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My world has a very special political system.

There are no leaders, no dictators, no monarchies nor democracy, nor ... I think you get the point.

But wait it's not the case to say there is a non existing political system at all! Instead let's describe what are the characteristics of this system.

The political system in my world is such that the citizens believe that all other citizens will keep contributing to welfare of all society.

They are educated enough to live without any kind of authority overseeing them, hence the lack of a leader. They can take their own decisions and they are able to adjust their actions according to their local needs (for instance if there would be a food shortage they would start producing more food).

Basically the people are the political system.

Now I know we can write pretty much what we want on a book. But is this just an Utopian idea, or how could it be feasible?

How long could a society live without surveillance/leadership?

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    $\begingroup$ 1. To what extent has evolution trained your population to be altruistic. 2. What was the standard group size of groups in which your population was organized in archaic times? (Note that according to some theories egalitarian society structures in human society work moderately well up to a group size equivalent to Dunbar's number (of the order 100-300 individuals) beyond which you get too many violent conflicts. The reason given for this is that archaic humans were organized in groups up to that size.) $\endgroup$ – 0range Nov 30 '16 at 12:19
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    $\begingroup$ The name for such a political system, broadly, is "anarchism". There has been a lot of philosophical discussion of it, and there are probably whole university courses dedicated to answering your question. $\endgroup$ – IMSoP Nov 30 '16 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have an idea of how your people might form a consensus to handle larger tasks? Or do they form large decisions like this at all? For example, if they need to be defended and need to erect a wooden wall in the next 5 days, the value of that wall is all or nothing. Either enough people decide to pitch in, and the wall gets built, or too few people pitch in, and all effort spent on the wall is wasted (and thus not in the interests of the community). A community that doesn't seek a consensus on such matters would have to have a very special structure indeed. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Nov 30 '16 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ Every time someone tries to write a utopia where the people are perfect they write themselves into a corner that ends up showing their society as a dystopia. You can't easily have agency without boundaries and structure. To answer your question, first answer this question: "What does your society do with an individual that fails to conform in either belief, action, or both?" $\endgroup$ – Adam Davis Nov 30 '16 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ Ursula K Le Guin has written a book exploring this very concept: The Dispossessed. It's about a group of anarchists who colonize their planet's moon and live there without contact with the outside for ~150 years. I recommend checking it out. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dispossessed $\endgroup$ – Shevek Nov 30 '16 at 22:22

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What you are describing sounds like some form of Anarchism, and it has the same issues.

Like, who has the authority to solve a dispute between two uncooperative parties and enforce the resolution? How do they agree on the rules that everyone must follow?

A leader doesn't have to impose himself as such by force. A leader can happen just by everyone else relying on him on the above matters, or simply because he's the one who actually has initiative. How do your special people work so those natural leaders don't happen or perpetuate?

Also, any political system is people, in the end. :)

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    $\begingroup$ +1 just for the last sentence. To quote one of my favorite authors: "The basic building block of any political system is the individual. ... A political system seeking to function amongst ignorant, illiterate and barbaric people could have marvelous principles but could only succeed in being ignorant, illiterate and barbaric unless one addressed the people one by one and cured the ignorance, illiteracy and barbarism of each citizen. The collective think of apes is ape-think. A fascism led by and applied to idiots would be idiot-fascism. ..." (— L. Ron Hubbard, 1965) $\endgroup$ – Wildcard Dec 1 '16 at 7:06
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From your description and the fact you've said no democracy most people are picking up the anarchy angle. There is another option, direct democracy.

Any time a group of people with differing options have to agree a course of action, either the whole thing falls apart or direct democracy applies. The group come to an agreement by voting on which course of action to take.

As with anarchy, this falls apart with groups over a certain size without leadership. See Dunbar's number for details on your approximate limits for anarchy, direct democracy can cope with larger groups, but not much larger without developing a bureaucracy.

Even people who are all attempting to work towards the common good, will sometimes disagree on what the common good consists of and/or what course of actions best achieves it.

