NS T/R 11am
Egalitarianism vs. Hierarchy: are we wired to rank each other?
(A study of ownership, possession, and societies)
Do social structures have to be hierarchical, individualist, consumerist, and masculinist to be successful? This is the American ideal, and anyone with a narrow view of the world and human nature might believe that it is the only model for human organizations. However, this is not the case. Feminist historians argue that pre-historical societies were egalitarian, matrifocal, and peaceful. History is the period of time that encompasses the last 5,000 years and pre-history is all time preceding this present era. When one has this information, the necessity of hierarchy in societies and its membership in "human nature" are easily contested. My project will examine the practices of modern-day egalitarian societies and compare their policies to American hierarchical culture.
Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice & the Blade, argues that since these peaceful societies predated patriarchy, they can emerge once again, when patriarchy fails. These two ways of being have many titles, and are often labeled with the language of gender. A hierarchical society can be called a patriarchy or a matriarchy- it is the suffix "archy" that means inequality. Heirarchical societies are based on inequality, usually that of the sexes. Women lose status in male-dominated societies, and so these hierarchies are labeled with male terms. We do not want anyone to think that this project is about asserting the value of one sex over another. As Eisler says, "The underlying problem is not men as a sex. The root of the problem lies in a social system in which the power of the Blade (masculine power) is idealized.
The polar attributes of both types of societies are listed below:
Mother-identified societies Father-identified societies
Linking humans Ranking humans
Power comes from giving life Power comes from taking life
More peaceful Higher degree of violence
Women &Men have power Women are subservient
Sexual freedom Sexual repression/taboo
At this period in time, many would argue that white-male-capitalist-patriarchy isn't working, and that society must evolve beyond it. With such a high level of technology and no value seen in peace, the destruction of society because of its hierarchical values is imminent. Eisler and others argue that there is a better way, the matrist way. She theorizes that, rather than "breaking down" with patriarchy, we can "break through" to matrism and the equality and peace that come with it.
The Breakdown/Breakthrough Theory:
Affiliation/partnership models of society are more peaceful than dominance models because of their emphasis on equality. Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice and the Blade, says that patriarchy, today, in such a technologically advanced civilization, is threatening to destroy itself. Instead of having a breakdown, Eisler says that we have the power to break through to affiliation societies, whose peaceful ways are a pleasant alternative to "the logical consequences of a dominator model of society."
Materials and Methods
I have decided, because of the difficulty of my questions, to do qualitative research in the form of 16 in-depth interviews. Half of these interviews will be over the phone with individuals (adults eighteen and up) living on various communes, and the other half will be with Americans (adults) that have not removed themselves from hierarchy. It is difficult to measure the "egalitarianness" of a community, and so I have had some obstacles in deciding what to ask. It seems impossible to measure whether or not people are controlled simply by asking them questions, so instead, I will ask about what they control, specifically, possessions.
Hypothesis: If egalitarian societies are more peaceful than hierarchical societies, and war is fought over possessions and property, than the more egalitarian a society is, the less emphasis there is on individual ownership.
Basic Interview Questions:
Do you own your own car? If not, how do you get around?
Do you own any properties/land? If not, who owns your home?
Do you own any personal electronics?
Do you have a boss at work/ Leader in your community? If not, how is your
Do you pay for child-care?
What is the gender of those who provide child-care?
How often do you see violence in your community?
You may ask yourself, how does this prove whether or not we are hard-wired into hierarchy? Well, if something is completely programmed by its genes to act a certain way, it implies that the being is therefore incapable of operating in another, opposite way. In other words, human beings prove they are not genetically forced to act out hierarchy by living in egalitarian communities. Those who disrupt the status quo show us that it is not necessary to organize our societies into hierarchies.
