"I wouldn't want my anarchist friends to be in charge of a nuclear power station": David Harvey, anarchism, and tightly-coupled systems

From Libcom

An industry-specific response to David Harvey's popular claim that anarchists can neither run nor combat 'tightly-coupled systems', specifically nuclear power plants and air-traffic control. This paper is examines the the former and critiques Harvey's understanding of how such systems meet anarchist theory and practice, arguing that hierarchy does not make such systems safer or more efficient - quite the contrary.


The big problems arise, however, when you seek and try to ask yourself the question how can the international division of labour be so orchestrated so that all of us have enough to eat and reasonable material need are met and that - right now that is organized, of course, partially through command and control structures of corporate capital and partly through market engagements and when you start to think about replacements of that you start to think about forms of coordination which ... require a form of political organization that is not horizontal, that can be rather hierarchical, and a lot of people on the left are rather hostile to that idea. But, as i try to say, well, next time if you fly the Atlantic and you're half-way across the Atlantic and somebody says, "Well, flight traffic controllers in New York have gone into assembly-mode right now and they are going to discuss which airline should get priority landing," just imagine what you would think! There are many aspects of contemporary life that are now organized in what you might call 'tightly-coupled systems' where you need command and control structures. I wouldn't want my anarchist friends to be in charge of a nuclear power station [laughter from audience] when the light started blinking red and yellow and all that kind of stuff.


Fetishism of the Organizational Form and Tightly-Coupled Systems

Professor Harvey is trying to warn us against what he calls the “fetishism of organizational forms” - the mistake of prioritizing the method of organizing over its desired outcome2. According to most writers, in the 'broad anarchist tradition' these two facets of radical action are inseparable 3 It is worth mentioning that the other notable instance where this exact phrase is used in the leftist cannon is by Leon Trotsky in his Lessons of October (1924) where he warns against allowing the soviet to replace the party as the principal site of revolutionary organization 4. In contrast to Trotsky, Harvey does not seek a vanguard party but instead sees the anarchist aversion to hierarchy as an barrier to tactical plurality including political pressure and expansive but centralized coordination of large-scale efforts.5

Harvey worries that the focus on non-hierarchical local organization which he sees as dominating the rhetoric on the left is inadequate to meet the challenge of contemporary capitalism. The tactical plurality he advocates includes, among other things, an appropriation of the centralized planning methods employed by corporations like Wal-Mart who are able to coordinate multiple sites and diverse roles into effective production chainsYoutube link" href="#footnote6_6hssb8z">6. The irony of this is that since the 1990s, these corporations have been bastardizing pieces of anarchist history and practice to redesign their management structure and increase efficiency7, though we will leave this aside for the moment. Moreover, despite his work on neoliberalism as a class project 8 and his ongoing criticism of the Obama administration, he has nonetheless predicted that, given sufficient pressure, the Democratic leadership will cave to popular demands and act in the interests of society instead of the ruling class of bankers 9. Harvey's primary concern is how surplus value gets distributed within society; he argues that the State can produce significant positive social impact if it increases its hold of the surplus value produced by capitalist systems, but only if that State has come under popular control10. Currently, he says, the “party of Wall Street” enjoys the control it wrested from a series of political coups largely centring around deregulation of the financial markets, an expansion of the housing market (suburbanization), and a redesign of urbanity and urban life 11

Harvey centres his critique of anarchism around the operation of what he calls “tightly coupled systems”. In his writings, this phrase is primarily employed to describe the mechanics of the financial sector - “computer-driven split-second trading” - which results in wild volatility, global connectivity, and inevitably results in massive crises12. In line with his concern for the technological composition of the capitalist order, he considers this configuration in contrast to the organization of its global opposition which he, of course, sees as highly fragmented and isolated. He does not believe that local action or acts of escape from the system, what he calls the 'termite' strategy have any real effect on the total order and instead encourages a connected mass confrontation of capitalism with a political charactere13. Put simply, if the financial system of political economic rule acts as a tightly-coupled system, the fight against it should as well.

In his recorded statements on anarchism, he employs the term 'tightly-coupled systems' to emphasize the impracticality of horizontalist organization in certain instances – specifically nuclear power plants and air-traffic control. He states that one cannot expect these tightly coupled systems to function, particularly in times of emergency where lives are at stake, if they are permitted to fall into consensus based-councils at a whim. The argument then is whether or not anarchist organization is sufficient to [A] battle the tightly coupled systems upon which contemporary capitalism is based and [B] run certain tightly-coupled systems themselves. The remainder of this paper will deal primarily with the latter point. In short, Harvey says he “loves” the horizontalist, assembly-based, consensus organizing that he has seen in Occupy and the smaller student revolts at his university, CUNY, though he sees them as completely unequal to both tasksYoutube link" href="#footnote14_qdow6bx">14.


