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Psychology, Ideology, Utopia,
and the Commons

Dennis R. Fox


American Psychologist, 40, 48-58

This was my first lengthy, substantive article, which I wrote while I was a graduate student instead of working on my dissertation. It blended my interests: psychology's role in maintaining an unjust status quo, the nature of human needs and values, anarchist theory, and environmental politics.

One of the responses the article initiated was pretty critical. Fortunately, I had the final word.

Note: This version does not exactly match the published version!


The failure of social scientists to seriously question their own ideological and methodological assumptions contributes to the complex interrelationship between global ecological and individual psychological problems. Much of the literature on the tragedy of the commons focuses on saving the global commons through increased centralization and regulation, at the expense of the individual's autonomy and psychological sense of community. "Utopian" speculation in general and anarchist political analysis in particular are necessary correctives to misplaced attempts to merely rearrange the elements of the status quo rather than to radically alter it in a direction more in keeping with both survival and human dignity.


Psychologists who turn their energies toward the solution of societal and global problems frequently find themselves in exasperated agreement with M. B. Smith's (1972) exclamation that "In social policy, how often it turns out that to make headway on one problem, another equally difficult one must be attacked!" (p. 118). Thus, not surprisingly, over the years there have been a number of calls to "attempt to understand social problems in their entirety, from a more systemic, holistic viewpoint, rather than concentrating on only a single dimension of the problem and proposing piecemeal solutions" (Caplan & Nelson, 1973, p. 305). Unfortunately, such calls all too often are ignored by investigators who fail to question the single-issue approach that typifies research on a number of human dilemmas. Even more distressing, though, is that many of those who do consciously advocate more radical, comprehensive solutions similarly fail to examine their own basic assumptions and, as a result, their proposals all too often point in the wrong direction.

In one sense, of course, even the liberal "tinkerer" approach is an improvement over the conservative "pure scientist" insistence that scientists striving for objectivity should not advocate change at all. Yet although many psychologists do agree with Bevan's (1982) urging of a moral commitment to help resolve national problems, most don't seem to follow through on the logic of his point (originally expressed by Miller, 1969), that these "human problems, if taken seriously, will surely require humankind to change its behavior, both individually and collectively, and, more likely than not, its social institutions as well" (Bevan, 1982, p. 1316). Psychologists who have urged their peers to seriously challenge, rather than strengthen, the status quo remain a minority, and those in the moderate-to-liberal mainstream generally act on the belief that social change is possible--and desirable--only within a narrow, "realistic" range of options.

Academics who do suggest radical change in order to cope with environmental degradation, resource scarcity, economic and political disorder, and personal distress are found more often in the other social sciences than in psychology (a situation that should in itself stimulate some thought among psychologists concerning their own place in society). Unfortunately, such radical proposals generally come either from the Marxist left, advocating the transformation of the capitalist state into a centralized socialist one, or from the Hobbesian right, advocating the abandonment of equality and individual freedom in order to preserve the global environment. These proposals are on the surface far-reaching. However, because their faith in centralized state power channels their research questions, methods, and conclusions, the "radical centralists" actually stand in the way of the kinds of approaches that are needed just as surely as do the liberal tinkerers who are committed to maintaining the social system essentially in its current form.

For present purposes, the dilemmas of modern society may usefully be divided into two broad categories: problems of global ecology and problems of individual needs and values. These two categories are intertwined; central to my argument is the view that only solutions capable of solving both sets of problems can in the long run solve either set. As a consequence of this interrelatedness, attempts to solve global or individual problems in isolation not only fail but, even worse, they frequently result in further complicating problems of the other type. What I am suggesting here is that psychologists need to place greater emphasis on seeking comprehensive solutions that foster not liberal reform or radical centralization but, rather, radical decentralization. Only by such a process can we avert major global crises while we simultaneously expand human dignity and meet human needs.

This argument--that we seriously consider the utopian goal of a decentralized, federated society of smaller, autonomous communities--combines several lines of thought generally pursued independently, including Moos and Brownstein's (1977) insistence that some form of political ecological utopia is necessary in order to preserve the environment; the suggestion that decentralization in one form or another would in fact help resolve global dilemmas (e.g., Edney, 1980, 1981a; Harris, 1981; Tax, 1977; Taylor, 1976); and Sarason's (1976/1982) acknowledgement of what he called the anarchist insight that the centralized state has compounded individual problems related to both autonomy and a psychological sense of community. That this argument is in part an ideological one (explicitly based on anarchist analyses, which most fully combine the separate components into a comprehensive whole) rather than simply an empirical one, should be clear; what should also be clear is that any opposing arguments are similarly ideological. Decisions about which human needs and values are most important to fulfill, what form an alternative society should take, or which methods of transition are preferred cannot be based solely on "objective" criteria. Social science is not--and cannot be--value free (Rein, 1976).

