When we’re little we’re asked what we want to be when we’re older. Doctor. Dancer. Astronaut. Firefighter. Everything seems equally possible.
The more we grow older, the more we realise just how unequal the possibilities really are. We soon learn to segregate our society and to class people into a hierarchical pyramid of professions, which goes something like this:
Binman -> Teacher -> Doctor -> President -> Royalty -> God (if you grew up catholic Irish) -> ABBA
Huh? That was just me, praying to ABBA?
ABBA worshipping aside – this is a pretty good system. It’s one that we’ve been using for quite a while now (hello, Roman Empire):
But is it the best system?
Does viewing our society in this pyramidical fashion benefit everyone? I think binmen would disagree.
(Not to mention slaves…)
(ABBA probably don’t mind too much, though.)
Hierarchy has always existed, and is a natural part of life. If family is the smallest unit of society, we can already see it there:
“The institution of family organizes people into distinct social relationships and roles, including mother, father, son, daughter, husband, wife, etc., and there is typically a hierarchy to these relationships, which results in a power differential.”
So hierarchy is pretty fundamental. It’s also very helpful, especially in business situations with chain-of-command operations, in academic bodies, etc.
But hierarchy always brings about the problem of human ego and super/inferiority complexes. It means our society is stratified, as in our pyramid. We are segregated, not just for business, academic, or family(survival) purposes, but for the purpose of generalisation and categorisation – we are labeled in a way that’s supposed to define us as humans.
You like classical music? You must be wealthy.
You don’t have an iPhone? Poor thing.
In most cases, there is a certain level of fluidity throughout the pyramid. You can move up (or down) levels. Children eventually become parents. Students become teachers. Employees become employers. But how often is it that binmen become presidents?
We call it a meritocracy and tell ourselves that anyone can move up the pyramid with a little hard work, but think again.
Really, it’s much more difficult for people with less privilege (income or opportunity) to advance up a level. It’s not like in the family or business pyramids where you begin at the bottom and go on advancing. In our class system, you’re born onto one level, and maybe you’ll advance one if you work hard.
It’s easy to think that people who sit on lower levels than you just haven’t worked hard enough, that they deserve their standing.
Calling our society a meritocracy is more of a justification for discrimination than anything.
But we’re lucky we have even that. Some cultures don’t allow movement between the levels at all. Hell, some don’t even allow interaction between people who sit on different levels, such as in the caste system in India.
Our society is (luckily) not so extreme, but there’s still divides that are visible to the eye: the closer to the top you are, the more suits you own. The closer to the top you are, the more proper your speech. The closer to the top you are, the more spoons (and general excess of cutlery) at your dinner table.
Those on the top can often look down at the beneath levels and their lack of spoons. They don’t always recognise that the bottom layers are the ones holding up the top. Without them, the whole structure of Spoon-topia would literally collapse.
Unfortunately, it is far too typical to view people working low-income jobs as not having ‘made it’ or not being capable of advancement in society, instead of showing any empathy or gratitude for being the reason our societies stay afloat.
You can’t build a pyramid with no foundations.
Flattening the Pyramid
Here’s a nice graph:
It maps out the “four aspects of society and its different members.”
On the vertical axis, we have an income scale, with the poor ‘masses’ on the end, ranging to the rich ‘elites’ up on top. Pretty much the same idea as our pyramid, then.
In fact, it’s the exact same. This graph just combines our pyramid with another, horizontal element.
The action/ideas axis.
The action/ideas axis proposes a divide between thinkers and doers. Between philosophers and activists. Between the mind and the body.
You could, just as equally, replace it with an intro/extrovert scale (or any other MBTI function), and the results would be similar.
In the bottom left we have idea people. Artists. Philosophers. Leaders. In the middle-left you may find managers and teachers. Academic bodies reside in the upper left.
In the bottom right, it’s the more hands on people. Activists, sports-people, people in manual working jobs. In the right-middle you may have events organisers and professional athletes. At the top right you have government.
