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Isn't it human psychology to desire hierarchy? How can this be dealt with?

–2 votes
Humans have always dealt in power, always see some as above himself and some below. We have always had hierarchy, and I am tempted to say it is nature and not nurture because most every animal has hierarchy as well. If power structures exist even among animals, how can we hope to combat such primal drives? You may say that we are simply heavily socialized to the point where it only feels like nature, but I'd point to animals and I'd also say that even if that were true, the sheer amount of socialization it would take to eliminate ideas of power from the human mind are incalculable. Literally from the moment we are born we experience hierarchy - the first one being our parents commanding us. By the time we come to an age of independent thought, we've already grown up with a self inundated with power and power structures. You can't even teach anarchist values to a toddler without appealing to power structures. This dynamic is amplified on a larger, societal scale - I simply can't think of any precedent to 'anarchism' in history. Is there on that I am not aware of? Was it small and homogeneous? If so, it's clear that it would not work on a large scale. How do we deal with this basic psychological drive for power?
asked Oct 16, 2013 by kingshayok (110 points)
i also disagree with your assumptions, and believe that there is plenty on here already about things you can read that dispute your assertions. but i appreciate your tags. thank you for appropriate tagging!

3 Answers

+3 votes
I down voted this, because it feels like baiting, except that dang you went into a long rant about all the assumptions about the innateness of hierarchy. Fuck it - I take the troll bait.

No. You assumptions are wrong, at least if taken as universal - lots of animals live without hierarchy, as do lots of human animals, unless you discount pre-civilized life, and the realities of lots of groups that eke out livings on the fringes of our world. A survey of anthropology will provide plenty of examples of people who lived without hierarchy. If you happen to want to have civilization with your anarchy, you might be disappointed by the record so far, at least so far as those working in favor of civilization and order go (you know those two go together, right?). Your disappointment with this is not my problem. If it is too much, read something from the Institute for Anarchist Studies, they are more optimistic than I am.

You say you want to equate hierarchy with human nature, but what is human nature? You seem to have one idea, but I bet that you could find a dozen other people with a dozen other ideas about human nature. I personally don't give any weight to the term, not because I don't think there are shared traits between groups within our (presumably shared) species, but because I think that most often when people talk about "human nature" they most often mean shared traits of civilized humans, as opposed to expanding it to include all humans.

I would disagree also with your idea that we experience hierarchy from the minute we are born. Hierarchy is not exactly the same as unequal power, even if crimethinc and bookchin could lead you to believe such. A mother nursing and tending to a baby is not hierarchy, that is a mother being a mother. There will be people who dispute this, but I don't think parents necessarily exact hierarchical power over their children just by tending to their needs.

Power comes in to play when they try to influence their children in particular directions. Certainly, anarchists can exert their own power in trying to make a child an anarchist, but they don't have to. What stops us as anarchists from teaching children about power and teaching them that they should end up trying to destroy or move beyond our ways of understanding or engaging with things? Not much unless you think anarchy is a particular thing that we are working towards, but you wouldn't have posted to this site if that was your assumption, right?
answered Oct 17, 2013 by ingrate (21,400 points)
I am sorry if I appeared to be trolling/baiting, I was not trying to do so but I can see why you might see it that way. Obviously many of our assumptions are not in common, and obviously I am no anarchist. I mean no offense when I say this, but I posted here partially because I have personally always found anarchy to be a rather illogical ideology, but there are very intelligent people who are anarchists and so I'd like to see what draws them.
Which animals live without hierarchy? Which human groups live without hierarchy? A large reason for my assumptions is that I simply don't know of any counterexamples to this rule - and I realize this may be simply my lack of knowledge, in which case I'd want concrete examples. How are we defining civilization? How can we maintain peace among large amounts of people without it?
I base my ideas of human nature off of psychology. I absolutely could find people with a dozen other ideas of human nature - philosophically speaking, I am a relativist, and I realize that it is very possible my own observations are completely wrong. But I can only engage in rational thought after assuming they are indeed correct, and by my assumptions, science is best way to gain some measure of 'objectivity', for whatever it's worth, and psychology, sociology, and anthropology are the best ways to gain knowledge on human nature. Through research and personal experience, I have come to the conclusion that humans always try to seek power over one another, be it blatant societal power or more subtle versions. The Self Determination Theory states that autonomy is one of our primary needs, basically power over oneself. Often times, people feel the need to legitimize, prove, or make up for a deficiency of personal power by exerting it over other people. Large groups of people with diverse opinions have never really been able to accomplish anything without some sort of power structure. Diverse groups will generally see one another as 'the other' (the outgroup) and actively seek power over the other. Call them assumptions if you will, but please provide me counterexamples to discount these assumptions and I will evaluate them for myself.
How do you define hierarchy then? Why do you think parents don't exact hierarchical power by teaching them values? What makes it an exception?
When the child is a toddler, they were of course be influenced in different directions without the child even knowing it. There is a reason Mother Nature kept the questioning mind and rebellion out of development until much later. If children wouldn't listen to their mothers about how to hunt and gather, they would simply die - this is a common behavior in many animals. However, uniquely in humans, this translates into societal values as well, keeping culture and society alive as well. The hypocrisy is that children must have a moral basis, and if you choose to create an anarchist moral basis by instilling morals in a very top down, authoritarian approach to the unquestioning mind that is inevitable in early parenting, it violates the central ideas of anarchy, no? Aren't we supposed to rid ourselves of power?
Thank you for your reply.
Your whole understanding of "human nature" has no basis in anthropology. Humans lived in immediate-return nomadic foraging band societies for the majority of human existence, which were largely, and intentionally, quite egalitarian and communal. This is standard assumption amongst anthropologists today, look up "the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers" and you will find nothing of this Hobbesian notion of the war of each against all or other forms of intrinsic formal, permanent hierarchical order.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Band_society#Characteristics
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunter-gatherer#Social_and_economic_structure
http://green-anarchy.wikidot.com/egalitarian-societies-text