Among the many things which complicate this view is Harvey's own concern for the technological face of capitalism. He is the first to emphasize that our current technological condition is one shaped by the needs of capitalist production and capitalist relations15. Harvey, echoing countless other anti-capitalist theorists, calls for a sort of referendum on these technologies and to begin imagining what sorts of technologies would be needed to produce a socialist world instead. I would like to leave aside, in this text, the question of whether or not nuclear power is incidental to capitalism or is necessarily co-constitutive of it, and focus specifically on the social technology used within these systems – the division of labour and authority – as this is the principle contact point where anarchist theory meets value production in practice. Between Harvey's two favoured examples, I have arbitrarily decided to focus on the nuclear power plant over air traffic control, though I believe that this analysis has much to say about these tightly-coupled systems in general.

Automation, Labor, Management and Nuclear Safety

Harvey's key issue with an anarchist nuclear power plant, as well as its analogue in air-traffic control, is safety. He claims that a power plant in crisis requires the quick and efficient response that only a tight hierarchical management structure can provide; this claim is not only surprisingly naïve, but is completely backwards.

A nuclear plant uses fission to heat water into steam which is used to power electric generators. Apart from loading the uranium fuel bundles into the core and launching the neutrons into the uranium atoms to begin the fission reaction, once begun, the power generation and the safety measures which regulate it are almost entirely structurally automated. This process is inspected by groups independent of the labour structure of the plant itself. The 500-800 people employed by a typical plant are mostly engaged in maintenance and monitoring with a minority acting in research and administrative capacities. There are ideally three layers of management, the topmost answering to a board of directors16. None of these layers are expected to have to engage with the physical operation of the plant and instead work mostly to facilitate communication between departments and between the plant and its inspectors, owners, and the State.

The four most serious accidents of a nuclear power plant were Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three-Mile Island, and SL-1. The most widely accepted explanations of first three of these accidents, almost without exception, place the blame on the management of the plant, not its rank-and-file17. While the first occurred because management permitted or encouraged the ignoring of basic safety protocol during testing operations18, Fukushima and Three-Mile Island were the result of a management regime that sacrificed safety for cost-efficiency including the downward pressure on plant labour1920. In other words, the only serious nuclear accidents in all of history occurred because of plant hierarchy, not in spite of it.


Kiyoshi Kurokawa, chairman of the {Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation} commission, stated that “What must be admitted — very painfully — is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity.”


It is no doubt because of this that the IAEA has, for well over a decade, been encouraging a reduction of management in plants and “pushing decision making down to the lowest appropriate level” to broadly empowered “self directed teams” to increase both the efficiency and safety of plant operations. They have further suggested that management's influence over cost-effectiveness via control over labor is quite minimal and the majority of a plant's value comes from its automatic function and its effective and attentive maintenance – again, best accomplished by self-directed teams under minimal management22.23 This is in rather obvious contrast to Harvey's understanding of how a tightly-coupled system is actually run. This begs the question, if a special management strata is not embedded in the plant hierarchy to ensure the safety of a nuclear plant, what in fact does it do and what would a functioning plant look like without it?

Atomic Anarchy

Harvey claims hierarchy is necessary for the safe operation of tightly-coupled systems because worker assemblies would imperil those who depended on the efficient function of such systems. Insomuch as human relations are concerned, hierarchy is the institutional form of a power inequity – originally the rule of the high priest, the term now covers any system in which the lower are forced into submission by the upper. Often, this power inequity is manifested in the centralization of the control over the means of production of surplus value and its distribution at the expense of those who created it; this is called a class-relation. Anarchists24 reject hierarchy on two fronts: its role in constraining human possibility, and its inevitable class character - its oppressive and exploitative natures respectively. For many anarchists, therefore, it was no surprise when the collapsed socialist states saw a mass conversion of their party nomenclatura into powerful criminal capitalists because the anarchist conception of value, and therefore of class, is in some ways broader and more anthropological than that found in some popular strands of Marxism25.

Alternatives to hierarchy include the consensus/assembly form of organization that the Occupy movement helped to make so popular in Harvey's world, but they certainly do not end there as libcom's own library will attest26. Even during OWS, anarchist groups like CrimethInc were publishing more-or-less insurrectionist critiques of the consensus process27, though Harvey should know this critique from his purported familiarity with the work of the late Murray Bookchin some two decades previous. While Harvey has dismissed Bookchin's 'municipal-federalist' anarchism as Statist, "if it looks like a state, and feels like a state, and quacks like a state, then it’s a state,”28 he has failed to understand anarchism's oldest and longest answer to industrial relations: anarcho-syndicalism.