You will need some form of democracy simply to allow dispute resolution, otherwise any dispute will eventually lead to either the collapse of your civilisation or a return to dispute resolution by combat in other words, collapse of your civilisation.

As has already been mentioned, anarchy works as long as there's no more than one anarchist in the group. That's not entirely true, it works as long as there's no more than one opinion in the group. So small groups only.

What is the group though?

Family groups will naturally tend to have a leader, a head of the family, whether the senior male (at least he thinks it's him) or the senior female (more likely in practice) there's one person who is in charge. Under that person's instruction everyone acts towards the common good of the group, the family. This is patriarchy in its purest sense.

Groups of peers will often develop a natural leader, as we all know there's one person who sees the washing up before the others, and at least one who just can't see that the bin is full. A leader will step forward to help the group stay cohesive, meritocracy.

Sometimes the group will more directly acknowledge that a leader is required, someone to coordinate the cleaning and bin schedules and they appoint someone to deal with this, democracy.

Occasionally one will just be making more money than the rest and end up with the largest room and paying more of the bills to help the others out and eventually you end up with oligarchy.

It's actually very hard to maintain anarchy without slipping into another form of "government" within any group of people. The larger a group gets the more likely you are to end up with a leadership group of some sort, whether natural leaders (they do exist) or natural busybodies (them too) leadership is inevitable.

Whoever had created humanity had left in a major design flaw. It was its tendency to bend at the knees. - Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay

In short, any group of people will tend to appoint a leader of some sort quite quickly, if one is not appointed, one will arise.

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    $\begingroup$ Direct democracy is compatible with anarchism and is supported by most anarchists. $\endgroup$ – R. Salisbury Nov 30 '16 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ Also, Dunbar's number is based on an extrapolation of primate group sizes. It is not justified true knowledge, it's just speculation. Trying to apply it to anarchism presumes that groups cannot be organized in sizes larger than the limit of people you personally know, but there is no self-evident reason this would be true. The fact that large-scale anarchist societies have and do exist is evidence that Dunbar's number is either incorrect or at least does not impose a constraint on anarchist societies. $\endgroup$ – R. Salisbury Nov 30 '16 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ @R.Salisbury, supported by most is not supported by all, it also has size limits before the whole system is paralysed by the amount of time it takes to make a decision. I'm not aware of a large scale, high density, long term anarchist society, do you have examples? $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Nov 30 '16 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ Okay? I don't see why it has to be supported by all anarchists to be relevant. Anarchism as a political philosophy is more widely varied than more "conventional" philosophies like liberalism. I don't see any evidence to believe in "paralysis". This is asserted without evidence. See my answer for examples. $\endgroup$ – R. Salisbury Nov 30 '16 at 17:00
  • $\begingroup$ @R all your examples are military or paramilitary, which means a strong hierarchy is in place, not exactly anarchy. It needs to be supported by everybody for exactly the reason I have posted in my answer, it only works if there's only one opinion, you can't have half the group do their own thing or the group fragments. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Nov 30 '16 at 17:09
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You either will be overrun by an invasion or burn yourself to the ground

There are various problems with anarchy. But the main problems I see is that a lack of chain of command will leave you slow, if not paralized in disagreement, to act. This means you will be slaughtered by the first nation that attacks you with an organized military.

Also, Have you EVER gotten a whole group of more than 4 people to agree with you? Ask 100k people what we need most and you will get 75k diffrent answers. Most of them mutually exclusive. War or diplomacy? More Wheat or Factories? What should we do with this guy who just murdered a nun? Infighting is enevitable. And once it breaks out, you will effectvly not have a nation anymore but a land of barbarians (maybe a little harsh but you get the idea).

