Please stop bugging me with your insanity

This post has been corrected. See the note at the end.

I had a dream this morning. The details fade rapidly, but for some reason I encountered a Caltrans (California Department of Transportation) worker) who warned me about giving power to “commoners.” I agreed.

Our underlying political analyses were different. That Caltrans worker sounds like a monarchist. And as a technocrat, he is entrenched in a notion that the expertise of some people ought to rule over everyone. In contrast, I am an anarchist. But the question is more basic than the specific details of political systems: Should anyone have power over others?

As an anarchist, my answer to that question is no. As a vegetarian ecofeminist, I say further that no one should have power over the environment or over sentient members of other species. And what is more, we have only to look around us to see that the disastrous turn in social organization we took with the Neolithic, in which we put some people in charge of others, poses an existential threat to our (construed broadly to include members of many species) survival.[1]

But a great many of my friends seem to be insane. As the November elections approach, they insist that I should choose one set of neoliberals over the other, one set of war criminals over the other, one set of climate “waiters” over climate “deniers.” None of these people have a job even for me, let alone the millions of unemployed. None of these people are ending war. None of these people are doing anything of substance about climate change.

These issues are what are important to me. And our present system of social organization, the one we adopted in the Neolithic, is incapable of addressing them. Why is this so?

Among the pioneers of social movement theory (around the turn of the 20th Century) was Robert Michels. He devised something called the Iron Law of Oligarchy. It stands today as a singular contribution, explaining that people who are in charge of other people entrench themselves and become more concerned with extending their own influence[2] and, as Christopher Hayes develops it, protecting their own position than with, well, pretty much anything else.[3] That means that rulers are cruel to human beings.[4] That means that rulers destroy the environment and threaten our (again construed broadly) survival.[5]

No one has successfully refuted the Iron Law of Oligarchy. There are different answers as to what should be done about it. But John Bodley makes it clear that unsustainable exploitation—of others and of the environment—is intrinsic to this system of social organization.[6] You cannot get rid of unsustainable exploitation without getting rid of this system. Period.

As I said, my friends are insane. Howard Zinn explains that the two-party system, which controls politics in the country where I have the misfortune to live, places two “parties” which are very little different from each other in opposition to each other so as to limit the pace of change to something that protects the positions of the powerful.[7]

In the United States, there is no “party” to support if you favor social justice. There is no “party” to support if you are against war. There is no “party” to support if you want action on climate change. The rhetoric of the two “parties” might vary, but if there is any lesson especially of the Barack Obama presidency, it is that their actions are the same.

If you want change, you have to get rid of the two-party system. If you want a sustainable world, you have to get rid of our present system of social organization. But my friends vote. And they beseech me to do the same.

I have some really, really stupid friends. They don’t read what I write in this blog, they don’t read what I post in my research journal. They don’t listen to me, even though I have been studying these issues for years and am well on my way to a Ph.D. They won’t even help me get a job. They only tell me what to do.

Correction, October 4, 2014: As originally written, from memory, early in the morning while my cat had stepped out of the room, I slid much too quickly from Robert Michels’ Iron Law of Oligarchy into Christopher Hayes’ development of it. It’s a minor error: Michels does, by far, most of the heavy lifting in this development. The text has been corrected and footnote citations have been separated to make clear which is which. Also, that no one has successfully refuted the Iron Law of Oligarchy does not mean that people haven’t tried. Again, the text has been corrected. Finally, I am a vegetarian ecofeminist, not an ecovegetarian feminist. This is important to properly invoke a relevant body of scholarly literature. The text has been corrected here as well.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “‘We have found the enemy, and he is us’ — and our system of social organization,” March 6, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2013/03/06/we-have-found-the-enemy-and-he-is-us-and-our-system-of-social-organization/
  2. [2]Steven M. Buechler, Understanding Social Movements: Theories from the Classical Era to the Present (Boulder: Paradigm, 2011).
  3. [3]Christopher Hayes, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (New York: Crown, 2012).
  4. [4]David Benfell, “We ‘need to know how it works’,” March 15, 2012, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2012/03/15/we-need-to-know-how-it-works/
  5. [5]David Benfell, “‘We have found the enemy, and he is us’ — and our system of social organization,” March 6, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2013/03/06/we-have-found-the-enemy-and-he-is-us-and-our-system-of-social-organization/
  6. [6]John H. Bodley, Victims of Progress, 5th ed. (Lanham, MD: AltaMira, 2008).
  7. [7]Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present (New York: HarperPerennial, 2005).

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