Equality and the fraternity

Equality for all has been held up as one of the fundamental truisms and virtues of just governance since the widespread rejection of Patriarcha and the divine right to rule. This concept was conflated after the French and US revolutions to imply all had equal ability to survive in a trade economy. How an idea so manifestly false and impossible ever became lauded as a truism must be found in its expedience and convenience in furthering the objectives of its promoters.

Equality was espoused by a homogeneous group of male caucasian slave owners and enablers. John Locke was both a major investor in slavery and an important contributor to the laws enabling the trade. Thomas Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves. When these men spoke of equality they naturally were not including anyone but themselves in the concept, rhetoric notwithstanding. Babies, children, women, slaves, indigenous people and anyone less able were obviously not their equals and were never intended to be. As covered previously in Binding Chaos: Out of Robert Filmer’s frying pan, into John Locke’s fire, this libertarian concept of trade equality was meant to enable decentralized patriarchy, not remove patriarchy. Why an assumption of equal worth to a trade economy is in no way just is covered in Binding Chaos: An economy for all.

The concept of equality as an economic virtue has been extremely successful in justifying and continuing rule and unbalanced privilege by this same group of people, spreading initially from France and the US where Locke’s writings were most influential. In every tyranny there must be a rational justification of it. The divine right of kings was usually successful in protecting a monarch’s head as few wished to act against god’s will. A secular age must appeal to a sense of fairness which most people are born with. The idea that this one group of people are more worthy as they are more able to take control must be instilled and reinforced constantly, as it is.

The only reason equality in a trade economy is considered a virtue is to allow rule by right of virtue for the fraternity, the libertarian ideal of meritocracy.

In 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft stated the root flaw in every governance algorithm used in the past or present, “Where there is justice there is no need for charity.” Her view has been overlooked by all and the image of a just society is consistently one which has evolved to be charitable. There have been societies that were ruled by justice regardless of ability but they were always few, and since the notion of equality for all under a trade economy became widely lauded as both an ideal and a truism they exist almost nowhere.

If you hear the cry for equality under a trade economy ask: But what of those who are not equal? If the orator accuses you of bigotry for denying what is obviously false you are already dealing with a tyrant. If the orator speaks of giving and brotherly love, run. The equality mantra is the worm at the root of all trade economy systems today and any trade economy based on an ideal of equality will produce the same result, as we have seen. Equality comes from an economic system in which an infant or other dependencies have an inherent right to be included without reliance on charity.

When an ideology decrees that people governed under it will behave in a certain manner it is necessary to look for any reason to believe they will. Among proponents of trade equality as a virtue the best reply thrown at those who point out that people are demonstrably not equal was framed by Marx when he decreed distribution would be “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” This is not effectively different than the answer given in different terms by other ideologies such as the tacked on welfare systems common in most capitalist societies. In all cases Marx’s stated outcome is certainly not inherent in the system and must be enforced by hierarchical coercion. We can see what that looks like every day as the powerful torment the poor, the victimized and the disadvantaged to test their ability and need.

Every political ideology named as one must have defining characteristics. Proponents of ideologies have a habit of stuffing rainbows and unicorns under their umbrellas but when the virtues being attributed are in no way inherent under the defined characteristics there is no reason to expect they will be present when the system is implemented.

Democracy is ridiculously conflated with human rights. If human rights exist under a democracy it is only by virtue of separate bill of rights, constitutions and other documents tacked onto the democracy as appendages. A democracy such as Burma can openly conduct genocide simply by having the majority rule the minority no longer have rights. Democracy is a system of voting, representative or direct, and there is no reason to assume that goals such as human rights or freedom of speech will result from it.

Peer-to-peer is an idea adapted from network architecture. In a p2p network, nodes supply and consume resources to and from each other in a structure for sharing among equals. As network architecture it works beautifully. It does not work for people because people are not peers. All you need to do is picture an infant attached to this network to see the obvious failure in p2p’s “assumed equipotency” of all participants which will result in a need for charity.

The defining principle of direct trade (reciprocal sharing is trade) among equals has absolutely nothing to do with the commons, free software, permaculture, 3D printers or any of the myriad rainbows and unicorns currently being herded under the umbrella. P2P governance is just a hacker-ish name for libertarian. Modern libertarianism can use new technology and other capabilities but there is no underlying philosophical difference. John Locke could point to magnanimous powerful men who gave charitably to their neighbours just as p2p points to free software giving charitably to a non-contributing public, but neither charitable neighbours nor free software are a natural result of the idea of trade among equals. To see what p2p governance would look like simply look at the completely homogeneous list of 26 men (no women) listed as “notable figures“.