It is not my goal here to spell out the details of a decentralized world. Working out such details will take many years of speculation, imaginative investigation, and actual attempts to bring such a society about. My goals, rather, are to point out the necessity of getting on with that working-out process now; to urge psychologists to recognize the importance of "develop[ing] the habit of mind that could see alternatives" (Stoehr, 1979, p. xxviii); and to participate in the crucial process of exposing our own basic assumptions to constructive peer criticism. There is, of course, no guarantee that even a significantly decentralized society would be able to resolve the entire multidimensional complex of global and individual problems, for the obstacles are immense, and no single approach will be totally successful. What I am arguing, however, is that only a decentralized society has any chance at all of surviving in a form that is fully acceptable to most human beings because only in such a society can solutions to both sets of problems be consistent rather than contradictory.

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Societal Problems and the Search for Solutions

Problems of GlobalEcology

Social scientists have reacted in a number of ways to the existence of global crises and potential crises. Their responses, of course, have been consistent with their ideological assumptions, resulting in the unfortunate avoidance of several possibly productive avenues of research and speculation.

As an example, one major emphasis within psychology and other fields has been a growing literature that is in large part an outgrowth of Hardin's 1968 article on "the tragedy of the commons." Hardin, a biologist, described a situation in which "rational" individuals looking out only for their own self-interest will inevitably destroy what they use in common, so long as they each get the full benefit of their individual use of the commons but only have to pay a small percentage of the costs (note the assumptions behind Hardin's definition of rationality, which comes directly from similar treatments in the economics literature--e.g., Olson, 1965). Hardin advocated the public acceptance of stringent controls on the right to have children and to consume resources, in the belief that people will not voluntarily cooperate for the good of all in a large global commons. He later went on to urge the adoption of a "lifeboat ethics" as a means of ensuring human survival in an overpopulated world (Hardin, 1972; Hardin & Baden, 1977).

Hardin's thesis has been echoed by many who have accepted his assumption of scarcity, his profit-maximization view of human nature, and his call for a stronger, more coercive, centralized state capable of saving the commons. Heilbroner (1980), for example, wrote that "as I examine the prospect ahead, I not only predict but I prescribe a centralization of power as the only means by which our threatened and dangerous civilization will make way for its successor" (p. 175). True, Heilbroner indicated a measure of discomfort with his prescription, and with his view that survival depends on our "susceptibility to appeals to national identity" and our "willingness to accept authority" (p. 175), but he saw little hope of any alternative.

Research in social psychology has focused on prisoner's dilemma games, market simulations, bystander intervention, and related areas in an attempt to identify the conditions under which the tragedy comes into play. Researchers often agree, explicitly or implicitly, with the conclusions of Hardin and Heilbroner: In our modern, technological, complicated world, a tragedy of monumental scope is inevitable unless we resort to increased centralized governmental power (see the examination of this view by Orbell & Dawes, 1981, as well as the review by Stroebe & Frey, 1982). This seemingly obvious centralist conclusion, however, is convincing largely because it has what A. Roberts (1979) called "the advantage of simplicity" (p. 159), an advantage that leads to the "largely uncritical acceptance of...false assumptions" and to "a search for salvation along paths which all unwittingly lead to destruction. We might call it 'the tragedy of "The Tragedy of the Commons"'" (p. 161).

Problems of Individual Needs and Values

We see the problems of global ecology as problems because at least in the long run they threaten individuals. Regardless of whether widespread world hunger, for example, is primarily the result of too many people, inefficient resource distribution, the unnecessarily exalted place of protein-wasteful meat in the industrialized world's diet, capitalist exploitation of the third world by multinational corporations, or some combination of these and other factors (Lappe & Collins, 1978), the fact remains that people die as a consequence of large-scale societal processes not under their own immediate control; at the same time, the combined actions of millions of individuals shape those same global events. This obvious link between developments in the larger society and attempts by individuals to satisfy their survival needs stands at the core of modern ecological thought on global dilemmas.

Perhaps less obvious is the fact that our ability to satisfy our psychological needs, values, goals, and so on is similarly affected by (just as it affects) events at the global level. Yet understanding this aspect of the interaction is crucial in order to evaluate proposed solutions to problems at either level.

