Power and Complementary Holism
By Justin George at Nov 20, 2009
Power and Complementary Holism
“Our history is in part a battle to the death of inadequate myths. If I can’t convince you, I must kill you. That will change your mind. You are a threat to my version of the truth, especially the truth about who I am and what my nature is.” Carl Sagan- The Varieties of Scientific Experience
A poststructural or postmodern Anarchism presents a critical analysis of society that shifts the critical focus from traditionally limited discussions of the state, government and capitalism to an examination of power. Todd May clarifies this position,
“Regarding the idea of totalizing systems, it is surely the case that much of anarchism, both in practice and in theory, targets capitalism and the state. My book is a suggestion that we not look in those two places so as to blind ourselves about the ubiquity of power's operation. If capitalism and the state were the sole culprits, then eliminating them would by itself open us up to a utopian society. But we ought to be leery of such simple solutions. One of the lessons of the struggles against racism, misogyny, prejudice against gays and lesbians, etc. is that power and oppression are not reducible to a single site or a single operation. We need to understand power as it operates not only at the level of the state and capitalism, but in the practices through which we conduct our lives.” (http://flag.blackened.net/
Just as traditional anarchist critiques have focused on centres of political and State power, Marxism has concerned itself largely with economics.
Bertrand Russell writes that much of Marx’s analysis “…has proved true but is applicable to all organizations that give an outlet to power-impulses, not only those that have economic functions.” P.140
This is the underlying position of Complementary Holism and its framework of institutions and collected organizations that allow or fulfill the power impulses of people. Marx’s analysis is largely correct but flawed in its understanding of where such power tendencies emanate from. Due to this its prescriptions are also flawed, misunderstanding the nature of societal inequalities and exploitation. If economic sources of power are changed, reformed or radically over turned, other outlets for power-impulses remain. For Russell the State and the military specifically were other major institutions that could provide an outlet for power-impulses. Russell’s analysis is applicable and extened to a range of dominant institutions across society. Patriarchical gender relations and dominant, often racialized cultural traditions are other existing forms of power differences. Thus Marx’s concern with economic arrangements, or a traditional Anarchist concern with the State, can only ever be limited in their effects on concentrations of power. Those remaining institutional arrangements that give an outlet for power, or where “power conglomerates” (Todd May interview) will use such positions to corrupt, undermine, coerce or disrupt any reforms or revolution in just one aspect of society in the interests of extending or sustaining their power.
As Russell notes when discussing the relation between State and economic power “…there is a natural tendency to combination, and this is true not only in the economic sphere. The logical outcome of this process is for the most powerful organization, usually the State, to absorb all others.” 141
In current society there is an equilibrium of interests between state, economic, gender and cultural forms of power, even a convergence of interests, thus there is little need for the State (or any other power dominant institution) to subsume when those who share in state power are heavily invested in economic, patriarchal and cultural power also.
Expanding this understanding of power further, a range of institutions and organizations across society can be understood as providing an outlet for power-impulses. Within the Complementary Holism framework there has been attempt to broadly identify 4 spheres of society with defining institutional realms which greatly impact on human life- Polity, Economic, Community/cultural, Kinship.
Existing concentrations of power develop over history in various defining forms in each sphere of society. The Kinship sphere is largely dominated by gender and the family; The Community sphere is shaped by cultural practices and artificial notions of race. Economics has relations of ownership and structuring of workplaces, Polity is dominated by the state and hierarchy. Thus power has expanded and consolidated itself across all these areas of society in specific and interrelated ways. Within the Kinship sphere, the family relations have tended towards male domination, hetero-normative relations. This has enabled and sustained power in the economic and political spheres such as ownership, employment and state infrastructure. The same applies for cultural and race relations.
The framework in conjunction with Russell and Chomsky’s analysis of power relations, and May’s poststructural anarchism provides a means to identify and chart power, along with enabling an understanding on how to arrange social institutions and organizations to counter the concentrating impulse of power.
Anzac Day and its associated narrative can be seen as one institution/tradition where power has concentrated, where “…a variety of practices collude to create an oppressive power arrangement” (May interview).
Addressing these inequalities of power, or the interrelated effects of such concentrations of power should be of concern to those who seek some form of just and equitable society.
May positions his poststructural anarchist view on power as such- “I have a four-part [distinction]: power as creative/power as repressive and good/bad”
Such distinctions can be made more specific connecting to a set of values or ideals. Related to this are May’s outlines of means of response by both activist and intellectual to such concentrations of power-
“experimentation, situated freedom, valorization of subjugated discourses, and the intellectual as a participant in theoretical practice rather than a leader” (May interview)
Putting aside the flowery language, some value sets can be identified within this, values that can then help define whether a power concentration is creative or repressive, good or bad or equitable and just/repressive and unjust.
Experimentation should be clear- experiments with different forms of structure, of arranging our institutions to minimize concentrations of power. Situated freedom is slippery in its intent but perhaps can be understood as proportional decision making or say, liberty defined by context. Valorization of subjugated discourses has a counterpart with the concept of solidarity. The last is the concept of the praxis as developed by Paulo Freire.
Such values and principles can then be used to assess Anzac as to whether this is a desirable or repressive conglomeration of power. It can also be used to assess, and in some cases support, the work that respond to Anzac in some form or another whether critical or supportive overall.