Leadership vs Ruling


Continuing the discussion from Bringing Zone 5 Back to Permaculture:

I think it’s quite possible for people to lead and be led without any hierarchy. Archos was greek for ruler, not leader. People get the two confused, perhaps because our rulers call themselves leaders. Etymology is “the study of truth”. Like all spells, once we know what the words mean we can free ourselves from their abusers.

Leaders lead by showing the merits of their ideas, rulers rule by force, whether overt or hidden.

Sorry, I have to stop using “is” so much, but it’s difficult in English


I agree. But I think in the context of within-civilization organizations it can be difficult to separate the two. For example, we were discussing land trusts in the other thread. My general feeling is that if I invested time, and possibly money, into such an endeavor I would want to have a disproportionate amount of control. I fundamentally believe in non-hierarchical, collective decision making. But I’ve also had bad experiences helping to run organizations in which everyone got an equal say. It depends on who is involved, but people can easily divide a group or run it into the ground by taking more than they are giving back. I’m not sure if that makes sense. Essentially, I like the model proposed by the Feralculture folks, but I wonder if a similar model applied to a more highly populated area would translate. I would feel the urge to make certain decisions in order to keep the organization functional that might go against my feelings about “rewilded”/egalitarian decision making - perhaps to force the organization to fit with more mainstream land management groups. Now I’m rambling. I haven’t really thought this through…

I think I’m just in a stage of my life in which I need to decide whether appealing to the greater culture is more important than running to a very remote area and trying to do my own thing with some other like-minded folks.


I think I’m just in a stage of my life in which I need to decide whether
appealing to the greater culture is more important than running to a
very remote area and trying to do my own thing with some other
like-minded folks.

You can also do both: be in the public and live remotely. I think a great example of this is Margaret Mathewson who teaches Ethnobotany in Corvallis at OSU, travels to teach basketry, and also has a remote land project in Alsea, OR called Ancient Arts Center.


You’re absolutely right, of course. But I think I meant more on a more organizational level. It appeals to me to start a land trust that is open to public participation and that might even seek grant money or partnerships with tribes and land management groups. That, in my opinion, would have to look very different from the Feralculture model. For example, I think it would require more formal leadership, potentially more limited on-site habitation, and also potentially less nomadism. But that might conflict with my values as someone who is very opposed to hierarchy, city-living, etc. Again, I’m just thinking out loud here. This is really an abstract thought at this point. I think I was just trying to adapt some of the things we were discussing in the other thread regarding Feralculture to my thoughts on joining the goals of land restoration/conservation and rewilding.

Sorry I’m being unclear with this. At some point it would be cool to meet some folks who are interested in this sort of thing in the PNW. It would also be fun to begin the work even before land is available. For example, finding places where its appropriate/acceptable to tend wild plant communities.


To go back to the original topic, which I think I went off of, I don’t think egalitarian relationships are for everyone just as I don’t think polyamorous relationships are for everyone. I think the problem is when people get stuck in one way or the other and decide their way is the only way, or is “human nature”.

So I think leadership can exist to encourage, and even enforce, dominance hierarchy in both directions: egalitarianism or top down control (ruling). I just prefer a reverse dominance hierarchy, which occurs in egalitarian groups (e.g. if someone gets too big a head they get made fun of by the group.) Or, in other words, leaders/elders/adults would enforce group sharing and harmony in my vision. That’s the people who I want to play with anyway.


I want to add: What I’m trying to prevent is bullying and I think that requires a group of people to prevent. Even in rewilding and permaculture I’ve experienced systemic bullying (i.e. ruling), and I’m personally not willing to put up with it anymore. I want to attempt to get it out of Rewilding, if possible. David Graeber wrote an essay for the Baffler that addresses what I am trying to say.

“But if we are ever going to move toward a genuinely
free society, then we’re going to have to recognize how the triangular
and mutually constitutive relationship of bully, victim, and audience
really works, and then develop ways to combat it. Remember, the
situation isn’t hopeless. If it were not possible to create
structures—habits, sensibilities, forms of common wisdom—that do
sometimes prevent the dynamic from clicking in, then egalitarian
societies of any sort would never have been possible. Remember, too, how
little courage is usually required to thwart bullies who are not backed
up by any sort of institutional power. Most of all, remember that when
the bullies really are backed up by such power, the heroes may be those
who simply run away.”
–David Graeber “The Bully’s Pulpit”


I’m a huge advocate of horizontal organization or egalitarian culture or whatever you want to call it, but this definitely begins to get complicated when you look at certain earth-based cultures. The cultures of the Northwest such as the Kwakwaka’wakw people of Northern Vancouver Island and the adjacent mainland of so-called BC, developed a complex society while maintaining real sustainability. With abundant shellfish, fish, land mammals and most importantly cultivated gardens of roots, these folks aren’t exactly non-hierarchical. There are established lines of leadership and chiefs, and even forms of land ownership. Some Northwest peoples held slaves (please don’t let this be misconstrued as trying to justify colonization as it has been used) and had distinct classes, trading, currency and social institutions. All of this while maintaing a connection to the Earth that many elders struggle to keep alive today in the face of racist colonial policies that exist around us. On the land of the Kalapuyan people (called Portland by colonizers) people had massive food surpluses because of the wapato roots which grew in various wetland areas of the Lower Columbia River. Other Chinookan peoples were the same way. I think there absolutely can be leaders without systematic oppression or destruction of the Earth, but it isn’t as black-and-white as I think we would like to believe. True community can take many forms and I think it sometimes serves to have ceremonial or political leaders who can direct the actions of a group.


I agree that it’s not black and white. David Graeber and David Wengrow discuss this exact issue in their recent paper Farewell to the ‘Childhood of Man’: Ritual, Seasonality, and the origins of inequality. (Not publicly available. It’s here for $ http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-9655.12247/full).

Here’s a video where they discuss their paper.

Abstract of that paper: Here we develop an alternative model of ‘Palaeolithic politics’, which
emphasizes the ability of hunter-gatherers to alternate – consciously
and deliberately – between contrasting modes of political organization,
including a variety of hierarchical and egalitarian possibilities. We
propose that alternations of this sort were an emergent property of
human societies in the highly seasonal environments of the last Ice Age.
We further consider some implications of the model for received
concepts of social evolution, with particular attention to the
distinction between ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ hunter-gatherers.