Dave Pollard at How to Save the World has an interesting post on the tyranny of structurelessness in which he points to many earlier posts on his theory of democractic self-structuring organizations. I haven't yet read the posts he links to, so my comments below are only based on my intuitive understanding of the concepts, which may differ from reality.

In essense, Mr. Pollard advocates collaboration within a group rather competition -- presumably competition between groups is desirable. He dislikes hierarchical structures and prefers egalitarianism, and in response to the various problems that prevent social groups from functioning this way he writes:

My (admittedly idealistic) proposal in Natural Enterprise is that self-selection of the group should prevent these problems from occurring in the first place. Those who are disinclined to work for someone who tends to want to dominate will select the dominant types out of the group. Those who want to be dominated, to be told what to do and how to do it, will self-select into groups that include that type of individual. Furthermore, in Natural Enterprise, the self-selecting group's first task is to set out the mutually agreeable principles by which it will operate. Of course, this is a learning process, one that will be very new to most of us, so it should not be surprising that it takes some time for the self-selection process to work. In its early days, every Natural Enterprise will be expelling those who didn't work out, allowing others who didn't understand what they were getting into to select themselves out, and others to be invited or opt in in their place. Every system is messy when it first begins. And I have a great belief in instinct -- it is rare when my first instinctive impression of a work colleague, positive or negative, has proven dead wrong. Nature has given us this marvelous gift of instinct to make the process of group self-selection easier and more reliable.

The idea that people should be allowed to join and leave groups under their own free will is not particularly new (see the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution). In America, anyway, most people are entirely free to join and leave super-groups at will (such as companies, clubs, churches, unions, even families), but the internal structures of these groups is generally hierarchical.

Interestingly, corporations are perhaps the most egalitarian type of group; shareholders vote in proportion to their ownership without regard for any social considerations; of course, shareholders almost universally vote to create a hierarchical structure led by a board of directors, a president, and various managerial types. Employees of the corporation do not, in the strictest sense, "belong" to the corporate group unless they are shareholders, but when they decide to accept employment they know about the structure they're joining and do so voluntarily. I'm not sure how this fits into Mr. Pollard's philosophy; I assume he would argue that the shareholders could achieve a greater return on their investments if they created a more egalitarian management structure. This would, however, reduce their ability to oversee and direct their employees and the use of their capital, so it may be that the more efficient egalitarian structure would be more productive but not in the direction the shareholders desire.

As to collaboration more generally, Mr. Pollard asks some pointed questions.

Are these behaviours -- excessive dominance, bullying, ganging up, hoarding resources, competing instead of collaborating, and doing things without consulting others -- unlearnable? And how about the behaviours that make these foolish behaviours possible -- others' submissiveness, cowardice, self-victimization, self-isolation, passivity, meekness, resignation -- can they be unlearned too? Is it naive and unrealistic to think that we all have something valuable to contribute, we all instinctively seek and belong to communities, and, given a chance, we could and would all participate as equals in every community and organization to which we belong?

I appreciate that nature has endowed us with dominant and submissive genes, to establish a natural pecking order so that, even without language, we can maintain order in our groups. But in nature there is enormous collaboration and sharing of resources, infinitely more peace and equality and less suffering than we find in most human institutions. I'm not saying we need to learn to be exactly equal, just that by 'ousting the egos and outing the wallflowers', we need to learn to be more egalitarian.

I do not share Mr. Pollard's belief that there is enormous collaboration in nature. In nature, pure physical power is the only limit on the actions of any creature. Death runs rampant, justice is a meaningless concept, and suffering is so universal that we can barely perceive it.

Cooperative anarchy may be a desirable condition, but despite common perceptions anarchy is not a natural equilibrium state. Power is always consolidated by the strong, and anarchy inevitably gives way to despotism -- the most fundamental emergent social structure. If we're fortunate (and blessed), despotism eventually yields to democracy, which is more stable than anarchy but still only precariously balanced by the structural forms we build into the system and protect by force, both social and physical.



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