This is part of a chapter-by-chapter review of THE ECOLOGY OF FREEDOM: The emergence and dissolution of hierarchy by Murray Bookchin (1982, 1991, 2005). I’m interested in Bookchin’s work because he provides a way a deeper, broader and longer-range perspective than the false alternatives in current politics.
chapter ten – the social matrix of technology
In this chapter, Murray Bookchin debunked the idea that the level of technology determines the level of social organization. Rather social organization itself is the most important technology.
Human beings do not have to adapt to the requirements of technology. The machine was made for man, not man for the machine.
The Pyramids of Egypt and the great temples of Assyria and Babylonia did not depend on a high level of technology, he wrote; they were built with primitive tools.
What the great empires of ancient Egypt and the Fertile Crescent discovered was how to organize and mobilize huge numbers of people against their will, and to squeeze the maximum amount of labor out of them. So long as they had slaves, they had no need to invent labor-saving machinery.
The same was true of the New World, Bookchin wrote. The democratic Iroquois and the totalitarian Inca used the same types of tools. It was their social organization that was different.
Neither did geography determine social organization. The Inca empire and Greek democracy both arose in mountainous regions.
Rather hierarchy arose, as Bookchin noted in previous chapters, when non-productive old people reinvented themselves as priests and the young men gave their loyalty to warrior bands rather than the village clans. This happened in many different times and settings. It set in motion an evolution ending with supposedly sacred despots supported by priests, warriors and tax collectors.
When despotic societies arose, Bookchin wrote, organic matricentric societies had to militarize themselves or else either be conquered or driven from their lands. What’s remarkable, he wrote, is not the spread of despotism, but how much of the world’s people remained free.