to view all hierarchy).”

    Yes, obviously such an act is immoral and violates rights.

    “So you seem to be admitting that non-coercive hierarchies are not “immoral” in the same sense of coercive hierarchies.”

    Only in the sense that they do not fall under the principle of “hitting or threatening to hit people is wrong.” But so what?

  4. Cork October 5, 2008 at 22:06

    “So… the point of your post was to criticize me for not writing about something that was irrelevant to my entry?”

    For something that should have been relevant to your entry.

    “I already gave the criteria for a hierarchy. It has to be a system where control is directed and systemic.”

    No classes, then?

    “Same answer. It’s not the specific location that I am talking against, but the structures that they house. Someone can reproduce a hierarchy in their garage.”

    Your missing the point. Isn’t religion in general hierarchical, since it means obedience to a god in a top-down fashion?

    “What about parenting?”

    What’s the alternative? Is it the wolves or the child abandonment?

    “Only in the sense that they do not fall under the principle of “hitting or threatening to hit people is wrong.” But so what? ”

    Why don’t they fall under the same principle? It seems that you view them as immoral for the same reason you would view hitting someone as immoral.

  5. Francois Tremblay October 5, 2008 at 22:46

    “For something that should have been relevant to your entry.”

    Why? How is it relevant? Is it not sufficient for one entry to point out something that is wrong?

    “No classes, then?”

    If by class you mean the political concept, then definitely not.

    “Your missing the point. Isn’t religion in general hierarchical, since it means obedience to a god in a top-down fashion?”

    Yes, although I am referring more specifically to the human hierarchies, not the divine ones.
    (also, Buddhism is a counter-example)

    “What’s the alternative? Is it the wolves or the child abandonment?”

    You are just following the same embarrassing strategy that you used on your entry, and I already answered you.

    “Why don’t they fall under the same principle? It seems that you view them as immoral for the same reason you would view hitting someone as immoral.”

    You mean hierarchies?

  6. Cork October 5, 2008 at 23:05

    “If by class you mean the political concept, then definitely not.”

    Heh, I’m talking abot school classes.

    “Yes, although I am referring more specifically to the human hierarchies, not the divine ones.”

    So then it really is religion that you oppose, with or without the church.

    “You are just following the same embarrassing strategy that you used on your entry, and I already answered you.”

    Um..where? I’m asking what your alternative is to parents. I don’t think you have one. So yes, it is part of the same “strategy.”

  7. Cork October 5, 2008 at 23:06

    “You mean hierarchies?”

    Yes. Do you believe that they violate rights? That’s my question.

  8. Francois Tremblay October 5, 2008 at 23:17

    “Heh, I’m talking abot school classes.”

    Well, in the notion of “school,” as we understand it today, there is inevitably a hierarchy. Do you disagree?

    “So then it really is religion that you oppose, with or without the church.”

    No… religion in itself does not imply human hierarchies.

    “Um..where? I’m asking what your alternative is to parents.”

    Just as you asked for everything else. I already told you that’s irrelevant, and that your absurd “if you reject X, then you must want Y!” strategy does not work. Your imaginary consequences are simply not true.

    “Yes. Do you believe that they violate rights? That’s my question.”

    Not all of them do so directly, but all of them violate rights in practice.

  9. Cork October 5, 2008 at 23:24

    “Well, in the notion of “school,” as we understand it today, there is inevitably a hierarchy. Do you disagree?”

    If you’re talking about public schools, then yes. But are you against all schools where a teacher leads the classroom?

    “No… religion in itself does not imply human hierarchies.”

    Ok

    “Just as you asked for everything else. I already told you that’s irrelevant, and that your absurd “if you reject X, then you must want Y!” strategy does not work. Your imaginary consequences are simply not true.”

    There’s no alternative to parenting, is there? :D

    “Not all of them do so directly, but all of them violate rights in practice.”

    If something violates rights, it means it is legitimate to coercively prohibit it. Didn’t you say you’re against coercively prohibiting hierarchies?

  10. Francois Tremblay October 5, 2008 at 23:45

    “If you’re talking about public schools, then yes. But are you against all schools where a teacher leads the classroom?”

