Small is ugly: the uncomfortable anti-authoritarian micro-politics of egalitarian foragers

  • Posted on: 19 November 2018
  • By: thecollective

via Freedom News

This text explores the problem of emergence of authoritarianism within groups on the radical left. It is based on the reflections of participants from the Occupy ICE activist camp that was established outside the immigration centre in Portland, USA. Comparing the self-critical reflections of members of the camp with anthropological literature on actually-existing egalitarian societies unearths some lessons for social movements regarding how internal dynamics of domination can be resisted. It brings to the surface questions of the importance of things like structures vs. individuals, compassion vs. self-preservation, and the innateness vs. malleability of human nature; all recurring sources of tension for many on the left.

Community Care

The Occupy ICE camp in Portland was on the brink of collapse long before it was formally cleared out this summer. This precariousness was precipitated largely by the local police; not the official state police, but a group of activists, masquerading as anarchists and radicals, who appointed themselves as the ICE commune’s security team within days of its establishment. Multiple participants from the commune have now spoken out (anonymously), describing how this authoritarian, self-appointed internal security team came to dictate the actions of the camp, by deciding unilaterally that only ‘passive resistance’ constituted legitimate political action, and embarrassing, shaming, attacking and expelling from the camp those that didn’t keep in line. To suppress initial criticisms, the security team rebranded themselves the ‘Care Team’. Their self-styled uniform consisted of pink bandannas.

The emergence of authoritarianism from the radical left is not uncommon. Many examples can be found, ranging from embarrassing to lethal; from Justine Tunney, the occupy founder who subsequently hijacked the movement’s official media channels, and later started a petition calling for the google-CEO to be made American president; to Benito Mussolini, who migrated from an engaged member of the Italian radical left to fascist dictator. It’s common enough for the idea of manarchism to exist.

What is most concerning, however, is not that such people exist within the left. It’s that others in such movements often seem to have no idea how to deal with them or, worse still, remain wilfully ignorant to the contradictions they bring.

In Portland, both these trends played out. Participants report that the Care Team was formed of individuals well known to be authoritarian personalities who had a history of attempting to control and police previous demonstrations. Others report how easily many people, particularly those new to social movements, simply accepted these authoritarian dynamics. Often, they feared they would be perceived as racist if they spoke out against these self-appointed leaders, who claimed to be speaking for all people of colour.

Hiding behind structures

The relatively unmitigated coexistence of egalitarian ideals and authoritarian personalities within the radical left is not entirely surprising.

First, although intuition may suggest the opposite, environments with an anti-authoritarian ethos can be rather appealing for individuals prone to dominate. Second, there is a tendency within the left to ‘structuralise’ problems; to assume that domination and oppression can always be explained in terms of capitalism, patriarchy or racism, or some other force that transcends the individual. This is perhaps, in part, an ideological protest against the rampant individualization found on the right.

The definition of hierarchy described in The Ecology of Freedom by Murray Bookchin – a key figure in the early development of eco-anarchism – offers an explicit example. Bookchin’s understanding of hierarchy, and the oppression and domination inherent to it, arose from his dissatisfaction with the Marxist tendency to reduce all forms of social oppression to class conflicts and material inequality. His more expansive cultural and psychological concept of hierarchy is highly valuable for understanding the multiplicity of forms that domination may take within human societies – for example, women by men, the young by their elders, or body by mind – and how social inequalities long-predate the existence of formal property relations. Crucially though, he defines domination (in humans and other species) explicitly as something that must transcend the individual, stating that:

S]pecific acts of coercion by individual animals can hardly be called domination’ [and hence hierarchy] ‘must comprise a clearly social structure of coercive and privileged ranks that exist apart from the idiosyncratic individuals that seem to be dominant within a given community. (pp.93-94, The Ecology of Freedom)

This tendency to structuralise domination can leave groups on the left wide open to the oppressive threats that emerge from within. They can be left blind to the micro-scale sources of domination that strongly may shape their group-dynamics and interpersonal relations. The vulnerability is exacerbated when coupled with the belief, often found on the left, that human nature is blank or inherently innocent; a denial of the findings of contemporary life sciences that mirrors the denial of the physical science of anthropogenic climate change found within the right.

Authoritarian personalities may seize these opportunities to hide their dominant tendencies behind an outward allegiance to the discourses of the radical left. By adopting anti-capitalist, anti-racist, feminist and democratic language, authoritarians can avoid having their own motives come under scrutiny.

And this seems to be precisely what occurred at the ICE camp in Portland. Members of the small and exclusive Care Team would confront those they determined were undertaking inappropriate, politically illegitimate actions with the claim that they were merely enforcing the commune’s consensus to protect people of colour. As one participant summarises, the Care Team enforced “a hidden rigid hierarchy disguised in careful leftist language to isolate critics”.

Actually-existing egalitarian societies

Over a decade ago, the anthropologist Jerome Lewis witnessed authoritarian dynamics emerging in another egalitarian political project; this one an ocean away from the ICE commune in Northern Congo. Unlike the ICE camp – in which the Care Team managed to quickly expel from the group people that threatened their power – within the chain of events Jerome observed the threat of authoritarianism was eliminated before it had any chance to thrive. Benasongo, the man considered the source of this threat, was collectively forced out of the camp by the Mbendjele women.

As it happens, Benasongo hadn’t even made a serious attempt to boss anyone around. He simply couldn’t stop boasting about his hunting abilities – which were exceptionally good, meaning he brought a disproportionate amount of food to the camp. His relentless attempts to build status and prestige from his success were considered enough of a threat to the group’s egalitarian structure to justify his expulsion from the community. If he’d made an aggressive move to control the group the consequences may have been far worse: he may have been executed by his own kinsmen; a strategy employed by egalitarian groups across at least three continents.

