“The Tyranny of Structurelessness”


Jo Freeman by Carolmooredc

Jo Freeman by Carolmooredc

The Occupy Movement can take some pages from earlier movement struggles for civil rights and social justice.

“If the movement continues deliberately to not select who shall exercise power, it does not thereby abolish power. All it does is abdicate the right to demand that those who do exercise power and influence be responsible for it. If the movement continues to keep power as diffuse as possible because it knows it cannot demand responsibility from those who have it, it does prevent any group or person from totally dominating. But it simultaneously insures that the movement is as ineffective as possible. Some middle ground between domination and ineffectiveness can and must be found.”

Read the rest:

by Jo Freeman aka Joreen

Jo Freeman (Wikipedia)


13 Responses to ““The Tyranny of Structurelessness””

  1. bart raguso Says:

    excellent, excellent analysis of the inevitability of ethnocentrism in it’s multiple forms, whether it is a good ole boy network, a women’s group of politicos from Arizona, or any other “in” group, be they left wing progressives or right wing conservatives. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We are the enemy. The seven deadly sins are still the seven deadly sins and human nature still demands the socialization of the group to regulate it’s excesses. Without the countervailing expectations of peer pressure and social mores, the individual integrity of a solitary person is not enough to insure higher values are always embraced. Although it is often an honorable individual who reminds the group what those higher values are. Without reference to a moral compass rooted in absolutes, relativisitic morality results in multiple contradictions. When anthropomorphic world views are predominant, the integrity of the whole system is undermined.

    • Poor Richard Says:


      To peer pressure and social mores I would add an explicit social contract that defines organizational structure and decision-making process.

      I also don’t think I agree that a moral compass should completely exclude relativistic moral equations. All I mean by that is that when rights and values conflict, there must be a willingness to find balance rather than hold to two conflicting absolutes. Such tradeoffs are required in social intercourse all the time, as when Solomon had to deal with the baby and two mothers. The real mother had to subordinate truth and justice to the child’s survival.

      As for anthropomorphic world views, IMO that is the norm even among so-called god fearing people. A truly non-anthropomorphic world view is extremely rare, and probably has nothing to do with gods or angels, which are obviously anthropomorphic constructs.


      • bart raguso Says:

        thank you for your reply. I must apologize for being in a bit of a rush to post and not taking adequate time to be precise, sorry.
        I agree that there should be a willingness to find balance, and to acknowledge that we usually have feelings and reasons for the beliefs or ideas that we embrace. And I am dedicated to listening to all ideas, but I would hazard the notion that we will and do find ourselves sometimes at different places in our thinking and it is all alright because we are just humans trying to wrap our minds around difficult subjects.
        Please bear with me because I think what I understand Jo Freeman to be saying is both extremely profound and contains lessons for all who are willing to listen. What I got from her long analysis is that there will always be some sort of structure, power structure, pecking order, or tacit social contract in the dynamics of any group of people.
        She mentions that we expect to have a spokesperson and we usually nominate the person who seems to be the most capable or the most willing (or the person who is not at the meeting if nobody else wants to do it). And that trying to create a structureless ( or egalitarian ) group free of any normal human imperfections ties us to yet another type of tyranny, that of an ideal that will not actually work, a group without recogniized leaders or definite standards. Perhaps the kind of committee-think that Ayn Rand tried to warn us about.
        Furthermore, it is evitable that some sort of favoritism and ethnocentrism creeps in as the new group takes power or the reins of responsibility and decision making. Our founding fathers warned us about that and were careful to try to split up power amongst the three branches of government.
        Jo Freeman further states,” Thus structurelessness becomes a way of masking power” and this is the most devastating thing. It is a direct road to fascism; when power is delegated not by formal, acknowledged processes, but by arbitrary and personal expediency.
        I would ask you to define the nature of the “social contract” you refer to, and how it is possibe to not have mutually exclusive catagories, for if the baby is sacrificed, then neither mother nor father has to subordinate truth or justice for it’s viability.
        Finally, you are right that none of us can divorce ourselves from an anthrpomorphic viewpoint. We are just humans, after all, and mortals. And who might be willing to sacrifice themselves for the viability of the planet as a whole and all the rest of the miracle life it contains, even if it is just a random happy accident?

        • Poor Richard Says:


          Thanks for summarizing the main ideas from the article so nicely.

