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A Theory of Mutuality

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Compelled versus voluntary action and association, is the essence of the conflict between a group and the individual. Perhaps the main factor that creates the conditions for compulsory or voluntary actions within a unit, is the degree of equality of relationships. The degree of equality of relationships within a unit is what generates the capacity for either compulsory or voluntary actions. That is to say there is a correlation between equality and freedom. The less equality there is in a relationship the more there is an inequality of freedom. When there is an equality of freedom in a relationship, and that relationship is also a cooperative one, we call it mutuality. A state of mutuality is the cooperation within a unit based on voluntary activity. Units can of course cooperate in ways that are compulsory, but this tends to benefit one individual or class of individuals that is enriched; and hence is a state of collective action which is not mutual, for there is a flow of unequal benefit away from some to the advantage of others. This is a command relationship. It is a type of relationship which is valid in certain contexts. But when it is the persistent mode of governing the structure of relationships, we call it authoritarianism.

Under conditions of authoritarianism there is neither freedom nor equality. As such we may oppose mutuality to authoritarianism, and assert that the state of mutuality contains higher degrees of freedom and equality, and the state of authoritarianism lesser degrees. As well we assert the defining variable in either of these is the degree to which there is an equality of relationships.

So what variables condition a greater or lesser degree of equality of relationships? Without question to answer this one needs to look in society. The social and political context, which is in turn conditioned by historical and cultural factors, will play a determining role in what is considered a normal degree of freedom or equality in a particular social unit. Let us take one particularly notable unit, the nuclear family. One initially interesting fact about the nuclear family is that it hasn’t always existed. This social unit is a historical formulation. It is also one rooted in another contingent social arrangement, patriarchy. Patriarchy is a form of authoritarianism. It is a unique form of authoritarianism because it isn’t imposed as a social unit from the top down but rather from the bottom up. Yet it has been pointed out, say by Wilhelm Reich, author of The Mass Psychology of Fascism, that “authoritarian upbringing constitutes the psychological basis in the masses of people of all nations for the acceptance and establishment of dictatorship,” (Reich, The Function of the Orgasm).

By definition one of the main constituent factors of authoritarianism is compulsive deference to authority. This again excludes or precludes an equality of relationships in which there would be the conditions for voluntarism and cooperative mutuality. Furthermore, in the same way there is a general correlation between freedom and equality, there is a correlation between authoritarianism in society and what is considered a norm of authoritarianism in its constituent social units. On some level what this seems to suggest is that society is changeable on two fronts, from the top down, and from the bottom up, because these two positions are obviously linked in what it means to make up a society. The governance structure from the top is supported by the actions of its constituent social units below, however in ways which are compelled under conditions of authoritarianism. We would know if we were living under conditions of voluntarism and cooperative mutuality, if we were able to influence the social conditions which affect us, but we all know that we can’t. And thus the true structure of the type of society we live under should be clear.

The radical hope to be found though is to notice that even if we have no influence over conditions from above, we do have control over how we choose to act within our own constituent social units. We can in effect alter the conditions of authoritarianism which exist, if they do exist, within the social units to which we currently belong. There is in effect nothing stopping us from developing conditions of mutualism within our immediate social relations. The only difficulty there lies in needing to try to weed out areas governed by compulsory action rather than voluntarism. It takes first the valuing of an equality of relationships, and then a commitment to trying to carry that out in practice.