Thesis #11: Hierarchy is an unnecessary evil.

by Jason Godesky

Egalitarianism is an essential part of human nature; it is the very thing that led to our humanity, and remains an undeniable yearning in the human spirit that continues to shape our political fortunes (see thesis #7). Hierarchy is the antithesis of that, and thus, we cannot avoid the inescapable conclusion that hierarchy itself is dehumanizing and maladapted to the human condition. It appears to suit many of our closest primate relatives just fine (chimpanzees, for example), but it denies the very thing that created us as a unique species–our egalitarianism. It squashes the vast diversity of possible social interactions into a rigidly defined structure, and thus, violates the principle set forth in thesis #1–making hierarchy “evil.” The question is, is hieracy a necessary “evil”?

First, you will recall that we defined “hierarchy” and “egalitarianism” in thesis #7 in terms of graph theory. Individuals are nodes in a social graph, and edges are power relationships between them; the graph as a whole becomes a depiction of a society. Power is an inescapable fact of life; even in egalitarian society, some individuals have influence over others. What defines an egalitarian society is that this graph has no particular structure. It can take any shape. The possible diversity of egalitarian social structures is limitless. The result of such chaos is that there is no single, dominant indivdual across every dimension of power. Hierarchy, then, is a very specific case, in that hierarchy is a kind of society with a very specific shape–a triangle. Hierarchy is when the graph of a society is triangular; egalitarianism is when the graph of a society is any other shape than triangular.

We can also speak of a continuum of hierarchy, as few societies have ever formed a perfect triangle with all power culminating into a single, apex individual. Contemporary American society is undeniably hierarchical, but its zenith is not a single individual, but a small, tightly-knit circle.

By itself, a hierarchical society would be another point in the diversity of social structures–and thus, good. The problem is when all societies are hierarchical. Hierarchy’s need to crush all alternatives is what makes it “evil,” because it is driven to wipe out all diversity besides itself. The ultimate driving force behind this is the simple fact that hierarchy does not work well for people. They must be somehow “forced” into it–meaning that all alternatives must be systematically eradicated, or hierarchy will be abandoned by the lowest ranks, the ones that are, simultaneously, most needed by hierarchy, and have the least to gain from it. Daniel Quinn raises the phenomenon of children running away to join the circus as a proverbial expression of this abandonment. Ancient Roman apprehension about the Cynics is another expression, as was much of the fervor generated in the 1960s against the hippie countercultural movement.

Baboons can be instructive to us on the effects of hierarchy on humans, so long as we keep in mind that we are dealing with a key difference between the two. Baboon males are roughly three times larger than females; human sexual dimorphism is nearly non-existent, one of the lowest in the entire animal kingdom. Baboons are well adapted to hierarchy; as we have seen, it was the rejection of such hierarchical lifestyles and the adoption of egalitarianism that created humans in the first place. But even baboons, as adapted to hierarchy as they are, are stressed by it. Robert Sapolsky, one of the world’s foremost authorities on baboon society, put it this way:

[M]y initial assumption that I sort of squandered my first 15 years on with them was dominance rank. That’s the thing. If you’re a low-ranking baboon you’re gonna have the stress-related diseases. And what I’ve learned since then is, yeah, rank’s important. Far more important is what sort of society you have that rank in. Is it a troop that treats its low-ranking animals miserably? Is it a troop whose hierarchy is unstable? Those are both much more stressful situations. And then even more important than your rank in the sort of society in which it occurs is your personality. Which is basically saying, What’s your filters with which you see the world around you?

This is very reasonable, particularly for baboons, who have millions of years of evolution adapting them to hierarchical social structures. We would expect hierarchy to stress them less than humans. That said, even among humans, we can understand the importance of personality types and the type of hierarchy on the level of stress we experience in that hierarchy–what we might call the perception of oppression. Some personality types can accept their circumstances more easily than others, and some hierarchies are much worse to be at the bottom of than others. This is why no hierarchy can ever succeed being purely exploitative. The most coercive regimes collapse almost immediately, e.g., the trend of fascism in 1930s Europe. Rome was incredibly exploitative, but succeeded by tempering that exploitation with the myth of legitimacy. Caracalla’s move to open citizenship to the provinces was key to Roman success, by making the exploited feel like they had a vested stake in the empire. It created legitimacy, and removed the perception of oppression.

So we see that not all hierarchies are created equal. Some hierarchies are more “evil” than others. The contemporary United States, for instance, is a case study in the attempt to create the least evil hierarchy possible–the playing out of what happens when the mutually exclusive concepts of “freedom” and “the state” are combined. And yet, even in the contemporary United States–the historical peak of prosperity and freedom within hierarchy–we cannot deny the chafing restrictions and insult to human dignity imposed by subjection to another human being.

In essence, we are dealing with shifting the mean of a bell curve. The distribution of personality types would naturally create a bell curve–some are very stressed out, and some are very relaxed, but most will cluster about the mean. Across this distribution, we can draw a line of the perception of hierarchy. Above this line, more stressed individuals notice the imposition of hierarchy; below it, the less stressed individuals do not. The more hierarchical a society is, the more that line shifts to the left–enveloping more of the area under the bell curve on the “oppressed,” right side of the line. There will always be individuals who are able to cope with any level of hierarchy–and there will always be individuals who chafe under even the lightest power relation. That is not important. What is important is the overall level of human suffering caused by subjecting increasing populations to the dehumanizing ordeal of hierarchy.

At this point, we should be able to clearly say that hierarchy is, indeed, “evil”–but that it also is a measure of degree, rather than kind. We can characterize a society as “hierarchical,” but we must understand that this means that it bears a greater resemblance to the hierarchical ideal than the egalitarian ideal, rather than to say that it is a perfect image of the hierarchical ideal. We might characterize such a society as “78% hierarchical,” for instance.