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    $\begingroup$ One of my favorite examples of this is to go into a room with 4 or 5 people and say, "Hey, we're ordering pizza. Here's the deal: if you all can agree on exactly one topping for everyone to eat, I'll buy the pizzas." Its astonishing how rarely you actually have to buy them. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Nov 30 '16 at 22:32
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    $\begingroup$ "This means you will be slaughtered by the first nation that attacks you with an organized military." We do have historical examples contrary to this. During the Russian revolution, which we think of as being between Red and White armies, there was also a Black army. They did quite well, but got backstabbed by the Red. Same fate for Spain's anarchists really. Anarchists can form armies and fight well. That of course doesn't guarantee victory. $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode Dec 1 '16 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ > Anarchists can form armies and fight well if someone supports them with factory-produced goods, like weapons and ammo. $\endgroup$ – Daerdemandt Dec 1 '16 at 20:06
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How long could a society live without surveillance/leadership?

People can easily live without surveillance/leadership.

But there are some issues:

  • Tragedy of the commons. To prevent this you need abundant resources of everything, or the people will end up destroying their own resources - although you could argue that even with governments we still face the same problem today.
  • Some people might want leadership/power, and these people might use military force to get it. If you don't defend against military force with military force, your governing structures will change. So you need to put something in place that strongly discourages the use of military force.

  • Also, you still need laws which need to be adapted and self enforced by the community. This does work in practice, on a small scale. But on a larger scale you face the threat that the laws of sub-communities may evolve into different directions, leading to irreconcilable differences between sub-communities after only a few generations. To avoid that, you may need to have some higher authority that takes care of laws and crimes without having an actual leadership mandate.

  • And last but not least you still need public services like schools, road maintenance, somebody who investigates crimes, etc, and taxes to pay for these services. And once somebody is in charge of taxes you need to figure out how to avoid corruption.

All of these are solvable, especially in fiction.

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    $\begingroup$ Upvote because "tragedy of the commons," but also notice that TotC is a collective manifestation of a more fundamental problem beautifully shown in the Prisoner's Dilemma. Essentially, two people can very often get better results if they can somehow contract to restrict each others' actions. "I will pay you tomorrow for work today" is the simplest example where once you've worked for me I have no direct incentive to pay you afterwards so you might say "no" unless we can somehow restrict each other to perform the given actions. Solutions generally require repeating the game indefinitely, $\endgroup$ – CR Drost Dec 2 '16 at 20:32
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For a real life example, look at "Occupy Wall Street". Besides being externally driven and funded, once the "occupiers" got together it became a campground where everyone was involved in endless factional disputes and no one could be bothered to clean the garbage, empty the latrines or even police the area of pickpockets and thieves (and eventually rapists).

Political theories like Anarcho Capitalism or even Libertarianism are based on the fundamentally false premise that people are rational beings. Close observations demonstrates that in the vast majority of cases, this isn't so.

Real people are generally driven by the need to satisfy short term emotional needs, and to maximize the survival of themselves and their close families first, followed by clan and then tribe. While this worked for the Ancestors as they spread out of Africa and into the world tens of thousands of years ago, the Neolithic lifestyle isn't really conducive to a high tech civilization. Even suggesting that modern neolithic people's could carry solar powered iPads begs the question of where these are going to be designed and built.

I would suggest that this is not only impossible in human beings as currently evolved, but impossible, even in principle for any being living in the natural world, given the need to compete for resources to live and ensure they successfully reproduce. This is true of plants, which stage elaborate slow motion battles over access to light and fertile soil (watch vines shade each other in time lapse photography), and it will be true even of post humans or AI as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ In the case of post humans or AI, there will probably still be some limited resources such as energy or CPU cycles, they just won't be the same limited resources we contest over such as land, food, or water. $\endgroup$ – Mark Ripley Dec 1 '16 at 9:30
  • $\begingroup$ Humans are indeed irrational but even classical rational agent screws up in tragedy of the commons, prisoner's dilemma and similar stuff - problems that arise if we have some player interacting to get their share of limited resources. Even society of people who don't have their judgement clouded with emotion will still have to deal with those problems. $\endgroup$ – Daerdemandt Dec 1 '16 at 20:16
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Anarchism has been tried and it doesn't work. It falls to pieces whenever there are two or more anarchists in the society / revolutionary cell / militant group. It's not a political system, it's chaos. Basic example: two anarchists want to move a piece of furniture. In order to move it successfully, they must lift it at the same time. With normal people, one would assume the role of leader and say "We lift at three. One, two, three!", but with anarchists there can be no leader; so the piece of furniture remains unlifted and unmoved.

