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Is hierarchy necessary for our species?

+3 votes
From hive queens to pride kings to alpha males, hierarchy seems to occur almost everywhere naturally as a form of species survival. Is fighting against hierarchy a futile and possibly undesirable effort.
asked Jul 25, 2013 by anonymous

6 Answers

+6 votes
Read some cultural anthropology on band societies, or better yet, try living non-hierarchically with friends and family, and you will see that many instances of anarchy exist and have existed. There are hierarchical and anti-hierarchical animals. There are chimpanzees and bonobos, though neither of those speak for humans. Hierarchy does not occur everywhere naturally, I'm sure you can find places where it doesn't if you think hard enough and pay attention. Not every relationship is based on dominant and subordinate positions, and we do not inherently need long-term hierarchies to provide for any of our physical, psychological, or spiritual needs.
answered Jul 25, 2013 by AutumnLeavesCascade (10,470 points)
+5 votes
the only way i can really see answering this is by rejecting your framing.  I dont really buy the whole totality of meaning that is evolution or of the category of species -  that a species is a clearly divided group of unitary purpose and mind and that to 'be' one means having unconscious or perhaps conscious, constant direction toward self-propagation and thus that this is the meaning of life.  I dont believe that the lives of animals, human or non-human, or plants, rocks, whatever, revolves around subordination to this concept of species and that belonging to one means identification with all also in the category, and because of this we should be of the same purpose or related in a meaningful (non-scientific, non-abstract and non-objectivist) way.  it posits that this conceptual development of identity necessarily entails living for its infinite continuation.  this all seems like a bunch of hogwash passed off as primal truth. I cant really think of a different way to answer this, sorry if its totally confusing.
answered Jul 25, 2013 by jingles (2,680 points)
+2 votes
a) i think that animal hierarchies are far more complicated than most people understand them to be (i say this as someone who has watched various kinds of animals, but mostly dogs in large numbers up close). i believe that they, as we, have a more fluid authority exchange than the "alpha" model recognizes.
b) as has been stated elsewhere on this site, i'm not sure that hierarchy is the issue. i support the understanding of power that says it flows between things; and the issue is when it is reified, or static in a person or institution.
answered Jul 26, 2013 by dot (57,400 points)
i agree with dot: after being part of a pack that includes (mostly) dogs for a number of years, i think the common conception of "alpha" is far too often oversimplified. there are definitely contexts in which different dogs take on a somewhat alpha role. sometimes that is challenged by another of the dogs (or a human member of the pack), sometimes it is not.  and even among myself and the dogs, the dynamic is not hard-coded with me as alpha; i often defer to them in situations where it seems appropriate. definitely no single, consistently dominant "alpha" in our pack.
0 votes
I think the question (+subtext) is somewhat misleading for several reasons among those a) just because something seems "natural" it doesn't mean it is logical, necessary or legitimate. Animals kill other animals for food, its "natural" but it doesn't necessarily translate to human societies; b) there are many types of hierarchies across our "species" and some may be "necessary" for some specific purposes, while others are not.

Hierarchies in human societies usually fulfill or fulfilled a specific purpose within a specific rationale, or world-perspective. They are one possible element (although common) in the (vertical) organization of specific groups and they imply, by definition, a social relation between unequal parts. I don't think there's much point in questioning the principle of hierarchy in relation to the whole species, but only to specific groups or societies.

So it is perhaps more relevant to question, for instance, what is (or was) the specific function of a given hierarchy within the social relations present in a specific social organization (group, city, state, country...). Why does a specific hierarchy exist? Who profits, and who is to lose from the implicit relationship? Is that hierarchy promoted through any form of explicit or implicit ideology? Is the hierarchy itself even acknowledged by every participating party? How do they perceive that relation? ... and so on.