If you want more practical examples, here's a comprehensive book that is easily accessible, organized by common question, demonstrating elements of anarchism in practice in dozens of different cultures throughout the ages and around the world.
http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/peter-gelderloos-anarchy-works
You're discounting the advent of agriculture and the building of cities. And all of the examples you stated are small and homogeneous - of course anarchism or 'perfect democracy' might work there, because everyone agrees, everyone knows one another personally, everyone is similar. How can such principles work on a large, globalized scale as we have today?
your seeming assumption that "principles" need to work on a large, global scale is one that should be challenged. so consider it challenged.

i cannot think of ANY possible scenario where a huge, global "society" (or whatever) could be without massive authoritarian actors and influences. that is why i feel very strongly that creating smaller, autonomous living groups is the only thing that makes sense for those of us that desire a radically different world, one without institutionalized authority or hierarchy.  

It is the widespread acceptance of current realities, and the belief that the current global reality is the only option, that creates some of the hugest barriers to real, radical change.
I think ALC addressed the examples of egalitarian lifeways pretty well, so I will not address that, but I do want to address the idea that we are discounting agriculture and cities.

We aren't discounting them, they are very real concrete things, and quite probably contribute to (if not directly leading to) hierarchical relations (for want of a better term). It is the very things that allow cities and agriculture that many anarchists have come to oppose. I want to be clear, I don't call myself an anarcho-primitivist, but at the same time, the explorations of folks within that camp have done much to challenge the unexamined assumptions of more traditional anarchists.

We don't discount agriculture and cities so much as we seek to destroy them.
–2 votes
As opposed to ingrate I actually do believe that hierarchy is natural for humans. If you put toogether a small group of people you will always see them assuming roles with one being the leader, another trying to hold the group together and whatnot else.

The important thing to note is that those hierarchies emerge by themselves, aren't enforced, are made up ad hoc, only care about certain tasks and rely completely on the consent of everyone involved. Anyone can leave such a group at any point.
For anarchy this means that instead having hierarchies as the basis for society you use them as just another tool.

With regards to what you mention as examples of hierarchy see ingrates answer.
answered Oct 29, 2013 by Weltraumschlange (590 points)
"If you put toogether a small group of people you will always see them assuming roles with one being the leader..."

i am happy to say that i must know very different people than you. while what you describe is clearly the norm in modern human society, it is absolutely not the only way human individuals behave in small groups. i have been in numerous small (temporary, of course) groups where no leader emerged, nobody tried to keep the group together, etc.  does that mean we are "unnatural" humans? lol!

your strong belief in a hierarchical "human nature" is obviously shared by many/most in mainstream society, but not by this anarchist.

none of which is to say that heirarchy or power dynamics don't exist. merely that they are contextual and dynamic. perhaps that was part of your point as well?
"none of which is to say that heirarchy or power dynamics don't exist. merely that they are contextual and dynamic. perhaps that was part of your point as well?"
That was exactly my point.

"your strong belief in a hierarchical "human nature" is obviously shared by many/most in mainstream society, but not by this anarchist."
I wrote that hierarchy is natural for humans, not that it is part of some kind of holy "human nature".
That it is natural for humans doesn't mean that it is good, it only means that hierarchies emerge everywhere where more than a few humans interact. Humans are social creatures (if you believe otherwise I advise you to try to spend a few months alone. Good look with keeping sane). They are also hunters, which together with the social aspect means that they coordinate and the fastest (although not always the best, speed isn't everything) method to coordinate small groups is a hierarchy. Because back when human behavior as we know it (as far as it is "natural" instead of caused by our education) evolved human societies almost exclusively were made out of small groups and coordination didn't really surpass the point after which hierarchies get hopelessly inefficient or as dangerous as they are now hierarchies are the natural way for humans to coordinate. It takes effort to not use them.
0 votes
I would say there are different personality types, some more aggressive and others more passive.  We might then believe that the aggressive ones will become the leaders and the passive which we label as submissive as the followers.  That may be the case in a society that tends to label and box everything, but I would think that these trait are more of our perspective of the world and how we approach life.  A person's aggressive nature does not need to be directed toward the control and manipulation of others, but of his aproach to challenges or of action.  

When you first define the parameters as you already have in your mind, your conclusion will be based on what you already believe in the first place.  Often aggression in nature is not about control but one of protection of self and others as in a herd, especially of more passive species.  Certainly in mating the aggressive aspect but that has more to do with reproduction and not the ongoing control over the challenger.  

You consider guidance of youth as hierachy rather than as a process of growth and understanding.  Also toodlers probably understand alot more about anarchy that what you give them credit.  They hate to be controled and manipulated, that is why most go through the terrible twos.  What most parent do is to break the child of its desire to self-determine its own course.  You look around ins ociety and you see the outcome and most of those in it see that it is part of our nature rather than the suppression of independent thought and choice.
answered Nov 1, 2013 by afunctionalworld (2,030 points)
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