TheLeftTheoryOfDisagreement (ThoughtStorms)

I'm increasingly concerned with the problem of the left's "theory of disagreement".

Because we idealise co-operation we don't have a good understanding of disagreement. It's because we think co-operation is so obviously good, that we come unstuck when we encounter people who don't want the same thing we do. We become frustrated and bogged down arguing who's right or trying to impose what seems intuitive to us on the rest of the group. If co-operation is obviously good, then it seems to us that people who don't want to co-operate are obviously "bad".

Left alliances end up paralyzed by not wishing to express criticism. Or they deteriorate into infighting.

The right don't have this problem. They start with the idea that independent, individualistic action is good. And instead seek ways to build frameworks to contain and manage this : markets, the western democratic state and election fighting parties, various types of DisputationArena etc. (MarketThinking)


The idea was partly explored in this debate : http://www.tribe.net/tribe/servlet/template/pub%2Ctribes%2CViewThread.vm?threadid=f87e58db-ff41-41b9-9941-e4e21bf5737b&tribeid=4507deb6-eb9f-4445-8847-9f4a6f7ecd8b

I said :

For me, utopian research really needs to include looking ((at these)) issues in the face. Asserting that it would be better to co-operate than compete is easy. Everyone could sign up for that, if only we knew how to understand co-operation and make it work. But "co-operate" is a vague term incorporating the need to exchange information, signal intentions, resolve deadlock, decide between mutually exclusive actions, suppress contradictory or disruptive desires etc. These are all CollectiveActionProblems and they've bedevilled utopians for centuries.

Right now, I really think competitive markets can't be escaped as part of the solution to several of these issues. The trick is to find ways of "taming" them. To get as much of the benefits from them as we can, while reducing the damage they cause to a minimum. But I'm not wed to markets on principle. If you can convince me other things can succeed equally well, I'll be delighted. But I suppose I keep pushing because I'm keen to explore some new ideas rather than repeat the criticisms that I already believe.


Solving the problem

At the moment, we're in an era of new thinking about organization. With the internet and SocialSoftware there's a lot of talk about how these are going to help political movements "organize" themselves. That's fine, and something I'm excited by. But we really need to understand that this problem of "organization" isn't the problem of how to get a large number of people out on the streets in a demonstration (OnDemonstrations) or to donate money, or do anything at all in mass (SocialSoftware/PoliticalOrganizing). These may or may not play a role.

The bigger question is how these can actually solve the question of disagreement. How we can use these to construct institutions and ways of working which are :

and yet are also


The ClayShirky essays

In fact, if we're serious about trying to solve this problem, it's worth reading ClayShirky's essays on SocialSoftware.

The reason is that online communities are like little laboratory experiments in new societies, and they face the issues all societies must face (including utopia). How does the society invent norms, solve disagreements about policy, and protect itself against destructive forces. (Typically anti-social or selfish individuals)



I initially agree, but am also open to wider thinking. Perhaps we're seeing this from the wrong direction, and need to reconsider the ground that we're standing on. The right have their way of dealing with disagreement, but that's not to say that the solutions don't have problems (a discouragement of diversity, focusing of resources, etc). The left sees a different kind of co-operation as the answer to these problems, but loses the ability to maintain itself as a result. The only plausible solutiuon then, AFAICS, is a Centrist Theory of Disagreed Collaboration (or Agreed Independence perhaps). However, at time of writing I'm not sure if this is just a blend of existing theories that has't been blended properly before, or whether it requires a complete shift in thinking. Either way, if we are to (personally) make progress on the issue, we need to stop approaching it from either a left or right attitude. We have to leave behind our own, personal goals, which is possibly even more difficult.

-- GrahamLally

I'm very reluctant to advocate "centerism". Too often that word just means a kind of paralysis which tries to avoid doing anything to alienate the left or the right. I'd prefer a new, imaginative synthesis of the good insights of both sides.

Where I take it you're disagreeing is that you're sceptical that the right's institutions really are able to provide the pluralism I claim for them. That there are basins of attraction they fall into (eg. like bubbles where everyone chases the same investments).

That I'd agree with. But the question remains, what anyone (left or otherwise) can offer which is better. Is this what the "Centrist Theory of Disagreed Collaboration" is?

-- PhilJones

Perhaps the problem (or a problem) here is that we're separating the means from the ends to much, creating a false sense of a structure-within-structure. It may be very well coming up with a system that enables people to work independently, yet form a whole, but (depending on its structure), such a system is also liable to be torn apart by the same forces it claims to mediate. In other words, even if the mechanism for debate provides a "stable" environment, there is still the possibility (and, indeed, probability) that there would be a to-ing and fro-ing over the mechanism itself. Take, for example, the discourse around democratic systems, of which there are many different kinds. Currently in the UK, there is a growing movement for ProportionalRepresentation, but the chances of it being implemented are decreased precisely because it would disadvantage the party in power. This kind of control over meta-decision-making is, i think, the tricky part. Markets are successful in part, I think, because they benefit the people who already have power (generally the right, in the West), and so the incentive for something else is lacking. This is also why we probably don't have a truly free market (as the businessmen are in bed with the legislators), and where some (but not all) of the faults in the current system come from.

To solve this - to get to a sustainable and accepted system - is horrendously difficult, but there are 2 extremes, I think, to usefully focus on:

  1. The idea of organic collaboration. Markets, for example, are idealised as this, wherein the overall image emerges naturally from an infinitude of tiny parts. In practice, this may be partly real, and would be, I think, something I would advocate. One could argue that the majority of social workings up until the recent era of globalised control were of this ilk, and that the introduction of technology has made it possible to actively have less people controlling more.

  2. A manually-controlled collaboration, in which an independent team (either permanently or temporarily) actively monitors/moderates/mediates/steers the system. This sounds almost fascist :) and is if taken to an extreme, but also manifests as structures such as the UN or the EU, under which many different voices are treated equally through formal methods.

Personally, my gut instinct is that a fractal approach to society needs to play some part. Overly-encompassing systems that attempt to rule all with one set of instructions will, I believe, ultimately fail for one reason or another - which is a shame as the current trend seems to be towards bigger, more "inclusive" machines. The less we define borders, and the more we understand our neighbours (rather than people the other side of the world), the closer we get to a kind of anarchistic organisation (not quite an oxymoron).

That's my gut feeling though, and it's currently difficult to elaborate more concretely... :)

-- GrahamLally


See also :

** TheLeftsCollectiveActionProblem