Determining what our needs and values actually are (or should be), how they are formed (at least given our particular social, economic, and historical context), whether they can be changed, and how individuals can best satisfy them has been a preoccupation, understandably, of large numbers of psychologists from a variety of theoretical perspectives, many of whom have filled bookstore shelves with advice to troubled individuals about how to relate to others, be creative, establish priorities, avoid shyness, escape depression, act assertively, and cope with the seemingly inevitable stresses of modern life. Examining the plethora of individual motives can be simplified somewhat by the common procedure of separating them into those related to autonomy (such as agency, individuality, assertiveness, achievement, and freedom) and those related to what Sarason (1974) called a psychological sense of community (such as communion, interdependence, cooperation, affiliation, intimacy, and belongingness). There are other needs and values, of course, that cannot easily be placed in either category, but this distinction, which has been considered central by a large number of theorists (e.g., Bakan, 1966; Hogan, 1983), remains particularly useful.

Stone (1974) pointed out that it is especially in the work of psychologists such as Adler, Dewey, and Fromm that there is a central focus on "the theme of self in community [which] stresses the interdependence of individual people" (p. 263). Within social psychology, this fundamental individual-group distinction often dictates a two-part structure to introductory textbooks. Variations of the autonomy-psychological sense of community theme come into Milgram's (1974) assumption that a "potential for obedience is the prerequisite of...[hierarchical] social organization" (p. 125); into Rokeach's (1973, 1979) model of political ideology based upon the relative importance of freedom and equality in individual value systems; and of course into the tragedy of the commons literature's frequent emphasis on inducing people to cooperate for the common good. Topics such as equity, androgyny, group size and satisfaction, leadership styles, psychological reactance, and worker control of their jobs relate in one way or another to conceptions of the most satisfying (or legitimate, or productive, or moral) balance between the two.

Aronson (1980, p. 13) noted that the "tension between values associated with individuality and values associated with conformity" has been a focus of philosophical debate and political activity from Aristotle through Hobbes and Rousseau to the present. Too often, however, what has been given sole philosophical consideration has been the conflict between the community's "right" to insist on individual participation and the individual's "right" to be autonomous; what has been relatively neglected within both philosophy and psychology has been consideration of the importance to the individual not only of autonomy but, also, of a positive sense of belonging and mutuality. Also neglected, it should be added, are the benefits for the society as a whole of having members who are in control of the important areas of their lives.

Bakan (1966) urged psychologists to place more of an emphasis on balancing agency with the equally important "communion feature of the psyche" (p. 56). His point has been repeated in one form or another by a number of psychologists in recent years who have criticized their peers for being preoccupied with a liberal concern for "self-contained individualism," for promoting selfishness at the expense of interdependence and community, or for assuming that all human motivation can adequately be explained by reference to maximization of profits or other self-oriented needs (e.g., Hogan, 1973, 1975; Kanfer, 1979; Lerner, 1982; Sampson, 1977, 1978, 1981; Wallach & Wallach, 1983; Yankelovich, 1982; however, see Waterman, 1981). Although some of these criticisms come from an essentially conservative direction, others do not--see, for example, Chomsky (1969/1981b), who noted that "surely this concept of economic man is a psychological absurdity which leads to untold suffering for those who try to mold themselves to this pattern, as well as for their victims" (p. 226). Regardless of its ideological origins, however, the essential point--that psychological health requires a balance between individual autonomy and a psychological sense of community--must be taken seriously by those who advocate radical solutions to societal problems as well as by those who cling to their preference for liberal reform.

Towards Comprehensive Solutions

The question remains: How can we preserve the global commons while at the same time facilitating the individual's attainment of both autonomy and a psychological sense of community?

The difficulty with most proposed solutions for ecological crises is that although they sometimes appear to be efficient ways of dealing with a deteriorating ecosystem, they treat only the symptoms and fail to cure the underlying disease. In addition, the common call for increased coercive centralization would, if enacted, contribute to a further increase in individual psychological problems by reducing both autonomy and interdependence within communities and by increasing alienation, routinization, and competition. It is not surprising that popular resistance to such state-coercive solutions is widespread.

On the other hand, attempts to deal with the problems of individuals solely through one-to-one therapy, general education, the establishment of support networks, or minor institutional change don't go far enough. As Albee (1982, p. 1044) pointed out, "more widespread and expensive social reform" is needed to prevent--rather than just "treat"--the "emotional distress and mental disturbance in our society [which] is due to dehumanizing social influences" such as oppression, meaningless work, racism, and sexism. The American "person-blame" ideology (Caplan & Nelson, 1973) deflects concern away from the political, economic, and social status quo and often results, for those not simply struggling to survive, in the single-minded pursuit of power, career, and material goods. Such a pursuit directly interferes with the attainment of interdependence. To make matters worse, the resulting overemphasis on materialism puts further strain on scarce resources, thus actually contributing to the more rapid depletion of the commons and, in turn, to still more problems for individuals.

