Saturday, April 06, 2013

Plebes Like Me

A friend of mine asked me through email yesterday what I thought of human hierarchies, i.e. kings, queens, presidents, bosses, etc.  My knee-jerk reaction was, "It's bullshit.  Why do you ask?"  He said he just wanted to make sure he was using the word correctly (regarding "hierarchy" I assume), and I wrote back, "Leadership is necessary, but hierarchy isn't.  No person is better than another person, which is what hierarchy implies."

Of course, I being the way I am, woke up thinking about his question and my responses.  I began getting theoretical, at which point I stopped myself because theory is how we've gotten ourselves into this contrived societal structure in the first place, or at least it's what we use to justify our systems.  Management, political, social, socioeconomic, gender...theories and research too often serve to affirm what we already know and do and encourage us to continue by giving us an academic pat on the back and a "good job, carry on."  And if the theory does not support the status quo, it is often considered hypothetical and easier to dismiss.  But enough on that because theory is not what I most considered this morning as I lay in bed listening to bird song.  I actually asked myself what I meant when I used the word "better," as in, "one person is better than another."

I decided I meant two things in this context.  First, "better" implied higher social status.  Second, it implied "more important."  So if hierarchies create societies in which some people are perceived and treated as more important because they are in a higher social status (which I believe hierarchies do), then yes, hierarchies are bullshit because human beings (I'll limit this to humanity) are born equals.  If you don't believe me, consult the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution or the Bible or your third eye.  Or, just put two naked infants next to each other and I promise you, neither one will have a label reading "future president" or "CEO" or "lowlife" unless someone has snuck in with a tattoo needle.

Now in these two infants, you will see different behaviors. One might be more active, one more vocal, one seemingly more observant--the physical attributes that make us individuals.  But these do not make one baby better than another (though some might argue a quiet baby is certainly a better baby, better meaning "preferred" in this context).  Hierarchies, then, are human made constructs, giving one person a kind of power over another, a dynamic that flies in the face of democracy, at the very least. 

Having to call someone "Honorable," for example, because of his/her political position, rather than because that person serves with honor, says, "Because of your job, you are better than I am and I am here to do your bidding."  You might not believe that is what you are saying, but think about it.  Or you might follow the herd because you don't want to appear rude, but that just means you ("you" being "most of us") are lower in the hierarchy.  You may or may not believe the person is honorable, but you say the word anyway.

Consider some of the ways hierarchies affect us.  Bosses, for example, because of their position, can strike terror in employees because the supervisor has the society-given authority to hire and fire, holding us economically hostage.  Yet, if we look at bosses purely as members of the hierarchy, we might not only have bad attitudes but bad behavior and contribute to our own demise.  Not all bosses identify with the hierarchy, trying, rather, to manage through a democratic process, taking into account each employee's talents and potential and treating all with respect. This is true leadership (even theories will support that notion), but unfortunately, there are not enough people in authority who perform in this manner.  The same can be said for politicians, parents, teachers, police and anyone else considered an authority figure.

Because of all this, I openly admit that bosses in general make me nervous.  I also admit I have a bad attitude when it comes to politicians because they, especially, represent the hierarchy and tend to abuse power, often flagrantly.  In their world, we are not all equals, even though our Constitution declares we are.  

I still believe hierarchies are bullshit, but I think we need to make the distinction between members of a hierarchy and leaders.  Leaders may be stuck in the status structure but use their given authority in positive ways.  Members of a hierarchy who focus on their status do not.   

As for me, I sometimes play the hierarchy game just to get by, but honestly, I see it as a game people take part in to maintain the status quo.  But I often lose at the game because I'm not very good at it because I don't know the rules or I believe the rules are unjust.  However, I do know I'm not the only one.  There are plenty of Plebes like me.
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