Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Cooperative Model

We human beings can do better. It is high time we release ourselves from the violence and ecological disaster of human history.
I propose an end to hierarchical, top down structural models. Yup, the stuff found at your job, government, school and other institutions we encounter in daily life. We need to share responsibility, with its burdens and rewards, in cooperative structures. Whenever and wherever power is concentrated in few hands, the natural outgrowth is greed and abuse.
Condescending, patronizing elites may argue that the masses can't shoulder responsibility. This argument underlines their fear of losing power and control.
It's noteworthy that Dutch and English settlers in the Northeast (of what is now the United States) marveled at the egalitarian cultures of the Iroquois and Algonquin Indian federations. It's generally acknowledged that the new country was influenced by their democratic models (native American societies in other areas were top down hierarchical).
In industrial and post industrial modern times, we have no functional large scale cooperative nation state models. With the Soviet Union, Lenin imposed a dictatorship out of a war situation, and Stalin took it to insane heights as history's bloodiest dictator. Not cooperative! Nor communist, really.
I am not a Marxist, but I have been a member of four successful co-ops, each of which delivered equal benefits to all members, while exacting labor or fees from them.
Co-ops are beautifully self regulating, like water finding its own level. If the members lose interest, they ultimately collapse like the Amherst Food Co-op I was once part of. No problem, it served its members well during its tenure. Another, Warehouse Artist Studios in Eugene, Oregon, provided great, inexpensive studio space to a dozen artists for several years, even surviving a manager/member who was embezzling funds!
Hierarchical, top down structures are outmoded, serving only the polities (okay, the swindlers, megalomaniacs and thieves) at the top.

Some other time I have to address the problem of power structures that use force and violence to gain and maintain power. That is a huge mess that dovetails with my subject here, but will need to be tackled separately.
I've been thinking like this for a long time. That is why I've taken part in several co-ops. They are messy, but I'm willing to take the risk and do the work to develop the co-op model.


Serena said...

Tell it like it is!

Anonymous said...

Capitalism comes in a variety of stripes. At one end of the spectrum there is Conservative Capitalism (you know, stale Left-Overs from the Feudal systems of bygone days), and then there is Progressive Capitalism at the other end,(as in the early days of the Republic, e.g. Barn-raising, Quilting Bees, Agricultural Cooperatives, Grange etc., practical concepts that built a nation until they were co-opted by the interests of Conservative Capitalism); and then there is everything in between. In Europe Business & Entrepreneurial Cooperatives are encouraged by special legal corporate structures. These Progressive Capitalistic entities are not owned by "The State" as with Communism or even Socialism, so they are not really related. Instead they are defined by and large by some measure of control by those who work for them. This type of Capitalism is quite practical, and in fact, historically proven to be doable.