I recently wrote a lot about ranking, both in my report on the book “Chalice and Blade” and in my discussion of my values. Ranking is the belief that some people are more important than others – men over women, whites over blacks, rich over poor, Christian over Muslims, straight over gay and trans, skinny over fat. That list of how we rank each other is quite long.
As I look at what is going on in Washington I see practically everything (at least everything the GOP is doing) is being done to impose or maintain a system of ranking. That leads to the question: Why does maintaining rank spur so much passionate effort?
We are taught ranking from a young age, starting with designating some toys for boys and some for girls. Woe to the child who wants to play with the other kind of toys! Nearly all of our society (in America and across the world) reinforces and maintains ranking. I see this leading to bad behavior in four ways.
* A person (usually a young white man) is promised the privileges of ranking and discovers those benefits forever outside his grasp. This includes the teen that is told women should be falling at his feet yet sees the young women around him scorn his advances. It also includes the white working class men who, we are told, were instrumental in electing the nasty guy. When this difference between promise and reality becomes glaringly obvious the person will seek to maintain ranking and may strike out in violence.
* The 1%, even the 0.1%, the people at the top of society who have more money than they know what to do with. But they see their position of top dog as being threatened. Their country is being overrun with people of color so perhaps in a mere 25 years whites will no longer be in the majority. Their Christian religion (at least their version of it) is no longer the de facto religion of the nation. So they influence government and engineer policies so that other people, especially other types of people, are never able to challenge their top dog status. An example of this is the Koch brothers. They are among the richest men in the country (and likely world), yet they back the worst of the efforts to pull money from the poor and into the hands of the already rich.
* Those who have long been oppressed and seek to flip the ranking and become the oppressors, to seek vengeance on those who oppressed them. The Islamic State is an example of this. I note that most people who are oppressed don’t want to become the oppressors. They don’t want to flip the ranking, they want to end ranking. Martin Luther King and his non-violence movement is an example. Those who want to maintain ranking frequently accuse those who want to end ranking of actually wanting to become oppressors. Those on top feel attacked when they aren’t allowed to enforce their ranking.
* Those who want to maintain their position in the ranking by supporting and carrying out the ranking declared by leaders. This includes everything from the politician carrying out the desires of the 1% to the person in the grocery store putting up with oppression of farm workers so that their food prices stay low. This part of maintaining ranking may not draw the passions of the others, but it is much more pervasive. It is so pervasive that unless you are poor you have a financial interest in maintaining oppression of the poor.
Systems of ranking are particularly strong in America because, I think, the colonizers were steeped in ranking. The Puritans were fleeing religious ranking, yet when they settled here they imposed their own religious ranking. Many English and other European middle class were served by those ranked beneath them, so felt they were supposed to be served once they set up life in America – and instituted slavery.
I see that ranking is a strong force in the human species. We are willing to commit violence and even kill to maintain our rank – violence is an indication that ranking – power – is what is going on. The latest GOP plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act will push millions off insurance, resulting in the deaths of many. That’s OK to the GOP leadership because this is about ranking. As I said, a great deal of what the GOP is doing is about ranking.
The antidote to ranking is simple in concept, but hard to do in practice: build an inclusive community, one that includes the oppressor.