Execution lies at the extreme end of what the evolutionary anthropologist Christopher Boehm calls a ‘reverse dominance hierarchy’, a consistent strategy that he argues underpins the diverse practices of actually-existing politically egalitarian societies across the globe. It involves a series of increasingly severe sanctions employed collectively by groups against individuals perceived as a potential threat to equality and autonomy. Such individuals are first ridiculed; if they attempt to order others around, they are responded to with embarrassing collective disobedience; if they persist, they may suffer ostracism; and if they become aggressive, then execution becomes increasingly likely. As Benasongo experienced, the early stages of these sanctions are directed at people with self-aggrandizing tendencies to prevent them gaining prestige that they may then use to legitimise taking political power or accumulating resources. Crucially, then, sanctions are strongly pre-emptive, guided by an assumption that it’s safer to take down someone overly arrogant than leave them a chance to build status and form a position of power. They are, in a sense, underpinned by the idea that those with inflated egos are guilty until proven innocent. Any attempts of primitive manarchists to exert social control would be collectively crushed.

Benasongo thus broke a rule almost universal for hunters in egalitarian societies. They must be highly modest about their success – especially those who are particularly skilled. Those that fail to abide by this rule are quickly ridiculed by the rest of the group, and if they don’t respond then this punishment may escalate.

In fact, even the God’s don’t escape this collective ridicule. The Ju/’hoansi of the Kalahari Desert are one of the only hunter gatherer groups with a monotheistic religion. But rather than being raised upon an altar, the thanks their God receives for creating the world and everything in it is a stream of ridicule composed of stories in which he is tricked, seduced and deceived into making a fool of himself by the Ju/’hoansi women. Achievements, however grand, are deemed more or less irrelevant in the pursuit of equality, and arrogance appears incompatible with it.

The differences between these egalitarian societies – who are often, but not always, hunter-gatherers – and groups on the contemporary radical left are clearly vast (and they‘re also somewhat obvious). The similarities may be few, but they’re of fundamental importance. And they’re not just due to our choice to describe this group as a political project, which Anthropologists argue is entirely appropriate. It’s because, just like the radical left, such groups are consciously and assertively striving for social, political and material equality.

‘Consciousness’ here is crucial. Equality in such societies is not a mere accident of their scale or environmental circumstances, rather it’s maintained by continuous political practices. In other words, hunter-gatherers are not egalitarian simply because they’re foragers. At least in some cases, they’re foragers precisely because they’re egalitarians. They were thus conscious political projects long before their contact with modern states.

This is precisely why Boehm’s ideas may prove so valuable for understanding the emergence of hierarchy and domination on the radical left. Contrasting his concept of domination with Bookchin’s – observing both their similarities and critical departure – makes this clear.

Both Boehm and Bookchin emphasise the limits of Marxist and materialist tendencies for understanding hierarchy and domination in human societies. But while Bookchin defines hierarchy as any form of domination except that emanating from the acts of particular individuals, Boehm suggests that precisely these individual sources of domination are most dangerous for the actually-existing egalitarian societies he has studied, stating that:

Marxian and other familiar versions of group conflict theory are not very consistent with the conflict [between equality and authority in egalitarian societies] because, essentially, egalitarian conflict is between an exceptionally assertive individual and the rest of a small local community rather than between “social classes” or even between large political factions.

These ideas, and the practices of actually-existing egalitarian societies from which they emerge, embody an important, yet rather simple lesson: Oppressive hierarchies cannot always be explained by structures related to race, gender, class or some other group identity, and these non-structural forms of domination take an immense amount of collective energy to suppress. Further, the threat cannot simply be socialised away: Even in some distant utopian society in which people are born and raised within an ideology of equality, manipulative authoritarian individuals will repeatedly and inevitably emerge. And (to repeat the decades-old warnings of feminist anthropologists) more often than not such people will be men. Thus, for egalitarian micro-politics, a blank-slate theory of human nature is a dangerous delusion.

The final liberal frontier

The concept of a reverse dominance hierarchy could be considered a somewhat pretentious academic idea, given the tactics are rather familiar to political activism. Ridicule in the form of political satire, disobedience through direct action, and even assassination by militant anarchists, have been used frequently in political struggles of the past centuries. But the novelty of Boehm’s ideas is not so much the strategies themselves, but their target and timing: their inward orientation towards individuals within existing egalitarian groups, and pre-emptive nature.

The reflections of participants of the Portland ICE camp show an awareness of this importance of turning attention inwards towards the dynamics of one’s group. Shortly before the commune was officially cleared out, some forewarned that ‘if nothing changes, our commune will collapse before the [state] police even attempt to raid it’. Yet their very tentative steps towards addressing these issues already show deep contradictions with the practices of actually-existing egalitarian societies. Strangely, at the centre of these contradictions is gossip.

The reverse dominance hierarchy described by Boehm is, essentially, a structure of collective group punishment. And it sits upon a more foundational set of egalitarian social norms, where gossip and shame regulate the behaviour of group members who are, almost unanimously, consumed by concerns over their reputation. News of one’s stinginess, jealous rages, or attempts to order people around may quickly spread around a camp and beyond. And when a declining reputation fails to control an authoritarian’s impulses, gossip may help groups collectively decide when and how punishment will be used.

Yet, nowadays, gossiping is somewhat of a taboo, having become associated with bored housewives and commodified via celebrity scandals. It’s often considered at least as distasteful and uncomfortable in groups on the radical left as it is elsewhere. There’s a shared perception that we shouldn’t intrude on peoples’ private and intimate lives; that we should remain non-judgemental of their personal relations. Such informal rules appear to be considered particularly important when questions of people’s intimate relationships arise, even though this is where the most malicious forms of domination can occur. In some ways, this represents a final private liberal sphere for radical groups, existing amidst an otherwise communal space.

Gossip has thus lost its egalitarian power, a power that authoritarians themselves fully grasp. This is obvious from the fact that the first tactic of any abusive partner is to cut off their victim from sharing details of their relationship with anyone; a response to their fear of the potentially liberating power of collective judgement. This is nothing more than the strict censorship unanimously employed by dictators, reflected down to the level of personal relations.

Again, the reflections from the ICE commune offer an insight into these dilemmas. Within minutes of entering the commune, some participants learnt that a person in the Care Team had received serious accusations of sexual assault. The words of the participants make clear their frustrations that these allegations were swept aside, yet they also show a hesitation to slide towards collective judgementː

Of course, it’s not our job to snoop around and try to determine whether or not this specific person is “guilty,” […] But we do want to know whether there is a process by which accusations are heard, people’s experiences are validated, and action is taken to hold people accountable…

Reflections of other participants from the ICE camp, regarding a similar incident, show a similar perspective:

Our goal is not to spread paranoia or gossip among radicals […] but to provide information on what has hurt us in the past and how to avoid replicating these dynamics in the future.