Anarcho-syndicalism envisions worker-managed production systems networked into a stateless socialist society otherwise known as 'full communism'. Besides his facile concerns for safety, Harvey's problem with this idea is that isolated horizontalist factories cannot be integrated into pre-existing capitalist schema and so are doomed to fail. Ironically, an anarcho-syndicalist power-plant, nuclear or otherwise, might be in an ideal position for successful radical organization. From what I've seen of the organizational norms of these plants, the centralized managing hierarchy is an after-effect of two needs: coordination between departments and relations with the ownership and state-power strata. The first need can obviously be accomplished in any number of worker-managed ways – coordinating committees, extensive cross training and overlap, technological fixes, etc; the second requires a hierarchy simply because in a class-society the interests of those who produce value and those who own it are at odds and in need of mediation. Once relieved of this relationship, and consequently the historically established danger posed by the existence of a management hierarchy in the normal operation of the plant, the revolutionary anarchist nuclear power-plant could clearly be a potent influence on the development of anti-authoritarian socialism on a broad scale and is only truly dependent on one other point in the production chain, the fuel supplier. Considering that decommissioning a nuclear plant supposedly costs as much as half the energy it costs to build it29, the government or utility-monopoly which produced it might be more easily pressured into cutting its losses and even doing business with an anarchist plant to avoid dumping even more resources into its potential loss or risk serious and widespread damage in some violent conflagration.

Finally, since the bulk of 'horizontalist' organizational tactics in anarchism are part of revolutionary class struggle30, it is hard to imagine in what instance a nuclear power plant would need to suddenly enter assembly-mode during a meltdown – or in the air-traffic control case, during complex operations. Without the hierarchy to struggle against, in what possible circumstance would collective struggle be necessary during such risky periods?


It seems that David Harvey has it backwards. A worker-lead localized 'horizontalist' takeover of a nuclear power plant would not be a public safety risk with no real impact on the development of mass socialism. In fact, removing the management hierarchy and profit incentive that official investigations have pointed to as the key causes in the only major nuclear accidents in history might not only make a safer world, but one in which libertarian socialism could have broad, substantial, and somewhat sustainable impact. I don't write this to promote the usage of nuclear power but rather to point out that in at least this case, the 'broad anarchist tradition' appears to be fully equipped to manage the operation of the 'tightly-coupled systems' of contemporary capitalism.

  • 1. Harvey, David. Lecture. Rebel Cities: The Urbanization of Class Struggle. LSE. 10 May 2012. youtube link
  • 2. Harvey, David. Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution (2012). p. 125. PDF link
  • 3. Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt. Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism. AK Press. 2009. [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Flame:_The_Revolutionary_Class_Politi...(Counter-Power_vol._1)]Wikipedia synopsis[/url]
  • 4. Leon Trotsky. The Lessons of October. Chapter 8 - Again, on the Soviets and the Party in a Proletarian Revolution Marxists.org link
  • 5. I would guess that Trotsky himself would dismiss Harvey as a 'social democrat' given his approval of electoral action
  • 6. Harevy, David. Lecture. The End of Capitalism? Penn Humanities Forum, 30 Nov 2011 Youtube link
  • 7. for example Peters, Tom. Liberation Management: Necessary Disorganization for the Nanosecond Nineties. 1992. A list of this nut's other titles... you get the idea.
  • 8. Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.
  • 9. Harvey, David. Lecture. Rebel Cities: The Urbanization of Class Struggle. LSE. 10 May 2012. youtube link
  • 10. Harvey, David. Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution (2012) p. 22-3. PDF link
  • 11. Ibid. Chapter 7.
  • 12. Harvey, David. Urban Revolution: An Interview with David Harvey (Part 2). New Left Project link
  • 13. Harvey, David. Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution (2012). p. 125. PDF link
  • 14. Harevy, David. Lecture. The End of Capitalism? (Penn Humanities Forum, 30 Nov 2011)Youtube link
  • 15. Harvey, David. The Limits to Capital New Edition (2006). Chapter 4.
  • 16. International Atomic Energy Agency. TECHDOC-1052. Nuclear power plant organization and staffing for improved performance: lessons learned. 1998.
  • 17. the SL-1 military reactor accident happened because of a significant, and almost inexplicably obvious, operator error
  • 18. Chernobyl Disaster - Wikipedia
  • 19. Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission. 2012. Summary here
  • 20. Kemeny Commission 1979 Summary here
  • 21. Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission. 2012. Summary here
  • 22. International Atomic Energy Agency. TECHDOC-1052. Nuclear power plant organization and staffing for improved performance: lessons learned. 1998.
  • 23. Slightly more recent documents have advised a necessary separation of the operational structures from the profit making hierarchy. IAEA Safety Standards Series. The Operating Organization for Nuclear Power Plants: Safety guide. 2001.
  • 24. again, following Schmidt and van der Walt
  • 25. Graeber, David. Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. 2004. Full PDF link
  • 26. for example
  • 27. Breaking Consensus Reality. 2011. full text here
  • 28. Harvey, David. Urban Revolution: An Interview with David Harvey Part 2. New Left Project link
  • 29. Benjamin K. Sovacool (2011). Contesting the Future of Nuclear Power: A Critical Global Assessment of Atomic Energy, World Scientific, p. 118-119. but I read it here on wikipedia
  • 30. As the recent publication, Fighting for ourselves, by SolFed has made clear


This seems like troll bait, but...
You fucking idiots. The only sensible thing to do with a nuclear power plant is to gather the resources and knowledge to render it inoperable.