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    $\begingroup$ Anarchism is the pipe dream of a society based on non-hierarchical free association. Which doesn't work, because when translated in practice non-hierarchical doesn't work unless it is made to be indistinguishable from hierarchical. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Nov 30 '16 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ This is pretty opinion-biased. Anarchy is defined as Order without Power by Normand Baillargeon. Also, if it has been tried and did not worked you could provide examples. I strongly disagree with your answer. $\endgroup$ – Kii Nov 30 '16 at 15:58
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    $\begingroup$ Great example of how our own prejudices color reality. For you Wikipedia is an anarchist system. For me Wikipedia is strongly hierarchic -- there is the corporation which owns it and has all the power and there are the contributors who make it and have no power. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Nov 30 '16 at 16:14
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    $\begingroup$ Too bad those places you named 1) depend on large-scale colonization of the rest of the world and 2) are being taken over by fascists for the second time in a century. Our political system by and large is designed to restrict access to resources to grant privileges to a minority. The majority do not see the same benefits. $\endgroup$ – R. Salisbury Nov 30 '16 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP social anarchism is not communism. Anarchism means there is no government monopoly in anything. It doesn't mean people must not cooperate. $\endgroup$ – enkryptor Dec 1 '16 at 7:38
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Your question is a good one, and few posters bothered to answer it.

How long could a society live without surveillance/leadership?

There is something called "monkey number" or Dunbar's Number. It describes the number of other individuals with whom a primate can have a social relationship. Quite a lot of concepts which sound good and work for small numbers of people (below Dunbar's Number) fail for more people. There is also the Tragedy of the Commons from game theory.

The society will work as long as only few people realize that they can defect. Just how long that is is hard to tell, but I expect that the failure of the society will be sudden as the number of defectors snowballs.

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Yes, what you're talking about is anarchism. However, the bulk of answers here are assuming that either:

  • No rulers is the same as no leadership
  • Conflict resolution requires rulers

I think these are self-evidently nonsense:

  • A group leader is not the same thing as a ruler; they do not have institutional power, they are what's called rational authorities in the same way as a doctor or other specialist. Anarchists are not against specialization or rational authority.
  • People settle conflicts without creating systems of rule all the time.

There's a few other points in these answers I would like to address:

But the main problems I see is that a lack of chain of command will leave you slow, if not paralized in disagreement, to act.

Chains of command can be very slow, because those on the lower level cannot act entirely on their own, nor can they make decisions that are solely informed by their experience and expertise; they need to defer to those above them.

The most common example given other than militaries is nuclear power plant operators. There is a good essay on Libcom in response to a statement by David Harvey that he "wouldn't want [his] anarchist friends to be in charge of a nuclear power station." However, as the author points out, all major nuclear plant disasters were because of hierarchical management, not in spite of it.

The author doesn't address air traffic control, but since my dad was a controller and I spent a fair amount of time as a kid at work with him, I can tell you that the degree of hierarchy in an ATC center is very small. George W. Bush instituted new rules during his presidency that vastly increased the number of supervisors, and it made my dad's job much harder, not easier.

Also, Have you EVER gotten a whole group of more than 4 people to agree with you?

I am a software developer and our team is largely non-hierarchical. We have managers, but they don't have authority over us so much as they are the ones who talk to the customers and have the more abstract, less technical view of the systems we build. Development decisions, especially for production issues, require quick and efficient action, and often require coordinating multiple people. We rarely, if ever, have a manager tell us, "okay, you do this, he'll do this, and she'll do this." Rational decision-making requires a dialectical process; the managers are very often wrong or ignorant about the problem at hand, and the "rank and file" developers' actions (and thus the outcome) would be unhelped or even hindered by authoritarian decision-making.

Hierarchical organization is not done in most cases because it's more efficient or effective or faster or less conflictual. It's done in nearly every case because hierarchical organization maintains control by small groups at the top of the hierarchy. It allows the wills of a few people to be carried out by dozens, hundreds, thousands, or millions of people with very little effort by those at the top. See this presentation on hierarchy in capitalism for more information on how hierarchical organization functions in the real world today.

