Have you ever sat through an endless meeting where everyone is in theory on equal ground, and yet only one or two people are doing eighty percent of all the talking? Maybe there’s no facilitator, for fear of introducing some form of power into the structure, It could happen, and so the communication goes in endless circles, and we are never quite sure where it’s heading or when it’s going to be finished? Where the old and new members alike lose patience because their ideas or suggestions are never heard or even worse, they are ignored altogether and their ideas are left to float in the proverbial limbo?
Well then, Welcome to the relentless difficulty that besets members in non-hierarchical groups, organizations or collectives, Welcome to Structure-less-ness in its extreme form (Lacking absolutely no Structure. Or something not set in a certain form of organization.) It would be bad enough if structurelessness simply led to some hurt feelings, bruised egos and longer meetings, but there is a much larger problem at work here: it just doesn’t work for anything, for any length of time. If you’re active in any kind of semi-permanent movement, a lack of accountability, responsibility and organized inclusion of feedback will frequently turn up as deadly. if we become stuck in such an arrangement, and desire to change the culture to something much more democratic and participatory, the key concept to introduce and press for isn’t more hierarchy per se, but would seem to be responsibility and accountability that would lead to effectiveness.
Accountability is what gives democracy its sting. Identifying democracy from a form of mechanical or unthinking routine or exercise in communicating preferences. It involves the formation of real consequences when the expressed will of the people is not enforced as promised.
(By contrast, structurelessness provides plenty of ways to note collective choices, but precious few equitable or effective ways to ensure they’re acted upon.) Hierarchy is a specific vision of how accountability is carried out, but for the non-hierarchical, it’s by no means the only option.
Instead of hiding behind unlikely and complicating protestations of structurelessness. That acknowledgment, responsibility, and accountability it fosters seems to be the only way to guarantee impressive and equitable decision-making. Accountability can be a chilling idea for some activists, but it’s best to think of it as a proactive process that we can walk together, rather than a standardized ruling that is either accomplished or not.