    Not necessarily, no. I mean, I can see how schools could be organized non-hierarchically. I think some alternative schools, as I pointed out, are pretty close to that right now. But it will not be achievable as long as the State controls the parameters of education.

    “There’s no alternative to parenting, is there? :D”

    Do you really think there is no alternative to anything? Are you that mentally limited?

    “If something violates rights, it means it is legitimate to coercively prohibit it. Didn’t you say you’re against coercively prohibiting hierarchies?”

    I am against coercively prohibiting hierarchies, but I am not against coercively prohibiting the coercive actions committed by people in hierarchies. I just don’t think it would do any good.

  11. Cork October 6, 2008 at 00:10

    “Not necessarily, no. I mean, I can see how schools could be organized non-hierarchically. I think some alternative schools, as I pointed out, are pretty close to that right now. But it will not be achievable as long as the State controls the parameters of education.”

    Ok, well I agree then.

    “Do you really think there is no alternative to anything? Are you that mentally limited?”

    I don’t think there’s a realistic alternative to parenting, no (you don’t seem to have one either). But as with schools, I’m all for ways to make parenting less authoritarian. I just don’t see how parents can be abolished altogether.

    “I am against coercively prohibiting hierarchies”

    But if you truly believes that they violate rights, shouldn’t you advocate their coercive prohibition? I mean, there are two options here:

    1) They violate rights, which means they must be coercively prohibited (in which case the person or entity that prohibits them becomes another hierarchy)

    or

    2) It is not ok to coercively prohibit them, which means that they don’t violate rights / are not immoral.

    Or am I going wrong somewhere?

  12. Francois Tremblay October 6, 2008 at 00:25

    I said that the existence of a hierarchy in and of itself does not imply breaking people’s rights. In practice, they do. Those are two different issues.

  13. Cork October 6, 2008 at 00:28

    Aaah, ok. Now I get what you’re saying.

    So really you’re just arguing that hierarchy is undesirable (or often undesirable)?

  14. Francois Tremblay October 6, 2008 at 00:40

    Always undesirable, with all that that implies, yes.

  15. Belinsky October 6, 2008 at 10:21

    Just leave him to his devices, Francois! There’s nothing more to be said.

    Good posts.

  16. Niccolo October 6, 2008 at 11:08

    Francois is right.

    The existence of hierarchies almost always leads to the violation of rights and when the other alternatives are more desirable for most anyways, it’s a wonder why anyone would defend them.

  17. Mike Gogulski October 6, 2008 at 17:41

    Niccolo makes a fine point in opening: hierarchies almost always leads to the violation of rights.

    The key word, though, is always. In my view, it’s entirely possible to have a voluntary, consensual hierarchy of any size which violates no rights at all. In our present context there is a recognizable correlation between size and tendency violate, however, though I see Francois arguing against an abstract “hierarchy” when, to me, he might argue against employing domination tactics in specific sorts of social relations to greater effect. I see no essential reason why a hierarchy must become violative of rights, but then I also believe that we use different definitions for the term.

  18. Francois Tremblay October 6, 2008 at 17:46

    “it’s entirely possible to have a voluntary, consensual hierarchy of any size which violates no rights at all”

    Can you give an example?

  19. Mike Gogulski October 6, 2008 at 20:40

    BDSM practitioners.

  20. Francois Tremblay October 7, 2008 at 03:07

    BDSM is not a hierarchy. In actuality, both partners, both the dominant and the submissive, are “in control” of the sexual actions.

  21. anarcho-mercantilist October 7, 2008 at 21:35

    If you define a hierarchy as the criminals above-the-law who defends the state’s existence, I would oppose hierarchies. If you define a hierarchy as any middleman, such as those who transports goods throughout the society, I would support the hierarchies that function voluntarily.

    I agree that employment has the principle-agent problem caused from asymmetrical information. I know the significant communication barriers and oversight costs of employing a worker. I also know that in the current system, the employer can give arbitrary orders to the worker whatever the employer feels like it. I agree that in a free society, more independent firms would function.

