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The following are comments on the content of the Collective Book on Collective Process.
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10 Aug 2002
Subject: intro

After reading the first Chapter, my overall impression is very good and it covers all the most important things I can think of--it outlines the scope of the issues and problems. My main criticism is that it is written often as "what generally happens." It might help collectives that are somewhat functional if they were presented with a range of happenings, so they can more clearly find where they fit.

Another little problem is the use of the word "cult" which may be too strong. "Cult" is a word filled with connotations, many of them bad, and I can imagine collectives disregarding some of the Chapters arguments because of the presence of that word. Just like how calling Bush a "fascist" doesn't help to convince someone to not vote for him, even if Bush fits the definition of a fascist--the emotional content of the word distracts people from the more important issues and gives them an excuse to not change and grow.


15 Sep 2002
Subject: Comments on book!

Fascinating material, and not just the obvious part on "creating pariahs." The "leadership phenomena" that are repeatedly and variously described and deplored are uncannily similar to those I've repeatedly encountered and tried to expose -- e.g., in Queer Nation/SF, with Joe Van Es in the GLYNY/FBI fiasco, and at the Long Haul, among other instances.

I have two points of disagreement with the authors, however.

First, I don't believe, as they apparently do, that these sorts of problems can best be solved by creating and/or enforcing ever-more-elaborate (and prefabricated) rules and procedures; I believe that these can always (by definition) be subverted and usurped by those in de facto control, especially in "mature-stage" organizations where those in control have attained their status by being particularly well-adapted to that organization's matrix of rules, customs, rhetoric, and expectations in the first place.

Second, I have a problem with use of terms like "bullying" that are too often the very terms used to describe what is actually merely awkward social behavior (such as loud or emotional outbursts), while enforced conformity often operates with quiet decorum and a code of politeness (albeit subject to a cautionary note elsewhere) that by nature is too readily conflated with respect (especially readily, in fact, in the very situations where it's most a problem). In my experience, those who are characterized most often as "bullies" in the real world are usually awkward scapegoats or mavericks, while the real menaces or usurpers are slick operators who manipulate "group process" and group conformity from behind-the-scenes -- too smoothly ever to be called out as "bullies"! The result may be "bullying" of the group, but the apparent mechanism often involves the silencing of people scapegoated as "bullies" or "disrupters who disrespect the group process"! The language used in the book should more closely reflect this reality, rather than subtly reinforce it.

Incidentally -- in a similar vein -- a dogmatic emphasis on egalitarianism can become a pretext for discrediting or disparaging (and thereby even discouraging) people who take pride in the pursuit of excellence. I believe that both of these problems stem from a desire to emphasize the importance of creating and maintaining egalitarian organizations and institutions, even at the expense of what (I believe) should be a greater, prior recognition of the importance of personal freedom, integrity, and good faith. Without that recognition (and its non-hypocritical implementation), I believe all the rules (or organizations) in the world can only serve to enhance the very sorts of hazards and abuses that the authors deplore.

We may be able to describe how "process" works when it works well, and what goes wrong when it works poorly -- but using such observations and descriptions to create rules for "good process" may be merely a means of treating symptoms while driving the disease to a deeper, more insidious and intractible level.

The real problems involve direct affronts to our core values -- motivations like power-seeking, hypocrisy, cruelty and bad faith. Such virulent motivations -- and our opposition to them -- need to be addressed directly; we (and our energies) shouldn't be diverted by focusing excessively on the elusive peculiarities and mechanics of their ever-evolving manifestations.

-- Mitchell Halberstadt


17 Sep 2002
Subject: hierarchies of expertise

many thanks for your important work.

I'm a non-geek in a computer/internet support collective who aim to work consensually: Community Access Technology (CAT or cata@lyst). Within it there is inevitably a great range of what can only be called expertise. And a range of differing areas of expertise.

In the last paragraph of The Formation of a Ruling Elite, under "Power- Sharing" at you say: "Egalitarian collectives require that everyone be informed about every aspect of the organization's functioning and that each person have the skills to perform any and all of the tasks involved..."

I'd very much appreciate some consideration in the collectivebook of how this inherent contradiction, surely not rare, might be handled. Not to detract from the value of what you have already written.

all the best,
hugh trevelyan

-=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~ -=~

The State is a condition, a certain relationship among human beings, a mode of behavior. We destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one and other...
------ Gustav Landauer


21 Feb 2003
Subject: feedback from Toronto

I'm really glad to see this initiaitve. A wide discussion on these issues is very much needed. Nobody in this city really knows what to do in cases of serious conflicts (which usually involve both personal issues and political differences) or in cases of sexual assault.

Sometimes people argue that due process is fine but NOT in cases involving rape or sexual assault. The argument is that the woman's story should be believed and she should should not be subjected to any kind of process. The guy involved should simply be 'kicked out of the scene.' The process for this--or lack of proper process--is the closed meeting scenario that you describe very well in Booklet Two.

I don't agree with this. I think that it is in everyone's interest that proper process is observed. Here in Toronto one person was accused of not doing anything to prevent a sexual assault and not supporting the assaulted woman following the rape. This was dealt with very poorly in the community. And broken telephone gossip soon changed the story and this person was now (wrongly) described as the rapist. People calling themselves anarchists walk by his girlfriend in the street and say outloud 'There's the rapist's girlfriend.'

Another argument used to deny any kind of process--this is usually used in cases of political disagreements--is to spread stories that your opponent in the debate is sexist, racist or homophoic. That means the fundemantal issues are never debated, your opponent is shunned and has little opportunity to have their side of the story heard. Incidently, this abuse of anti-oppression politics has the side effect that people become very unwilling to engage with these issues because they know they are often used to destroy other people. A discussion about racism--for example--is not an occasion where we're all going to learn something, but an occasion to destroy other people's reputations.

In this city there have been really serious conflicts that have divided the community and wrecked people's lives. One of these conflicts dates from 1998 and has still not been resolved.

Is the process to be conflict resolution or some kind of tribunal? They would seem to be very different models. Conflict resolution seems to be more about trying to heal a situation. A tribunal sounds more like establishing the 'truth' and deciding on a penalty.

Another issue is how do you force people to participate in a process if they refuse? Here in Toronto one serious conflict happened at a gathering where there was an agreed upon process for dealing with confllict but the organizing committee refused to participate in their own process! Today we are now starting to include in ground rules for our collectives and events (along with such things as consensus decision making) that participation in the collective or event involves a committment to conflict resolution in the event of a conflict or incident. This has helped a little but the old style of 'justice' of talking shit about people behind their back continues. (This is called 'triangulation' by conflict resolution people and is considered to be 'dangerous' behaviour.)

People love to gossip. Or put another way, we need to think very carefully about our personal motivations for being involved in activism. Is it to be 'popular' or the centre of attention, or to feel part of a group? Most people are involved as activists in the USA and Canada not because of extreme poverty or oppresssion but because of deeply personal issues. This needs a lot of thought because, in my opinon, this is the cause of much of the problem of groupthink and the lack of process that you describe.


09 May 2003
Subject: wow

Sorry that I don't have any thing to give in return except - WOW! This is amazing, you guys rock!

I'm going to be starting a project soon based on communitarian views and will surely return for your booklets.

Part of the project is that sharing information is EXTREMELY important and follows similar ideas to open source/free software/ copy left and anything we use from others will be returned with sharing directly or indirectly in the creative ways that we express ourselves!


Peace & Love,


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