on William Gillis’ “The Organic Emergence of Property from Reputation”

tony pancake @tony_pancake
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here are some unfair initial thoughts on this article by william gillis

  • The Organic Emergence of Property from Reputation text

gillis is a “left-wing market anarchist” and in this article he is arguing a number of things, but the title is mostly accurate to the main claim: he defends the simple descriptive claim that some property-like notion usually appears in interpersonal relationships

he funnily points out that even marxist roommates will not share toothbrushes.

unfortunately, not all his points are so clever or funny.

the main non-trivial point gillis makes is this:

if a market is fucking up, just steal stuff instead of paying for it.

you can probably see some problems here?

near the start of the article, gillis basically dismisses the idea of possession, which is a concept held implicitly by all communists since proudhon, being that people definitely have small and person belongings that no communist wishes to get rid of

he happily throws the baby out with the bathwater by simply deeming this relation to just be another property relation.

does gillis ever enter into an analysis of what might cause one of his beloved markets to careen into the territory of tyranny? no.

as an anarchist, he wants us to be mutualistic and free of exploitation, but he doesnt enter into an analysis of where exploitation originates

it originates, in capitalist society, potentially in a ‘free market’ society, in property. and the force used to protect that property. im sure gillis knows this. he does not bring it up.

“private ownership over the means of production” a phrase that should cause any enemy of capitalism to sit up straight. but what are the means of production? tools and raw materials.

the communists wish for the abolition of this type of property. but this does not include really ALL tools and ALL raw materials. i dont want your toothbrush, but a toothbrush is undeniably a tool.

gillis knows this. he makes an ‘transhumanist’ argument that tools are actually part of humanity, which is actually a fine framing and point.

communists wish to socialize the means of production that play a social role. this can vary in meaning, but taken at its most basic, it would be that multiple people depend on it.

gillis is clearly individualistic. he does not enter into an analysis of what this means,

he distorts the obvious fact that The Community is a theoretical abstraction, incapable of thinking or acting itself, into thinking community does not exist.

gillis is happy to speak of contract and trade, but paradoxically, he thinks people remain somewhat perfect individuals, even as they enter into a web of social relations, which not even he think can be formalized. he sees that individuals create social relations, but he does not see how social relations create individuals, and therefore they really cease to be Capital-I Individuals

now we return to the point: social relations truly are between individuals. but it is useful to take them to be relations between things, or things and people. property is such a relation.

the private property over the means of production which communists attack is an attack on a particular social relation between a group of people, mediated by an object(s), which play a social role.

toothbrush vs. toothbrush factory.
baseball vs. baseball stadium.
seed vs. field.

it was never really about whether an object can be used to produce more of an object, like gillis dismisses at the start. it was about the role of that object among other people.

a stock of toothbrushes at a toothbrush factory: these produce nothing, but i guarentee you there is a social interest in what happens to that stock of toothbrushes; nobody would come along and appropriate the whole lot.

a horder of toothbrushes—this is exactly the situation in which gillis would call for and support theft, violation of property.

it may seem i have undermined my point. it may seem i have just claimed that communists would want to socialize a stock of toothbrushes, decidedly not social means of production. but the products of social labor there simply have not entered into individual posession yet.

therefore, gillis’s affirmation of property, of all kinds, really exactly implies his negation of property in the form of theft.

gillis shouldve differentiated the social roles property plays in society. as an anarchist, im sure he can make an analysis of social roles.

he should have entered into a study of these roles, and determined, like an anarchist, which are just, and which are coercive. he would arrive at the rough conclusions i have put above. he would arrive at communism. (which to gillis, would too be a “market” lol)

instead of advocating a ‘market’ and property system with built-in market and property violation, we should simply dispense with the basis for the violation, we should dispense with private ownership of social property.

in doing so we would arrive at a more stable and understandable social order, with a myriad of other benefits (and downsides) and implications.

i’ll make some unrelated points

gillis’s article is rife with appeals to intuition. ill make one:

young children understand posession. eventually they understand not to take each others toys. but the ownership of a whole factory, of a whole school, remains foreign to them. it is not ‘property’, it is domain.

gillis’s argument about a robber baron that owns factories by connecting them to his nerves makes no sense, because factories are typically social institutions, and i dont think gillis is saying humans should merge into a cybernetic hive-mind

also gillis, like all marketoids, must immediately undermine and refute his own not-god ‘the market’, because he admits to the need for communism, i.e. non-trade “”altruistic”” relations, at small scales, between small groups, within firms themselves.

which is odd, since he cites graeber’s views multiples times, and this point about communism was made very clear by graeber in a number of places.

let’s hope gillis comes to understand that such a social relation can and must be extended to all of society

gillis has distaste for consensus meetings, which he erroneously refers to as bureaucratic.

he misunderstands the need for egoistic, collective decision-making sheerly out of the need for cooperation, to make sure everyone in society has their needs met, not because of

of an altruistic appeal to principles, but because of the real, immediate need of information and goods we have from one another. we are not isolated market agents. we are a connected ecosystem of unimaginable coordination, and ACTING like market agents simply denies this.

democratic (yes, I said it) meetings like the ones gillis wants to do away with are absolutely essential out of immediate egoistic need.

they stem from, among other reasons, OUR desire, the need to care for the elderly, the young, the sick, the resting. they cannot enter market.

gillis urges us to accept the reality of posession.

i urge him to accept the reality of meetings.

the complexity of our social web, its construction and maintenence, requires broad coordination, or it requires its dissolution. it will not dissolve.

anarchists, especially those who see the coming time as apocalyptic or dissolving, should ask how to feed everyone in the future, in all their variety of forms and (in)abillities.

‘they will feed themselves’ does not suffice as an answer.

to gillis i say: ‘theft’ always, “”markets”” never.

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