But for actually-existing egalitarian societies, the process is gossip. We can contrast these reflections from ICE with the experience of the anthropologist Dasa Bombjakova, who, during her time with the Mbendjele, found that women would frequently start conversations with the ice-breaker: ‘Hi, my husband is rubbish, how’s yours?’

Some uncomfortable conclusions

This article was, in some ways, guided by the question: how can we avoid egalitarian movements reproducing authoritarian internal contradictions, as experienced at the ICE commune and in countless other unreported movements? A possible, tentatively offered answer appears to be: take all those tactics activists are adept at directing outwards at corporate power, corrupt politicians, and oppressive social institutions – the ridicule, disobedience, and public shaming – and turn them inwards whenever necessary (which will be far more often than most people realise). Don’t let people hide or excuse the contradictory politics of their interpersonal relations with an apparent noble adherence to some higher-level ideal of equality and justice. Be prepared for discomfort.

Of course there is always a balance to strike. For one, there is an obvious tension between groups exercising compassion and protecting themselves from malicious individuals. Second, while it would be absurd to suggest that regulating the internal dynamics of activist groups should overshadow the need to challenge large-scale structural forms of oppression, it would be equally absurd to argue that any movement that disregards the former can sustainably challenge the latter without recreating the very structures it opposes. The balance here may be far more towards introspection than many groups realise, and the mere presence of formal processes for decision making may not be enough; deeper changes in social norms may well be needed.

Like, for example, gossip losing its negative associations. Clearly, we‘re not proposing a network of cooperative printing presses begin distributing glossy magazines full of holiday snaps of local anarchists, breaking news on recently broken-up couples, and speculations of the most talented lovers. But it’s hardly controversial to point out that peoples’ personal and intimate lives are highly political. And, for this reason, it’s a mistake to consider them off-limits to collective knowledge. This intimate space is where the most oppressive social dynamics can often be found, and on this scale Marxism, identity politics and other higher-level theories often have nothing to say. These dynamics can break out and destroy everything if they are not foreseen and collectively resisted. But as always, practice is far harder (and far less comfortable) than theory.

~Joel Millward-Hopkins and Ersilia Verlinghieri



Very interesting.

To expect people packing around a 5000-10,000 year accumulation of epigenetic damage to behave like normal humans who grew up in an intact hunter-gatherer-permaculturist society is an EXCEEDINGLY tall order. There are a legion of ICE communes among those claiming egalitarian ethics, and some of them have been FAR worse: People's Temple/Jim Jones.

For these reasons, I favor looser co-operatives where every member has a clear, hard ownership share, rather than total collectivization. Worker-owned/self-managed enterprises seem to have a better (and growing) track record. More is at stake here: if people persist in treating each other badly, they destroy the enterprise, their livelihoods, and whatever part of their labor has been invested in the capital of the enterprise (minus the salvage value of fixed capital, which is recoverable). In ideological and protest groups, less is at stake.

This would also apply to "reverting to savagery": the backwoods sanctuary, if it was a group effort, would be structured like a permanently affordable home-ownership cooperative, not a totally collectivized commune. True communism can wait for future generations that are less damaged. In the mean time, I'm studying how kids can grow up like "savages" - i.e. how human evolution designed them to.

More crappy instance of social anarchist doublethink that both denies marxism while adhering to the dictatorship of the commune and social equality, against the much-scapegoated Individual. What these academic idiots are proposing is nothing else than a return to the irrational tribalist mob rule where an allegation becomes a fact with a wave of magic wand, just because it's supported by a women or person of a (perceived) oppressed minority. Gossip as a judicial process? Wow. Brilliant. But you also forgot the big detail that gossip thrives on irrational resentment while not requiring any fact to back anything up.

But also let's not talk about that worship of weakness, unoriginality and lack of innovation.

Rather show me your bank account, your family background and the kinda place where you live, then we'll talk about your inherently-regressive proposal, petty bourgies.

are rather easy to come by in an intimate, enduring group of 30-70 people NOT packing around the damage I referred to.
False rumors spread far easier in degenerate mass "societies".

I don't doubt that, yes. Those anthropology addicts tend to be looking so far out there they forget the weight and burden of their own social context. I'd very much like to read what the authors have to say about the neighborhood they live in, or how problematic characters are being treated.

I’m just wondering what minorities you think are only ‘perceived’ to be oppressed?

Feel free to do so!

But hey, also feel free to just ignore every point that's made in the rest of the comment.

I like this article. It seems to comport with ideas I've always suspected. H-Gs are not egalitarian because of their economic mode, they are egalitarian regardless of their economic mode. Thus, it likewise follows that H-Gs can also be extremely hierarchical and tyrannical, as evidenced by those groups on the Pacific Northwest Coast and the Calusa in Florida. In other words, it's not the hunting and the gathering that somehow causes egalitarianism-- this is just vulgar Marxism. It's the personal and cultural history of the individuals within the group that determines whether any given small-scale society is egalitarian or hierarchical.

The cultures you’re referring to from the PNW are not gatherer-hunters, but sedentary horticulturalist-hunters. While not inevitable (there are other horticulturalists who are not hierarchical), their being sedentary means their culture is predicated on caloric abundance/surplus, which allows hierarchy to emerge.

08:01 The PNW and Calusa were definitely NOT 'horticultural', nor is caloric abundance/surplus a causative factor in the emergence of hierarchy. That is just old school Marxist anthropology. Production (infrastructure) does not determine social relations (superstructure). There are also plenty of sedentary societies, even early agricultural ones, who were not hierarchical.

We need to jettison these old ideas of material relations being necessarily tied to social relations..

the big deal some anarcho-"primitivists" make out of immediate use of hunted or gathered food. If there is ANY "hoarding" of food for future consumption, this is the Primrose Path to Slavery.
In the ecosystem I know, "hoarding" is NECESSARY. Black oaks bear acorn hyper-abundantly every other year; in the intervening years there is almost none. (And if you get 2 bumper years in succession, be prepared for almost none for 2 years after. This happened on my original Land.) Granaries holding 500-1000 lbs. of acorn were built. And the salmon run only comes once a year - you had better make a LOT of salmon jerkey quick. Manzanita berries, with 3X the antioxidant content of (farmed) blueberries usually bear well only every other year.