Don't existing reactors require a team of engineers to babysit them even if you were to turn them off? Like, there's complex redundant systems that have to be maintained to prevent an eventual meltdown. Like if you just switch them off and walk away it's still going to eventually ... not explode but, you know, create an irradiated wasteland? I could be wrong ...

Exactly. There isn't anyway to render them inoperative. You have to continue to cool the uranium rods and all that for hundreds of years. It's probably not that complicated. What will be complicated, I think, will be doing it in such a way that the people don't die...

Funny how everyone in the movement even remotely knowledgeable on the subject / qualified to shut one down without killing us all is okay or even enthusiastic about certain forms of nuclear power.

I've never seen this. Example?

Not who you're replying to, but search around on the RevLeft forum and you can find several examples of mostly Marxists advocating nuclear power and weapons. I'm not sure as far as anarchists, but lots of "Left" groups are a-ok with nuclear power.

I think the article is taking on David Harvey's broad critique of anarchism for which he used a specific example of a nuclear power plant, rather than advocating for nuclear power. But maybe you have difficulties with reading comprehension or something.

No you don't understand the difference between directly advocating for something and leaving room for something to be reconsidered in the future.

This article leaves room for consideration that nuclear power be organized under "anarcho" syndicalism. The author puts forth that they are not advocating nuclear power but do not mention their concerns about nuclear power existing under "anarcho" syndicalism.

Maybe you're a dumbass or something.

"A worker-lead localized 'horizontalist' takeover of a nuclear power plant would not be a public safety risk with no real impact on the development of mass socialism. In fact, removing the management hierarchy and profit incentive that official investigations have pointed to as the key causes in the only major nuclear accidents in history might not only make a safer world, but one in which libertarian socialism could have broad, substantial, and somewhat sustainable impact."

Read the whole article.

Read the next sentence.

That next sentence still does not refute that the author makes nuclear power seem plausible (rather than advocated) under anarcho-Syndicalism.

There is a difference between something being plausible and something being advocated.

This site has been taken over by right-wing lunatics. We know you hate "the left," but you aren't anarchists.

What are you talking about ? Are you referring to David Harvey as a right-winger ? I think he's just a nuclear-power lovin' leftoid (not that unusual)

Not to point out the obvious but... the nuclear wasteland is coming whether or not we like it. If not from the fall of civilization, then from a collectively ran power pant that couldn't stop a natural disaster.

we are a fucked, but luckily the wild life isn't. check out the pbs doc Radioactive Wolfe if you want to see the aftermath of a nuclear meltdown and it's impact on the wild life. It's actually pretty inspiring, well at least for the wolves and beavers.


David Harvey exposed as closet furry and/or otherkin; I knew it.

first and foremost, only lunatics or capitalist fucks could actually "want" nuclear power. however society is organized, i think one relatively easy decision is the phasing out of nukes.

but taking this article as it is, it's a good critique of harvey's easy pot shots at anarchists. it seems pretty clear that existing experts who have detailed knowledge about nuclear energy--the technical managerial class--could be kept in the loop with regard to some sort of assembly-based decision making where the plant is located or, more likely, as a part of a worker organized and run collective.

i would argue that the more difficult issue is on the consumption side. utilities are a prime example of the blending of all three basic aspects of capitalism, what harvey calls "command and control structures of corporate capital and..market engagements" as well as a hierarchy in which the subordinate are forced to comply. under this system there is a relatively simple process for determining who gets energy--those who are connected to the grid and pay their bills. harder than managing the plants is the issue of who will get the energy. i get tired of my anarchist friends telling me both that there will be abundant energy for all and there will be an ecological utopia.

Libcom is Leftist not Anarchist.

Libertarian communism is a theory of anarchism. No Blackist's or Zerzanite's whining will change the fact that anarchism has been intimately associated with the left for most of its history.

sure, that's one tradition, and honestly the most uninspiring, among others

Yes, because the legend of the "Carrot Juice Drinking Anarcho-Hippies Against Civilization" has caused so many hearts to skip a beat.

"because the union makes us strong (handing out flyers outside fast food restaraunts)"

irrellevant leftist fucks.

spoken like a true spoiled brat


Yeah, because fighting for the 8 hour work day is so anarchist.

Both Harvey and the reviewer are confused as to the basics of ‘organization’; i.e. whether it is physical or mental.

The entire discussion seems to fall into the trap of the ‘fetishism of organizational form’. Just because we categorize organizational forms and describe ‘horizontal organization’ as something different and separate from ‘hierarchical organization’ does not mean that this separation exists in physical reality. The hierarchical organization known as ‘the sovereign state’ does not exist in physical reality. It is a linguistically-idealized belief system that is infused in the manner of a computer program into peoples minds so that their behaviour commences to be directed out of this belief-based programming rather than out of their natural responses as portals for the universe/community expressing itself.