          Social contract: I won’t try to write a monologue on any particular kind of social contract. They can take many forms but should be the collective product of those who will adopt and abide by them. Their value is getting understandings out in the open–spelling things out. The US Constitution is a social contract, but they don’t have to be that elaborate. The bylaws of cooperatives or condominium associations are social contracts and many Occupy Movement general assemblies and committees have rules they operate by and those are social contracts.

          I don’t want to go deeper into my own moral or ethical ideas just now. What is important is how movement groups work these out for themselves, collectively, and how individuals understand their commitments both to the group and to their own personal moral codes in inevitable cases of conflict.

          I think a lot of us are willing to sacrifice at least some part of our lives for the good of society and the planet, even if it is all only a happy accident. Thanks for putting that picture in my head.


          • bart raguso Says:

            Mr. Poor,
            You, sir, have a rich sense of irony. Thank you again for your reply. I enjoy the opportunity to speak with you. I hope I am not being tiresome. I would like to add to your list of social contracts to include the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bible. I have the sense that every society carries it’s own social contract whether it is enumerated or just a tacit understanding of commonly held values. But I also have the sense our collective consciousness has suffered many insults, from the multiple assassinations of the sixties, the unresolved series of wars we have fought, the impact of both the technological and social changes, and lastly, the catastrophic economic boondoggle of the last seven years…has it been that long? Not to mention the whole 9/11 thing which I would prefer not to go into.
            Due to the extreme polarization that exists now, we are not able to achieve the same post WWII, ‘we are all in this together,’feeling and it is a shame that opportunity was allowed to slip by. We could use that spirit.
            I would like to hazard the notion that there may be a way to resolve many issues simultaneously by going through the mountain and not beating around the bush.
            If we were willing to entertain the possibly that it is only our idiot-savant myopia and our inability to get enough distance away from our current morass to see that by bringing the concept of an “Integral Spirit” cosmology as described by the great economist, David Korton, (http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/religion-science-and-spirit-a-sacred-story-for-our-time) back into the conversation, we could provide the rationale, and the basis for an integrated, emotionally mature, intact and consistent world view.
            That would provide the underpinnings for looking at the Earth as a sacred place, unite the left occupiers and the religious right (those on both sides willing to see not just from our point of view, but from the point of view of something greater than ourselves), and help delineate an agenda which would work to advance sustainability. Working for the greater good, being willing to admit if you are a believer that the humans in their infinite diversity will always worship in different ways, but that what is holy or devine remains the same, and also being willing to admit our hubris is the way we over-compensate for our fear of the unknown.
            You cannot build a house without having a plan beforehand. You cannot get where you want to go without knowing where it is you want to go. Lastly, a house divided against itself cannot stand. For all these reasons, it is apparent to me, as Ben Franklin so wisely stated, “If we do not hang together now, we will surely hang separately later.”
            Surely we can sacrifice a little of our pride in our own brilliance for the brilliance of the miracle green planet we inhabit.

        • Poor Richard Says:

          Bart, if you’d like to discuss issues of religion, spirituality, etc. let me direct you to my article “Is Spritual the New Supernatural?” https://almanac2010.wordpress.com/spiritual-new-supernatural/ . Please feel free to comment further on these topics in the comment section of that page.


          • bart raguso Says:

            Thank you for your reponses, I appreciate you taking the time. I would like to mention that I am more concerned with the body politic of our nation than with anyone’s salvation. I am concerned that young boys are being sedated to coerce them into acting like little girls. I am concerned with the DSM-5’s expanded definition of mental disorders so that more drugs can be proscribed by big pharma. Those definitions were framed by a small number of health care professionals, some with ties to the drug industry. I am concerned with the growing disparity between the elite status of the wealthy and the diminishing ability of the dwindling middle class to have decent medical care, access to higher education, and even the ability to purchase a reasonably priced home.
            As much as I repect the enormous body of work which is your website and the lengthy and scholarly articles which seriously discuss many important issues, I am curious why attention should not be given to some of the obvious disconnects in your decidedly scientific orientation. You could acknowlege whether you are familar with David Korten’s work or you could admit that you are strickly a behaviorist and admit only empirical data in your contemplations.
            c’mon, Master Poor, you have got some splaining to do.
            What is it about our society today that cringes at the mere mention of the possibility that there is a God, whatever your definition is? Is it that what science has uncovered about our true dynamics as inheritors of our cousin primates qualities of both violence and gentleness impels you to try to explain all behavior on the basis of chemical interactions? Whatever one calls what is holy and sacred in our world, no scientific explanation offers any more enlightenment or recomendations about how to live than any religious explanation. Isn’t the tyranny of any set of assumptions about the reality of our world just as onerous?
            Master Ben Franklin et al in the community of our founding fathers were pragmatists, but they did not place their faith in man. They were well aware that we are prone to too many flaws. That is one reason they created a social contract which diversified the holding of power as widely as possible.
            I would humbly ask you to expand the range of your scientific skepticism to include some of the assumptions of science itself.