Jeff Vail has done an excellent job charting the gross inefficiencies of hierarchy. In perhaps his very best argument on this, Vail highlighted the complete inability of hierarchy to effectively process information in perhaps hierarchy’s single greatest achievement in this regard: the United States Air Force. Vail writes:

“Span of Control” is one term for the management concept that one person can only effectively control a limited number of subordinates. As a hierarchal organization grows, more and more intermediary layers must be created to keep this span of control within reasonable bounds. Let’s explore the (quite obvious) ramifications of this, as a means of better understanding RA Wilson’s SNAFU principle: As hierarchy grows, the increasing number of relays that information must cross, and the self-interested distortion of information at each relay ensures the inefficiency of information processing within hierarchy.

In reality, the number of staff tiers keeps increasing (for example, I’ve never seen an Air Force “wing” with only 12 wing-staff personnel, as the two-tiered staff formula would suggest). Wilson’s SNAFU principle would suggest that as the number of layers (and hence relays) increases, the number of personnel involved in information processing functions will keep increasing beyond the 76% suggested in the 6-layer organization above. In reality, this does in fact happen, as at each higher level there are additional staff functions that must be added (e.g. at the Flight level, the staff doesn’t include medical, but at the Wing level it may include an entire hospital). Additionally, the degree of autonomy is increased from the Group to Wing level, as necessitated by the sheer impossibility of maintaining effective communications through 5 hierarchal relays.

The “SNAFU principle” Vail refers to is the effect of message corruption through multiple relays in a self-interested system. It is exemplified by this “fable” from the hacker culture, which dates back to the 1960s:

     In the beginning was the plan,
            and then the specification;
     And the plan was without form,
            and the specification was void.
     And darkness
            was on the faces of the implementors thereof;
     And they spake unto their leader,
            saying:
     "It is a crock of shit,
            and smells as of a sewer."
     And the leader took pity on them,
            and spoke to the project leader:
     "It is a crock of excrement,
            and none may abide the odor thereof."
     And the project leader
            spake unto his section head, saying:
     "It is a container of excrement,
            and it is very strong, such that none may abide it."
     The section head then hurried to his department manager,
            and informed him thus:
     "It is a vessel of fertilizer,
            and none may abide its strength."
     The department manager carried these words
           to his general manager,
     and spoke unto him
           saying:
     "It containeth that which aideth the growth of plants,
           and it is very strong."
     And so it was that the general manager rejoiced
           and delivered the good news unto the Vice President.
     "It promoteth growth,
           and it is very powerful."
     The Vice President rushed to the President's side,
           and joyously exclaimed:
     "This powerful new software product
           will promote the growth of the company!"
     And the President looked upon the product,
           and saw that it was very good.

This litte piece whimsically illustrates a very serious problem in hierarchy. The span of control limits how many subordinates a single hierarch can control through the same neurological limitations from which we derive Dunbar’s number (~150). Because of that span of control, hierarchy must create more levels to accomodate larger populations. However, more levels means more transmissions from the bottom of the hierarchy to the top. This is why we note the greater efficiency of smaller corporations over larger ones, or the eternal litany against government bureaucracy. Elsewhere, Vail has discussed the superior information processing capabilities of an “open source,” rhizomatic network:

Rhizome processes information entirely differently than hierarchy. It depends on the fusion of a regular network of local links between peers along with occasional, distant and weak contacts with a broad and diverse set of contacts. This “weak network�? theory, and how rhizome can use it to process information more efficiently than hierarchy, is well illustrated by the classic example of the job search: in a traditional communications model (as used by hierarchy), you ask your 10 close friends for leads on jobs, and they each ask 10 close friends. The result—you don’t span a very large social network in your search. In the “weak network�? model you ask 10 distant friends, and they in turn each ask 10 distant friends. With such a method you can span a far wider social network, and are more likely to locate a job prospect. Rhizome is defined by the non-hierarchal cooperation between peer entities, and this cooperation—the fundamental economic activity in rhizome—depends entirely on such effective forms of communication.

So, we must now return to the original question–is hierarchy a necessary evil? Must we adapt to this evil in all its gross inefficiency and learn to cope with it, as so many of our primate cousins have? Or is it unnecessary–and therefore, something we should work to reject once again, even as our first human ancestors did?

In thesis #7, we also touched on why hierarchy becomes necessary. After a discussion of Dunbar’s number, and the reflection of egalitarianism in the evolution of the human brain, I noted:

Here we see the essential problem with any large-scale society: we cannot conceive of so many people. It speaks to the very heart of Stalin’s cold truism: “One death is a tragedy, but a million deaths are a statistic.” Thus, for any society much larger than 150 people, we become neurologically incapable of maintaining an egalitarian society. Hierarchy becomes necessary, yet the human animal is very much adapted to egalitarianism–and in no way adapted to hierarchy. Cross-culturally, we all have some expectations rooted in that egalitarian heritage. We expect freedom, and we expect to be treated as a human being rather than a stereotype. We all feel some negative feeling of stress when these expectations are not met–as they invariably are not met in any large, hierarchical society.

Hierarchy eases the burden on our brain by dividing the world into neatly stereotyped classes. We do not need to know the bum on the street personally, because we know that he is “homeless,” and we know what “the homeless” are. We do not need to know our given Congressman personally because he is a “politician” and we know what “politicians” are. Hierarchy helps simplify the world, allowing our brains to function in a society of 6.5 billion. We may be academically aware that this is an abstraction and far removed from the actual complexity of our society, but we are neurologically incapable of actually understanding such complexity. Hierarchy provides us a model of a simplified world that is easier to understand than a complex world of 6.5 billion persons.

There are two elements here that make hierarchy necessary, and population is only the first. However, even a large population would not require hierarchy if it accepted fissioning. This is common among many primitive societies, and nearly universal among hunter-gatherers. When groups become too large (or often, when an individual aspires to power), the group fissions. The Bible contains a memory of this process in Genesis 13, with the fissioning of Abram’s and Lot’s groups. Tribalism, Balkanism, whatever we call it, even a large population can eschew hierarchy if it is prepared to break down into a sufficient number of small, autonomous groups.

