Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and consensus decision making

Occupy Wall Streeters are experimenting with consensus decision making. David Graeber explains:

On August 2, at the very first meeting of what was to become Occupy Wall Street, about a dozen people sat in a circle in Bowling Green. The self-appointed “process committee” for a social movement we merely hoped would someday exist, contemplated a momentous decision. Our dream was to create a New York General Assembly: the model for democratic assemblies we hoped to see spring up across America. But how would those assemblies actually operate?
The anarchists in the circle made what seemed, at the time, an insanely ambitious proposal. Why not let them operate exactly like this committee: by consensus.
It was, in the least, a wild gamble, because as far as any of us knew, no one had ever managed to pull off something like this before. Consensus process had been successfully used in spokes-councils  —  groups of activists organized into separate affinity groups, each represented by a single “spoke” — but never in mass assemblies like the one anticipated in New York City. Even the General Assemblies in Greece and Spain had not attempted it. But consensus was the approach that most accorded with our principles. So we took the leap.
Three months later, hundreds of assemblies, big and small, now operate by consensus across America. Decisions are made democratically, without voting, by general assent. According to conventional wisdom this shouldn’t be possible, but it is happening  —  in much the same way that other inexplicable phenomena like love, revolution, or life itself (from the perspective of, say, particle physics) happen.
I have to take issue with Graeber: particle physics does not find life, or love, or revolution inexplicable. It finds them irrelevant to its explanatory task.
As for consensus decision making, I worry that that increasing the size of a group breaks down bonds of solidarity that help prevent people from abusing the consensus system and blocking what they don't like at will, as happens in the US Senate, even with as few as one hundred members. As the initial exuberance of the occupation experience subsides, it seems likely that these assemblies will see the emergence of too many people's inner assholes.

Read the whole piece in the Occupied Wall Street Journal.

1 comment:

  1. To me (in a structuralist [and punctualist] perspective) the crucial part seems to be the transformation of the spirit of the 'upheaval phase' to the every-day structuring of the following 'stable phase'. Representative organisation will be still the regular thing. One question is if there could be a re-decentralisation of certain issues instead of a further centralisation and delegating to far away anonymous (and only very abstractly influencable) institutions. This at the same time while our society is getting more abstract, more anonymously organised/working. A re-decentralisation (maybe regularly necessary from time to time?) could be one challenge and a characteristic of an upcoming post-postmodern time [The 'time' as the 'social situation' which forms the basis structure of the respective society].