Any "intervention" in a given ecosystem is also a big NO NO for some. The ecosystem tending I'm familiar with was done to bring the EXISTING ecosystem to maximum health, not impose some alien construct on it. This is what I refer to as "permaculture".

Humans don't have the autonomy to "do" anything to nature. We can only potentially control our individual selves, and refuse to even attempt control over other individuals and systems.

Under Leviathan, concerns of the State are what makes you who you are. Communism, anarchism, and primitivism do the same thing, they all assert themselves as being in the best interest of humanity, and the world. But historically, autonomic societies demonstrate that those people who are the most self-interested, self-focused, have less of a desire to control other individuals and systems.

Will you ever get how pointless these pan-academic anthropology debates are? Let's get back to the endless nitpicky textwalls on anthropo epistemology on, between Bellamy and some other dudes. Like this helped so much at ANYTHING, other than to make them look like yet another niche crowd of pedantic hair-splitters.

(this was a response to RedBanther's latest post.... and yeah the typo was intentional)

aren't interested in "reverting to savagery", YOU don't have to read ANY of this discussion.

One person = individual liberty.
Two people = creative liberation of mutual desires.
Three people = hierarchical meritorious union
Four people = dictatorship of the clan
Five people = emergence of the supreme ubermansch.

Interesting post 00:49. Either dominance or submission are the 2 innate instinctual reflexes which have to be nurtured, yet at the same time tamed and imbued with a sensitivity and respectful cooperation. My work with disabled folk has enabled a growth and evolution of my inner awareness. It is possible for the ubermansch to love and invest empathy into the wellbeing of capitalist's social rejects, much in the way FNB do.

There's definitely something here, under the anthropology jargon.

Any anarchist worth the name should be pretty dismayed to find that their own wits and relationships were so easily outdone by a handful of aggressive wannabe "security" goons. If you can't even counter this sort of low-key schoolyard bullying, the rest of the anarchist project seems pretty fucking ambitious.

"Reverse dominance hierarchy" doesn't need a $10 phrase but you definitely need to know how to do it.

Joel Millward-Hopkins is an assistant professor in environmental studies and (neoclassical) economics at the University of Leeds. Ersilia Verlinghieri is a member of the Transport Studies Unit at the University of Oxford, and works on “resilience” and “sustainable cities”. Two junior members of the cybernetic social control structure, who have normalised the cruel, coercive internal functioning of performance-management within universities and now seek to export it into anarchist spaces.

Before, we were meant to have “Care Teams” and the like (anarchist police) to drive out the sexists, abusers, or whatever. Now we're meant to have some kind of dispersed equivalent to drive out the “Care Teams”, not for their dominating structural role, but for being too domineering. But what's to stop the “reverse dominance” enforcers from themselves becoming the dominant, authoritarian “manarchists”? Didn't the “Care Team” justify their own role partly as a means of controlling or excluding sexists/manarchists/authoritarians?

Such is the typical problem of morality and the superego. The superego exists to suppress the ego (in this article, to enforce humility). But the superego is formed from part of the ego. It's ego writ sideways. It provides the same ego enjoyments. Superego dominance is just disavowed ego dominance. Except it's concealed in such a way that the “weak” can exercise its power over the “strong”, by means of moral appeals.

The article rests on the assumption that dominance stems from interpersonal communication and individual psychology. And this is blatantly untrue. The article is based on the typical let's-pretend games of neoclassical economics and rational-choice psychology. The authors are ignorant of the real forces driving human beings. They have no theory of the unconscious. They have no theory of how social meanings are formed. They have no theory of relational assemblages or group phantasy. They deliberately downplay the extent to which people do bad things because of bad circumstances, blocked opportunities, social oppression, excessive stress. So they make the elementary mistake of assuming that performed humility amounts to non-domination. Domination stems from excessive ego (they don't use the word “narcissism” but this is often what's said). If we get rid of the people with excessive ego, everyone else will get on OK. If someone's making a display of not seeming superior, then they're obviously not trying to be superior, right? Wrong. We've all met “humble”, self-abasing, passive-aggressive dominatory types who hide their ego-manoeuvres behind self-abasement and “the interests of the group”. Many of these people are also expert crybullies and very good at framing others as “narcissists” for not having the same performative humility that they do. And this also happens on a social scale. Look at Korean society – immensely humble, yet grossly hierarchical. Look at pre-Maoist China. And of course, the virtue of “discomfort” and ability to handle it (which itself is a *moral* ranking, boosting the egos of those who pass the test of being able to cope) puts certain people at the top of the hierarchy for their (apparent) humility. Like medieval monks, claiming moral superiority for how often they flagellate themselves.

This article is based on either a rationalist view of human nature or a view of humans as split into naturally good and bad subtypes (actually it oscillates between the two). It projects features of bourgeois society backwards and sideways into other societies. Ask indigenous people what they're doing, none of them will say “it's an escalating sanction designed to weed out narcissists”. Nobody was into escalating sanctions until cybernetics came along. It's a stupid behaviourist idea linked to rationalistic models of human nature. It doesn't work, we can prove this from labelling theory (yes, including studies of indigenous societies – Lemert shows that speech performance norms increase stammering in indigenous societies). Moral categories aren't rational solutions to collective action problems, they're reflections of psychological complexes and cosmic/existential questions. Humans are not rational subjects, and the idea that they are is more incompatible with both the ethnographic record and experimental psychology than the idea that people are “naturally good” (which BTW is a pseudo-question: the real question is, how can a human, writing from a human point of view, come to believe that humans *aren't* naturally good?) And humans also can't be split into a mass of good people and a layer of naturally evil subhumans. Importing this kind of Naziesque psychology from right-wing academics is suicidal. And of course, whoever wrote this hasn't gone the full way of questioning morality *itself*, like Stirner and Nietzsche have. “Societies” are still meant to have “norms”.