However, this is possible only under certain energy distribution schemes–and agriculture is not one of them. Agriculture requires significant investment in a given piece of developed land, often requiring terracing or irrigation. This makes fissioning geographically difficult. As a more general principle, it concerns the distribution of energy. Vail writes:

Historically, patterns of energy useage can effectively predict, and are a useful tool in understanding societal structure and hierarchy. Ancient China and Egypt, home to the earliest and most centralized/despotic civilizations, can be explained in terms of an energy-dependence dynamic. The energy that drove both these systems was control of the periodic flooding of the nile and yellow rivers, used to irrigate the agricultural systems of the respective societies. The individual land control of farmers in both societies has mystified many historians as to why such despotic political systems were allowed to develop. This can, however, be easily explained by the fact that it required huge, often 100,000+ man work details to keep these “hydraulic” (see Wittfogel) agriculture systems functioning — something that could only be accomplished by a powerful, centralized authority.

Conversely, tribal political structures, epitomized by autonomy and individual freedom (if not material wealth) are examples of highly de-centralized energy systems — mainly firewood gathered by individuals at a sustainable rate.

Taking advantage of the distant mirror of history to examine our own society, it is clear that our dependence on petroleum-derived energy has led to a complete dependence on a despotic government-corporate complex that controls and ensures our supply of petroleum. Our society of “freedom and empowerment”, our vaunted democracy might, to those in a removed vantage point, look like the same superficial good deal as the pharoh’s providing and maintaining a complex hydraulic-irrigation network must have looked like a good deal to the ancient egyptian peasantry.

Thus, the question, “Is hierarchy necessary?” is actually two questions–”Is a large population necessary? And must this population depend on centralized energy sources?” It seems that centralized energy sources may be a prerequisite for such large populations, but the size of such populations are deeply ambiguous. There is no inherent value in having a large population. We don’t need to have a large population; we did well with a much smaller population for millions of years. Large populations must make frightening cuts into the ecology they depend on, placing them in a permanently precarious position.

In fact, the only thing that necessitates a large population is hierarchy itself. Hierarchy requires large pools of labor to provide for the nobility, and large populations that can be levied into large armies with which hierarchy can expand.

Therefore, hierarchy is only necessary for hierarchy. We gain nothing from it, but lose much to it. The only one who benefits from hierarchy is the hierarch himself. This makes hierarchy an unnecessary evil.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] At the same time, while the sustainable complexity of the Upper Paleolithic Revolution gave us many of those things we value most about our species, the only innovations unique to the unsustainable complexity of the Neolithic Revolution have been the unnecessary evil of hierarchy (see thesis #11), the difficult, dangerous and unhealthy life of the agriculturalist (see thesis #9), and the dehumanizing denial of the open, egalitarian band life to which humans are adapted (see thesis #7). […]

    Pingback by Thesis #20: Collapse is an economizing process. » The Anthropik Network — 18 December 2005 @ 8:50 PM

  2. […] Jeff Vail has often written on the inefficiency of hierarchy’s information processing capabilities. The span of control limits how many subordinates any hierarch can effectively administer (usually around 5), while the SNAFU principle and signal degradation limits how deep a hierarchy can go before suffering severe efficiency problems (see thesis #11). Thus, while hierarchy provides the only readily available alternative to simply working inside the limit of Dunbar’s number imposed by human neurology, it has a set of limits all its own. To expand this hierarchy beyond those limits means either overwhelming each hierarch beyond the span of control, and/or creating a hierarchy too deep, such that signal degradation becomes an overwhelming concern. This seriously limits the effectiveness of each new investment to expand such a hierarchy, necessitating the use of a new class of specialists dedicated simply to information processing. This increases the cost of expanding a hierarchical information processing structure–costs which yield increasingly little benefit as signal degradation sets in. As an example, in “‘Span of Control’ and Inefficiency of Hierarchy,” Vail writes: The US Federal Government’s National Incident Management System (NIMS) is based upon the Incident Control System (ICS) methodology developed by wildfire fighters to create a standard for command and control systems (hierarchy) as government agencies respond to incidents. NIMS and ICS both state that the maximum desirable span of control is 5, meaning that one supervisor should control no more than 5 subordinates. The US Military follows a similar formula: one commander controls three subordinate units, as well as a staff function, which results in a span of control of roughly 5. This military formula is virtually identical around the world–a time-tested formula for maximum span of control. The military formula, however, is more revealing, for while it uses a 5:1 span of control, the operational span of control is only 3:1 (that is, the number of subordinate units that actually carry out the fundamental mission of the organization). The remaining two (roughly) staff positions under each commander are actually information processing assistants necessary to make even the 3:1 span of control effective. Without getting in to two much details, those staff positions are normally broken down to an executive officer, who is in turn responsible for the commander’s administrative staff, and a deputy commander, who is in turn responsible for the commander’s non-administrative staff (Intelligence, Logistics, Human Resources, etc.). As a result of the executive officer and deputy commander concept, the non-operational tail actually extends down two layers from each “operational” commander at the higher levels. […]

    Pingback by Thesis #14: Complexity is subject to diminishing returns. (The Anthropik Network) — 17 October 2006 @ 10:21 AM

  3. […] When the case is laid out against the material benefits of civilization, and the progressivist is forced to admit that hierarchy is an unnecessary evil (thesis #11), that it is a difficult, dangerous and unhealthy way of life (thesis #9), that it makes us sick (thesis #21), and that it cannot provide medicine (thesis #22) or knowledge (thesis #23) beyond that which is universal to all cultures, civilized or not. The typical last resort is the ephemeral. Civilization, the progressivist then claims, is still of value for the art, music, and poetry it creates. Primitive cultures have no Beethoven, no Rembrandt, and no Shakespeare. Again, the progressivist case is predicated on an abysmal ignorance of what primitive cultures can boast. In fact, art is universal to all human cultures, not just including primitive ones, but especially primitive ones. Art is essential to human nature–and thus, it is always at odds with civilization’s basic, dehumanizing trends–and it is found wherever one finds humans. […]

    Pingback by Thesis #24: Civilization has no monopoly on art. (The Anthropik Network) — 17 October 2006 @ 10:39 AM

