Saturday, April 23, 2011

Musings on Hierarchy

Energy is cycled upwards by hierarchy, by definition. A hierarchical form has the systemic function of concentrating wealth to focused purposes, though all will share the quality that they enable the further functioning of that hierarchy. Anything else would self-defeating. No system can be coherent for long if its very nature is self-destructive. So the hierarchical form concentrates wealth to its top in its own interest. The bottom bears the weight, again, by definition. The benefits of the process must accrue more to the top than to the bottom, otherwise the form would not be hierarchical. This much is uncontroversial. Also uncontroversial is that states are hierarchical. As such they can only be about concentration of wealth to the top using the bottom as engines driving the conversion of environmental resources into wealth, using the bottom to carry the load too, as said. That's a tough sell.

There is no myth in the above, brief analysis. However, the state must generate a story of some kind to justify exploiting people to power its continuing existence. Divine right, nationalism, socialism, capitalism, are all stories of varied flavours justifying a system which can only be hierarchical. That there are such things in some states as welfare, national health systems, child benefit, and so on, is despite the structure of the state, not because of it. The state needs to keep the lower orders 'happy,' else breakdown happens. The minimum amount of resources will be devoted to this, again by definition, but what that minimum is changes with the justifying story and the people's ability to bargain for a greater share of the state's product.

To me the most fascinating justifying myth of all is the Myth of Free Markets. In this myth markets are Not-State; they are egalitarian; open; tolerate no elitism, no class, no snobbery; they are for Every Man. The myth, woven by elites of the state, says, 'Work hard, and ye too can be as rich as the richest.' This is the same as, 'Be good on Earth, and ye shall have your reward in Heaven.' I doubt there is a story anywhere told by any elite to any subjugated people that has a different dynamic; sacrifice now and later … who knows? The trick this time around is notionally to hive off part of the hierarchy and call it egalitarian, whereas it is in fact a resource-exploiting system as hierarchical as can be.

The Free Market Fairytale is, in my opinion, sheer genius. It steals egalitarianism from the collective unconscious, from the cultural ancestry of all peoples really, and repackages it, sells it back to us wrapped up in MTV and Ferrari and Apple Inc., and asserts, with no evidence whatsoever, that self-interest, competition, I'm alright Jack, left alone (i.e. unquestioned), will produce the maximum possible good for us all. It takes the 'war of each against all' and calls it Good. And it cries, very deliberately, 'Down With The State!' as often and as loudly as it can. It means no such thing, of course. It means down with egalitarianism, though this may not be said in public. If it really meant 'Down With The State!' it would not use usury as its economy's primary driver, since usury is a ponzi scheme, a pyramid scheme, and can only be hierarchical in its functioning and effect.

Ponzi schemes must grow or they collapse. Must all hierarchies perpetually grow for the same systemic reason? Is egalitarianism the only sustainable system, seen over the long term? Does this mean anarchy is the only safe bet? These are some of the most important questions humanity currently faces, but only a few people are asking them.