wingolog

no master

5 June 2013 1:35 PM (igalia | cooperatives)

It's difficult for anyone with an open heart and a fresh mind to look at the world without shuddering at its injustices: police brutality, obscene gaps between rich and poor, war and bombs and land mines, people without houses and houses without people. So much wrong! It is right and natural not only to feel revulsion, but to revolt as well. Fight the man! Down with the state! No god, no master!

So to those working against foreclosures and evictions of families in your neighborhoods, more power to you. Fight the good fight.

However, revolt is unfortunately not sufficient. We must also think beyond the now and imagine a better world: life after the revolution.

I'm sure I've lost some of you now, and that's OK. We are all at different points of political consciousness, and you can't speak to all at the same time. Some of the words like "revolution" probably bother some people. It sounds strident, right? But if you agree (and perhaps you do not) that there are fundamental problems with the way the world works, and that symptoms like banks kicking families out of houses using riot police are ultimately caused by those problems, then any real change must also be fundamental: at the foundation, where the roots are. Radical problems need radical solutions. Revolution is no more (and no less!) than a radically different world.

For me, one of these roots to dig up is hierarchy. I take as a principle that people should have power over and responsibility for decisions to the extent that they are affected, and hierarchy is all about some people having more power than others. Even if you do away with capitalism, as in the early Soviet Union, if you don't directly address the issue of hierarchy, classes will emerge again. A world in which some people are coordinators and other people are workers will result in a coordinator class that gradually accretes more and more power. Hierarchy is in essence tyrannical, though any specific instance may be more or less so.

On the other side of things, hierarchy deadens those at the bottom: the listless students, the mechanical workers, the passive and cynical voters. The revolution has to come about in a way that leaves people more alive and curious and energetic, and that seems to correspond not only with greater freedom but also with personal responsibility. I think that a world without hierarchy would be a world whose people would be more self-actualized and self-aware, as they would have more responsibility over the situations that affect their lives and those around them.

Well. I don't want to wax too theoretical here, in what I meant to be an introduction. I've been having these thoughts for a while and finally a couple years ago I decided to join in a collective experiment: to practice my chosen craft of computer programming within a cooperative context. I haven't had a boss since then, and I haven't been the boss of anyone. I'm not even my own boss. There are no masters!

I've gotten so used to this way of working that sometimes I forget how unusual it is to work in a cooperative. Also, we're usually too busy hacking to write about it ;) So in the next few articles I'll take a look at the internal structure of our company, Igalia, and try to give some insight into what it's like working in a cooperative.

17 responses

  1. Will Thompson says:

    I'd be really interested to read how you think Igalia's structure compares to the points raised by http://geekfeminism.org/2013/04/18/structure-and-justice/ (which I think you linked to positively on Twitter?), particularly when it comes to hierarchies & cliques emerging, and accountability for your work to the group.

    (Not that I think you are all anything but wonderful, clique-averse, skilled and conscientious humans! Just wondering.)

  2. Andy Wingo says:

    A good point, I'll talk about it! That article and related criticisms definitely apply to "flat" structures like Igalia's. Of course we all mean well, but the structural outcome is more interesting.

  3. Andy Wingo says:

    I guess I should say relatedly that while I think the balance is quite good in favor of cooperatives, there are a number of challenges, some of which are not as present with a traditional company structure. I'll try to be fair, which is all I can do, really :)

  4. spectrumgomas says:

    Stico jamás trabajará en una cooperativa.
    http://www.filmotech.com/V2/ES/FX_FichaPelicula.asp?ID=12 .

  5. Simon Michael says:

    Looking forward to it. Really enjoying your blog, thank you.

  6. Grant Rettke says:

    Andy are you joking about how you are not your own boss?

  7. Knut says:

    We need Society 2.0 which like the internet or a microkernel would be decentralized. This is also known as federalism/anarchy/direct democracy/political equality.

  8. Knut says:

    This might be of interrest to you :

    http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxRepubliqueSquare-Etienne-Ch

  9. Nathan Myers says:

    Thank you for this. Humanity being a social species, anarchy is impossible for us; it devolves quickly into bad government. (A gang is a clumsy attempt at government.) Organizational systems that work well, that meet most people's needs, and are stable enough to bank on, but adaptable enough to adopt necessary changes, have been a long time coming. People support imperfect arrangements because most are better than anarchy even long after they have badly decayed.

    Small groups have been successful, at least for a while, possibly because that matches our evolutionary origins. We need organization at the largest scale because the alternative, for our species, is continuous war. As badly as people suffer under capitalism (or under its monopolist endpoint, communism), they are better off than most of humanity for most of its history -- until another war starts.

    We need to continue experimenting with different ways of organizing, to find ways that can work better than how we are living now. Every change in circumstances radically alters how well each can work. Lately the most rapidly changing circumstance has been in communication technology, enabling leaderless mass movements. In the previous century, changes in communication technology enabled propaganda machines and the managed, cowed populations we see today.

    Generally when there are no bosses, the customer is your boss.

  10. Andy Wingo says:

    Hi Grant, it's somewhat true that I'm not even my own boss -- there are things I do that affect other people, so I should talk to those other people. Whereas being your own boss, while not a consistent concept, usually means that you don't depend on anyone else either -- which is not the case here.

    Anyway, more thoughts in future postings.

  11. Sankar says:

    I always like your writing style. I loved the first few paragpraphs and was a bit disappointed when you brought in Igalia at the end. I won't say it is wrong. It is like giving a baloon to a kid in a park, which the child happily blows and gets shocked to see that the baloon contains a devil photo. I was enjoying your post reading as if it is a philosophical post and then when the company name came in the end, I was wondering if it is a marketing post. I am not complaining though however, I just wanted to share my thought :)

    Coming to the main matter that you discussed, I have often felt that, Had human evolution stopped with co-operative farming, with just villages, we would have been a more happy species than the current situation, even with not much medical improvements.

  12. Andy Wingo says:

    Hi Sankar,

    Thanks for the kind words. Regarding Igalia -- it's very easy to theorize about how life should be, but not so easy to put it into practice, especially for a sizable group of people. There is not much information out there about how things work in in the real world. So this series of articles is precisely about that: the relationship of practice to theory. I did choose to work at Igalia for that reason, after all.

    Regards,

    Andy

  13. Shrutarshi Basu says:

    I'm looking forward to reading about Igalia. I've been looking around their website and it seems like an interesting group of people doing interesting things. As a graduate student in Computer Science, I'm starting to think about what kind of career opportunities I want to pursue in the future. Currently the three choices in my field of work seem to be academia, big tech corp, or small startup each of which seems a less than ideal structure for my personal work style and preferences.

  14. Ludovic Courtès says:

    Looking forward to reading more about Igalia's organization.

  15. agumonkey says:

    Anyone knows if there has been discussion or research about reaching individual independance, mainly energetically, through a systemic bootstrapping of tooling ?

  16. Sajith says:

    Adding one more voice: I too would be greatly interested in knowing more about how Igalia is structured.

  17. Brandon says:

    +1

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