Authority, Hierarchy, Intellectuals, and the Angst

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People who cherish authoritarian values or celebrate hierarchies appear to be on the rise. In corporations, in spite of the 90s and 2000s management literature hierarchies have never really been given up. The law requires those units to be hierarchies by definition, because it wants one person to be blamed for it all. A culture of blame is tightly tied to hierarchies and authoritarian behavior. As is mythical-religious thinking. But why does it appear to stick around and prevail?

Thinking in hierarchies is the first thinking that is learnt during human cognitive development. The first operation the mind learns when abstracting the world (forming “things”) in the visual field is that there may be many phenomena of the same kind (leaves, fingers, etc.). The second is that these phenomena may be composite (contain one another). And with this container-relationship hierarchies are born. If thinking in independent events (mostly scientific thinking) has not yet developed, everything is structured into hierarchies. As the understanding of the world at this point is usually very coarse (the brain appears to be one glibbery blob), the complexity of human (and animal) behavior, particularly what is experienced as “free will”, cannot be explained by those hierarchical models. That’s where souls enter the scene, to explain oneself, and by analogy, those souls are generalized on everything: animistic gods are born. Being different, at this stage, is considered a bad thing. It makes these hierarchical models more complicated, and handling complicatedness takes huge, mental effort. It stresses those mental resources which are most easily exhausted.

Myth, Mental Effort and Intelligence

To escape this hierarchy-prison also takes effort. Mental effort (on top of the above). Particularly, what has to be practiced, is to accept that 1.) things may not be as connected as they may appear (because they are creations of the human mind, nature doesn’t care whether we call them chair or table), and 2.) there are no souls, all behavior perceived may be explained (at least the possibility to show it) by the complexity of the section of the world that exhibits it. For animals, the complexity of their neural networks serves as an enabler. At a first stage, the animism of observed “dead” phenomena and plants is given up. At a later stage, animism of animals and humans may be given up. To conquer this stage of thinking was a matter of many generations. People will most likely not make this step on their own. For that to happen, the terms and concepts linked with that kind of thinking needs to be taught (or at least made available). That’s the job of schools, colleges and academies. With practice, mental effort comes down, which may not be obvious in the beginning.

As this thinking is in opposition to hierarchical models, it is often met with harsh resistance from hierarchy ideologists. Some of this criticism is justified, as the world, in the end, is not as disconnected as many scientific models suggest, and a synthesis is necessary. Particularly sciences that investigate human behavior or other complex phenomena (take climate or economy for example) suffer from this criticism. But disconnected models do work well in engineering. The synthesis of hierarchy and independent-events does however not lead to a “compromise”, but must transcend both stages of thinking, leveling up to complex phenomena, loops, recurrent phenomena, drift, homogeneous equilibria and finally the role of chaotic processes and heterogeneity. Then both prior concepts may be merged in more profound understanding: Why it’s good to be different, which was hardly imaginable in hierarchical models.

Stress Creates Hierarchies

The biggest problem of this evolution is stress. Human brains operate in a way, that the more stress they have, the more they revert to their most readily available conditioning. And since hierarchical thinking has been trained for the longest period of time, in situations of stress, human minds tend to revert back to hierarchical thinking. Anxiety reverts back to hierarchical thinking and feeds authority. To avoid that reflex, it is required to manage the emotions that cause the stress. It can be done. Then, more and more situations that caused a relapse into reactivity of basic conditioning will no longer be able to exert their pull. This ideal has been propagated for more than 2500 years by mostly Indian thinkers, where their Greek counterparts focused on the rational side of mental evolution. For some reason, looped thinking was an essential part of Indian philosophy at early onset. The important step is to combine these ways of thinking to get beyond those concepts: To use hierarchical thinking and gut associations where they are important: when there is not enough time to think things through or things really are very simple and have been mastered. And to use more elaborate rational strategies in all other cases.

Onto our current societies, we place a ton of artificial stress. We put man-made stressors on people that limit the natural evolution of human thinking. People, then, are more prone to submit to authority and hierarchies instead of emancipating and cherishing the richness of diversity. This is not a matter of intelligence, it is one of willpower. Intelligence alone will not lead you through all these stages of thinking, relevant thinking and experience will. You can be a highly intelligent hierarchy and authority thinker. Transgressing boundaries means focusing that mental effort on getting beyond well-known concepts. Intelligence alone also won’t lead you out of emotional affliction, effort and experience will. One does need time and opportunity to do that. Most required information in the form of texts, lectures or even classes, today, are readily available out there on the internet. But due to our money-driven world order, the reaffirming, not the challenging contents “sell” best. So people are flooded with reaffirmations in the bubble they are at, constantly distracted by availability biases. If you belong to a minority or are substantially different in any other way, odds are that you’re forced to think about things and may make quicker progress in thinking, if the stresses of life still let you.