The general reluctance among social scientists to advocate, or even investigate, comprehensive solutions of the kind that are needed is illustrated within the literature on the tragedy of the commons. The treatment received by the few exceptions is instructive: When they have not been ignored they have generally been relegated to short footnotes; only rarely have they been directly and fully disputed.

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The Tragedy of the Tragedy

Dissent on the Commons

Shortly after Hardin's (1968) original article, Crowe (1969) claimed that several of Hardin's crucial assumptions were unsupportable. Briefly, he argued that in large, modern states there can realistically be no general agreement about which values to fulfill, which interests to pursue; that, consequently, coercive force will always be inadequate, unable to ensure full compliance with centralized policies; and that any probable centralized bureaucracy is likely to be subject to interest-group pressures that would open the commons to differential exploitation. He went on to suggest that "emerging forms of tribal behavior" may be "the last hope of reducing political and social institutions to a level" where problems might be resolved:

We might well assume that the departure from the tribal experience is a short-run deviant experiment that failed. As we stand "on the eve of destruction," it may well be that the return to the face-to-face life in the small community unmediated by the electronic media is a very functional response in terms of the perpetuation of the species. (p. 1106)

Hardin and Baden (1977) did reprint Crowe's article, along with a response to it by Ostrom (1977). But, with only occasional exceptions, the sporadic reaction has been limited to little more than passing reference to Crowe's pessimistic attitude. Hardin (1972) did note that Crowe convinced him he had "grossly underestimated" the difficulty of the quis custodiet problem ["Who shall watch the watchers themselves?"] but he then added that "If I differ at all from Crowe, I think it is in my optimism" (p. 247; see also M. B. Smith, 1972).

Taylor's (1976) critical analysis of the mathematical assumptions of prisoner's dilemma games and the logical and historical assumptions of Hardin's arguments has been cited more often than Crowe's, but also usually in lists of citations or in footnotes that do not adequately raise, let alone respond to, the points he made (e.g., Orbell & Dawes, 1981, p. 45; Orbell & Wilson, 1978, p. 412, footnote 3, and p. 413, footnote 5; for one of the few exceptions, see Laver, 1980). Taylor pointed out that the lowered level of voluntary cooperation typically found in large groups and nations does not necessarily mean that the state has to be strengthened; just as logical is the conclusion that society should be reorganized as a network of smaller groups that would encourage a sense of belonging and enhance cooperation. Taylor argued that people who come to rely on the state to control their affairs lose the ability to function autonomously, and that in the absence of a centralized state people would eventually regain that ability as well as their motivation to protect the commons.

Edney (1980, 1981a) also argued that long-term solutions will require, among a number of other approaches, breaking down the commons into smaller segments. He reviewed experimental data showing that cooperative behavior is indeed more common in smaller groups. After estimating that "the upper limit for a simple, self-contained, sustaining, well-functioning commons may be as low as 150 people" (1981a, p. 27), he listed the following "functional benefits" of reducing group size: Improved communication helps sustain necessary feedback; greater visibility of member distress during scarcity enhances the probability of remedial action; individual responsibilities are harder to avoid; alienation is reduced; and the role of money is reduced. Also, with many small commons instead of one large one, shortages in one cannot endanger the whole, and free riders have limited impact. "The improved focus on the group itself, the greater ease of monitoring exploitative power, and the opportunities for trust to develop among individuals with face-to-face contact are also enhanced" (1981a, p. 28).

Some of these points bring to mind the distinction between communal and exchange relationships (Clark & Mills, 1979). As the size of the group decreases, as trust increases along with the development of a sense of family or we, the self-oriented exchange relationships taken for granted in the commons literature should be minimized. As Hyde (1983) pointed out,

It remains an unsolved dilemma of the modern world, one to which anarchists have repeatedly addressed themselves, as to how we are to preserve true community in a mass society, one whose dominant value is exchange value and whose morality has been codified into law. (p. 89)

Other areas of research that touch on many of these same points include the literature on empathy and altruism (e.g., Batson & Coke, 1981; Hornstein, 1976), the long-standing evidence that people are more likely to remain committed to decisions they have had a part in making (Lewin, 1947), and the view that levels of cooperation and competition are dependent on variable cultural values (e.g., Boulding, 1979; McClintock, 1974).

