So – I went ahead and sketched out a bunch of social hierarchies recently, from my family, to my work, to social groups from the past. Not because I don’t have a life, but because they are very important. And, I noticed that the “official” hierarchy often differs from how the hierarchy really works. These informal hierarchies are actually the key to how things get done and how resources are distributed. We have different ones for different aspects of our lives. I found this interesting post on a philosophy forum by user BitterCrank:
There is no reason you can not move between hierarchies, being 3 steps above the doormat at work and being 3 steps below God Almighty at home. As you move from one social envelope to another, your status changes. Your boss too moves from one social envelope to another. At work he may be cock of the walk, but at the bank, depending on his loan repayment performance, he might be one step below the doormat. At home he might be subservient to his wife. At the bar he might be the leader of the bowling team.
People set up hierarchies all the time. Its a quick and convenient way to organize people, but certainly not the only way. However, wherever the relative ranking of individuals is undesignated, there will soon be some kind of hierarchy. Where the relative ranking is specified, then there already is a hierarchy.
I think that this is correct. In the past I have thought of these hierarchies as somewhat immoral or immature and didn’t want to be a part of it. But, recently I read the saying by Plato: “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors”. Although the statement is a bit arrogant, I would say it is mostly true. You cannot really avoid politics in any situation, and if you ignore them, then you get a system that you do not want.
As time goes on, I realize these hierarchies are very important to the flow of information in this world, the balance of power and even how social movements develop. Maybe our world depends too much on formal education, and not enough on learning how to live within and influence these hierarchies. Which would explain why we are such an educated people, yet the best decisions are not always made. I think if more thoughtful people paid attention to how these hierarchies work and found a way to work within, things would be much better.