  4. […] Our fear of collapse is an irrational one; one that is projected onto us by our leaders, who truly do have something to fear. This is the same class of elites that are the drivers and architects of all the problems we have so far discussed (see thesis #10). Now that we can see that civilization did not give us medicine (see thesis #22), or knowledge (see thesis #23), or art (see thesis #24)–but it does give us illness (see thesis #21), makes our lives difficult, dangerous and unhealthy (see thesis #9), destroys the way of life to which we are most adapted (see thesis #7), and submits us to the unnecessary evil of hierarchy (see thesis #11)–the true nature of civilization should now be plain to see: it is the means by which elites maintain their power and privelage, at the cost of everyone else. […]

    Pingback by Thesis #27: Collapse increases quality of life. (The Anthropik Network) — 17 October 2006 @ 10:41 AM

  5. […] have turned out to be totally maladaptive and, in the grand scheme of human history, brand-new: having hierarchy, eating cereal grains, wearing shoes… now it seems we can’t even get sleeping […]

    Pingback by The Fabulous Forager » Sleep the Clock Around — 17 January 2008 @ 9:14 PM


Comments

  1. So is it safe to assume that you’re not a Royals Watcher?

    Comment by Peter — 21 October 2005 @ 5:30 PM

  2. :) Not exactly.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 21 October 2005 @ 5:33 PM

  3. A long, long time ago (back in the early 1970s?), the local newspaper’s editorial pages carried a half page article on an experiment in over-population conducted with mice (or rats?) at some university. In a nutshell, the researchers built a maze “city” and seeded it with a small number of the rodents. At first everything was fine. But over time the population swelled and the nightmare began. To their horror, the researchers began witnessing constant violence between males, rape of females, cannibalism of the young, and more.

    I was still in high school at the time and totally scarred by that article. I have not been able to forgot it despite the passage of three decades.

    We are approaching such a point of over-population as humans. In many American cities, it’s next to impossible to get out of earshot of other people’s voices for even a few minutes for some quality “me time”.

    Good thing there’s TV to dull the senses and deaden the mind. Hey, did you hear about Paris Hilton’s latest publicity stunt?

    Comment by Peter — 22 October 2005 @ 2:06 PM

  4. Amen, brother. I read a similar study in college that affected me similarly. Sure, people aren’t mice … but they sure do act like it….

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 22 October 2005 @ 2:45 PM

  5. Jason

    I would suggest that societal hierarchy is necessary when a) there is a high population density and b) when necessary natural resources (water, wood, food, coal, etc.) are relatively limited in their availability. Then for reasons of group survival, hierarchy and bureaucracy develop. And they develop as the population density increases and resources become limited, which are linked with development of agriculture.

    Likely the hierarch becomes associated with resource storage and distribution systems (linked to technology and not science - smile)

    Gary

    Comment by Gary Ewell — 20 January 2006 @ 3:18 PM

  6. Yes, that’s what I said in the article. However, I also stated that those high population densities only arise because of hierarchy. Thus, the only reason for hierarchy is hierarchy. It defines itself, so it’s an unnecessary evil.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 20 January 2006 @ 3:32 PM

  7. Yes, this may be the only reason for hierarchy, but also without agriculture there would be no hierarchy. Yes? And the concentrating protein of the salmon run. Yes?

    So by this logic, what does it take for humans to not continue to set this hierarchy trap?

    Comment by Rick Larson — 28 January 2006 @ 9:34 PM

  8. Not getting their energy from sources under their own control.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 28 January 2006 @ 9:42 PM

  9. jason,

    i don’t quite understand your answer to gary’s suggestion. it seems fair to say, as you do, that population density only rises because of hierarchy.

    but does that entirely address the second part? an egalitarian society could face a resource shortage, no? it seems that at that point such a society could preserve its structure either by adapting a suitable new resource, or dying off. but in the absence of a new resource and/or inability to countenance a die-off, wouldn’t it be likely that it would develop a hierarchy?

    after that point everything you said about the self-reinforcing nature of hierarchy would apply.

    aren’t you assuming that there would be no resource depletion or shortage without hierarchy? but couldn’t there be a shortage due to a non-human agent? what then?

    Comment by joshua — 15 March 2006 @ 6:19 AM

  10. It’s a common myth that agriculture arose because of a lack of resources, but that doesn’t make much sense. Agriculture is an investment in the future; you plant grain that you could be eating now so you can have more grain next year. You could only afford to make that investment if you knew for sure you’d have enough food to last you until the harvest. Otherwise it’s like a drowning man using the last energy he has to take out his cell phone and call a health club to ask about swimming lessons.

    And because hierarchy is never seen apart from some level of agriculture (except in very special cases, which rely on an overabundance of natural resources), there’s no way a food shortage would lead to hierarchy.

    As for egalitarian societies experiencing resource shortages, it’s very, very hard to starve a bunch of foragers. Have you ever heard the claim that foragers only work four hours a day? That claim was made by anthropologist Richard Lee, who visited the !Kung in the Kalahari Desert, during one of the worst droughts in ths history of the region. Agriculturalists and pasturalists two miles away were dying in droves. The !Kung were working four hours a day and complaining about how hard they were working.

    But if it ever got really bad - so bad that the environment couldn’t support even a band of hunter-gatherers - there’s another nifty thing about foragers: they’re mobile. They can just pick up and move to a new territory, one that has more resources. But even that’s unlikely, because humans in their natural state are incredibly adaptable. We’re omnivores, so we can - and do - eat just about anything. We can flourish in the desert or in the Arctic. It’s only agricultural societies that have to restrict themselves to temperate zones for the sake of the delicate, fickle crops on which they rely. Frankly, if the environment you’re in is so harsh that it manages to kill off a well-adapted band of foragers, we’re probably talking about a scenario where there’s virtually no life on earth left.

    Comment by Giulianna Lamanna — 15 March 2006 @ 9:30 AM

  11. Egalitarian societies have occasional downturns, but it’s extremely rare to find one that results in die-off. More commoly, it just restricts birth rate for a while. People spend more time feeling a mite peckish, and the work day may go up to four whole hours a day.