In terms of organizational method, there is no difference between the cargo cult people who built torch lined clearings in the jungle to lure those big metal birds out of the sky to land and disgorge their treasures from out of their bellies, ... and sovereigntism. In all such cases, the organizing starts with encouraging a group of people to believe in an idealized scenario, constructed in such a fashion that ‘if we do such-and-such, then the ‘result’ will be ‘such-and-such’.

An organization such as a ‘tightly-coupled system’ that jumpstarts out of the rational actions of a group of humans not ‘real’, it is idealization; i.e. it is ‘linguistic idealization’, something we can talk about as if it were real, because everyone understands ‘the language’ used to construct it, language that also endows absolute local, independent, behaviour-jumpstarting subjecthood to humans.

As general systems pioneers such as Russell Ackoff have pointed out, every ‘system’ is included in a ‘suprasystem’ so that while we use analytical reasoning to talk about ‘the system’ as if it were a ‘thing-in-itself’, it is NOT a ‘thing-in-itself’, but is included within a more comprehensive dynamic.

The continually transforming relational-spatial suprasystem of nature is the source of humans and humans have not always been emergent features within it, and many conclude they won’t always be emergent features within it, because of their blindness to their being ‘part of something larger than themselves’.

As McLuhan says, the medium (suprasystem) is the message;
“Many people would be disposed to say that it was not the machine, but what one did with the machine, that was its meaning or message. In terms of the ways in which the machine altered our relations to one another and ourselves, it mattered not in the least whether it turned out cornflakes or Cadillacs. — Marshall McLuhan, ‘Understanding Media’
As Ernst Mach put it;

“The dynamics of the inhabitants are conditioning the dynamics of the habitat at the same time as the dynamics of the habitat are conditioning the dynamics of the inhabitants.”

So, fine, scientists can ‘dream up’ a nuclear power plant scenario in terms of; ‘if we do such-and-such, then such-and-such will be the result’. This view of a nuclear power plant is ‘linguistic idealization’. The physical reality is what is going on in the suprasystem that is producing humans who then infuse belief-based programs into their minds to direct their behaviour. When they talk about what they are doing, whether they say they are extracting petroleum from tar sands or bringing radioactive materials into critical-mass producing proximity to produce electrical power, ... that is not ‘the real physical dynamic’, ... to understand the real physical dynamic, one has to acknowledge what McLuhan and Mach are saying, that THE PHYSICAL DYNAMICS OF THE NATURAL WORLD WE LIVE IN DO NOT START FROM WHAT HUMANS INITIATE. The medium [the transforming relational space we are included in] is the message.

That’s the difference between the ‘anarcha-indigenist aboriginal’ [who accepts that the suprasystem dynamic is the ‘real physical dynamic’] and the ‘authoritarian colonizer culture sovereigntist-capitalist [who mistakenly believes that the system level view that jumpstarts from ‘what humans do’ is ‘real’].

In a capitalist human-behaviour-jumpstarting economy, production processes that give monetary returns [put others in your debt] that grow wealth and wealth grows power and power and wealth enable control over ‘the means of production’. Those corporations (shareholder collectives) profiting from the Alberta tar sands operations are beholden to their shareholders for delivering profits from this human behaviour jumpstarted system, a self-interest driven operation that ignores that ‘the medium [the transforming relational spatial-plenum or suprasystem] is the message]

DDT kills those members of the ecosystemic web-of-life we call insect-pests from our human perspective, so science is proven right yet again in its ability to ascertain that ‘if things do such-and-such [spray insects with DDT], then such-and-such will be the result [the death of the insects]’. You are correct science, but your inquiry and your hypothesis was constrained to terms of ‘what things-in-themselves do’, which is not sufficiently comprehensive to give and understanding in terms of the physically real suprasystem we are included in, a continually transforming relational spatial-plenum wherein “the dynamics of the inhabitants are conditioning the dynamics of the habitat at the same time as the dynamics of the habitat are conditioning the dynamics of inhabitants.” Evidently, science is assuming that space is empty, that the system that is linguistically idealized in terms of things-in-themselves and what these things are doing, inhabits an absolute fixed and empty space.

As general systems theory gurus like Ackoff observe, ... that is all that one can get out of ‘analytical inquiry’ since it is inquiry that goes ‘in and back out again’, identifying components and processes and reconstructing the manner in which the dynamics of the components and processes deliver results. By definition, such a system, delivered by analytical reasoning, emerges as a ‘thing-in-itself’, ignoring that it is ‘the suprasystem expressing itself’; i.e. that the orchestrating influence of dynamic habitat/suprasystem it is included is shaping its development and behaviour. Thus the suprasystem is psychologically replaced by an absolute, empty theatre of operations in which the analytically defined system is ‘the centrepiece.

