Twitter and autonomy

My political philosophy (which most would describe as “anarchism” — I’m good with that) really boils down to a simple notion:

The people who are the most affected by a decision should have the most say in it.

There’s space for disagreement and nuance (what do we mean by “the most” and “affected”? what happens when similarly-affected people disagree?); no two cultures that abided by this rule would look alike. But it’s completely incompatible with capitalist relations of production, even under the stewardship of liberal democracy.

Since there seems to be a bit of an exodus from Twitter at the moment, many people have been confronted by the fact that a social media company’s owner (like Elon Musk) or majority shareholder (like Mark Zuckerberg) can unilaterally make decisions that affect millions of people. Since I don’t think the world should work that way, I decided that I would no longer voluntarily enter relationships that do. I may have no choice about needing a job or being a citizen of a state, but I can sure as hell quit Facebook and Twitter. So I quit them (along with a growing list of second-stringers), and have been getting my social media fix on the Fediverse. Here, I do have a say in what sort of behavior is moderated and blocked¹, and if I decide I don’t like my instance’s policies, the system is designed to make it easy for me to find a different instance or even start my own.

But it’s not just social media, and for me this journey didn’t start there. Most political organizations, including the majority of leftist ones, use leadership and decision-making structures that don’t follow this principle². Democracy, as we’re taught to understand it, can lead to situations where a slim majority dictates the actions of a slim minority, even when those actions have a minimal effect on the majority. Delegated decision-making (electing “leaders”) also creates such situations, especially when leadership terms are long. I spent most of the past five years in such an organization, fighting bitter fights about the org’s projects and goals, and I eventually realized that the whole enterprise doesn’t align with my values.

There are some things we can’t walk away from; public health and climate change are obvious examples of things that truly affect everybody. If anything, the people who are affected the most by our (non)response to rising temperatures and pandemics also wield the least power. I don’t have an easy answer for those. However, I invite you to focus for a moment on all of the relationships that you can walk away from. What is the cost of doing so? What is the cost — which you’re already paying, even if you haven’t considered it — of ceding the autonomy you deserve to have?

[1] The instance hosting my Mastodon account isn’t technically a co-op; most of the work and decision-making authority have been delegated to a mod team. But there’s a great community consensus vibe there, and plenty of instances actually are cooperatives, with voting and everything.

[2] This principle is sometimes called “subsidiarity”.