    In addition, as Giuli pointed out, hierarchy needs certain things to begin: namely, sunk costs, sedentism, and the kind of regular abundance that allows those things. Hierarchy begins as a result of abundance and creates scarcity. The kind of population explosion that prompts the need for hierarchy can only be achieved, apart from the occasional anomoly we’ve discussed elsewhere, by hierarchy. It’s defined only in terms of itself; the only problems it solves are the problems it creates.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 15 March 2006 @ 10:08 AM

  12. That’s very helpful. Thanks.

    Kinda gives new meaning to Tacitus’,

    “…the Romans brought devastation, they call it peace.”

    Comment by Joshua — 15 March 2006 @ 8:01 PM

  13. A question tormented me for a while, and i hope someone over here can relieve me of that and bring some clarity.

    One and it seems only case in which hierarchy is preferrable to a human, who is maladapted to it, is the case when it not just prolongs, but saves his life from a deadly danger. Like, say, having a hierarchical military might be good for protecting yourself against an enemy’s invasion. Putting aside the points on the Prisoner’s Dilemma and wars between humans, a possibility remains that would be a threat enough to both civilized and uncivilized societies - the Armageddon scenario in which an ugly piece of rock wants to fall onto the Earth and destroy everything. Now, the civilized answer would be to allocate all the energy and technology available to civilization due to it’s ever-agressive expansion, and somehow blow the rock away - either with nukes, or just that much chemical explosive. Some other ultra-massive natural disaster could also serve an example.

    With the uncivilized side having nothing to offer against this extraterrestrial threat, it would be doomed for extinction. And that would, for most people, justify hierarchy as long as it is neccessary to maintain the immense civilized infrastructure, in turn neccessary to stop the hypothetic asteroid; thus effectively throwing over the whole Thesis Eleven.

    And i like Thesis Eleven, so i would really appreciate someone throwing this Armageddon argument away ;)

    Comment by xeed — 24 May 2006 @ 8:05 AM

  14. Another thing, which i’vent found where to put. The “evil” Kaczynski in his manifesto opposes the genetic manipulation of human species to eradicate the incompatibilities between “human nature” and “industrial technology” - what he calls the power process, what you call “unhealthy lifestyle”, etc - based on a simple clause: “it seems unethical”. Are there any, better, counterarguments to large-scale genetic assimilation? For i have found none yet.

    All the while a downright dystopic scenario, say genetic technology makes it possible to make humans feel happy, wholesome, healthy and empowered all the while inside civilization, at the same time and constantly, thus eradicating the incompatibilities described in a fair one third of the thirty theses, and the energy needs of this assimilated society are somehow satisfied with “green” sources such as windmills, dambless hydroelectricity and nanosolars, eradicating at least a third more. The last third of the theses, those concerning the Earth and its resouces being finite, is eradicated by establishing a totalitarian-grade population control, which this new “zombienation” won’t really mind.

    Besides the -topy of this, and the (~15%) overall chance of success - are there any logical arguments you know to dismiss this scenario?

    Comment by xeed — 24 May 2006 @ 8:44 AM

  15. Like, say, having a hierarchical military might be good for protecting yourself against an enemy’s invasion.

    That is the classic defense of why we “need” hierarchy. But, who’s doing the invading? A neighboring hierarchy. So it’s very much a game of Prisoner’s Dilemna, and we get back to the fundamental point of thesis #11: hierarchy can only be justified by itself. It’s circular.

    Now, the civilized answer would be to allocate all the energy and technology available to civilization due to it’s ever-agressive expansion, and somehow blow the rock away - either with nukes, or just that much chemical explosive. Some other ultra-massive natural disaster could also serve an example.

    Yes, but as we’ve seen, hierarchy is itself a massive disaster. So, hierarchy may provide a possibility of evading a disaster that may or may not happen–but does so by creating a certain disaster on the same scale. Say there’s a 1% chance that a massive object from space is going to wipe out all mammalian life in the next million years (which is really overestimating the frequency, but let’s stack the odds against me anyway). Let’s say that hierarchy gives you a 75% chance of avoiding that. So, hierarchy reduces the odds of the end of all mammalian life in the next million years due to impact to 0.25%. Of course, the nature of human hierarchy is such that it is, itself, an assurance of total disaster on a much shorter timeline–just tens of thousands of years, rather than a million. So, without hierarchy, our chance of disaster is 1%. With hierarchy, it’s 100%. This is not a good bet.

    But, let me also take a moment to mention how foragers deal with disasters. Notice when the tsunami hit last year, the Andaman islanders were just fine. It was the hierarchical settlements that were washed out to see. Egalitarian societies are also highly diverse, low-density societies; that makes them far more resilient to natural disaster than any hierarchical society could ever be. I can’t see a defense for hierarchy in preparation for natural disaster, because egalitarian societies are far better prepared to deal with natural disasters. They only become “disasters” when people are sedentary, can’t move, and have houses and other buildings to be destroyed.

    Are there any, better, counterarguments to large-scale genetic assimilation? For i have found none yet.

    I would say that the law of unintended consequences is the best argument against genetic manipulation, not whether or not it “seems unethical.” We simply don’t know what we’re messing with. We’ve mapped the human genome, but what we’ve found is that it’s many-layered. The very same gene that does X is also involved in Y and Z. There are trigger genes and other mechanisms that make the genome so complex that we aren’t even close to understanding the full implications of what we do with it.

    …say genetic technology makes it possible to make humans feel happy, wholesome, healthy and empowered all the while inside civilization…

    Which would mean making humans genetically disposed towards hierarchy and oppression. That would require a change so fundamental they wouldn’t be humans anymore. You’re breeding a slave race, essentially.

    …and the energy needs of this assimilated society are somehow satisfied with “green” sources such as windmills, dambless hydroelectricity and nanosolars, eradicating at least a third more.

    Sure–if the situation was drastically different, the Thirty Theses would cease to be true. If there were dragons and unicorns, it would be much the same. Replacing our petroleum usage, even with a combination of alternative energy sources, is as unattainable in this world as breeding a new species of Homo that’s content to be slaves. What you’re talking about isn’t just hypothetical, it’s quite impossible. It’s sheer fantasy. I readily admit, my argument may not hold in a fantasy; they were only ever made to apply to the world as it actually is.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 24 May 2006 @ 9:48 AM

  16. Which would mean making humans genetically disposed towards hierarchy and oppression. That would require a change so fundamental they wouldn’t be humans anymore. You’re breeding a slave race, essentially.

