This grew out of a debate with man about town, radio show host, and general radical Tom Lynn. A man I greatly respect and love. Ironically enough in his peer group he is seen with respect and some deference which places him in a de-facto non-stated hierarchy whether he is comfortable with this or not.
My dad used to say, all of life for a man is a pecking order, whether you realize it or not.
Whether you realize it or not… this is the key.
To me, hierarchy is neither good nor evil. It is innate to the human race, in some way a constant part of the human condition, and an emergent phenomenon whenever more than two people get together and start doing something.
One of my best friends gave me grief over this one, I think it’s because we often have an emotional reaction to hierarchy and authority. And we do not look at subtle dynamics in human relationships, and moreover project our experiences and our culture’s experiences on others and in a desire for a liberational strategy, if we tire of authoritarianism, we may be prone to letting our desires – sincere and well meaning as they are – cloud the way we see things.
There is always a pecking order in things, having hung out with a good many anarchists in my life; I’ve noticed pecking orders in DIY and anarchist circles. The pecking order originates in competence in one sphere, and the respect of one’s peers towards that competence. The mistake is in not seeing hierarchy as situational in such matters, a temporary office that one occupies due to one’s competence by degrees, and others lacking competence in a specific area.
Hierarchy exists even among the most so-called “primitive” and “savage” peoples in the world. Including those people whose communitarian and consensus based systems are often admired by anti-authoritarians. Just about every single non Western culture pays massive deference to its elderly as wise founts of communal authority. Hierarchy and authority rear their head. Go through reams of anthropological fieldwork, leadership and decision making structures in which specific individuals hold a qualitatively ‘higher’ position are to be found all over the human race.
Human survival trumps our scruples. IF some form of hierarchy (and I’m ignoring, for the time being, a metaphysical perspective here) were not useful to human biological survival then it wouldn’t be near universal. Honestly, I think one vice of the Modern West is the habit of trying to pin the entire world into our own limited domain of understanding, and when we try to escape this we still do it anyway, while projecting our fears, concerns, anxieties, and bad experiences.
As I see it, it’s natural for some to lead in a matter, and for others to accept their leadership.
Leadership doesn’t have to be absolute servility and I think it’s an error to think in this way. A matter of exaggerating the subtle.
The key to authority and hierarchy, I think, is to tame them and mitigate their excesses.
If you deny this, it will just creep up on you unseen – it’s good to remain conscious and focused.
The key to understanding elites is there is always one at the top. One focal point, someone always calls the shots in a social system, the error is in not seeing soft power and influence for what they are. Governance is a pyramid; over one layer of jerks is a smaller one. The falcon never hears the falconer; it does its job, however, as trained.
The way we use words greatly affects the way we think about things.
Take, for example, authority. What is authority? The word has certain connotations, but what is it?
First used in English in the early 13th century, as autorite “a quotation or book that settles an argument,” taken from Old French, first appearing one century before, auctorité (in modern French autorité). This comes from Latin’s auctoritatem / auctoritas(nom) “advice, opinion, invention, influence, or command” in turn from auctor “master, leader, author” (hence the modern word author).
Only in the late 14th century did it acquire the meaning of “the power to enforce obedience” and in the early 1600’s “people in authority.” The modern usage of “Authorities” to mean police powers, or generally “those in charge” is first seen in the mid-19th century.
Auctoritas in Latin could also have other connotations, some verge into the metaphysical, a spiritual authority, but also it carried the idea of knowing one’s self, and possessing gravitas, a certain dignity and weight about one.
Authority can be as simple as advice, advice that settles an argument, or an opinion or an influence.
Authority is, what’s important is false authority versus true authority.
If you look at all human social organization on a non romantic level, from simple friendships between buddies to clan, tribal, family, national structures, you find the phenomenon of leadership and hierarchy.
There are people I respect and defer to in some matters, there are people who respect and defer to me in some matters. This is the point, when we talk about hierarchy this needn’t imply a Pharaoh or other god-king tyrant overseeing millions of slaves dragging 20 ton stone blocks, it’s more subtle than that.
Hierarchy is neither good nor ill, it simply is, and it is what you make it into, by correct and careful cultivation or by abuse.
Not being conscious of this can lead to the very things you fear creeping up on you unaware.