Cultural values are also important in the very creation of scarcity in the first place. Referring to the work of Calabresi and Bobbitt (1978), Edney (1981a) noted that much of the depletion of the commons is the result of production and distribution priorities established by individuals; such priorities need not be taken for granted. The implication is that in a smaller, less alienating community materialistic values would change. Cooperation, joint consumption, and less individual accumulation would go a long way toward reducing scarcity now seen as inevitable, especially as people in the individualistic "overdeveloped" world reduce their disproportionate use of natural resources and recognize the benefits--not only for the rest of humanity but for themselves as well--of a simpler lifestyle (Barbour, 1980).

Resistance to the Dissent

Many of the criticisms raised by Crowe, Taylor, Edney, and others (e.g., A. Roberts, 1979; R. Routley & V. Routley, 1982; V. Routley & R. Routley, 1980) have been supported by experimental evidence. People in groups do tend to cooperate more when the groups are small, when the group members have interacted repeatedly over time and expect to continue doing so in the future, and when the members can communicate with one another about their decisions. Cooperation enhances continued cooperation as trust increases. So why do most social scientists not even discuss the conclusions drawn by those dissenting from the centralized-state approach?

Most people apparently assume that a decentralist approach is either impossible or unappealing. Dismissing radical decentralization as impossible, however, may have more to do with unquestioned preferences for the status quo or for centralist alternatives, perhaps based on a pessimistic negative view of human nature, than it does with an open-minded exploration of the evidence. (The debate over this can get quite heated--see Shippee's, 1981, response to Edney, 1980, and Edney's, 1981b, rejoinder.) Even though Hardin and Baden (1977) include an article that clearly demonstrates the ability of over 200 Hutterite communities in the United States and Canada to resolve commons dilemmas (Bullock & Baden, 1977), and even though they acknowledge the higher level of cooperation in small groups, they just don't consider such small-scale communal efforts to be a useful model (Baden, 1977, p. 138; Hardin, 1977a, p. 71).

Adding to the problem is that researchers generally do not even take decentralist autonomous-community solutions into account. As an example, although Messick et al. (1983) cited both Crowe (1969) and Edney (1980), their research goal was to discover only

when or under what circumstances individuals will voluntarily relinquish their freedom of access to a commons by turning the management of the commons over to a centralized authority. Specifically, we are interested in the conditions under which users of a commons will prefer to elect an individual who will have absolute authority to allocate a common resource in preference to allowing all individuals in a group free access to the resource. (p. 296)

Certainly in the real world, however--in the real commons--people have many more options than totally free individual access and dictatorial "absolute authority." Unlike the real world, Messick et al.'s subjects had no face-to-face communication; they were assigned to six-person "groups" that were in fact composed of six individuals (isolated in semiprivate booths) whose only (perceived) contact with one another was by computer. Significantly, these "groups" were not given the option of choosing an actual group meeting where an optimal strategy could be worked out by all through discussion and mutual agreement. It is not surprising, therefore, that the subjects tended to opt for a leader to save their dwindling resources, considering the only alternative they were allowed. Research that is limited to these two choices forecloses the possibility that other arrangements will be selected, and contributes to the widespread assumption that centralized authority is the sole rational solution.

The view that a society of small, autonomous communities would be unappealing is also a factor in the failure to take decentralization seriously. Significant decentralization and increased within-community interdependence would undoubtedly lead to a decrease in many of the individualistic career-and-material-comfort pursuits now a staple of American culture. Decentralized society would be very different, and there are many who like things the way they are--including many psychologists who have a stake in preserving the status quo (Sarason, 1981). Young (1980) noted that some objections to "deurbanization" might be met by the creation of worthwhile alternatives; in the meantime, though, it should not be surprising that research along the lines suggested here is so scarce.

What many people find unappealing about decentralization is what they call the "mindless conformity" of the "small-town mentality." It is important to note that advocates of a decentralized society of smaller autonomous communities are usually not thinking in terms of small towns as they exist today. Such towns are hardly autonomous, and they provide few opportunities for the face-to-face intimacy and cultural variety possible in the kibbutz, in the commune, and occasionally in the old ethnic neighborhood.