    That’s exactly what i meant by “zombienation” ;) However, won’t they still be happier?

    However, the law of unintended consequences makes good waste of any further talk towards such assimilation - a succesful kind anyway. I suppose the reason behind me posting this is my ever-mongering paranoia suggesting that someone could really try this. After all, if migrating to nuclear power makes some sense to some people, why won’t migrating to a whole new species be, despite that i’ve actually pulled that idea from an antiutopic novel written way in 1920?

    So - thanks for pacifying my phobias :)

    Comment by xeed — 24 May 2006 @ 12:33 PM

  17. The same genetic pathways that make us egalitarian might use a lot of the same triggers and genes that, say, regulate our breathing, or tell us to stop growing past a certain age. I’m not sure you can ever use genetics to change just one feature. We study these things in a reductionistic way, but that’s not how things really are. They all exist as part of a whole, and they have connections between each other. This is really reductionism’s greatest failing; in breaking things down, it makes us thing that things really are like that. “The map is not the territory; the word is not the thing.”

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 24 May 2006 @ 1:08 PM

  18. Was this intentional, cause it is an interesting Freudian slip if not.

    “It was the hierarchical settlements that were washed out to see”

    Also, while I doubt the viability, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn of some sort of covert genetic manipulation program. It wouldn’t have to be precise and reductionistic (change this G to an A and voila).
    The PTB don’t seem to mind unintended consequences (see their new publically announced weather modification program), and it wouldn’t necessary involve changing genes so much as adding them (the encoding for some enzyme that encourages production of some mood-regulating hormone, etc).

    I think it is more likely that the manipulation of consciousness (which is undoubtedly occuring on some level to make more willing serfs) is simpler and cheaper, with less potential (though still great) for UIC (can I use an acronym now?). All they have to do is get enough people to eat aspartame, hydrogenated oils, refined flour and sugar and a crazy cocktail of animal hormones and antibiotics, preservatives and old-fashioned heavily processed foods. That would (and does) cloud the consciousness of anyone. The best part is, while genetic manipulation would be expensive and difficult, the suckers will actually PAY you to brainwash themselves with cheap, unhealthy food. To make sure they only buy the crap food though (which takes far more energy to produce than healthy food) you need to take taxpayer money and subsidize the worst of them, so that the poor people have no choice but to eat the slop you dish out. What a nightmare that would be if the price of food reflected the true cost. Wholesome food would be cheaper!!!

    Comment by limukala — 25 May 2006 @ 2:02 PM

  19. Was this intentional, cause it is an interesting Freudian slip if not.

    Oops. :)

    The PTB don’t seem to mind unintended consequences

    Well, I’m talking about things like, “can’t survive for more than five seconds on its own.” That’s kind of debilitating.

    (see their new publically announced weather modification program)

    I’m sorry, what? Of course, “weather modification programs” have been a hallmark of insane conspiracy theories, but as far as I know, we’re still a few centuries away from being able to do anything that could reasonably earn the name. But you say publicly announced … could you show us such a public announcement?

    and it wouldn’t necessary involve changing genes so much as adding them

    That won’t work; genes operate as a whole. They’re far too interconnected to just plop something on the end. If that’s all you do, it will just be neatly ignored. DNA operates like “spaghetti” computer code, with a mess of GOTO statements. Add a piece of code on the end and don’t bother to change anything above it, and you’ve just added a piece of code that will never be executed. Or, change a line in the mess without knowing what’s going to run it, and the thing just crashes as soon as you try to run it. The only way to rewrite such a program in any meaningful sense is to unravel all the run scenarios and figure out that big mess of GOTO’s. With DNA, it’s impossibly complicated–we’re centuries from being able to do that in any meaningful way. Compared to that, our current biotech is barely half a step above leeches.

    All they have to do is get enough people to eat aspartame, hydrogenated oils, refined flour and sugar and a crazy cocktail of animal hormones and antibiotics, preservatives and old-fashioned heavily processed foods.

    That would be a far more reasonable plan, but I’m not even sure it’s that conscious. We have a system that rewards control; when you have that, you don’t need a conspiracy to explain why there are so many systems of control.

    What a nightmare that would be if the price of food reflected the true cost. Wholesome food would be cheaper!!!

    Not really–it’d be a lot more expensive. For instance, the comparative price of artificial sweeteners vs. cane sugar. We used to use cane sugar–a lot of countries still do. What happened was, Castro took over. The political cost of cane sugar went up. Now, in the U.S., the real cost of cane sugar is higher than artificial sweeteners, and of course there’s not much of the U.S. that’s suitable for growing cane sugar. And so….

    For “wholesome” foods to become cheaper than more processed ones in the United States, you’d need to shift the agricultural land usage of North America, because right now, the farms are concentrated in the Great Plains–where people aren’t. This makes transportation costs significant. How do you think corn oil became so omnipresent? It cost less to turn corn into oil and make all manner of processed foods and ship those to the cities, than it cost to ship the corn itself.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 25 May 2006 @ 2:27 PM

  20. Hey –

    Besides which… much of the crap that they put into all that processed food is waste products that no self respecting omnivore would eat… oh yeah :-)

    But seriously…

    Janene

    Comment by Janene — 25 May 2006 @ 2:49 PM

  21. Well, admittedly this source is on the “conspiracy theory” end of the spectrum, but the bill they are referring to is real. The MSM just didn’t think it worth reporting on.

    “U.S. Senate Bill 517 and U.S. House Bill 2995, a bill that would allow experimental weather modification by artificial methods and implement a national weather modification policy, does not include agriculture or public oversight, is on the “fast track? to be passed in 2006.”

    the site is http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=PET20060511&articleId=2423

    Oh, and there are already well documented weather programs in effect, such as the one in Wyoming designed to increase snowpack (and likely therefore depriving the great plains of even more water, and suspected as a contributing factor in the Texas/OK drought).