Evolutionary anthropology is bourgeois pseudoscience (looking for bourgeois rational subjects in prehistory and in the ethnographic record). Look at qualitative studies of hunter-gatherers and what they actually believe, not the speculations of wannabe biologists with no evidence for their assertions. Executions are rare. Expulsion is rare. There are egalitarian indigenous societies which value humility (Inuit, Tahitians) and others which value pride and assertiveness (Ilongot, Guarani, most Papuan groups). Most indigenous people believe in a cosmic order in which actions have supernatural consequences. Any punishment which happens, will be expressed in these terms (as restoring balance – not as sanctioning). Punishing someone means they will punish you right back, leading to socially destructive feuds. Hence there's elaborate face-saving mechanisms which prevent even justified retribution – such as the Nuer leopard-skin chiefs. Bob Black's essay on restorative justice shows how indigenous justice systems are generally structured to minimise consequences and allow both sides to reconcile while saving face. There's two incidents in Turnbull's Forest People which come close to expulsion, but neither of them leads to any lasting punishment. There's a case in Rosaldo's Ilongot study where someone nearly kills his aunt, it's forgiven as simply youthful high-jinks. Windigo psychosis is treated as spirit possession even if it leads to murder. “Euthanasia” is allowed in the last instance, with the person's consent. When Bushmen or Travellers fall out, they simply uproot and move to different camps. There's a case in Bird-David's Nayaka studies where they got fed up of one particular person constantly demanding food (it's a norm there that you're meant to give if asked), they didn't make the person in question leave, they left themselves. In other cases, assertiveness is met with counter-assertiveness. As long as others are equally assertive, then an assertive person can't dominate anyone. This is what happens in Clastres' analysis of the Guarani for instance.

Also, nearly all sanctions in indigenous societies are informal. The main sanctions for norm-breaking are loss of face/status, mockery, gossip, and disapproval. The sanction for someone suspected of being an abuser is precisely that they're viewed as an abuser, gossiped about, given funny looks, etc (not that they're executed, excluded, fined, jailed, made to self-abase, etc). This sanction already exists and operates commonly in anarchist spaces – yet somehow it's never enough for the anti-”tyranny of structurelessness” crowd. Are they really prepared to recognise that this kind of informal sanction is sufficient?

Quite frankly, there is far too much “turning inward” today already. We need to get back to fighting the real enemy instead of endlessly purging one another. The big problems – climate change, the police, capitalism, the commodity form, the Spectacle, the state, command hierarchies, poverty, inequality, ecocide – are all big, macrosocial, outer-worldly problems. They aren't problems of individual psychology or intimate-scale relations. To test this, just imagine trying to solve them at an individual or small-group level. It's possible up to a point – there have been communes which live without money and/or have zero eco-footprint. This might well be part of the solution. But if so, it's part of the solution only because the micro becomes macro. By itself, micro-level change doesn't destroy the big structures.

The authors also have the absurd dystopian view that every society will produce authoritarian individuals, or authoritarianism is hardwired in human genetics. They don't present any real evidence for this. It's just asserted. And it's a rehash of the old Hobbesian anti-anarchist argument that we can't have nice things because human nature is evil. Did you know that nearly every experimental psychology study is done with middle-class American psychology undergraduates? That's the “human nature” they lecture us about.

By the way, we know why so-called “narcissism” or “psychopathy” happens. It's been known about through qualitative research in psychoanalysis for decades, Lowen has an excellent book on the topic from a Reichean perspective, Fromm wrote something on Hitler using this approach – basically it's an identification of the self with a persona or ego-ideal based on the abjection of the true self, sustained through a social performance based on forcing recognition of the imagined self by others. It emerges in particular social circumstances where children's true self may not be expressed but conformist performance is highly rewarded (hence why they're so common today - “authoritative” parenting effectively mass-produces them). The ego-ideal is usually perceived in “grandiose” terms, as amazing. In the case of psychopathy, an important part of the belief is that the ego-ideal is amazing, but *evil*. Hence, punishment will generally operate as reward for psychopaths. “Narcissists” are very easy to handle if you learn to recognise them, because they respond very predictably to status rewards and punishments, and the emotional control shit stops working once you know what they're doing. Also, they self-exclude from certain kinds of spaces – I have come across anecdotal evidence for this, but haven't established the exact conditions for it. You will *never* get them to honestly admit guilt or downgrade their egos, because they experience this as a survival threat. They'd have to go through years of psychoanalysis to get to the point where they could give you that. Of course, it's a lot easier to play the game of turning them into bogeymen and defining one's own ego-superiority through the performative suppression of “narcissism”. But that just leads to superego dictatorship instead.

Cybernetics is a much bigger threat to anarchism than “narcissism” is. There cannot be a cybernetic anarchism. The whole appeal of anarchism is disinhibition and getting rid of piggery. Anarchism is about joy and rage, not “discomfort”. Discomfort is ceteris paribus a bad thing. Because good and bad are just expressions of desire, and people prefer to be comfortable rather than uncomfortable. Discomfort is only a good thing in self-denying puritanical superego ideologies (though causing discomfort to an enemy is sometimes fun). And anarchism's also about creating social worlds which aren't “tough”, harsh, and morally judgemental. No, there isn't a balance to be struck between anarchy and fascism. A puritanical anarchism demanding constant humility is no anarchism at all, it's just state morality without the state. I don't want to live in this author's behaviourist utopia of escalating sanctions and quickfire capital punishment, where everyone's meant to be abject and deferential like Chinese peasants before the landlord, and nobody dare assert their desires lest they be purged as a narcissist. Dressing up the authoritarianism of such a society as only “uncomfortable” (rather than oppressive – which it actually is) just shows how idpol puritanism continues to infect this piece, despite its careful performance of denouncing idpol.

The way to stop informal hierarchies from emerging is to refuse all kinds of inward-directed enforcement functions in anarchic spaces, have a norm of not telling anyone what to do, and tell anyone who tells you what to do to fuck off. We need more assertiveness, not less. One of the costs of anti-authoritarian spaces is that we'll get the odd asshole. If we don't submit to them, they can't take control and the harm they do is limited. Shy inquisitorial mice can be dominated, fierce lions cannot. Some species cannot be domesticated. The point is to turn humans into one of those.