We now have no choice but to move beyond the age of equality among young, able, caucasian, educated men from privileged families and start including the entire world. The entire world is now an unstoppable collaborative force and they will no longer tolerate rule by the fraternity of peers.

Occupy, Anonymous and each of the 2011 uprisings were many things but the one thing they were not is p2p. The endless assembleas and communication networks set up by M15 and the gatherings of the Day of Rages were a genuine attempt to hear the voices of the unequal. The Hope Riders, Jasmine Revolution, Occupy and others fought very hard to recognize and support diverse roles and unequal ability. Anonymous is the roar of those omitted from the fraternity, the raw voice of the voiceless unpackaged and sanitized by NGOs and polite representatives. Every revolution the world has ever seen has started with that roar and every revolution the world has ever seen has been co-opted by the fraternity of peers.

We can tell the revolution has failed every time we look around and see the fraternity sitting astride the ideals of the voiceless and promising to ride them to a different place this time. When the hopes and creations of the people once again become rainbows and unicorns to sell a platform for the fraternity to gain power we have failed.

If we are to proceed past the never-ending cycles of revolution and arrive at a system of peaceful evolution we need a completely different system of change. Probably writing that next.

See also

This is what my revolution looked like
Binding Chaos chapters:
An economy for all
Out of Robert Filmer’s frying pan, into John Locke’s fire

Mary Wollstonecraft: A vindication of the rights of women
Robert Filmer: Patriarcha
John Locke: Two Treatises of Government

17 thoughts on “Equality and the fraternity

  1. You may be right about the rainbows and unicorns Heather, however morale and optimism matter and resistance is entitled to its flags and snacks. Re: P2P, I have been a participant in a P2P commons/network of psypractitioners for 18 years. P2P has been a lived and very political experience for me. Honouring the diversity of our radicality is very important, even if we find its styles distasteful.


    • Denis what does the word p2p mean to you? From what I have seen I am against few of the activities using the banner of p2p, some of them are quite wonderful. I just don’t see what they have to do with a peer-to-peer system. As far as I can see the core philosophy of p2p is just libertarianism, trade among equals. Is your practice truly p2p (reciprocal sharing) or is it epistemic communities with knowledge bridges?

      Rainbows and unicorns just means a collection of wonderful things that don’t seem to bear any relation to the banner, rather like grouping human rights under the banner of democracy when they are not inherent at all.


      • ‘Denis what does the word p2p mean to you?’

        Shared power over decision-making, resources and benefits between people who recognise and actively sustain peer (and face to face) relationships.The Independent Practitioners Network (IPN) see our Principles and Procedures, is a functional commons echoing fairly exactly the commons criteria for participation and governance that Eleanor Ostrom has detailed. IPN’s peer to peer ‘trade’ is the virtual production of civic accountability, a highly nuanced and extremely practical approach to minimizing the possibility of abuse of clients and helping practitioners flourish as persons.

        I don’t know what you mean by ‘epistemic communities with knowledge bridges?’ Doesn’t any and every community or group that aspires to peer to peer relationships take forward a societal transformation? Isn’t the transition is from ‘patriarcha’, as you handily call it, to fullon peer relations unavoidably difficult and uncertain? Full of red herrings and dead ends? FWIW my corner on this is that moving towards sustained reciprocity requires a developed capacity for being psysavvy, an ability that for too many people has been sequestered and maimed by the psy professions and big pharma.


      • That’s what I thought. I recall looking at your work before and I did think you had used Ostrom’s criteria which is to me commons theory, somewhat close to governance by user group. You call it psyCommons as well, correct? To me, commonsing is where we need to look for the economic future and I see it in direct opposition to p2p which to me is the simple libertarianism which got us into this mess.

        When I say Patriarcha I am referring to Robert Filmer’s book by that name justifying the divine right to rule and centralized patriarchy. This was dismantled primarily by John Locke who created a decentralized patriarchy with his concept of equality which ignored dependence (even Filmer recognized dependence and centralized patriarchy allowed noblesse oblige). Libertarianism and p2p theory follow Locke’s idea of equality and will lead us straight back to the beginning of the circle which brought us rampant capitalism in the first place. The concept of equality for all which all the revolutionaries wanted was conflated after the French and US revolutions to imply all had equal ability to survive in a trade economy, which planted the fraternity firmly in power. The concepts behind commons sharing do not imply trade among equals any more than the idea of equality for all was meant to imply no societal dependency.

