Revolutionary Anthropology

On another thread, Paralda City wrote:

I support, like perhaps everyone else here, a system of partial employee ownership, workplace democracy, and syndicalism, but I think the primary change has to come in the social sphere, not the economic one.

The "family-values" Right has always had this curious aversion to the concept of cohabitating extended families, preferring to elevate the nuclear family exclusively. Even though, obviously, most of the modern welfare state will be rendered obsolete, since the most expensive programs by far go to senior citizens, and they will not need as much assistance if living with family. (Incidentally, this is potentially one of those critical issues that Conceptual Guerilla talks about – where we can confront conservatives and force them to show their true colors.) The reason is obvious. Though family-values conservatives treasure traditional values, there are some traditional values they care about more than the strength of the family – such as the domination of elites. On a gut instinctual level, they realize that such strong communal bonds at home compromise the ability of the elite to rule.

This raises a set of observations I have been meaning to post here for a couple of months, so I will take this opportunity.

First, recall — if you ever saw it to start with — my observations in my previous "truth force" posts about the nature of society. The modern view of the relationship between individuals and society is that individuals precede society. Indeed, Cowlick in his response to Paralda lays out a very succinct summary of the modern view — if I understand him correctly. That view posits this mythical "state of nature" wherein individuals are absolutely free of all social constraint, and so, as Hobbes believed, are inherently at war with each other. Society is simply that peace treaty we all make in order to live together without killing each other.

What I suggested in previous essays I will now make explicit. This view is misbegotten. Social organization is millions of years old. Indeed, we were social creatures before we were fully evolved homo sapiens. We evolved AS social creatures, such that we can make the case that our social behaviors are part of our "hard wiring," and precede our awareness of ourselves as individuals.

You can see this in those "moments of truth" I have spoken about — and indeed illustrated. The hairless, upright walking, clawless, flat faced, and slow-moving humans have very little going for them as isolated individuals. Social cohesion — including specifically, the willingness to sacrifice ones self for the benefit of society — became our evolutionary strategy for survival. It produces the natural empathy many, if not most, human beings feel toward other human beings. Your inherent sense of justice is millions of years of evolution talking to you.

Now I could go into elements of cultural evolution, and outline what I would call the "evolution of individuality," which is CREATED BY social organization. In fact, a formulation I have toyed with is the notion that social organization literally "creates time and space." I will leave you with that brief comment, and move onto the larger point.

Social organization is what creates opportunities for "individual achievement" — and we can see this in the fact that elites sit atop a vast social network, that makes their leisure possible. Similarly, social infrastructure makes possible art, music, engineering, science, philosophy, and every other skill and mode of contemplation. What we have in "civilization" and its class structures is a fundamental division between those who do the work of society, and those who enjoy its benefits — which is the fundamental complaint about social injustice.

Meanwhile, there is a natural human response to injustice — the very same natural response to natural predators. That natural response is to organize. In fact, human beings are so naturally social, that you no doubt have had the experience of finding yourself in places like airports or doctors’ waiting rooms, talking to people you’ve never met before. I can tell you a couple of sets of experiences. Juries become socially cohesive within a very short time — and in fact, they naturally divide opposing camps to deliberate, and only rarely fail to reach a unanimous decision. The second context is the classroom. Bring thirty students into a classroom who don’t know each other, and within a week you will discrete groupings of friends, and a "general will" regarding the basic rules. Forget those written rules you are supposed to enforce, the kids come up with their own.

Now, put that into the context of a conquerer, subjugating the local farmers, and turning them into serfs. What will the natural response be? You guessed it, organized resistance. And that organized resistance must be destroyed. Every large scale political domination — we call them "empires" — must inevitably undermine the natural tendency of human beings to organize themselves into small self-sufficient, self-defending communities. Atomized and "alienated" people are the goal of all conquerers — of which, ruling elites are a species. The genius of this country, in its early days — probably an accident, but what the hell — was in the way that it decentralized political power, and allowed self-government right down to the level of local village. The Roman Empire displayed a similar genius, preferring to co-opt local political leaders, local religions, etc. And of course, conquerers/ruling elites inevitably adopt an ideology that justifies their form of social organization, and delegitimizes yours.

Notice something about the "natural order." The "natural order" never includes a ruling elite. The natural order is small scale social units, that integrate with other similar units, and indeed, any empire and/or oligarchy requires its rulers to undermine this natural social organization — which explains why empires and oligarchies inevitably produce pockets of gross poverty and social decay. They systematically undermine the social mechanisms that would prevent those social pathologies, because their position requires that they destroy any basis for resistance which will be found in those natural social units.

Which suggests, by the way, the direction to take your activism.

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