Equality vs. Hierarchy
how do you square the circle
On my regular daily walk I pass a nice liberal’s house where they still have their hand-painted BLM signs displayed. One of the signs says “Equality Never Hurt Anyone.” Along with a BLM clenched fist.
But actually, equality of the kind envisaged by lefties always means force.
There is another view of equality, that of all being equal before the law. All having an equal vote. The notion of equal rights for all. But not equal outcomes for all.
Against the idea of equality is the notion of hierarchy. On the one hand many people approve of hierarchy, as in the rule of the best, the rule of the educated. On the other hand people talk about authoritarian rule, meaning rule by people like Trump that they believe are out to harm them.
Let us gently suggest that humans seem, instinctively, to be rather unconcerned about equality when they and theirs are in power, and rather concerned about equality when they and theirs are out of power.
My prejudice is that our lefty friends have developed a false origin story about equality, that ancient humans lived in egalitarian bands and villages. But then came the Fall, the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and then came hierarchy. There’s a book out by the late lefty David Graeber and his collaborator David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything, that assumes the Equality in Eden narrative. This is the narrative of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Discourses on Inequality and of the Fabians in Fabian Essays in Socialism. Shaw mocks the classical economists with this:
Figure to yourself the vast green plain of a country virgin to the space, awaiting the arrival of man. Imagine then the arrival of the first colonist, the original Adam, developed ny centuries of civilization into Adam Smith, prospecting for a suitable patch of Private Property… [H]e drives his spade into, and sets up his stockage around, the most fertile and favorably situated patch he can find.
In fact, the pre-history of Private Property is more complex — and more interesting — than this. We learn from Nicholas Wade in Before the Dawn that every chimp troop occupies and defends its patch of land, long before the first Adam. The more land the more food for the females and the young to eat. The males form a hierarchy, that defines access to the females.
And the primitive humans that lived in bands and villages lived in a world of the kindred. You think that everyone in the kindred was equal? Every family we know has a hierarchy based on age and wealth and personality, you name it.
But why was the agricultural age so notoriously unequal? I’d say the reason is obvious. If you are going to grow food on agriculatural land and store it against the next harvest you are going to need to defend it. In other words, you are going to need marcher lords on the border to defend your fields and your grain stores against marauders. And pretty soon those marcher lords are going to be demanding contributions from the farmers they protect.
But in the industrial era, the benefits of conquering land no longer apply. What was the point of defeating Germany in 1945? The Soviets looted all the industrial machinery in East Germany but never used it. The Americans dithered around for a couple of years and then just let the Germans rebuild the economy destroyed in the war.
The point was famously made by Jordan B. Peterson that hierarchy is a way of reducing violence. He used lobsters as his example to show how old and ancient hierarchy is. Without hierarchy, it’s the war of all against all. With hierarchy you only get a war when some ambitious male figures to climb up a couple of notches. Guess what: Private Property performs a similar function. If Private Property is honored in a community, it means that humans have to acquire property by work and good fortune rather than through simple appropriation by force.
It is understandable if landless peasants or workers vote for politicians that promise to take property away from property owners. A roll of the dice in the casino of life: what could be worse than the status quo? Only, of course, we have the record of socialist communities in the 19th century and communist regimes in the 20th century that 1) did not deliver prosperity to the workers, 2) enriched the new elite, and 3) created the biggest slave states in history.
If equality of results is not the answer, then what?
The question then becomes: how much hierarchy is too much, and how do we soften the power of hierarchy to produce a circulation of elites? I would say that the answer is obvious: in the current market economy there is a clear and continuous circulation of elites. The economic winners of today are probably not the winners of tomorrow. It is said that the average corporation in the Dow Jones 30 Industrials spends 20 years on the list. The problem is government, that distributes privilege by force and rides to the aid of failing corporations and banks. Most of us are copacetic with fore that benefits us, and mad as hell about force that harms us.
And we certainly need to curb the brilliant plans of the corporate and the educated elite. Many are called but few are chosen. Lots of people have brilliant ideas; what we need are brilliant ideas that work. Thus tech startups funded by the money of billionaires are good, because the billionaires are spending their own money. Green energy projects funded by subsidies and special privileges are bad because they are appropriating other peoples’ money by force. Both your average tech startup and your average government project fail. That’s the way of the world. But there is a difference between wasting your own money and the money of a willing billionaire on some crazy idea that just might work, and grabbing and wasting other peoples’ money to implement some fashionable ruling class idea by force.