A Model for Justice?

Collectives who choose to base their organizational structure on equality, direct democracy, and/or consensus usually do so, at least in part, to model the just society we would like to see in the world at large. Social change involves not only campaigning for radical reform in the broader society but also being, or embodying, the better world we hope to bring about through activism. This fundamental belief can and should be used by egalitarian collectives to inform the decisions and actions they take, especially when it comes to how group members treat one another.

It doesnít make any sense for an activist organization to be fighting for justice and social equality while at the same time allowing back-stabbing, nasty rumors, and manipulative power plays to dominate or influence the internal interactions of the group. Yet, this happens all the time. At times itís intentional: one or a few members control the group by creating feuds and distrust; the persons or positions they favor prevail while those they wish to eliminate are made to seem suspect and fall by the wayside. Other times injustice is the result of bungling ineptitude or lack of clarity or knowledge about how egalitarian systems can be expected to work.

Often, an organization insists on using consensus, which in many activist scenes is treated as the only acceptable form of decision making for any group that wants to call itself radical--to the point of faddishness--without any real understanding of how consensus functions and what it can and cannot accomplish. People may expect that cooperation and mutual understanding will automatically flow out of the consensus process. As a result, the group creates no guidelines for dealing with friction or other interpersonal difficulties. They may even feel that rules are antithetical to personal autonomy. Autonomy is itself interpreted as being synonymous with selfishness, therefore selfishness is considered well and good.

When the inevitable conflicts crop up, the radical egalitarian collective often does not even have in place the conventional forms of fair dealing that are built into the mainstream society that we so abhor, such as the judicial process. Instead, in handling (real or perceived) offenders, collective members tend to skip right over any notions of due process, since they donít think a consensus-based group should have any need for all that bureaucratic baggage, and proceed straight to the basest of human instincts: name-calling, spreading or repeating baseless allegations, lying to cover up oneís own bad behavior, and--everyoneís favorite--banning, usually perpetrated out of hand and in anger, without anyone looking into any of the alleged facts nor allowing the accused to offer any defense.

We need to ask ourselves: is this the just society that we want to model? Wholesale expulsion from an activist group is painful enough, but when that happens one can still go on with the rest of oneís life. What if the group in question were the community where one lives, works and has familial ties: would we want to be a part of a world where a person can be expelled from his community because others find him annoying or inconvenient, or because he loses his temper, and where people can malign, slander, and judge him without even his having a fundamental right to a forum where he can speak up for himself?

Many of us rightly condemn the injustices of the societies in which we live, but then we fail to turn that same scrutiny and skepticism onto our own activist organizations and anti-authoritarian collectives. Do we accord one another at least the rights that are written into the United Statesí system of justice? (The authors live in the U.S.) Or are we even more authoritarian and less just than mainstream institutions whenever we condone the wholesale condemnation of people and behaviors we may not even know firsthand and when we fail to establish fair procedures to air grievances and resolve conflicts?

Please send your comments and suggestions to: collectivebook@yahoo.com.

"Is This What Consensus Looks Like?"

"Is This the Just Society We Want to Model?


[Why This Booklet?]
[Introduction to Consensus]
[The Particular Vulnera-
bility of Collectives
[Power Sharing]
[Red Flags to Guard Against]
[Ploys To Subvert Consensus]
[The Problem With Politeness]
[The Need For Kindness]
[Creating Pariahs]
[Respect for Differences]
[Personal vs. Group Issues]
[Micro-Managing Behaviors]
[Skepticism is Healthy]
[There's Hope]

[A Model for Justice?]
[The Dearth of Due Process]
[What About Free Speech?]

[Codifying the Collective Process]
[Relinquishing Control of Projects and People]
[Staying True to the Mission]
[Whatís a Lone Person to Do?]







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