        This is why I said we need to look past the rainbows and unicorns stuffed under ideologies to see what the root algorithm is. The root algorithm of p2p is trade among equals, ie libertarianism, and in direct opposition to commons sharing which recognizes all users. We already have transitioned from Patriarcha in most of the world, it is Locke’s decentralized patriarchy we need to dismantle now and I see Ostrom’s work and commons theory as the primary way ahead for that. (Or back if you prefer, as it is closer to the way we once did things.)


  2. The search for the end of history is one of the biggest fallacies of the political left. Heaven on earth is not going to exist without direct divine intervention, assuming such a being exists. Varying shades of Marxist thought have only brought us more misery, more widespread poverty, and more scapegoating than anything else. The earth is only going to be as perfect as imperfect people can make it.

    Furthermore, I’m sorry but there is a lethal flaw in this endless quest for equality. When you fail to address the existence of substantial IQ average gaps between global population groups that have been scientifically demonstrated to also correlate with socioeconomic status and GPA, you’re doing nobody a favor. All that ends up from this denial is what we see today: Endless scapegoating of the haves for the condition of the have nots and an angry desire on the part of the “champions of the poor” to take from the haves to give to poorer groups as they launch scheme after scheme based on some form of economic redistributionism.

    Unfortunately this has created a poisoned political atmosphere over the last several decades in which white people have been endlessly browbeaten into being the scapegoat of the ages.


    • “Heaven on Earth” may have already existed, if your particular definition of it matches what is known as the “Golden Age.” I’m not sure what was the IQ of Stone Age people, nor what “socioeconomic status” they would bear in an “economy” (a trade economy — you are probably referring to socio-trade-economic-status) since they didn’t live in one, but on the other hand they didn’t contribute to a single Fukushima-like incident, for one thing.

      John Zerzan, “Against Civilization.” Really neat book. Opens up horizons.


  3. “I recall looking at your work before and I did think you had used Ostrom’s criteria which is to me commons theory, somewhat close to governance by user group. You call it psyCommons as well, correct?”
    No, the IPN groups are functional ‘commons’, there is separately a ‘common pool resource’, the psyCommons, of which psysavvy is a key attribute. WordPress removed the links to psyCommons, psysavvy and the IPN principles and procedures in my message but google will find them – take a look at the psyCommons introductory video.


  4. White male supremacists will always be “scapegoated” (oh boy /smh) as the cause of inequality as long as they continue to deny equality to the rest of us. They attained control (power) many centuries ago via nefarious means, writing laws excluding people from inheritance rights, trading rights, property rights, voting rights etc etc etc thereby gobbling up power for themselves and their pals.
    Read Engels http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1884/origin-family/ or read the wiki for an overview http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Origin_of_the_Family,_Private_Property_and_the_State
    White people who cry “victim” (check your privilege) don’t realise they are products of patriarchy and therefore part of the problem.


  5. Heather, the name of the book is indeed very good one, as well as the titles, quality and depth of your discussion are very attrective and creative, so the principles and ethic you stand for, I share them all.. I also agree with some core underlying arguments..

    On the other hand I also feel that if you would have chosen to start with, for example, a radical critic of p2p capitalism practices or theorization of, for example since it is most clearly described and prominently sold by him, Jeremy Rifkin’s one (who also might be dreaming of himself as John Locke or Keynes of 21th centruy), and then turned to and criticise the theorisation and practice of P2P Foundation or Michel Bauwens, for instance, as various /specific and different ways of theorisation of the same thing you are looking at from different angles, instead of launching total open fire at, an trying to kill the p2p, the potentially your book would make much bigger impact. I believe it will still make but, at least on me.

    Since your undermining of p2p, networks of social relationships are not necessary to put your argument forward,. You could for example recognize that they migt not work perfect, or still can be captured by, existing ‘power’ structures of existing capitalist modes of production, as it is called by Marx. I think liberal and liberaterian also stands for two related different things as you know. Like for example Rifkin’s account of p2p can be said, is a liberal one. While I think one can classify Kevin Carson’s or Poor Richard’s ones as anarco or market liberaterian accounts of p2p. There are the existence of many other accounts as well, like communist (like of Dmytri Kleiner’s), advance comminist (Jakob Rigi, Johan Soderberg) or utopian comm(o)unist ones (Keinform collective from Germany, for instance the work of Siefkes and Maretz (Keinform.de)). These all reffer to p2p, in varying connottions and political interpretations when trying to understand the possibilities emerging in the new reality.