However, the distribution of this axis is vastly different from our masses/elites axis. The masses/elites axis is bottom-heavy. It’s a pyramid where most people reside somewhere near the bottom of the axis.
In the action/ideas axis, it’s more of a classic bell-curve, with most people residing somewhere in the middle of the scale.
However, myself – as a writer – I’d give a solid 8 towards ideas.
What would happen if we were to try to accomplish the same with the y-axis? To flatten the pyramid? To squash the elites down and pull the masses upwards?
Then we would be left with this:
An equal society.
One that’s not a vertical pyramid, but a horizontal scale of differing jobs.
One where all jobs are on the same level, and you can choose and hop about freely, relative to where you stand on the action/ideas scale. (Or intro/extrovert scale)
Much like what we first pictured in childhood, then.
A world of possibility.
That’s All Well and Good, Luna, But Communism Already Tried That and Failed, Remember? We Need The Pyramid for Our Society to Function.
A good point. Touche. Hats off.
Unfortunately, we can’t just grab our magic wands and abracadabra the pyramid out of existence. A sudden, magic, redistribution of wealth, as communism would propose, isn’t likely to be a success. These things need time.
But society is already changing.
Right now our societies are delicate. They are a balance of many elements; of every element, just like the ecosystem we live in. One small thing out of place could have huge impacts. It’s a wonder everything all comes together and functions at all.
We all have our parts to play; each functioning as individual cogs in the societal machine. If just one cog breaks, it can affect and potentially devastate the whole society and its economy.
(For example: if, say, a virus were to spread over the Earth; preventing a couple of cogs from moving anywhere outside of their house)
How did we ever form a machine so complex and finely balanced as an entire functioning society, in the first place?
We were never really individuals, us humans. We like to think we’re independent; that we’d get by just fine all by ourselves; that we don’t need no man; but, in reality, we’re social animals, and we need other humans to survive.
We need each other’s acceptance and validation. We need physical touch. We also just need someone to feed us every now and again, when we get ill, busy or just plain lazy.
We’re born into a family. (The smallest unit of society).
We then formed communities when we realised that was more beneficial for us.
Then, gradually, societies and civilizations began to evolve as people settled down and began identifying with their land and people; forming their own identities and cultures – and waging wars with anyone who came from anywhere else.
But despite the wars, civilizations slowly and eventually continued uniting together. Today we’re more connected than ever not just on a communal or even national level, but on a global one.
Is technology uniting us into one
If we think about it, it’s a real possibility. Maybe even the next logical evolutionary step.
When cells first evolved, back in the day, they began by joining together in small communities to form bacteria.
As they went on, they then began making more connections, working together more efficiently, and building bigger communities. We began to see plants and animals evolving.
Maybe that’s what we’re doing; forming something bigger than our individual selves. If families are the bacteria, societies are the plants, and what comes next could be a whole other animal entirely.
Technology could be uniting us all to work together as one colossal brain network.
– and we’re just the bacteria.
An Equal Internet
It’s hard to create hierarchy on the internet. It’s a platform that breaks those rules. If the currency is likes and followers, normal people get rich or turn influencer on the regular; and like or family or business pyramids, everyone begins at the bottom with 0 followers; having to work your way up.
Facebook is more of a meritocracy than any system we’ve ever had.
What does this mean for our globally-united-colossal-brain-network society?
We may not have to revolutionise or abracadabra in order to politically reform. It may be coming to us.
Technology advancements may signify the beginning of equal, meritocratic opportunity for everyone.
– Or it might just mean that Mark Zuckerberg will eventually become governor of the new world.
We’ll see, in time.
But for now, put away your pyramids, and respect everyone!
We’re all playing an important role on this planet; with ‘lower class’ people on the bass level arguably playing the most important.
Shoutout to all of the essential and frontline workers.
You are the few cogs keeping our societal machine running right now.
Until next week,