The average egalitarian member that I spoke to did not own any property or cars, and shared all income from their job with other commune members. Properties at the communes usually weren't owned by anyone in particular, and all members had free access to all properties once they became members. The average hierarchical member in my interviews owned a car and their own home, and did not share any assets with neighbors. The egalitarian communities eschewed "power-over" type leadership, and made decisions by consensus. Facilitators preside over meetings, but all members take turns facilitating. Hierarchy members all reported to some type of boss, and made family decisions by discussion with their partner -which could be the same as consensus in some families. Child care in the communes was shared between the sexes and was either in the form of rotating commune members doing duty or children working alongside their parents at all times. Women and men reported sharing child -care duties. Violent acts and crimes were fairly prevalent in the hierarchy group, and not a problem in most communes. No one that I talked to in the egalitarian interviews could think of any recent crimes or violence. Virtually all the people interviewed had access to a computer and the Internet, but the computers in the communes were shared community wide, and in the hierarchy group computers were shared within families. Most hierarchy members owned their own television, while the communes shared one or, more often, chose not to buy a television.
Analysis, Discussion & Conclusions
These behaviors are integral to the kinds of societies that the participants live in. Extreme individualism, the American way, mandates that everyone be an independent, self-sufficient machine, independent of any need for a community. This translates, eventually, along with hyperactive consumerism, to each person purchasing their own complete set of goods (house, electronics, car, computer) so that dependence on a neighbor can be eliminated. This, in turn, leads to overproduction of unnecessary goods, and an increased sense of isolation in communities, to the point that humans are being eliminated as the vendors of goods, so that interaction with others is lessened. (atms, machine check-outs at grocers, Internet shopping) It is easy to see what communes are trying to avoid. The connections between people, however unpleasant or meaningless some of them may seem, must be preserved and encouraged in the future in order to have healthy, humble lives. Thus, the attachment to possessions is weakened in hopes that attachment to humans will occur.
The sharing and integration of child- care is another way of fighting isolation. Child-care programs in hierarchical societies have to serve the necessary parent-child separation and would go out of business if that gap were eliminated. Egalitarian societies, which often have a more family friendly employment strategy, seek to eliminate this separation. They also attempt to free themselves from gender hierarchy and share parental duties as a community. Women in hierarchy are often expected to bear and raise children independently from their husbands, save financial support. However, when the class system, gender restrictions, and the money system are pushed away by a community, everything is shared.
The widespread use of computers in my study is, sadly, a result of hierarchical privilege. The decision to break free from hierarchy is often made by upper middle class white folks who have had the education to see systems of oppression and their solutions. Those who are most oppressed by hierarchy do not get the inkling or information about ideas like communes. They are left to fend for themselves at the bottom of a system that works against them. Thusly, commune members, though they share it, have high-end items like computers because of the class base of their members. Televisions, on the other hand, increase isolation and can foster anti-intellectualism when used improperly, and so are out of place in the egalitarian group.
Violence is also out of place in these societies. Egalitarianism reduces crime simply by making the idea of sharing societal, because there are, ideally, no have-nots. Egalitarianism may be the primary cause of this, but I would like to point out that in the interviews, the egalitarian people were members of many different, tiny communities, and the hierarchical people were members of the same sprawling country. Small communities have less of the sort of crime caused or fostered by isolation, because everyone recognizes each other.
In short, my hypothesis was proven correct, but only because the difficulty of my project limited the depth of the information I could possibly collect. Measuring societies is incredibly risky business, and it would take me a few degrees and years of research to get any respectable reporting done. So, I did the best with what I had, and though I proved my own suspicions about how egalitarian societies resist hierarchical influence, I hope that I have interested and engaged your brain at the same time.
1. Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade. HarperSanFrancisco:
San Francisco. 1987.
2. Eisler, Riane. Sacred Pleasure. HarperSanFrancisco:
San Francisco. 1995.
3 Goodall. Jane. Through a Window. Houghton Mifflin Company:
4. MacKinnon, Catherine. "Pornography, Civil Rights, and Speech." Morality In Practice. Ed.James P. Sterba. Wadsworth Publishing Company: Boston. 1997.
5. Scheir, Miriam. Feminism In Our Time. Vintage Books: New York. 1994.
6. Walker, Barbara G. The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. Harper: San Francisco. 1983.
7. Wright, Robert. The Moral Animal. Vintage Books: New York. 1994.
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