The fifth solidarity

This concludes our discussion of the book by Michael Thompson, Organising and Disorganising, which we already excerpted here.

In that entry, we presented the fourfold solidarities: market, hierarchy, egalitarianism and fatalism, and hinted at a fifth integrative position that Thompson calls “Autonomy”.

Here’s a presentation of that fifth logic of relationships.

Michael Thompson:

Yet, for all their differences, these four directions do have one thing in common.

As you move in any of these four directions, as well as getting more of what you want, you also get more and more involved in coercive social relations: more followers (in return for promised rewards) if you’re an individualist, more excluded if you’re a fatalist, more rights and obligations if you’re a hierarchist, and more and more like everyone else if you’re an egalitarian. It is possible, however, to become disenchanted with coercion: to want less and less, not more and more, of these diverse satisfactions. In that case you will be behaving rationally if you do the opposite to what all these proverbs tell you to do: that is, if you move back towards a sort of “absolute zero” – a point where transactions, far from being maximised, are minimised. This, of course, is what the hermit does.

The prospect of “heavy scenes” deters the hermit from moving in the “grouped” direction; the awareness that “in getting and spending we lay waste our lives” ensures that he does not career headlong towards the “ungrouped” solidarities. To fully understand how the hermit manages to avoid these twin pitfalls we need to consider something that is not easily grasped: the social construction of time. Each of the three patterned solidarities projects its distinctive time structure out into the future, so as to ensure that the promises it makes to its constituent individuals are delivered, and seen to be delivered. The promises they make, of course, are different – enhanced statuses for the loyal (hierarchy), profits for the skilled and daring (individualism) and eco-catastrophies avoided for those who tread lightly on the Earth (egalitarianism) – but they are all, in their different ways, coercive. Since the avoidance of coercive social relationships is the first essential of the autonomous way of life, the hermit will have to disengage himself from all these time structures if he is to stabilise his life around the things he prefers. Small wonder, then, that he opts for a rationality of immediacy, taking no thought for the morrow and considering, instead, the lilies of the field. Hermits, it is worth pointing out, can be found in some unlikely places. Keynes, for instance, though professionally engaged (in the Treasury, throughout the Second World War) in the challenging business of finding the means by which Nazi Germany could be overcome, managed never to stray far from the autonomous attractor. He was famously dismissive of elaborated time perspectives (“In the long run we are all dead”), saw scarcity as a temporary phenomenon (a blip caused by “the economics of industrialism”) and remained confident that, very soon, we would not need to bother even about the short term.”

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