While reading a crap Guardian piece on the importance of authority, I came across The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman, a feminist writer.
The essay, stitched together from several publishings, eloquently defends formal structures for making decisions, noting that in their absence friendship groups, personal ties and organic interactions dominate – excluding outsiders, the otherwise busy and the shy.
One passage reminded me of what Sigmund Freud called ‘the narcissism of small differences’. This is the idea that similar groups tend to bicker more bitterly with one another than rivals they have little in common with, perhaps most famously portrayed in Life of Brian.
Small differences can flare into international conflict, but they can also divide inert, tiny political groups, perhaps especially those doing little beyond chatting. As Freeman writes:
‘For those groups which cannot find a local project to which to devote themselves, the mere act of staying together becomes the reason for their staying together. When a group has no specific task (and consciousness raising is a task), the people in it turn their energies to controlling others in the group.
‘This is not done so much out of a malicious desire to manipulate others (though sometimes it is) as out of a lack of anything better to do with their talents. Able people with time on their hands and a need to justify their coming together put their efforts into personal control, and spend their time criticizing the personalities of the other members in the group. Infighting and personal power games rule the day.
‘When a group is involved in a task, people learn to get along with others as they are and to subsume personal dislikes for the sake of the larger goal. There are limits placed on the compulsion to remold every person in our image of what they should be.’
Should informal groupings and infighting lead to a vicious split, you get the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front. Or most rock bands after the talent and the cocaine run out.