Anarcha-indigenists knew they could dam up a stream to better control the supply of water, but then how could the salmon get back to their spawning grounds? They harvested bark from a cedar by pulling long strips off one side of the tree; an ancient technique that produces the necessary bark but doesn’t kill the tree. They used it for sleeping mats, hats, basket, ropes and canoes.

The bottom line: The anarcha-indigenists were perfectly capable of ‘scientific reasoning’ in the idealized terms of ‘what things-in-themselves do’, but they didn’t ground their social dynamic in such scientific reasoning’ and the hierarchical causal structures that such thinking delivers’. They didn’t turn their own communities into ‘machines’. The grounding of society in ‘Socratic reasoned truths’ is described by Nietzsche as the ‘decadence’ of Western civilization.

“Everything about Socrates is exaggerated, buffo, a caricature; everything is at the same time concealed, ulterior, underground. I want to understand what idiosyncrasy begot that Socratic idea that reason and virtue equal happiness — that most bizarre of all equations which is, moreover, opposed to every instinct of the earlier Greeks.”

So, let’s reconcile this view of anarchism (that we should not let ourselves be ruled by reason [intuition is superior to reason]) with the discussion in the article. The key difference is that to the anarcha-indigenist, the ‘tightly coupled system’ is not physical real, it is an ‘idealization’, a way of thinking about things that is in terms of ‘what things-in-themselves do’. The reviewer, and Harvey as well it appears, create two different categories of organization, ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical/hierarchical’, portraying them as ‘different ways that people can organize themselves’.


The anarcha-indigenist sees ‘analytical idealization’ as in ‘tightly-coupled systems’ as ‘linguistic idealization’, as ‘Socratic-logic-speak’, and likewise for all categories of organization which jumpstart from the actions of people or things and portrays dynamics in terms of ‘what things/people do’. If people believe that ‘organization’ jumpstarts from ‘people’, then they are likewise going to believe that ‘they are going to have to organize themselves', and this leads directly to a law-based, hierarchical social organization.

There is this other ‘organization’, the continually transforming relational spatial-plenum aka ‘world dynamic’ of Mach and McLuhan et al, which includes within it the nuclear plant, as the North Atlantic holds within it the Titanic which holds within it engineered systems that we can describe as if they are ‘systems-in-themselves’. The notion of a system-in-itself, which ignores its inclusion in a suprasystem is ‘linguistic idealization’, it is not the physical reality we live in.

In the article, the ‘anarchist’ is described as one who believes in ‘horizontal organization’ rather than ‘hierarchical organization’, ... but in saying this, both the author and the reviewer accept a view of organization in terms of ‘what things/people in themselves do’; i.e. as if ‘organization’ jumpstarts from ‘what things/people do’.

In the understanding of anarcha-indigenists, ‘organization’, ... the ‘real, physical kind’, is something we are included in, rather than deriving from “what things-in-themselves do”, the latter being nothing other than ‘linguistic idealization’.

The circle processes of anarchist aboriginals are not merely ‘horizontal organizations’ in the definitions of Derek Harvey or the reviewer, which start with the concept of ‘what things/people do’, they are intuitive inquiries that acknowledge that the organization we are included in, the continually transforming relational spatial-plenum, is primary, so that understanding ‘the nuclear plant’ or ‘the cornflakes factory’ as ‘systems in themselves’ that need to be ‘properly managed’ so that ‘there are no accidents’ is all part of the self-delusion that comes from confusing linguistic idealization for physical reality.

How strong and stable a framework or ‘box’ does one need to put the nuclear plant inside of so that its operations will be immune to the plate tectonics it is included in, recycling of continents within the convecting currents of the lithosphere? How strong a hull did the Titanic need to isolate the engineered systems inside it?

That box has to be absolutely strong, and there is only one way to build an absolutely strong box, and that is to imagine it as such, in the mind, to believe that a local system operates independently from any suprasystem. We are talking about the belief system of Western civilization that both Derek Harvey and the review are using to come up with their definitions of ‘organization’ as something that associates with ‘what things/people-in-themselves-do’.

Anarchists of the ‘anarcha-indigenist’ clan do not buy into this, nor do Mach and McLuhan, nor Nietzsche who describes this belief system that confuses scientific reasoning for physical reality as ‘decadence’ and ‘stupidity’.

Meanwhile, this decadence and stupidity is so popular and pervasive in our colonizer society, every day and every hour broadcasts its decadent and stupid belief system over its media PA systems, not to mention putting it into books and book reviews, that it is not easy to avoid being caught up in it.

jesus, will you fucking give up emile. nobody reads this nonsense.

thanks for the 'heads-up'. as it turns out, i don't mind low readership, i kind of enjoy engaging. how are you doing with your posts, ... lots of good feedback?

thanks for engaging!