    With the genetic stuff I’m really no expert, but from what I understand the sort of random patching is exactly what our current genetic technology does (randomly infect via retrovirus plenty of different cultures with the desired genes, and sometimes you get the effect you want). Granted it is hit and miss, but it seems to have some effect (round-up tolerant corn, etc). There is a high failure rate, and even genetists admit they have no idea what sort of UIC they are incurring, but that is the sort of thing I can imagine the same kind of psychopath who ran the Nazi con. camp experiments to not care about (the sort of scientist that we imported en masse at the end of WWII, and no doubt cultivated through MK ultra and other such projects).
    With that said, I am decidedly undecided as to whether the current control systems have deeper, more sinister connections and machinations, or whether they are really just the inevitable result of petty people in an inherently flawed culture. I tend to think a little of both is going on.
    Your right too, ending financial subsidies wouldn’t have an effect unless we eliminated energy subsidies too, and that is really the basis of our entire civilization. My main point is that wholesome foods require a lot less work to produce. Sort of like how they would keep the windows shut and the AC blasting at my old school (UH) even on the most beautiful days (or the curtains shut and flourescent lights glaring), so you had to carry a sweater around in 85 degree weather. It would be simpler and cheaper to just design buildings appropriate to a tropical climate.
    btw if you’d like to read well-researched articles on “conspiricy theory” that aren’t written by a foilhead, check out Jeff Wells site (rigorousintuition.blogspot.com). I especially love the articles on “high weirdness” (the elites’ obsession with the occult). He is good at laying out connections and coincidences that are very hard to ignore, without jumping to conclusions.
    He also gets a lot more metaphysical than most, so the perspective is much broader.

    “If we’re potentially co-authors and participants in ideas that are “out there,” then perhaps we can also intuit and anticipate the bad ideas that come of age to work mischief. Because it doesn’t always take a secret lodge or a Grove cabin for dark elements to conspire together; it only requires a compatability of unspoken means and motive, up and down the chain of unaccountability. Once the pieces are in place, the commands needn’t be explicit and top-heavy and the conspiracy needn’t even be self-conscious. For instance, I don’t think for a moment that Tony Blair “gave the order” for the murder of David Kelly, though I can well imagine that, on hearing the news, Blair immediately recognized the hand of statecraft and perhaps even his own numb complicity.”

    Comment by limukala — 25 May 2006 @ 4:07 PM

  22. Of course, that (the JW quote) is basically what you were saying anyway, isn’t it?

    Comment by limukala — 25 May 2006 @ 4:08 PM

  23. “U.S. Senate Bill 517 and U.S. House Bill 2995, a bill that would allow experimental weather modification by artificial methods and implement a national weather modification policy, does not include agriculture or public oversight, is on the “fast track? to be passed in 2006.”

    Reading the actual bills in question–S 517 IS and HR 2995 IH–I can see they’re up to it again. The United States government has set aside money to research all kinds of crazy shit: arming dolphins, anitmatter weapons, and the “psychic super-soldiers” Jon Ronson writes about in The Men Who Stare at Goats. These laws are asking for lots of money to try to build a weather modification system. Maybe it’ll even pass–makes the government look like it can do something about the natural disasters global warming creates. That doesn’t mean there’s weather modification technology, it just means we want there to be. Like flying cars.

    Oh, and there are already well documented weather programs in effect, such as the one in Wyoming designed to increase snowpack (and likely therefore depriving the great plains of even more water, and suspected as a contributing factor in the Texas/OK drought).

    I doubt there’s much of a connection there: they’re just using seeding in Wyoming to make for more precipitation. That’s really the extent of our “weather modification technology.” Seed clouds when it’s cold, and you’ll get more snowpack. But that wouldn’t have an effect on less rain getting through to the plains, I don’t think. They’ve had so much drought because the place has been a desert since the 1930s.

    Granted it is hit and miss, but it seems to have some effect (round-up tolerant corn, etc).

    What we currently do is knock out one gene at a time, and see what effect it has. Daisy chain a few of those together (which is something we haven’t done much of, but would need to for the kind of project we’re talking about), and that’s when you get, say, people with no lungs.

    With that said, I am decidedly undecided as to whether the current control systems have deeper, more sinister connections and machinations, or whether they are really just the inevitable result of petty people in an inherently flawed culture

    I’m quite certain it’s neither: that we’re dealing with people who either (a) honestly believe in what they’re doing, or (b) are just trying to get by, operating inside of a system that is contrary to human nature. The result is–this. Nothing sinister about it, but it operates systemically, and as powerfully as evolution–and by many of the same mechanisms.

    He also gets a lot more metaphysical than most, so the perspective is much broader.

    I keep hearing such good recommendations for Wells, so I keep trying to read “Rigorous Institution” regularly, and yet, I don’t think I’ve ever been able to get more than two paragraphs into anything he’s ever written. I guess it’s just his style.

    Of course, that (the JW quote) is basically what you were saying anyway, isn’t it?

    L’il bit. :)

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 25 May 2006 @ 4:46 PM

  24. China’s been messing around with cloud seeding for a few decades, too. It dosen’t make more rain, just messes with where it falls…

    Comment by JCamasto — 25 May 2006 @ 10:27 PM

  25. “By itself, a hierarchical society would be another point in the diversity of social structures–and thus, good. The problem is when all societies are hierarchical. ”

    It would seem that the came considerations apply within a given society as well as between socieities. That is, limited functional hierarchies are tolerable so long as they exist within an overall framework of an egalitarian society. For example a hunting party, planning to take down a large animal, might agree that one of its members is “in charge” during the hunt. Usually this role falls to the most experienced or the person with the successful track record.

    BUT: in a society where divisions of labor are not absolute, i.e. where everyone does a bit of everything, functional hierarchies can’t metastasize into structural ones. The person with good distance-vision and ballistic sense may not be particularly good at close-range vision and fine hand/eye coordination needed to make spears or arrowheads, and the person who is good at working with stone may not be so good at making herbal preparations for medicine. So long as all of these roles are considered equally necessary, none of them come to dominate the culture. This of course is terribly painful for those lazy souls who would constitute themselves as elites in order to live off the labors of others.

