Will Wilkinson observes the organizational method of the OWS crew and notices it carries its own message:
OWS is not simply a group of like-minded people gathered together to make a point with a show of collective force, though it is that. The difference is that it has developed into an ongoing micro-society with a micro-government that directly exemplifies a principled alternative to the prevailing American order. The complaint that OWS has failed to produce a coherent list of demands seems to me to miss much of the point of the encampment in Zuccotti Park. The demand is a society more like the little one OWS protestors have mocked up in the park. The mode of governance is the message.
Leaderless, direct participation. This, in contrast to a centralized several layers removed “representative” elite that serves itself by feeding off of their subjects. No false claims of Empty Suit A being co-signed in every damn thing they do or force others to do on the basis of a strictly controlled pseudo-binary choice, no inherently captured middlemen, it’s I represent myself. Simple.
Will, after describing an intellectual allegiance* to this alternative as now being practiced, throws some cold water on it. First, he says self selection makes consensus easy:
Because the participatory democracy of OWS is an ideological endeavour, it can avoid the hard problem of liberal society: the ineradicable diversity of moral belief and the impossibility of consensus. Consensus-based communes composed of individuals who opt in specifically because they already agree with the commune’s founding values can work precisely because the people who would make consensus impossible—people with very different opinions and values—stay away.
The self-selection factor does say one thing about OWS: that those people chose to be there. See, that’s kind of the point of self-selection, if you didn’t think joining a protest was a good idea, and you opposed the entire premise of it, then you wouldn’t go there. Within that understanding though, there is a diversity of opinions, contrary to Will’s description: anarchists are sharing space with relatively standard issue liberals and even a few otherwise apolitical types just airing their frustration. After the overarching “there is a problem: the economy is rigged”, there’s plenty of disagreement on the ground.
Say hypothetically this model of direct consensus were embraced outside of the sphere of protests, and people did bump up against the mentioned depth of disagreement on foundational matters. Well, the next thing Will points out is that this doesn’t scale well. In that case though, the 2nd concern pretty much solves the first by existence — smaller, more localized organization obviously implies there being a huge range of possible communities (not sure why he calls them “communes”, honestly). With so many options, people could just bounce until they found their niche. It’d be like a, a…market!
As for his remark about charismatic loudmouths wielding disproportionate power, that seems the case right now. Subtract the force monopoly & make exit easier and easier by way of decentralization, and the odds tilt closer in your favor. Besides, with the status quo those same charismatic loudmouths can have you killed.
I think it says a lot about the times we live in that this is being even remotely discussed seriously. There’s going to be disagreement, and that’s good. Intolerance of disagreement is for cults.
(* – The article Will links to apparently overstated Graeber’s influence.)