          • Poor Richard Says:


            I don’t quite know what you’re taking issue with. Perhaps my writing is unclear in spots, but you seem to be objecting to positions I have not intended to take, such as trying to “explain all behavior on the basis of chemical interactions.” All behaviors may have neurochemical correlates, but that doesn’t exactly explain them, any more than thermodynamics or electromagnetics actually explain the behaviors of atoms and chemicals. There’s a difference between description and explanation.

            Can you be more specific, perhaps by quoting the offending passages, about the “obvious disconnects in [my] decidedly scientific orientation”? My views on science are strewn throughout this bog, but I’ve tried to summarize them in Is spiritual the new supernatural? and General Utility 2.0.

            I’m not very familiar with David Korten’s work, but I like Yes Magazine and from his Wikipedia bio he seems like a good guy.

            “What is it about our society today that cringes at the mere mention of the possibility that there is a God, whatever your definition is?” The bulk of our society is religious, contrary to the apparent paranoia and persecution delusion of many believers. But if part of society cringes at the mention of God, maybe its the way some people behave in God’s name, whatever their definition is.

            That “no scientific explanation offers any more enlightenment or recomendations about how to live than any religious explanation” is just too sweeping and general for me to respond to. Give me some specifics, but I’d prefer to continue this discussion in the comments for “Is spiritual the new supernatural?” rather than here, a post about an article I didn’t write.

            “I would humbly ask you to expand the range of your scientific skepticism to include some of the assumptions of science itself.” Any proper scientist, professional or amateur, or any wise consumer of science, does just that.


          • bart raguso Says:

            Sir Poor, per your suggestion, I will move this discussion to it’s more proper forum, your post, “Is spiritual the new supernatural?” I could not make the post title a hyperlink for some reason, perhaps you could assist me there. And I want to apologize for insisting to post in the wrong place, I appreciate your kind reponse and look forward to responding to your worthwhile points.

          • bart tolli Says:

            Master Poor, I have a feeling we probably agree on more than we diasgree, but each of us, due to our unique and separate vantage points perceives a different part of the elephant. And it is always difficult to accept the p-o-v of others as equally valid to that of our own, especially if we think we have a more accurate view due to our empirical investigations. The sad truth is one never reaches a full and complete view without giving up our little I and trying to use our mind’s eye to see ourselves from the somewhat disinterested eye of God’s view. WE cannot help but be ethnocentric, it is part of who we are. The study of npd reveals a lot about how we behave. But I am more concerned, as I have said before, with our body politic. The divides and polarities which exist now are destined to ruin our great nation and all the great and fine Americans who are our friends, families, lovers, and comrades in arms and faith. I do think we must resolve these dilemmas by forging a new world view which would include the evidence of science, the values of faith, and an acknowledgement that we ultimately cannot improve upon the perfection of our planet until we reach the emotional maturity of seeing it not as our world, but the domain of something which is much greater than ourselves.

            In propaganda terms, until we regain the moral high ground by renewing our founding father’s values, we will be locked in an unwin-able struggle with those claiming that God is on their side, and an unwin-able struggle to come to terms with our abode until we see it for the holy and sacred place it is.

          • Poor Richard Says:

            I don’t think we can win many arguments with those claiming or believing God is on their side of something, and I don’t think claiming or believing that God is on our side will help that one bit. Nor do I find any of my values or my reverence for life or the world to depend on the existence of gods or scripture or anything supernatural. When dealing with those who do base their reverence and their beliefs on such sources, I often discover serious conflicts between things we see as right and wrong. In most cases of such conflict my own standards of conduct seem to be “higher,” more stringent, and more consistently applied than theirs. The same thing applies to The US Founders and other examples of moral or intellectual “authority”. We can find inspiration and instruction in many places, high and low, but as adults we have a responsibility to question beliefs and authorities and ultimately to make our own moral choices as best we can:

            “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11 KJV).

