Hierarchy and Civil Society- How Do We Understand Human Nature Without It?

“It’s a dog eat dog world, and life isn’t fair, so deal with it.”

We hear this so often on the daily it’s pretty easy to believe that that’s the way people work, that’s the way society gets ahead, and that, moreover, it is the true essence of human nature. Often when someone is disadvantaged it is somehow their responsibility. If they are in this disadvantaged place at all, it is because they did not make the effort to get out of their situation in the first place. The world is simple and the world is brutal, and that is the only way we have been made to understand it.

Rigid hierarchical systems are often understood as a general societal modus operandi, and when these are thrown into question it is common for people to scoff and look the other way, simply because sometimes it feels easier than questioning everything you know and understand. The idea of building a more equal world constructed on horizontal structures, where one’s existence is not commodified to feed into a machine, appears absurd because we have not been taught to understand the world in any way other than one with raging amounts of inequality in every way, shape, and form.

A question that often remains unanswered is related rather to what we as humans could be without the constraints of a society that promotes hierarchies which maintain the greater percentage of humans under oppressive, unacceptable conditions. Human nature is something that goes beyond the hierarchical dog-eat-dog mentality often described as the default mode of our existence. It is evident that since this concept does not benefit those exercising senseless authority we rarely learn what we could be if true freedom existed.

The freedom I mention here is not one measured or granted by the state or any other institution. Famed anarchist Mikhail Bakunin names these freedoms and liberty as something inherent, immanent, forming the basis of our existence, our being. It is a limitless sense of possibility for minds that are not being yelled at to parrot whatever is being sent in their direction, a capacity to question everything and promote true innovation as a result. Popular thinkers like Noam Chomsky believe that the society we exist in today does not allow this freedom, because the lives of those who participate in society are not in their hands. This finds precedent in the Marxist concept of the worker becoming alienated from labor that is external to the worker’s nature.

Whatever “freedom” that is claimed to be mutually exclusive to capitalism and is openly boasted about by those who claim there is no alternative is one that has forced multitudes of people between a rock and a hard place. We live in a world where you are free to either obey your boss or end up starving and unable to put a roof over your head, of one where Amazon workers are made to clock out to go to the bathroom and threatened by eerie cartoon videos to avoid unionizing, one where anxiety and suicide are common side effects of not feeling productive enough despite having multiple jobs and barely scraping by.

Those who claim we can only be free within the status quo incorrectly cite Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, ignoring what he stated regarding animals in numberless societies being more inclined toward cooperation to ensure survival as opposed to constantly struggling against one another.

Most harmful, however, is the forced erasure of a world where this freedom was indeed a possibility. Occupy Wall Street in 2011 was a shock to many of those who observed from a distance, but look back in history and successful anarchist experiments and societies have been highly abundant everywhere in a time that is far less distant than what may appear. What is also evident about these experiments is that they were quietly, but brutally dismantled by those who felt a need to hold their authority in place. The way the Stalinists and the Spanish fascists violently stomped out the Catalonian anarchist movement in the 30s mirrors the way Woodrow Wilson’s First Red Scare following World War I secretly put anarchists to death. The search for true freedom has a historical slate that is really anything but blank, and the fear this instigates in the minds of the powerful could be harnessed to achieve far beyond what we have been told we can.

Our older relatives and parents telling us the world is harsh and unfair by default ignores our capacity as humans to unite and function collectively for the greater good. It can safely be said that all the moves society has made forward can be attributed directly to this, and that innovation is not and never has been the result of profit-driven motives directed by petty bourgeois interest. The latest generations do not understand our place outside of hierarchy and bureaucracy, but at the same time understand that existing within these two brings no benefits to the general 99.9%. Anarchists, however, have fearlessly constructed orderly, highly sophisticated societies for centuries from scratch using this as the basis for their understanding altogether.

Following the catastrophic events of 2008, it becomes even more evident that we, as a society, have hardly bounced back from the damage done to the lower and middle classes everywhere, and as society continues to stagnate and drift toward authoritarian fascism, true freedom has shown itself to be a necessity now more than ever. Instead of blaming, pointing fingers, and creating scapegoats, it is essential to take strides toward finding ways to build a society from the bottom up, but this is only a possibility in the event of group action. These hierarchies, like all else, are a fragile invention that is so threatened by ideas promoting equality, that it has lead to their brutal repression and silencing in the past. The second we stop accepting the notion that “things are just always going to be this way,” we will be able to really carry out wide-scale change.

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