Aronson (1980) pointed out that "it's easier for an individual who is securely ensconced in a group to deviate from that group" (p. 24); he also speculated that people are more likely to help others when there is a feeling of "common fate," when there is mutuality and not merely common residence in the same area. Much of the supposedly mindless conformity ascribed to small towns--and of course present in similar forms in the universities, corporations, and other bureaucracies in the big cities as well--may be a reflection of the fact that many people do not feel "securely ensconced" in any group; even in small towns, "mutuality" is often missing from the lives of the residents. The value structure of modern American society (Williams, 1970) and the disruptions caused by long-term societal trends hardly encourage the sense of security and commonality that may be needed for people to become more open to the idiosyncrasies of their neighbors.

Anarchists and the Commons

Aronson's point about the possibility of increased independence within the context of an accepting group has been echoed by the anarchist Bookchin (1982), who argued that individual freedom is only possible within the interdependence of a "free community." Such a view, in fact--that community and individuality must be merged in "communal individuality" (Ritter, 1980)--has traditionally been emphasized by the anarchists on the political left considered here, sometimes known as libertarian socialists or anarchocommunists (though not, it should be noted, by anarchocapitalists or "libertarians" on the political right).

Although the term anarchy is generally used by the media to mean "chaotic" or "violent," bringing to the public mind images of bomb-throwing psychopaths, and even though some people who refer to themselves as anarchists seem to use the term primarily for its shock value or as a way of labelling their personal rejection of all societal order, the truth is somewhat more complex. As Barclay (1982) noted, anarchism as a political philosophy is

not opposed to structure, to order or to society....The issue for anarchists is not whether there should be structure or order, but what kind there should be and what its sources ought to be. The individual or group which has sufficient liberty to be self-regulating will have the highest degree of order; the imposition of order from above and outside induces resentment and rebellion where it does not encourage childlike dependence and impotence, and so becomes a force for disorder. (p. 17)

The anarchist view that competition and violence are not inevitable parts of human nature was developed by, among others, Kropotkin, whose Mutual A: A Factor in Evolution (1902/1955) is still cited in the psychological literature as evidence of natural tendencies toward cooperation that have great survival value among both humans and other animals (e.g., Aronson, 1980, p. 167). Although of course there have been violent anarchists, anarchist philosophy is clearly compatible with the creation of a nonviolent and cooperative world, as many pacifist anarchists have insisted.

The typical anarchist view of human nature, it should be clear, is in direct contrast to Hardin's (1977b, p. 126), who wrote that "As Leo Durocher said: 'Nice guys finish last.' Our ancestors did not finish last." Most anarchists would disagree with the reasons for our ancestors' success, though some have argued that even if human nature is indeed as hopelessly greedy, competitive, and power-oriented as many people assume, then "the beauty of the decentralist, anarchist position is that nobody can do much harm....[If] people are corrupt as hell, therefore don't give anybody any power...because the people who have power are not going to be any better" (Goodman, 1972/1979, p. 271).

In pointing out to community psychologists the need to take into account the effect of the centralized state on the individual, Sarason (1976/1982) described what he called the essential two-part "anarchist insight." First, he noted,

The central state (and its governmental apparatus), by its very nature and dynamics, inevitably becomes a force alien to the interests of its people, and the stronger the state becomes, the more it enslaves people in the sense that they are required, they are forced, to do things they do not want to do; i.e., there is addilution in personal autonomy. The rhetoric of the state is one thing; its actual operations are something else again. (p. 140)

At the same time, according to Sarason, paralleling Taylor's (1976) argument discussed above,

The more powerful the state becomes, the more its people look to it as the fount of initiative and succor, the more is the psychological sense of community diluted. That is to say, the more the lives of people are a consequence of decisions made by Kafkaesque officialdom, the more they are robbed of those communal bonds and responsibility upon which the sense of rootedness is built. (p. 140)

Sarason's statement clarifies the traditional anarchist position that the creation of a decentralized society of small self-managed communities not subject to the dictates of a centralized state--though federated with other communities for necessary coordination--would be psychologically healthier; it would enhance cooperation and help transform individualistic, materialistic values into values that are less damaging for individuals as well as for the community as a whole. By definition, anarchists oppose solutions that lead to greater state power (Bookchin, for example, has bluntly criticized what he calls Hardin's "ecofascist ethics"--1980, p. 277) and they look approvingly at societies where both autonomy and interdependence are simultaneously emphasized, such as those of the Hopi (Bookchin, 1980) and the Eskimo (Barclay, 1982). Goodman (1966/1979, p. 176) pointed out that what he called the "anarchist principle," which holds "that valuable behavior occurs only by the free and direct response of individuals or voluntary groups to the conditions presented by the historical environment," is "a social-psychological hypothesis with obvious political implications" (see also Chomsky, 1973, 1981a).