    In a free society, more workers would create independent firms. Instead of the worker agreeing on a contract allowing the employer give arbitrary orders without any extra compensation, the worker owning his or her own firm would have more motivation to innovate instead of doing tedious work that the employer demands. Productivity and innovation would increase and the worker would actually appreciate their work.

    The inefficiency of the state causes a highly authoritarian “education” system. I agree the current system harms the students to act like submissive agents of the state, without any education.

    I also agree that since children did not voluntarily choose their parents, I consider it as exploitive. I also agree that the authoritarian state-education and parenting model harms the child into submissive and risk-avoiding child. Religious parents like to teach their children religion.

    If less intelligent individuals gets deluded by religion, you do not have any solution. If individuals gets defrauded by religion, convincing them to quit the religion equals the toughness of convincing Christians into atheists. If one abolishes religion, new religions and folk religions would enter.

    I do not understand of why individuals would suddenly become atheist with abolishing the state. You seem to have an egalitarian or “environmental determinist” view that everyone has the same intelligence to become convinced to the obvious flaws of religion if more debate has set in. More intelligent individuals would realize by himself or herself the obvious contradiction in believing in God. The less intelligent social conservative parents would continue to believe in religion, and would teach their children in an authoritarian way. They do not have enough intelligence to deny the existence of God. The current “Roe effect” continuously make the less intelligent religious individuals have more offspring. Individuals may consider religion as a form of entertaiment, or may just enjoy religion the same as enjoying watching television.

    In a free society, prisons would not appear as frequently as in a statist society. In a free society, only individuals who considered a threat to society or repeat offenders would join prisons.

  22. Francois Tremblay October 7, 2008 at 21:56

    “I do not understand of why individuals would suddenly become atheist with abolishing the state. You seem to have an egalitarian or “environmental determinist” view that everyone has the same intelligence to become convinced to the obvious flaws of religion if more debate has set in.”

    What the hell are you talking about.

  23. Jeremy October 12, 2008 at 10:24

    I approach the phenomenon of hierarchy the same way I approach the phenomenon of extreme wealth concentrations: they are not in and of themselves evidence of coercion, but they certainly are clues to coercion occurring at some point. My preferred approach to a situation of social hierarchy is to ask why people are conforming to such a system of behavior, and I would expect at some point to find some threat or past coercion involved.

    Saying that there’s such a thing as a “voluntary” hierarchy is putting too much thought into it. Of course you can capture the differential between people’s relative knowledge / strength / good looks and construct a system to organize people along some variable. You can do that at any given moment in any given context, and it may be an applicable model for understanding that moment in that context. This is not what anarchists typically attack as “hierarchy” (or “authority”).

    Typically, it seems like we’re more concerned with systems that perpetuate this ranking beyond the moment and the context ad infinitum. The hierarchy doesn’t exist because of the people involved, but in spite of them. I obey my boss, not because I respect his judgment or his knowledge of widgets, but because he occupies the higher node in the hierarchy and I the lower. This hierarchy exists regardless of any merit or social context.

    The problem is the creation of an institution around this hierarchy which perpetuates it for its own sake, so that the structure trumps the people’s judgment within and arrests the participants’ ability to reorganize to meet the needs of the moment and individuals involved. Hierarchy is simply a way that we organize along a particular socially-relevant variable; institutions are a way to create an artificial variable against which to measure people in an attempt to reorder society into a particular configuration. Again, I cannot recommend Butler Shaffer’s “Calculated Chaos” any higher on this matter.

  24. Francois Tremblay October 12, 2008 at 11:27

    Thanks for your comments Jeremy. I will address some of the issues you raise on my next entry.

  25. johnpetrie October 12, 2008 at 21:17

    Francois,

    I really enjoyed this part of your post:

    “If one believes he is morally justified to coercively prohibit something, then he must do so on the basis of some principle (otherwise morality wouldn’t be part of it at all). On the basis of what principle does one morally justify coercion? Rights. (2) would therefore imply that I believe that I have the right to stop hierarchical institutions from forming. But such a right can only be valid if I posit that my values are superior to the values of the people forming the institution, and that I am therefore their superior in some way, morally justified in ordering them to desist on the basis of having superior values. From here we seem to be only one rock’s throw away from a hierarchy.