The way I see it, anarchism, in the broadest way possible, is just a different way of organizing society. You could say that it is, in principle, averse to hierarchies since it is usually based around mutualism and collaboration among equals. That means equal rights, equal opportunities and equal responsibility. Anarchy assumes that it is possible to organize society without vertical relations where one party has power over the other. That doesn’t mean there would not be some kind of normative power (laws, for instance), but that the normative power within a society should function to assure those principles of equality. Because only through equal possibility for participation can that power be legitimate.
answered Aug 2, 2013 by alien (190 points)
You have some good comments in there, but the last paragraph is really overrun with the assumptions of political science. "[E]qual rights, equal opportunities and equal responsibility" is jargon; the real meaning and manifestation(s) of these (ig)noble ideas depends on who's using them.

Invoking *rights* will gain you no friends on this site, or anywhere radical (that is, not suffused with bourgeois ideology) anarchists congregate. Rights-based discourse presumes some institutionalized formation (government, church, prison) that bestows (but more importantly, *revokes*) rights.

*Opportunity* means nothing outside a capitalist economy.

*Responsibility* -- especially in the context following rights and opportunities -- makes you sound like a social conservative. In other contexts, it would make you sound like an social justice activist or some other nefarious person. In another context, you'd be forced to alter your vocabulary to make it "accountability." Regardless, all I hear when I see that list is an invocation to duty, morality, and temperance.

I'm suggesting you examine the cultural assumptions behind those terms; until the last paragraph, you were doing okay. Then you blew it.

And this: "Because only through equal possibility for participation can that power be legitimate." You're a bit lost as an anarchist if this is your conclusion. A "normative power" is completely vague without some explanation of what that power gets to do, what it's meant to accomplish, and how that power would handle dissent/deviance.

What if someone who had the "equal possibility for participation" in some sort of deliberative/decision-making body of Normative Power refused to participate because s_he determined that too much power was accruing to the committed participants, that therefore the Normative Power was no longer "legitimate," that in fact it had become a form of face-to-face tyranny? The Normative Power could (and probably would) declare that person deviant (excluded from equal possibility for participation), and therefore until/unless s_he agreed that the Normative Power was actually legitimate, could no longer be eligible for participation.

The entire discourse of Political Science hinges on determinations of legitimate power/authority. For radical anarchists, this question is as irrelevant as determinations of an unalienated economy.
–1 vote
answered Jan 15 by Bonobo (120 points)
hey bonobo, links are better as parts of an answer, or as comments. perhaps you can add an explanation of what you like about what this book says?

also, linking to a whole book demands a lot of the person who's trying to understand your point...
i like inferences to a "matrix", a lot of it inspired by the move the matrix, but you are not saying anything other than posting a link...
0 votes
I like the answers below, which question the assumptions behind your question, however it can be pointed out that tribal band societies don't have hierarchies in the same sense that beehives do. The main point that anarchists of the more individualistic/anti-civilization correctly make is the fact that things in the world constantly change, and to institute an absolute ruler and authority makes the survival of the organization/institution/rulers more important than the well being of individuals. Authorities and rulers in the sense that we mean it here (as opposed to someone who has “dominance” in a matter, which is completely different thing, but has been equated with positions of rule by psychologists and other social scientists) tend to insist on maintaining their positions, and solidifying a certain ruling ideology that's intended to justify everything they do. The old testament is a very clear example of this: in the earlier parts of it (genesis and exodus) patriarchs could trade their daughters like commodities due to their tacit obedience, then this turned into “the people of god” establishing kingdoms that are still a contention in the middle east.

Less organized tribal societies had “chiefs”, but they often only had ceremonial authority, with no explicit control over the people in the tribes. When these societies become larger, you start to see chiefdoms, which resemble protection rackets with expected contributions, but these should not be equated with nation states and kingdoms which in my opinion are a more explicit departure from anarchy.

It's true that people will always try to gain power to do what they want and express themselves, but using ideology and morality to justify systematic violence tends to muddy communication and make life fairly stagnant and miserable. And yes I agree, the current ways of communicating through capitalism and nation states are not going away anytime soon and probably will never go away, but they are not “necessary”, they are only necessary to justify these forms of communication itself. It's my opinion that as human beings with our incredible ability to be creative and alter the earth, we are better off trying to make our lives better than continuing with them unquestioned.
answered Jan 17 by Nihilist (720 points)