Although Sarason did not directly relate the anarchist insight to problems of global ecology, the connection is one that anarchists themselves have often made. Kropotkin, it should be remembered, was a biologist; Comfort (1982) in fact called him the founder of ecology, and Bookchin (1971), who refers to himself as a social ecologist, has long insisted that only an anarchist society can be ecological. Anarchist proposals for dealing with the environment form the core of many of the dissents from the centralist tendency in the commons literature, whether those arguments are couched in explicitly anarchist terminology (Taylor, 1976) or not (Edney, 1980, 1981a). Similarly, Ophuls (1977) noted that the environmental question "is so close to the central problem of anarchism that it is perhaps the most directly relevant body of theory for many of the critical issues" (p. 235).

Maslow (1971) too approved of the anarchist emphasis on an ecological relationship with nature, its stress on decentralization, local autonomy, and personal responsibility, and its mistrust of force, large organizations, and large accumulations of power. Deploring the fact that "most intellectuals know little or nothing about philosophical anarchism" (p. 207), he went on to identify anarchy as the level of organization in politics and economics for those who have "transcended" self-actualization (p. 275-276).

Defenses of anarchism are not limited to the view that an anarchist society would be psychologically healthier for its members and more in tune with environmental realities. Anarchism, for example, has also been advocated on philosophical grounds (e.g., Ritter, 1980; Wolff, 1970). In addition, many anthropologists have contended that the small egalitarian anarchy is "the oldest type of polity and one which has characterized most of human history" (Barclay, 1982, p. 12; see also Fried, 1967, and Taylor, 1982). In contrast to the popular Hobbesian tone of much current thought, Barclay noted that "clearly, the anthropological record does not support Hobbes in any way. Stateless societies seem less violent and brutish than those with the state" (1982, p. 28; see also Orbell & Rutherford, 1973).

Whether anarchism has anything to offer us today is both an empirical and an ideological question. Proposals by anarchist theorists, however, as well as solutions offered by social scientists dissenting from the mainstream ideology, are most often dismissed not because they are necessarily wrong, but because they are considered to be impractical, utopian, impossible in the modern world. Some anarchists, of course, simply reject these charges outright; others assert that, based on their reading of history, the extent to which anarchism is practical remains an open but hopeful question, and that in any case the adoption of an anarchist perspective in analyzing contemporary society provides the most meaningful yardstick with which to measure the ultimate value of proposed social changes (Chomsky, 1973; Comfort, 1982; Falk, 1978; Goodman, 1966/1979; Joll, 1979; Perlin, 1979; Taylor, 1982; Ward, 1973).

Practicality and Utopian Speculation

Whether anarchist or some other kind of truly radical solutions--perhaps, for example, the partial decentralization advocated by Hawken, Ogilvy, and Schwartz (1982)--can ultimately be fully realized is of less immediate importance than is the usefulness of our engaging even in "impractical" speculation (Wrightsman, 1974). The utopian label is often pinned on calls for comprehensive change as a means of dismissing them from serious consideration. However, utopia "seems unrealizable only from the point of view of a given social order which is already in existence" (Mannheim, 1936/1960, p. 190); such social orders come and go, and those who indulge in utopian thinking may be more prepared for, and sympathetic to, the inevitability of widespread societal transformation.

A number of psychologists have explicitly recognized the importance of encouraging utopian speculation as a means of approaching social problems (e.g., Maslow, 1965; Moos & Brownstein, 1977; Morawski, 1982; Wrightsman, 1974). Maslow, for example, taught a course in "Utopian Social Psychology" that was concerned with "the empirical and realistic questions: How good a society does human nature permit? How good a human nature does society permit? What is possible and feasible? What is not?" (1971, p. 203). He also noted that "no Utopia can be constructed henceforth...without making peace with the concept of synergy" (p. 200), referring to Ruth Benedict's notion of a society in which the social structure "provides for acts which are mutually reinforcing" (p. 194); this emphasis on synergy is clearly related to recent analyses of how people's well-being is directly affected by the degree of congruence or "fit" between them and their environment (Stokols, 1978).

There is at least the possibility that those environmental constraints on our behavior that we ourselves have created can in the future be altered. Although of course we will never have a perfect society, increased utopian speculation on the part of social scientists would enhance the possibility of seeking--and perhaps finding--more effective solutions to complex problems. Without the goal of a synergistic ecological utopia, we are likely to continue floundering, perhaps making progress on some fronts as we retreat on others. Keeping utopia in mind can prevent our settling for minor reforms when more significant change might be possible.