    If you have chosen this way, in order to target Michel Bauwens’ account, his practice or political stand, it wasn’t necessary I think. Since there appears some factual mistakes in your agrumnetation I think, in terms of the understanding of Bauwens of p2p. I think politically he is for first the decentralisation of capitalism, so would support anyone including Rifkin. In this sense, it can be said that Michel Bauwems account is similar to Menshevik undertanding of socialism 🙂 so first should come p2p mode of production, before the revolution… otherwise there wmight be a world war between extisting capitalist powers, might als be revolutions, yet it is still too early for ‘economy for all’ as you put it. but he sees it as ‘economy for all’ eventually, where it should evolve. so it is not a liberal or liberaterian, but more holistic and integral, yet coming closer to determinism, in my opinion. And I do not agree, in this sense. I think there is much bigger role for agency, and in this sense, I see my self closer to Bolshevik accounts of p2p. So, my point is there are many accounts of p2p, emerging as an important aspect of emerging new reality.

    Probably you have seen it before. I really like this phrase from Kleiner’s manifesto:
    Peer-to-Peer Communism vs. The Client-Server Capitalist State
    Society is composed of social relations. These form the structures that
    constitute it. Computer networks, like economic systems, then may be
    described in terms of social relations. Advocates of communism have
    long described communities of equals; peer-to-peer networks implement
    such relations in their architecture. Conversely, capitalism depends
    on privilege and control, features that, in computer networks, can only
    be engineered into centralized, client-server applications. Economic
    systems shape the networks they create, and as networks become
    more integral to every day life, are in turn shaped by them. It is then
    essential to produce a critical understanding of political economy in
    order to comprehend emerging trends in network topology and their
    social implications.

    and this is also very good article by Jakob Rigi: http://snuproject.wordpress.com/2012/08/02/the-article-of-2012-peer-to-peer-p2p-production-as-the-alternative-to-capitalism-a-new-communist-horizon/

    In short, I am for p2p, if it serves for economy for all! I think I is an issue of political and rEvolutionary struggle…


    • Hi Orsan,

      This article was written in response to people who were asking why I disagreed with ‘p2p philosophy’. This is not a proper discussion of equality which is huge and I will write in the future, it was a quick answer for people asking a very specific question. As I said, I don’t see p2p as an ideology at all, the stated principle has nothing to do with the virtues attributed to it and the only principle I can find is just basic decentralized capitalism and equality aka Locke. I could, yes, discuss the various tones of the colour under the various authors, but I disagree with the colour itself. P2P is not an economy for all, it stands in the way of one. It is a system of dissociation. I hesitate to say much more of what I mean in comments because I think I need entire books to back it up but I have already briefly said all of this. What I am saying is no different to what I said in the economy section of Binding Chaos and what I will say in the future.

      You could for example recognize that they might not work perfect but I don’t think they work at all. ;-.) Let me know when you have finished the book and hopefully my reasoning will be more clear. I have huge respect for Dmytri Kleiner’s work but he always says communism and p2p economic models that depend on equality have never been properly tried. I believe they were tried and worked exactly as they were always going to, and I really don’t want to spend any more time trying them again. I agree with his end goals but not how he hopes to achieve them.

      It is frustrating, I feel as if it will take a great effort to communicate to be understood and I have no time to spend right now. I do hope to finish something else in coming months that will explain where I want to rewind us to and why, and then it will take me another block of time to write how I think we might proceed from there. Such is life writing in our sleep, as you know.

      Nice to see you again. :-.)


  6. Pingback: #WorldWarIII: Stateless ponzi schemes of power by Heather Marsh #Africa #Burkina #tginfo #Anonymous | peuples observateurs 2014

  7. Pingback: World War III: Stateless ponzi schemes of power | freeworld4all

  8. Deeply thought provoking and thoroughly motivating words Heather. I continue to revisit and reread these articles with vigour, and take away something new that betters my understanding of our current situation each time.

    I’d like to reference your works (fully credited and linked of course) on my English language teaching platform due for launch in the coming months – a platform designed to actively encourage debate and discussion between those studying English as a second language. Please let me know if this is in any way a problem.
    Much respect.


    • Thank you very much for the feedback Terry.

      Yes, definitely you have permission to use any credited material for teaching. I am sorry the cc license is confusing as it says non-commercial but several courses have incorporated selections and anyone has my permission to incorporate it into a course or as teaching material.

      All the best,


  9. Pingback: My favorite book | adamkendall2

  10. Pingback: #MeToo, #TimesUp and all that … but also #opDeathEaters – Operation DeathEaters

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s