Anarchism has been tried and it doesn't work.

Tell that to Revolutionary Catalonia, the Zapatistas, Revolutionary Rojava, or one of the many smaller-scale anarchist communities in existence, like Twin Oaks, Christiania, or Exarcheia.

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    $\begingroup$ Small anarchist communities living in a parasitical or symbiotic relationship to the far larger and more prosperous "regular" society isn't really demonstrating the point. Remove the larger society the commune is attached to and watch things devolve to a "state of nature" very quickly indeed. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Nov 30 '16 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ That's a nice baseless assumption, but the reality is these societies are actively resisted by society at large, not enabled by them. If your argument is that they are not autarkies I think this is a silly point, since no one else is, either. Furthermore, as mentioned elsewhere, the prosperity of society at large is due to extensive systems of colonialism and slavery. $\endgroup$ – R. Salisbury Nov 30 '16 at 20:00
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    $\begingroup$ OP states There are no leaders, though that could a be quirk of multiple meanings... $\endgroup$ – Joshua Drake Nov 30 '16 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ That's true, and I noticed that after I wrote my answer and reread the OP. I'll just pretend I was taking a liberal interpretation of the word to mean ruler or authority. =) $\endgroup$ – R. Salisbury Nov 30 '16 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ People settle conflicts without creating systems of rule all the time... As long as both are reasonable and able to reach an agreement. Or the conflict doesn't really disturb anyone and thus it can stay unsolved. But what when the conflict does cause disturbance enough so it needs to be solved with urgency, and the parties are simply unable to reach an agreement? $\endgroup$ – Faerindel Nov 30 '16 at 20:31
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There is exactly one recorded example of this system working: the tree of life. We've never figured out how to do it within the context of humanity, but the plethora of organisms in our biosphere show how it works.

Somehow, against all odds, we somehow manage to have a biosphere where foxes eat rabbits, but for some reason the rabbits seem reasonably content with their lives regardless. In fact, we've shown a few times that if you get rid of the foxes (with the idea of making the lives of the rabbits better), the rabbits procreate so rapidly that they actually make their own lives miserable. If you have the 5 minutes, I highly recommend the video How Wolves Change Rivers. It's truly a work of art.

Of course, the trick to this is that evolution is not all that picky about what comes out of it. In fact, it doesn't have a goal at all. Most political systems have goals because people want them to have goals. Its those goals that are tricky to accomplish without an actual political structure. However, if you're willing to accept a goal free solution, let the wolves change the rivers.

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Self-sufficiency, the key to Anarchy

The system you describe is a kind of Anarchy, and Anarchy comes with a lot of problems in an advanced society - that is why we see no successful Anarchies around. The main problem with Anarchy is that modern/advanced societies depend completely on:

  • Division of labour: In modern societies, we are not all software developers, construction workers, writers, chemists and miners all at once. Instead we have specialized hard on doing a few things and depend on the existance of other people doing all other things.

  • Shared infrastructure: We depend completely upon a massive infrastructure both in the largest scales such as roads and power-lines as well as the smaller scale where not everyone needs one oil-refinery each. Nations, organizations or oligarchs own and keep these facilities which keeps the gears of society turning and the supply of advanced multi-step refined goods available.

Without a social order, with law-enforcement, taxes, leadership etc. there is no way to keep the division of labor and common infrastructure going.

Thus the key to working Anarchy lies in abandoning both of those points and gaining self-sufficiency.

Hunter-Gatherer society: One simple way of achieving that is to have a primitive society where every family or individual have their own hut, makes their own primitive tools and depends on no-one else.

Slave owners: Another possibility is that these independent, non-governed individuals are actually not the entirety of society. Each person, or family, controls a large group of slaves/servants who provide them with all their needs. The slaves provide food, protection, maintains their homes and even provides skilled craftsmen like smiths and tailors.

But how can we keep the benefits of an advanced society and still be self sufficient?