Attempts to actually create alternative or utopian societies have been common throughout history (see Gardner, 1978; Manuel, 1966; Manuel & Manuel, 1979; Moment & Kraushaar, 1980). Even now there is a six-member Federation of Egalitarian Communities partly inspired by Skinner's (1948/1962) Walden Two, with hundreds of other unaffiliated communes scattered across the United States. Communities: Journal of Cooperation has been published regularly, largely by members of several communes, for over a decade. In Israel, the kibbutz system, heavily influenced by socialist and anarchist utopians early in this century, is the most successful commune federation in the world; also thriving is the network of North American Hutterite communities (Bullock & Baden, 1977).

Alternative communities have their problems, of course, as might be expected given the difficulties faced by people attempting to radically alter their own behavior. Shey (1977), for example, discussed communes that failed partly because of interpersonal conflict growing out of strong individualistic values (see also Kanter, 1973). Still, Taylor (1982) noted that "The secular family commune is probably unique in the degree to which community and autonomy are together valued, sought after, and in some instances successfully achieved in practice" (p. 162). What we now need is increased interest among social scientists in stimulating more practice, as well as increased institutional support for such experiments.

What a decentralized society would look like, and how members of different autonomous communities would end up defining for themselves the appropriate balance between individual autonomy and psychological sense of community, remains to be worked out in the future. It is only after utopia is made a goal that

the long and difficult undertaking of defining the content for a new society can begin....Through a variety of mechanisms--traditional and innovative--utopian frameworks must be presented, debated, and advocated. In the parlance of contemporary media, utopia must become an issue and, as an issue, receive a place on the political agenda of our society. (Moos & Brownstein, 1977, p. 277)


Edney (1981a) discussed the necessity of including both social values and social structures in any analysis of social problems. He also wrote that the most effective solutions must come through a two-part process: first, "basic investigations of the nature of behavior" of individuals within their social settings, and, only as a second step, "technical questions of how to effect changes and what parameters to employ" (1980, p. 148). Unfortunately, social science solutions all too often do not adequately take into account the first step; consequently, answers to the "technical questions" are essentially limited by largely unquestioned preconceived notions.

Similarly, basic assumptions about the proper methods of social science research stand in the way of more creative approaches to the study of social change. Fortunately, there has been some movement in recent years away from a strict insistence on the "carefully controlled quantitative approach of the physical science laboratory" towards approaches that preserve the "richness of our observations" (Bevan, 1982, p. 1310). Bevan's complaint about "self-limiting" specialization--"the most serious question facing organized psychology today" (p. 1311)--brings to mind Buss's (1975) call for psychology to become "holistic and humanistic." Academic overspecialization and rigid adherence to the dominant experimental paradigm are not likely to lead to comprehensive social change.

As the traditional quantitative research methods are balanced by qualitative ones (Agar, 1980; Bogdan & Taylor, 1975; Ginsburg, 1979; Morgan, 1983; Patton, 1980; H. Roberts, 1981; Sanford, 1982) and as long-held assumptions about the nature of social science and about the connection between psychology and the status quo are questioned on a number of grounds (Caplan & Nelson, 1973; Harre, 1980; Harre & Secord, 1972; Kendler, 1981; Manicas & Secord, 1983; Reason & Rowan, 1981; Rosnow, 1981; Sarason, 1981; K. K. Smith & White, 1983; Staats, 1983; Wexler, 1983), perhaps psychologists will become more willing to question their own personal ideologies, values, and goals. Such a development is necessary if psychologists are to make a real contribution toward the resolution of global commons dilemmas without sacrificing the individual's autonomy and psychological sense of community in the name of the "survival of the species." Survival is of course crucial, but it cannot be our only goal. After all, "other animals may obey the simple dictum, 'Above all, survive!' but the human animal tends to ask, 'Survive as what?'" (A. Roberts, 1979, p. 10).

Utopian thought in general, and anarchist thought in particular, could be dismissed quite easily were it not for two factors. For one thing, as Moos and Brownstein (1977) pointed out, utopian solutions are now a necessity rather than a luxury.

For another, traditional anarchist accounts of human motives and social organization happen to mesh surprisingly well with recent psychological theory and with the data at hand. While most people assume the commune is impossible, the neighborhood dead, and the alienating existence of mass society here to stay, anarchists reasonably suggest as a long-range goal an "organized anarchy"--a decentralized society of federated autonomous communities that would be better able to deal simultaneously with both global and individual problems at their source. Refusing to consider anarchist perspectives and failing to question our own basic assumptions may ultimately lead to tragedies that could otherwise be avoided.

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