In order to talk about hierarchies, we first need to define what a hierarchy actually is.
A hierarchy is the structure in which a group of individuals is organized based on dominant and submissive behaviour amongst each other. Thus hierarchies are used to decide about the distribution of resources within the group, the right to procreate and the behaviour towards other groups.
Through observation of animal- and human behaviour we can abstract – amongst others – four basic types of hierarchy:
First there is the linear hierarchy. This is mostly known from large wolfpacks consiting of more than one family and, in a slightly different form in captive Wolfpacks. In a linear hierarchy the leading individual displays dominant behaviour to the second in line, which dominates the third and so on. From Alpha all the way to Omega. Recent research suggests that this is a temporary form of organization since it is ony found in very large wolfpacks without blood-relation and packs built in captivity. Both share that they are rare and only form in very special circumstances that often involve scarcity of food, space or danger from outside the group such as other Wolfpacks competing for the same hunting grounds.
Second there is the family. This much more complex form of hierarchy is found in many species of mammals and birds. Especially the way wolves and humans dominate or submit to their family members seem to have quite a few similarities. Here we usually see father and mother standing equally beside each other, both dominating and submitting to each other depending on their individual roles and the neccessities of the situation. Male parents often display dominant behaviour towards male offspring which in return display some dominance towards the mothers who dominate female offspring who again have some dominance over the father. The same is true for the second generation of offspring which is dominated by the first, but not neccessarily by their grandparents.
Additionally within primate species we also observe that in some, such as chimpanzees, males are more dominant, in others, such as bonobos, females are.
In pre-civilised human cultures there does not seem to be a pattern of male or femal domination. In fact, though civilised cultures are almost always patrirarchical, many anthropologists believe that more than 60% of pre-civilised cultures were matriarchical.
When they reach adulthood, humans, just like wolves and other mammals usually leave their core group in order to fom their own families.
Third there is the flat hierarchy. It is what Karl Marx called ‘Urkommunismus’ – primitive or original communism.
Flat hierarchies are used by large groups of individuals or families such as herds of plant-eating mammals, but also chimpanzees, Bonobos, humans and other primates.
Flat hierarchies are complex social structures in which individuals agree on certain behavioural norms to keep the peace within the group, but either don’t dominate each other at all or only based on their respective abilities in certain situations. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t choose a leader. Often leaders are only chosen to deal with specific situations such as food scarcity or conflict with other groups. Humans call this kind of social structure tribes.
Native american tribes for example often only choose a chief in times of war. Often that chief does not even have a choice. the other members simply submit to him because he might just be the best warrior in the same way they submit to the shaman when somebody is sick or to the best hunter when there is not enough food.
Besides the leader all adult members of the tribe are basically equal. and since the leader’s authority solely depends on the submission of the other members, it is in his best interest to act solely in the interest of the group.
Of course this is a rather simplified version of a tribal social structure, but it usually applies to traditional tribes without a civilised influence.
How exactly the real structure of a specific tribe is formed varies, sometimes extremely. We know of tens of thousands of human tribes in the past and present, virtually none of which works exactly like another.
To the present day there are patriarchical tribes, matriarchical tribes, tribes that have leaders, tribes that work entirely without leaders, tribes that get food only through hunting and gathering and those who add different amounts of agricultural food to their diets. Structurally they only have one thing in common: they have either only one or no leader who is dominating a group of otherwise equal families. And who is dominated by the interests of the group as a whole.
While the way the leader is prepared and chosen for this position varies form tribe to tribe, tribal culture almost never fail in finding exactly the individual who is most able to lead depending on the specific needs of the group.
Fourth. The pyramid. I can not think of any species besides humans that is organizing itself in a pyramidical structure. Honeybees… . Ants… . well, they actually practice a form of the flat hierarchy, don’t they. One queen and an army of workers. I can actually think of only one social structure that is a pyramid. that structure is civilisation.
A simple pyramidical hierarchy is a group of individuals who are dominated by a smaller group of individuals whos are dominated by a single ruler. I will explain the difference between ruling and leading in another post.
the most basic pyramid therefore has three layers of domination and submission. of course most pyramids of our time are more complex than that. take your workplace for example, feudalism, dictatorships, but even the way the internal revenue service or ministries are organized.
Let’s remember what we have learned about fully agricultural societies. They depend on an evergrowing surplus of resources. when there is a surplus they need to put it into storage, lock the door of that storage and put guards in front of it. Whoever therefore has the key to the resources dominates everybody else. or more exactly, he/she dominates the small group under him/her which dominates the larger group below and so on.
And because he or she has the key to the food, his/her survival is practically independent from the needs of anyone else.
That also means that anyone’s survival depends on whoever standing is above him/her in the pyramid.
Think of your workplace again. Wether or not you take home enough money to survive, wether or not you keep your job or not ultimately depends on how your boss feels about you, not on your co-workers.
In a pyramid rulers are more dependent on the needs and wants of the one above them then on the needs and wants of the whole group. The only reason to help the whole group is, when it coincides with helping the people above.
Keep this in mind when you go to elections next time. whoever you put in power through your vote, immediately ceases to depend on you. No matter how much that person is promising to work in your interest now, he/she will not have any other choice than to work in the interest of the more powerful, because the more powerful decide whether he/she eats tomorrow.
Therefore, in a pyramidical society there can not be a fair distribution of resources, there can not be equality. When a few people decide, what and how muich all the others get to eat, there will always be those who get more and those who get less.
The basic structure of civilisation, the pyramid, formed by 100% reliance on agriculture has unfair distribution of dominance and submission, of ressources, especially food, built into its core.
Fighting civilisation therefore is fighting the pyramid, fighting the pyramid is fighting for equality and freedom for everyone.