    The truth of the matter is that I do not believe that I am morally justified in coercively prohibiting hierarchies from forming. I certainly do not believe that I have any right to stop immoral actions simply for being immoral.”

    This is why I take heated disagreements between libertarians with a grain of salt and remain optimistic about anarchist libertarianism as a movement. We know that, regardless of what we think of someone else’s preferences and outlook on life and definition of capitalism, we would not initiate force (coercion/aggression) against them to enforce our point of view, and we know they would treat us the same way. Either party would only use force to defend against violence, which isn’t bloody likely to come from anarchist philosophers.

    We know that, despite ugly arguments between, say, Kevin Carson and Reisman or Kinsella, they fundamentally agree about the nature of the State and the propriety of the use of force.

    Btw, I skipped straight down to the comment box and haven’t read the other couple dozen comments (no time for anything lately), so apologies if this was already discussed.

  26. Jeremy October 14, 2008 at 07:59

    Well said, John.

  27. […] One of the marks of a statist is that he believes his value-system is superior to all others. Not only does he believe he possesses some truth (which is something held by all of us, otherwise we wouldn’t hold the positions we hold), but he also believes that he is perfectly justified in enforcing this truth on others: in short, that violence is justified by its moving principle being correct (the same error committed by Cork in his reply to my post on hierarchies). […]

  28. anarcho-mercantilist November 7, 2008 at 22:05

    ““I do not understand of why individuals would suddenly become atheist with abolishing the state. You seem to have an egalitarian or “environmental determinist” view that everyone has the same intelligence to become convinced to the obvious flaws of religion if more debate has set in.”

    What the hell are you talking about.”

    I did not attempt to offend anyone during my last post. I was referring to the (genetically) unintelligent Christian fundamentalists who oppose evolution even I waste my time debating with them.

  29. neverfox November 10, 2008 at 15:29

    Jeremy, I think you have it exactly right. Many people, when they hear hierarchy being attacked, assume that what is also being attacked are things like division of labor, specialization, deference to or acknowledgment of superior knowledge (e.g. teachers, doctors) or even management (as a task). This leads them to use all of these things as straw men to make the person concerned with hierarchy to appear irrational and defeatist. This is how I view Cork’s general line of attack against Francois.

    But hierarchy is not in any of these things (necessarily). This is where I appeal to the concept of rational authority (via Godwin). It is acceptable to listen to a rational authority (this is different from duty to obey). A rational authority is someone about whom one can have a reasonable expectation that their recommendations are more likely than the dictates of one’s own judgment to allow one to carry out one’s duty. But the existence of rational authorities does not exempt anyone from the duty to determine whether or not the person or institution giving orders in any particular situation counts as a rational authority in that situation. That last part is vital and it’s an extremely high standard. The authority (e.g. to use some of Cork’s examples: the conductor of the symphony, the teacher, the project manager, the plumber etc.) cannot be what decides its own authority. It must rely on the rational judgment of the person choosing to defer to it. Rather than demanding a duty to obey, it only duty is to yourself to judge the authority as offering useful commands. If you have that, you don’t have, as Francois puts it, directed and systemic power. In other words, it’s voluntary, recallable, context-driven and rational. Simply being in a hierarchical structure or having the appearance of hierarchy isn’t what matters. It’s being stuck in systematic and directed hierarchy.

    It’s not hierarchy if I follow someone who knows their way around the streets of a town I’ve never been to. It’s not hierarchy if I attend a lecture. It’s not hierarchy if I allow a doctor to perform surgery on me while I’m unconscious or if I follow a conductor’s tempo while I play. It’s not hierarchy when I read a blog or book by someone who knows more than I do about a subject and I take something away from it. It’s not hierarchy if defer scheduling tasks to a project manager. It’s not hierarchy if I take advice from someone.

  30. […] force against it (never mind that I’ve been strenuously arguing against this very mindset, including on this blog). Instead, I should talk about “the holistic integrity of a stateless society arising from […]

  31. […] this is not to say that violence must be used. I’ve often commented on the error of confusing “forbid” with “use violence to stop,” which is a […]

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