If you think that someone who tells you that you are a fucking wanker and that no one reads your comments is "engaging" with you, you are even more pathetic than you appear.

if i am carrying a protest placard with ‘nonsense on it’, people may smile at me and pass on by. if i am carrying a protest placard and someone attacks me and tries to rip it up, saying ‘that is nonsense’, i consider that ‘engaging’. the attacker is ‘positioning himself, his beliefs’ by his declaration of ‘what he believes is non-sense’, however, his anger is intensified by his inability to discredit what he so strongly wants to label as ‘nonsense’. this leaves as his only possibility, to simply declare that 'it is nonsense'. the rationale being that other participants in the dialogue cannot decide for themselves what is nonsense and what is not. otherwise, if everyone can judge for themselves what is nonsense and what is not nonsense, there is no point in appointing oneself as a spokesman for the group.

Emile, keep on posting

I also read emile comments, especially when articles aren't that good or thought provoking, or most comments are trolling.

Decolonization is really interesting, and something that is stupidly hard to push for.

Besides our conception of organizing shifting, what are other ways for us to decolonize? That's the next step emile comments should take. Obviously emphasizing commonalities in order to gift and play are important. But, what else?

the commanches decolonized by raiding. they stole horses and cattle, murdered the men and mutilated the corpses, raped the women and killed them, killed the infants and took the children and teens captive. it worked for awhile, rolling back the western frontier hundreds of miles.

their raids most definitely eliminated the fiktion of the doer-deed binary and allowed the outer directed movement of the total disruption of the ordered reality represented by settlement to animate the outward-inward-outward energy flows that directed a subaltern mass in its organic depradations (or something).

thanks for your supportive posts!

with respect to de-colonization: taiaiake alfred puts at the top of the list “undermining the intellectual premises of colonialism”. why is it that masses of us accept as a good idea, electing one of us to tell the rest what they must do, and giving him a standing army, judiciary and police force to force us to do whatever he decides we must do? [and then calling that ‘democracy’!?].

as nietzsche pointed out, there is a psychological glitsch here that is an inheritance from the Greeks who flipped the natural precedence of ‘sensory experience over rational ideas/theory’ and put rationality into precedence over experience. [eg. see ‘The Problem of Socrates’ etc. in ‘Twilight of the Idols’]

the circle processes of decolonized society [pre-colonized society] are therefore not just ‘a different way of organizing’, they embody different values [they demote rationality/theory to a support role and put experience first].

the different values can be infused into everyday life practices and this is in all likelihood underway within the purely relational social context. the consensus process of the assemblies in the occupy movement were approaching the circle process values.

“New York City General Assemblies are an open, participatory and horizontally organized process through which we are building the capacity to constitute ourselves in public as autonomous collective forces within and against the constant crises of our times.”

... the possible difference being that the assembly concensus process focused on everyone having a chance to give their input, which could either be (a) still ‘anthropocentric’ but a more inclusive way of refining input and formulating rational action plans, ʘ or (b) as in the circle process, an acknowledging that we as human individuals are not the starting points of action but portals through which ‘the universe/community is expressing itself’ ҈ therefore, the formulating of actions from input must be by intuition rather than by rational reduction since nature is non-rational. [i.e. in the physical reality of nature, our inhabitant-dynamics are conditioning the dynamics of the habitat at the same time as the dynamics of the habitat are conditioning our inhabitant-dynamics].

as is evident in this forum and in the colonized world at large, the values that ground organizing approaches are those that put ‘rational theorizing in unnatural precedence over sensory experience’. people persist in debating the atomic details, as if the ‘truth’ they are looking for is going to come from a logical parts-wise construction, an approach which blocks any chance of reaching a relational view [discussions bog down on differences in personal perspectives which are inherently irresolvable] and which can only be resolved by the principle of Lafontaine “la raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure” (the reasoning of the most powerful is always the best). relational views do not 'hang up' on unique and conflicting input; i.e. in a circle process, many different and unique experiential perspectives will be shared, and there will thus be no ‘single truth’ that captures in a ‘sum up’ ‘what is going on’, and no single truth will be sought/formulated/articulated in the circle process as the ‘grounds for action’; i.e. everyone will accept one another’s experiential input and bear it in mind/heart, allowing actions to be formulated intuitively. ҈

it is the shift-in-values [demoting rationality to a support role and restoring intuition to natural precedence] that are flowing out and seeping into society, aided by the pressure pulses of OWS and Idle-no-more, that are the substrate of societal transforming. it follows, therefore, that facilitating this flow of values, through local ‘assemblies’, ‘restorative justice initiatives’, ‘circle processes’ in the schools or in families, are ways we can engage in ‘de-colonizing’.