**slow claps**

"Lemert shows that speech performance norms increase stammering in indigenous societies)"

Ffffffffuck yeah! Eeeeeeexcellllllllent COMMENT aaaaaaaagain @@@@@@@critic..TTTTTTThanks for shhhhhhhining light on thththththis cccccccccolonialist speech fffffffffffffffforked tttttttttttttttttongue!

Normal humans ("savages") ARE a species that cannot be domesticated (enslaved is blunter/more accurate). This is why when the exploiters of some "civilization" want the ancestral Land of "savages", the "savages" are simply exterminated, and any surviving children put in forced re-education camps.

Some may dismiss your discussion of ego and superego as Freudian babble. But the ego has been found in the physical brain - it is called the Default Mode Network. A central node of this is the posterior cingulate cortex, which is involved in self-referential mental processes. A good, stiff dose of LSD or psilocybin, with appropriate preparation, knocks all this out quite nicely.
I suspect the DMN of "savages" is much less overdeveloped/overactive, and much more flexible, while other parts of the brain are more active and integrated compared to "civilized" (damaged/enslaved) humans. In what is badly called mystical experience, the DMN is gone, and the rest of the brain is FAR more active and integrated. The Ju/'hoansi can receive this without the stiff dose of LSD.
(See Michael Pollan's How to Change Your Mind, apparently a best-seller. His own perspective is very limited ("LSD for uptight yuppies"), however he has the redeeming feature of good reporting on other people's research/experience.

WWWWWWTF is a FFFFFreudian bbbbbbubble? AAAAAAAnd so wwwwwhat you're saying is IIIIIII don't need LLLLLLLLLLLsd cos I 'm already hhhhhhhhhhhigh? What tribe are you fffffffrom bbbbbbb,,,,,,bbbbb,,,,,brother?.,.

Redpanther. "Some may dismiss your discussion of ego and superego as Freudian babble. But the ego has been found in the physical brain - it is called the Default Mode Network. A central node of this is the posterior cingulate cortex, which is involved in self-referential mental processes. A good, stiff dose of LSD or psilocybin, with appropriate preparation, knocks all this out quite nicely."

Hippy dippy drug culture bullshit, mixed with the worst theories of an academic field with the worst track record of all the social sciences leading to fraud and pseudo-science...Psychology. Reductionist nonsense that attempts to explain all interpersonal social relations along with societal and institutional problems as merely a function of individual brain chemistry. Jordan Peterson would be proud of you.

They can stick their DDDDDDefault Mode NNNNetwork up their fffffffffffffffff,,,,,,,fffffff,,,,fffforeign Western aaaaaaaaaaaa,,,,,,,aaaaaaa,,,,,aaaaaarchives,,,,,,,,,,,,;)

is Hippy-Dippy Drug Culture Bullshit.
If LSD and psilocybin are BAD, YOU DON'T have to take any.

It is not clear that brain scan results, which show where blood is flowing when people are in different experiential states, or doing different mental activities, are psychological theories. The results are replicable. The results of the same scans comparing people suffering from major depression (which does NOT EXIST among "savages"), with people who are not depressed are well known.
I have found SOME clinical psychology texts very helpful in dealing with my own damage. If all clinical psychology is BAD, YOU DON'T have to study any of it.

The differences in brain organization and activity I posit in "savages" (normal humans) would be a RESULT of growing up/living in fundamentally different a) social relations, b) relations with the rest of nature, c) (experiential) spiritual foundation. So would known differences in brain chemistry - such as radically lower chronic cortisol levels (a stress hormone). So would the radical differences in epigenetics I posit, though the epigenetics of "savages" have not been studied. All of this should be obvious.

If research on brain activity, organization, chemistry, and related epigenetics are all BAD, YOU DON'T have to study any of it. Counter-posing this research to societal and institutional pathology is a false dichotomy.

Wow, like what, they found out where the headquarters are in the brain? I thought its like, in the middle, and like all the nerves travel outwards to the mouth and eyes, so it can see where its going and talk and tell people what it wants or to get out of the way of it if its angry or happy? Its very straight forward, like walk, talk, ask for food, or get out of my way, what's the problem?

"It's very straight forward, like walk, talk, ask for food, or get out of my way,"
Umm, that about sums up an average day for a nihilist dood.

Has anyone done FMRI research with hunter-gatherers? Or even small-scale sedentarists for that matter?

There isn't really a clear mapping of neuroscience concepts onto psychoanalytic or even onto cognitive categories. From what I've heard, "ego" isn't the control centre of the brain, it's increasingly seen as a secondary processing area. Consciousness seems to settle in whatever area has the most brain activity. I thought they'd decided the ego was the anterior cingulate cortex (which is a kind of brake which can sometimes stop impulsive actions) or the whole of the neocortex, though as I say, it's kinda tenuous (they're more interested in “free will” than ego). The default mode network is more associated with imagination.

There's certain difficulties IMO with this kind of research. Firstly it's very much in its infancy. Secondly there's often a big gap between what's seen in scans and how it's interpreted. Suppose a particular brain area lights up when there's pleasure – does this mean the brain area *is* the experience of pleasure, that it *causes* this experience, or that it *results from* the experience? Does the shrinkage or growth of a particular brain area *cause* depression, result from it, or simply register it? Generally we just don't know, and if we think we do, the evidence shifts constantly.

Quick search... This book:
suggests “taking an fMRI scanner out into the bush... is unlikely to be practical now and in the immediate future”.

There isn't anything using brain scans. Searches in the area turned up things like
which just looks at correlations between testosterone and performance, and
which uses economic-style games to test “behaviour” and finds (predictably) that indigenous peoples aren't “economically rational” in the western sense. There's also a bunch of evo psych crap which uses speculations about hunter-gatherers to “explain” observable differences in “modern” people, a few studies dealing with highly-traumatised Indigenous people (usually capitalised) in countries like Canada, and a small literature on “neuroanthropology”, which deals with the brain/culture relationship (mostly dealing with non-indigenous people). None of it really very helpful.