            I recommend this brief essay: “Participative Spirituality and the Critique of Spiritual Authoritarianism”


          • bart tolli Says:

            Dear Richard, again, thank you, I appreciate your thoughts, but in the words of Eric Burden and the Animals, ‘I’m just a man trying to be good, please don’t let me be misunderstood.’ I do see the disconnects of the religious right and I do not identify myself among that number. I am working hard here because I find myself on the opposite side of an argument and also the people I have a great deal of respect for. Let’s eliminate the word ‘supernatual’ from our lexicon for awhile and couch the discussion in other terms.

            Number 1- I was suggesting we will not win the hearts and minds of the Moslem peoples with solely the application of our military capabilities. Granted it is only a highly select and aberrant (and small) group that is fatalistically determined to conduct jihad according to their very fundamental beliefs. But I was trying to suggest we have lead the world by our adherence to a vision of human dignity and this is why all peoples have embraced our American style of life. However, I feel that we have gone astray by thinking we can eliminate the well springs of our origins. When we give up the notion that life is sacred and only our anthropomorphic view of the universe can hold sway, do we not also give up the moral high ground that all life has dignity and springs from some source separate from man’s abilities, as extensive as they are. The jihadist’s ability to recruit a continuing number of “die-hard” idiots speaks to the attraction of the human spirit, as deluded as it can be, to the idea that something greater than man exists, whatever you what to call it. The fact and the irony that people who claim to be spiritual and use that to kill other humans should not be lost. But, we will not win this battle. It is a conflict between ideologies. No amount of surveillance will eliminate the inchoate ideas of these rabid and misguided extremists. I contend it is a mistake of their thinking which is the root of the problem. You cannot win this kind of struggle by solely military means.

            Number 2- From what source of scientific enquiry or social conditioning do your values and reverence spring? I defy you to create an plausible argument for any reason for humans to be kind to each other without some reference to some sense of a deity or some sense that there is a holiness to life. If you believe the universe is one big clock, one big mechanistic device that can only be explained in scientific terms, are you not falling prey to a form of minimalism or reductionism? Without acknowledging the essentially unknowable nature of the universe and our limited ability to perceive it through only our senses, are you not limiting yourself to the prison of your mind alone? Do you not see the other ways we connect to each other and to the world?

            Number 3- You are an extremely bright individual and I have no doubt you are a good man. I do not mean to give you both barrels, but our nation, which I sense you love and cherish deeply, is in a series of dilemmas due in part to the polarization brought by the demagogues on both sides of the political spectrum. In addition to that, we have failed to bridge the divide which the false dichotomy between science and religion has created. True science makes no argument about what created the universe. It cannot speak to the spiritual, by definition. Can we not rise above our narrow definitions and differences in viewpoint and get all Americans in the same boat and rowing in the same direction again? Where is our sense of a shared mission? Is what we have worthy of the sacrifices of many patriotic Americans who gave their lives for the greater good and the all the efforts of the Greatest Generation? Who are the true patriots? I sense you are one. But I humbly ask you to ponder what is the vision of our Nation, ourselves, and our world which will enable us to resolve our dilemmas, give our youth a renewed ‘raison d’etre’, stymy our enemies, and provide ourselves with a sound basis for making scientific decisions about our viability but rooted in the quaint notion that it is not our world, but something more.

          • Poor Richard Says:

            1. Your comments are full of straw men and rhetorical devices. Who thinks we can win anything “solely with military means”? What are the “wellsprings of our origins”? What does “sacred” mean? Who doesn’t think all life is sacred in some sense? Who thinks life springs from man’s abilities? Who doesn’t think that things greater than man exist?

            2. “From what source of scientific enquiry or social conditioning do your values and reverence spring?” I’ve been all over this in “Is spiritual the new supernatural?” and “General Utility 2.0.”

            3. “True science makes no argument about what created the universe. It cannot speak to the spiritual, by definition.” You are an authority on true science and what it can or cannot speak to?

            You are sounding like a broken record, Bart.

            “You can’t reason someone out of something they weren’t reasoned into.” (attributed to both Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain)

            “The belief that enhanced understanding will necessarily stir a nation to action is one of mankind’s oldest illusions.” — Hacker’s Law

            But to your point about cultural influences in science, this is something that science grapples with very energetically. To give you a little insight, check out this example:

            A note to Evolutionary Psychologists: Culture and science are two sides of the same coin, by Maximilian Holland

            “There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination (Dennett 1995)”

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