Post-scarcity/Augmented individuals: For a modern/futuristic society to be self sustainable on an individual basis I think there is only one option. AI's, robots and other automatic systems allow each individual to gain what we currently gain from society. Robots can serve as protection and harvest raw materials and food. 3D-printers and replicators can create even advanced technological items. Structures are self-maintaining and contains their own energy source. If such a system of robotics would be in the hands of each individual or small group - then they would be self-sufficient. Such augmented people would avoid the drawbacks of anarchy.

Taken the augmented individual solution one step further each individual have their own space-ship full of automated systems. Each ship is entirely self sustained, leaving its owner with no need for other people except companionship.

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What You describe is a bit what happens in a Kibbuz, if I'm not wrong. Interestingly, Your question made me (italian) think instantly or Communism. What You describe is the basis of the communist ideology, not of the so called communism of the Soviet Union or worse, North Korea.

Maybe most of the commentators are American, so none of them mentioned it or thought about it (after the McCarthy brainwashing no wonder) but wrote about it's close relative, or forerunner, Anarchy.

What made Communism so easily "exportable" in the beginning of the 20th century was that the idea of an egalitarian, self regulating society, without classes, autorities or ownership providing for the welfare of the whole community, hit the nerve of so many oppressed labourers in the whole world, from Russia across to China, VietNam and Cuba.

The history o these countries shows already the limit of this Utopia: it works only with small numbers, as a larger group tends to stratify naturally, inevitably. Just look at what friction exists in relatively small groups (why do I have to take the garbage out, it's my brother's turn). When You don't know a large part of the group Your responability towards it deminishes and normal disequalities create fractures - a breakup of this Utopia is inevitable; unless You introduce again a leading class and rules, constrictions and punishment for insubordination. Exactly what happened in the so-called communist countries. Some with a motivated society (Cuba and VietNam e.g.) had nontheless a relatively good overall balance: relatively equalized wealth (everybody was equally "poor"), above median healthcare, similar income and housing for everybody, above standard schooling and relatively little corruption (compared to similar countries). Of course there was a powerful police force to make this possible, limiting personal freedom, but for the greater good this was a price the leadership was ready to pay. Unfortunately we'll never find out how these societies would have evolved without the embargos, military spending or foreign influence of the cold war. Would have been interesting to see.

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That society will last until the first crime or until the first disagreement.

Once you have a crime, no matter whether is big or small, the society will realize that they need surveillance to prevent further crimes.

When you have a disagreement you need someone to break the tie and make a veredict, hence that creates hierarchy.

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There would still be someone who wanted more or something different than what everyone else wants. Not everyone would think alike. Unless you take away peoples creativity or their ability to think for themselves.

In every society someone is still seen as the leader. Religion, politics and even animals have leaders.

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Depends on the size of the population, culture and genetics.

Humans with the current reward system in their brains have tendency to seek own pleasure. Even charity is only about empathy or need to show others that you are better person than them. Thus the humans have tendency to be selfish but compromise for the empathy. Psychopaths can be tolerated, but it depends how frequent they are and how the culture enables them to exploit the society.

It is not though only the psychopaths, but even the normal humans that have limited amount of empathy. More people are robust to anomalies, but the anonymity the person would have, and the limited empathy makes it easier for them to exploit the society.

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it doesn't matter how altruistic they are, the problem arises as soon as there is a problem with more than one solution and not enough resources to try both, now you have conflict and you need conflict resolution. your people will have different perspectives and thus favor different solutions, and this will not be a rare occurrence. direct democracy won't work unless they are spending most of every day voting, and it will be very slow on top of that. You need some specialized decision makers, which means you need a way to select such people, which is basically what a political system is.

Plus you have already hinted at an additional source of conflict, local needs, not everything has a local or easy to see solution. lack of information will exacerbate both these effects, as no one person can be well versed in everything there just is not enough time, so for many decisions they won't understand the situation, which again leads to a political system out of sheer necessity.
They may not have leaders, but they still have specialists who make policy decisions, which means they need a way to pick such people.

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protected by James Dec 1 '16 at 17:41

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