I've seen a lot of new stuff coming out on neurological effects of LSD, psilocybin, ecstasy, marijuana and so on, including stuff that hippy drug culture types have said all along. i.e. they increase creativity, reduce depression, and have various other beneficial effects. Hopefully this is the beginning of the end of the war on drugs. More likely, the beginning of the recuperation of 60s drug culture (which has been delayed until bourgeois science can catch up).


Redpanther Dude, cut the straw man. Nobody said brain studies are "bad". They just don't have anything to do with explaining social problems.

To some degree brain scans can explain symptoms or emotional responses and locating pathological tumors or clots. Feedback loops with devices can be used to control emotional responses, therefore social problems. Like learning to beat the lie detector, something second nature to politicians, but I digress. In their simplified form, brain study is actually a variety of yoga, or introspection or meditation.

"Feedback loops with devices can be used to control emotional responses, therefore social problems." (10:49)

Why would you want to control emotional responses? Sounds incredibly Orwellian to me. Exactly what every government would want, and also a handy excuse. Don't like pipelines going through your property? Stop being angry, and take a pill to 'control your emotional responses'.

I like to control my emotional responses so I don't fall apart and become an hysterical heap of hand-flapping shit in the pants loser just standing and screaming at the charging elephant bearing down on me.
You go ahead and throw a tantrum and weep your heart out when your boyfriend leaves you mmkay!

Huh? You're equating all emotions with "falling apart", being "hysterical" and "throwing a tantrum"? That's what emotions are to you? Wow...

Emotions needn't display any of those behaviors. I can be angry at authority and function perfectly normally without "falling apart." But maybe you can't. Maybe that's why you think having any emotion means being hysterical.

Remain stoic, Spock-like, and stay rational at all times. Big Brother loves you.

Umm nooo. That was just one example of negative emotional outcome. I laugh hysterically and will occasionally roll on the floor (though as I get older it seems to happen less) I tear up sometimes without wailing, just a quiet sadness. Let's just say I have a well-balanced emotional spectrum without manic extremes or neurosis, which ARE considered out of control emotional states. Are you happy now, or wishing to hatefully respond and call me names now?

Le Way, Please report to room 101 for emotional control session as requested by the Ministry of Emotions.

NO! I'm escaping, I'm going over the wall tonight. Anyone want to join me? The rest of you cowardly philistines can rot in your self imposed cages of loathing, I'm out of here!

For anyone else reading this: Consider Freddy Perlman's excellent, succinct description (in The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism) of how slavery automatically reproduces itself despite (and often because of) all the "revolutions" we've had in the modern age. "The more it changes, the more it stays the same."
WHY is this so? This is directly related to the topic we are all commenting on. Oligarchy apologists tell us this is "human nature" and The Iron Law of Oligarchy. I say it is an accumulation of epigenetic damage (my 1st comment), this damage and resulting brain pathology consolidated (for us) by growing up in this particular mass slave "society", reinforced by ongoing entanglement in it thru adulthood. "Savages" to not automatically reproduce slave systems.

Knowledge Silos do not solve problems very well. The "savage" mind integrates/totalizes.

"Redpanther, dude . . . "

And he's already starting to show signs of same old pathological narcissism and self-infatuation with academic references. Next thing you know it'll be the misunderstood genius paranoia complex kicking back, then UNLIMITED TEXTWALLS for a few more years! Can't stop won't stop the Bubbleman.

@critic. All well and fine. But how do we get rid of the formal hierarchies which already exist?

When a cop is telling me what to do, I can't simply tell him to fuck off.

That's where large crowds with Molotov cocktails come in.

Either that, or remote areas with no piggies.

calling police pigs is offensive to pigs. you should be ashamed of yourself.

1- Yes you can, but that's more clever to just don't talk to the cop.

2- Unless you aren't under arrest and there's no mandate, a cop is in no position of authority for anything.

3- Stop expecting big dickheads to tell you the Truth. That makes you look way too *archist* to post anything here.

"mandate" >>> "warrant"


"3- Stop expecting big dickheads to tell you the Truth. That makes you look way too *archist* to post anything here."

I am post-truth! Haven't you figured that out, hence my screen name!?

These are the kind of reasons why there needs to a be a pure Stirnerian post-left break-off(Anarch-Egoist-Anarchy as I call it). Stirner has the non-elective psychological foundations to actually takes this problem on as his foundation for critiquing power was always psychological not exterior like Proudhon and Marx.

@critic, regardless of the tendency to get lost in the noble savage fallacies of anthropology, I think the interesting thing here is the discussion of methods.

Now, it could be that it's a pointless discussion so long as liberals are pretending they can use magical anthropology tricks to avoid physical confrontation but the idea of a "reverse dominance hierarchy" is still interesting to me because ultimately, anarchists need to have tools when they're inevitably confronted by enemies in public spaces.

'Reverse dominance hierarchy' sounds to me like 'turn the hierarchy upside down'. Create a hierarchy with the last dominant-seeming at the top. Which will just lead to a lot of enforced politeness and passive-aggression. Which we already see in Confucian societies. There's an echo of it in the idpol victimhood-as-authority strategy (those lowest down the social hierarchy having the most right to speak, to "be centred" in discussions, to define what counts as oppression, to "be believed" etc).

I think it's more helpful to think in terms of dispersing power or counter-balancing against power-concentration (e.g. Clastres, Zibechi). i.e. if someone makes a move to concentrate power or dominate then others will tend to counterbalance their power against this person. If the people counterbalancing start to dominate then the balancing will shift to the other side. It's similar to the ways in which extraterritorial powers (UK in Europe, later US in Europe and Asia) seek to prevent regional rivals from emerging, by balancing against whoever happens to be strongest at the time and supporting whoever is the best check to them. So we see Britain siding with Germany and Russia against Napoleonic France, then with France and Turkey against Russia (Crimea), then France and Russia against Germany. Except instead of a superpower doing it, with anarchists it would be everyone who doesn't have a stake in the immediate dispute. Somali clans tend to do this: if any one clan gets too much power, everyone else allies against it (as the US found out to its disadvantage when it became the strongest "clan" in 1994). With this analysis, an anarchist society (bolo'bolo) would avoid concentrations of power by counterbalancing. In the present context, the main issues are to "balance" against capital and the state, which are the biggest power-holders. However, it's also important not to allow strong concentrations of power (e.g. party leaderships, idpol reverse hierarchies, internally-directed security teams, excessive informal hierarchy) within opposition movements.