    Hierarchy in defense against other hierarchies: There is also the scenario where a village is attacked by a ragtag band of “mutant zombies” i.e. outlaws who aren’t particularly well-organized but are driven by some need e.g. hunger or greed for loot. I’m still working on the issues raised by Vail’s concept of rhizomatic defense, to the issues of community defense in a post-collapse scenario, and I haven’t reached any conclusions in this regard. However it would seem to be necessary at minimum for there to be some kind of lateral communication among nodes, and some way of passing information that enables nodes to act effectively.

    Comment by gg3 — 29 January 2007 @ 5:35 AM

  26. We need a large population because a larger population will produce more science and more art. You may not care about those things, but it’s hardly ‘no reason’.

    The rose-tinted view of hunter-gatherer societies some of you seem to have is surreal. This ‘four hours a day’ figure is like a religious mantra.

    Comment by Rapewaffle — 14 October 2007 @ 6:09 PM

  27. Ah yes, more is always better isn’t it. More science, more art, more working jobs that are meaningless, more distractions. That’s the Julian Simon argument isn’t it? Human ingenuity will surmount any problem?

    Calling something ‘rose-tinted’ is hardly a reasoned refutation. Cite examples of how it is rose-tinted - or if you can not concede that the point is made. It’s been said that we rarely believe based on reasoned arguments but more commonly on our desires, obviously this cuts both ways, but in this case examples are cited and an argument is made.

    Comment by Luke — 14 October 2007 @ 7:32 PM

  28. > Ah yes, more is always better isn’t it. More
    > science, more art, more working jobs that are
    > meaningless, more distractions.

    You force me to repeat myself: You may not care about those things, but it’s hardly ‘no reason’. It isn’t a reason to you, because you want _less_ - less creativity, less technology, fewer people, fewer complications. You want to see a confusing and frightening world so simplified that you can understand it. A hunter-gatherer lifestyle may offer this.

    > That’s the Julian Simon argument isn’t it?
    > Human ingenuity will surmount any problem?

    No, that was not the point I was making. It’s also untrue; if it were, we would have no old problems and few new ones.

    > Calling something ‘rose-tinted’ is hardly a
    > reasoned refutation. Cite examples of how it is
    > rose-tinted - or if you can not concede that the
    > point is made.

    I’m not required to do either. The argument for the superiority of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle has not been made to my satisfaction, nor is the initial burden on me to refute it.

    Agriculture is simply more efficient than gathering. If a certain edible plant grows naturally in the conditions of one’s environment, then the number that one will find by chance is necessarily less than the number that will grow if additional plants are deliberately planted. Where Y is positive, X+Y > X.

    Further, people work for more than four hours a day now because they expect, and get more than food for their efforts.

    Comment by Rapewaffle — 4 November 2007 @ 6:03 PM

  29. Agriculture is quantifiably less efficient than anything else. Efficiency means calories gained, divided by calories of work expended. Only with agriculture is this a fractional value. Your opinions notwithstanding, the facts you cite are demonstrably incorrect.

    (Though I should at least add that where civilization hides from dealing with the full complexity of the world with tricks like hierarchy, it requires a hunter-gatherer approach to really deal with the fully “confusing and frightening world.” It’s civilization that demands less—less security, less community, less art, less culture, less knowledge, less interaction, less relationship—and hunter-gatherers that demand more. Your statement could hardly be a more perfect inversion of the actual situation.)

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 4 November 2007 @ 7:32 PM

  30. I would like to bring up the problem of the Prisoner’s Dilemma again. Just because you justify one hierarchy by reference to another, doesn’t negate the point.

    If I justify hierarchy in general by reference to hierarchy in general, that’s circular. If I justify hierarchy A by reference to hierarchy B, it’s not.

    Moving into the meat of things, I would propose the following devil’s advocate argument…

    (1)Given a world of relatively high social diversity (i.e., foraging cultures), with the standard run of human personalities, given a sufficient span of time some group of people will, for whatever reason, elect to assume a hierarchical structure. (We can assume that there is a probability >0 for this happening, since it has happened before; stipulating for time-span, we can say that it will almost certainly happen again.)
    (2)Given that such a structure allows for the organization of more people than an egalitarian structure allows for (your own assertion), given a sufficient span of time some such hierarchy will eventually build numbers significantly greater than that of any egalitarian structure.
    (3)Given that hierarchies must expand to support their aggricultural bases; or even if they are somehow not aggricultural, given that human beings are sometimes aggressive; given a sufficient span of time such a large hierarchy will eventually aggress its neighbors.
    (4)And given that such a large, aggressive hierarchy has the numbers to easily overpower a smaller egalitarian society, we can say in summary that over a sufficiently long timespan, any society that chooses to remain egalitarian will eventually be overcome by some large hierarchy.

    Since there is no assurance that this will be a “benevolent” hierarchy, why not create the best possible hierarchy now? If we cannot stay egalitarian forever, best to adopt a hierarchy of our own choosing, than to have one forced on us later, with no say regarding its setup or structure.

    Basically the claim here is that a large, aggressive hierarchy will “always” be selected for in much the same way as a highly proliferative species variant - because it has a much greater ability to spread and perpetuate itself than does an egalitarian group. If we’re going to be stuck with hierarchy anyway, might as well pick the one we like most, or at least dislike least.

    Comment by Anonymous — 24 May 2008 @ 2:37 PM

  31. Regarding the exercising of control over the lowest in the hierarchy by those at the top (which is necessary for the continued existence of the hierarchy), I think this has been one of the key purposes (if not the only purpose) of all the patriarchal religions of civilization. Zietgeist (sp?) explains this well, as do many other sources I’m sure.

    Marx said “religion is the opiate of the masses”. Religion can convince the downtrodden (exploited) masses that their allegiance to the ruler is required by God (who rules by divine right), and distract them from their miserable conditions by promises of a far better life after death (if they are only obedient to God).

    Comment by Jessica — 28 August 2008 @ 12:49 AM

  32. @30 (Anonymous), see Thesis 29.

    Comment by karln — 16 September 2008 @ 5:11 PM

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