in the Machean view of the physical world as continually transforming spatial-plenum, the non-local, non-visible, non-material relational web of social context is ‘primary’ [think 'field'], like the tensional field in the convecting lithosphere, while the sporadic earthquakes analogous to OWS and INM are the result [i.e. the result of transforming values] rather than OWS and INM being the jumpstart causal agents of change [tensions in the relational flow of the atmosphere give rise to 'hurricanes' which stir the flow of the atmosphere. the stirring of the relational flow by the hurricane, does not jumpstart from the hurricane. the stirring of the social flow by OWS and INM does not jumpstart from the OWS and INM. [Mach's principle describes this non-dual relational dynamic].

it is our putting the ‘rational’ over the ‘relational’ that has us mistakenly invert ‘cause’ and ‘effect’. as Pasteur on his deathbed conceded to Béchamp, ‘le microbe n’est rien, le terrain est tout’ (the alleged causal agent is nothing, the transforming of the relational terrain is everything). This equates directly to McLuhan’s ‘Cadillacs and cornflakes’ comment (the alleged causal output of the factory is nothing, the transforming of relations in the land is everything).

The next steps in ‘de-colonization’, therefore, lie in quickening the flow of the new [re-inverted back to natural] values within the web of social relations from whence our organizing operatives derive.


(and no, this reply doesn't imply or mean I'm engaging with you).

Emile: if you are "carrying a protest placard with ‘nonsense on it’," then you are a pathetic leftist who believes that protests and placards are a good way to spend your time.


the only thing that is closed is your MIND

Yes, I would definitively say that, when it comes to things like carrying around placards at protests, and long, boring and poorly informed comments that could have been generated by a computer, my mind is closed.

You think emile uses a text generator? I wonder ...

No, he's just someone with an OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).

BOOM!!!! 200 POINTS!!!!!

That was bloody brilliant. I'm writing a book on Foucault, and as my favorite pre-revolutionary thinker, you really helped me understand his position with Nietzsche and Socrates.'

I understand anarchist theory rejects what they view as Socratic virtue or Platonic ideals, and modernism is frequently identified with the capitalist/consumerist ideals of the perfect male body, or perfect female body, etc.... but I argue Platonic forms are shifting, and hence post-modern (Socrates also believed justice and virtue and piety could not be written down, nor enumerated or delineated) -- so I argue that the indigenous anarchists you speak of, should actually ally with Plato and reject Aristotle (who believed in more static ideals).

Even if that made no sense to anyone, I wanna thank Emile for a well-written post.

Thanks, Emile. I always read (so long as time permits) and appreciate your comments. I'm actually just finishing The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts, and I feel like I'm really beginning to understand (and agree with) the content of your posts here. Keep doing your thing, dude.

David Harvey is a radical social democrat. He is good at explaining Das Kapital, but has shit politics. Nevermind the bollocks.


David Harvey is a radical social democrat, which means he is good at explaining Das Kapital and, therefore, has shit politics. Nevermind the Marxists.

its amazing how many comments consist of 'but this author is ____ tendency, so i dont need to critically engage.' 90% of anarchist/leftist dialogue is completely devoid of content.

i think that harvey and the reviewer both make good points. one only has to attend so many directionless or deadlocked consensus-based meetings to see the basic point harvey is expressing here. on the other hand, the review makes good points about the risks of profit-motivated corner-cutting.

its worth thinking more about the dogmatic attachments radicals hold that prevent them from compromising on process, even in times of pressing crisis. we can do that and still remain committed to horizontal organizing. the range of problems we face are broad and complicated enough that inflexibility and black and white sectarianism are dangerous

How does one decide when to comprimise? How much, and for long? What does comprimise consist of? On whose terms?

You make these decisions depending on the context of the specific situation you find yourself in, much like any other decision that involves interacting with reality. If you want a set of inflexible, unchanging truths, try religion.

I don't want religion, or unchanging truths. I just want to live without hierarchy...

This article makes the point, though not as strongly as it should, that the kind of horizontal decision making you and this Harvey guy are talking about are organizational and struggle oriented. Assemblies are not for a real crisis. I've never seen one used that way.

In a crisis an anarchist collective of workers would operate in a totally different fashion. In fact their actions would be not unlike those of any other group of humans. The way any of us acts in a crisis is intuitive, not something that stems from a particular pattern of social organization.

If anything, I feel that anarchists are better at acting in crisis because we take our own autonomy for granted and (at least in theory) respect the autonomy of others. These traits allow us to more easily shift into our intuitive crisis behavior patterns.

i have a strange hunch that in this hypothetical situation people wouldn't let themselves and the entire region they inhabit be destroyed by a neglected nuclear power station.

omg how did we get this far in this particular discussion without a repost of this one?


Who cares. Just let the damn nuclear power plants rot.

uh, you do realize that would result in a meltdown and a monumental catastrophe, don't you? no? you just made Harvey's point for him.

awesome. emile, can you just take one for the team and put some water on those uranium rods five or six times a day?

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
Subscribe to Comments for "&quot;I wouldn&#039;t want my anarchist friends to be in charge of a nuclear power station&quot;: David Harvey, anarchism, and tightly-coupled systems"