Wait...what "noble savage fallacies of anthropology"? (10:34)

You realize that 'reverse dominance hierarchy' itself is a term that comes from anthropology, right?

All the findings of all anthropologists are nothing but LIES!

LMAO !!! Thanks for chiming in Mr. President.

1 hundo

Oh you know … all the usual trappings and their critiques. There's often a bit of essentialist fallacy lurking inside any claim that this or that culture does a, b or c for x or y reasons. Limitations of the observer's interpretations of the data, epistemological problems, blah blah blah.

Also, I didn't say I like the "reverse dominance hierarchy" concept itself so much as anarchists need SOMETHING when confronted by these peace police types. Maybe something kind of LIKE this? There's always violence but that seems unlikely in this context.

as you make some very interesting points and you are articulate. Aragorn! I hope you don't mind me asking; personally, i think it is a good idea if you were to discuss ideas with people suggested by the commenters on ANews? I would also like to Ziggy in conversation.

HAHAHA Good luck getting Ziggles to face the daylight.

would you be ready for an anthropolgy circle jerk with the rest of the gay sauna crowd on the Brilliant. Also we'll invite SE for maximum dick waving value. It's very important for all the neglected discourse heavily-repressed by ANTIFA and other anti-intellectuals gets air time. The anarchy of today vitally depends on anthropological assumptions about how primmie life was 1500-15000 years back, because reasons.

Also, please enlighten us, Ascended Master, on the path to inherent immanent paleo-nihilist pan-spiritual awakening from within our condos and basements.

The Ju/'hoansi went EXTINCT 15,000 years ago.

("Savages" DO NOT HAVE "Ascended Masters". ALL of the People are "mystics".)

You see, that is one of the things that bothers me about people in general, when they start saying that foraging itself is a political activity as thecollective has claimed. To me, a political activity would be divying-up the goods a tribe collected from a forage and distributing them based on who best "deserved" them, which is the type of the thing that made hunter-gatherers mad anyway.

I also don't think there's a huge amount of coherence in the article in general. They start out by saying that the care team ruined the occupy ICE demonstration, then there's just a bunch of vague insinuations about how this type of problem can be dealt with in the future, pointing out how men are on average more violent than women, etc. The article kinda just jumps all over the place and offers interesting information.

I was very dissappointed when I lived with a tribe, not only was their hierarchical structure worse than the British one, but the segregation of the sexes resembled the Victorian model, and women were not allowed to go hunting with bow and arrows, a strict taboo, but were instead given all the menial tasks around the village. AND TALK about panoptico, there were lookout posted everywhere to look for enemy attack and internally to report on the everyday social intercourse of the community. It was like a prison yet out in the middle of a JUNGLE. White guys like me were treated like lowlife morons condescendingly treated and teased, especially by the children, which was actually the only fun part of living in that hellish social arrangement. AND THE BUGS! Give me a hot or cold shower, a mattress, soap, some Western fruit and vegetables and a mosquito net in the middle of the suburbs anytime and I'll have more freedom and quality of life and live to be 80 !

Sounds like paleo-Jonestown or neolithic-Auschwitz, I'll take modern-primitivist, oh no wait, that-s no better, postmodern-ghetto is far more healthy and liberating!

what's with all the hyphenation? Your not even actually saying anything, just smashing words together in a bid to look clever.

And their rough location?

They're a branch of the Xingo hegemony in the Amazon region. It's very hard to live there, you have to be tough, and maybe that's why the division in labour has gender and hierarchical religious status implications. I always seemed to be having to give something of mine to someone, or do some work for some shaman, the rules of reciprocity didn't exist, it was biggest dog eats smaller dog, it was awful! Sorry to sound so negative, in my self-delusion I had assumed simplicity of material goods meant a simplified and reduced authoritarian structure, BUT OH was I wrong, IT WAS WORSE AND depressing. That's one of the main reasons I became a nihilist, and a very contented one at that.

I know nothing about these people.
Simplicity of material goods ALONE will hardly produce a less authoritarian structure.
If I was going to spend time with any tribe, it would be the Ju/'hoansi, plus maybe the Hadza. I don't have the $$$ to fly all the way to Africa and spend serious time with these people, and would have to be invited anyway (plus learn their language). Even the Ju/'hoansi I would not slavishly follow. My formative years/culture are way different, their ecosystem totally different than the ecosystem I've known since age 3.

sounds like a paper I state people must read: Lineage Societies - The Origin of Women's Oppression, by Nicole Chevillard and Sebastian Leconte. (It's in Women's Work, Men's Property, edited by Stephanie Coontz and Peta Henderson, Verso Press, 1986).

I was going to go to 60 minutes with my story but they would have rejected my cynicism, it doesn't make for populist TV, and my expose' would have shattered the mystique associated with primitive tribes, the neo-Romantic re-emergence of the noble savage aesthetic, which has been resurrected by the Idpol culture. And actually for once I sided with the feminists with their theory on lineage societies you mention.
Oh if only I had any choice in the savages to choose from, but wait, the nightclub scene in LA concrete jungle makes the nihilist box in the ghetto which I inhabitate far more wild and comfortable.

from people who have lived with the tribes I mentioned (and others) for a year or much longer. They are unrecognizably different.

I may also be less dependent on middle-class comfort than you. I lived in a truck for 6 years to make my original Land in the backwoods happen. At age 61, I will be doing this again for 5 years to finish what I started. I was seduced by middle-class life when I got my condo (with a view into the semi-wild) at age 43. This started out nice, but ended badly as the economics enabling it got ripped out from under me.
If I was forced to live in the LA concrete jungle, I would probably suicide.

There's always the Waldganger, Ernst Junger's wild man of the forest, who was as much at home in the urban as in the wilderness. Imagine the consciousness which regards the physical spacial domain, regardless of its composition, whether organic or mineral, but rather as a reticulum of relationships which always possess the potentiality for freedom. This is more a psychonauts perception.

in the amazon that will fly up any human orifice. WATCH OUT!

They're in Ohio, too. Friggin' buttmunchers

We nihilists just brush them off with an ironic grin and bear it.

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