Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The preferential option for humanity

There are two criteria for determining what is socially justified in general, but also internal to particular hierarchies. The first are the preferences of the affected parties; the second, some conception of fundamental human rights.

For anarchists, hierarchy in and of itself is a violation of fundamental human rights; namely, the right to freely associate with others absent any external social coercion (e.g., if you don't work for somebody else, you will jeopardize your material well-being).

However, insofar as hierarchical relations are increasingly the norm, and therefore woven into social assumptions -- "a boss is just a fact of life!" -- anarchists interested in propagating their view must convene at the point of established assumptions and recast them as a new set of preferences: not "work" vs. "unemployment"; but "wage-slavery" vs. "freely contributing toward something worthwhile," with the means to live an assumed right for everyone.

As long as the working classes of society continue to see the extension and intensification of their work lives as a blessing when compared to the alternative, not a curse, anarchists will have their work cut out for them to make the case.

As discussed yesterday, one of the ways to move toward a general reappraisal of established norms is to take an explicit stand on particular ones, supporting what is socially justified in moments when hierarchical policy lacks institutional consensus. Despite their formal power structure, hierarchies like all social institutions include variable distributions of power to which the formal structure is immune. By exploiting what is variable within hierarchical institutions, anarchists can support what is socially justified on one issue (e.g. sexual harassment), leveraging this to propose what might be socially justified on another (e.g., economic harassment).

11 comments:

Jack Crow said...

I think this better helps me understand what you meant earlier in a discussion about feminism and feminist critique.

Thanks.

JRB said...

I think our understandings of power have been a fault line for us going way back. Thanks to our recent back and forth, however, I think I finally understand your reasoning behind how you use the term. It's new to me, so I couldn't get it at first.

However, I'm coming to appreciate it as a very useful distinction, even if I still have sort out all the implications in my head. Thanks for pursuing it.

Peter Ward said...

I'm not opposed necessarily to fighting for particulars--but to do much a general understanding of power is still needed, to accompany these actions. Like one can now sue a manager (often successfully) for sexual harassment so managers just find other ways--denying hours, assigning unpleasant tasks as a punitive measure, changing schedules and so on--to exercise their power. Before you take away one weapon they've picked up another (just as drug laws took care of Civil Rights in the 70s).

Also, people are so indoctrinated even organizations constructed to fight power usually end up creating their own, analogous power structures. For example, a union I'm associated with has a black woman working reception and a well-educated white guy running it (and the coordinators are all white gentry as well, of course)--and they deny employees medical leave and so on.

We may just be strait-fucked. But if not, without confronting the general problem of giving a minority power over the rest (be they kings or business owners or union coordinators) directly I'm not sure the net result will be any kind of progress.

JRB said...

Peter:

Yes: the question here is how do we confront the general problem directly given that the majority of us are a part of it, while the minority of us are ineffective insofar as we aren't?

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