Intellectuals As a Disturbance In The Force

That’s the next problem. Progress in thinking. Progress as in a sequence that opens up new possibilities and ways of understanding, all equally valid and appropriate under different circumstances. Unfortunately, progress, from an authoritarian standpoint, is framed in hierarchy. Then, somebody claiming to be “progressive” appears as somebody who puts him- or herself over others, putting another burden on the already low self esteem. That’s why hierarchy people don’t generally detest elites. They are one of the most natural, necessary appearance in hierarchical framing. They detest intellectuals, and particularly intellectual elites. From their standpoint, they claim to be “better” with no valid explanation within the hierarchical kingdom. They invent all those terms that cannot dock to the authoritarian vocabulary, which only appear to make things complicated (that “political correctness gibberish”). Somebody who says “It is done like this,” or “A family is a man, a woman, and children,” makes things simple from an individual standpoint. And simplicity, in hierarchies, means harmony. Slogans like “taking the country back” aim at re-establishing that hierarchical harmony, kicking out those intellectual troublemakers who complicate things. And if you renounce gays, for example, you maintain an utopia that, at least in daily life, you don’t need a word for that phenomenon. The simple desire not wanting to talk about it which saves mental effort.

However, this “thinking progress” isn’t thought to create a hierarchy. It’s available to anybody who commits the willpower. It’s nothing special, you just need to do it. It comes from an understanding that people are equal, non-hierarchic. It’s also were property-privilege and education-privilege separate from each other. In authoritarian societies, property-privilege makes you wealthy. That education-privilege will only help you if you can turn it into property-privilege. As a global society, we have never effectively broken free from hierarchies. The internet was our first and biggest attempt at it, and realizing that, authorities try to re-conquer and break down the idea, claiming power back from that “intellectual socialist globalist scam”. It is not surprising, that the discussion about hierarchy and authority is the first meta-structure to emerge on this global network. It is natural. The only question is: how quickly are we able to transcend it?

Two Definitions of Respect

When it comes to respect, progressives don’t value authority, the core value of hierarchical thinking. But you have to value authority to earn the respect of hierarchical thinkers. Authority, here, is predefined and not to be questioned. The authority of God. The authority of the government (unless it is “wrongfully” led by progressive intellectuals). To get the respect of those scientific independent-event thinkers however you need to cherish independence. Here, authority is given by the one who is willing to temporarily grant it. Sometimes this independentism reaches an extent that takes everything out of context. That’s where the libertarian wave has done more harm than good, ignoring the factual interconnectivity of people, ignoring that our mutual relationship today is one big network. Thus, authoritarians like to be separatists and build walls. Interconnectivity violates the clean structure of hierarchies and uncovers the fragility of authority. Unfortunately, our problems today are global: climate, pollution, mass extinction, hunger. A hierarchical frame does not offer ethical solutions or models for this problem (but moral solutions to relieve guilt). The only traditional authority existing at an elevated level that may concern all the earth in most of these models is God (if you’re lucky in your society there is a single god, otherwise the gods argue too). At least admit that you need those progressive thinkers to solve these global problems. Anxiety (or direct experience) at some point will lead there. But usually only after it has been asserted that the authoritarian is the one in charge. A goal that is so fought for that it will delay the onset of necessary anxieties. Most of the times, it will be way late. So there isn’t any time for sound thinking anymore. Thus, next bustling wave of panic activity starts that direly needs authoritarian control. Fire extinguishing as the norm. Sounds familiar?

We need solutions to global problems, even if not everybody may have personal experience of their consequences yet. Dear neo-liberals, opting out with the consequence of giving more authority to the hierarchy people is not part of the solution. It delays things. The more stress you create on society this way, the less likely a real solution will become. Opt-out solutions risk intermediate steps of complete chaos. This fosters hierarchies, which will naturally re-emerge from chaos first. Dear libertarians: individualism is not the solution either, and honoring the fact, that human interaction forms one big heavily recurrent network is not communism. And dear communists: there is nothing good in trying to turn the world into a homogeneous blob. Cherishing diversity is part of the solution, as it is the source of any new option or opportunity that ever entered this world. Regulation is important, but must be confined to the purpose of keeping the ideal of equality roughly in balance. At least to the extent to avoid that one party screws over the others to strip them of their possibility of evolution.

If there was no diversity in this world, there would be no difference between a human and a hog. What makes us human is diversity. But it apparently takes a huge mental leap from realizing diversity to non-valued acceptance of the different phenomena that diversity brings forth. We need this leap. Let’s start with stopping to put the blame on each other. And let’s challenge authoritarian hierarchies in a positive way, so we can escape their natural tendency to dominate and eradicate that which is different, without feeding the anxiety of those who seek protection in them. I know this is difficult. But let’s also not feed hierarchies, not even from a position of frustration. Get beyond that emotion too. The hellfire of hierarchy is not controllable once it has been ideologized, and it does not care what it burns.

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