The Love of Hierarchies
By Arnold Kling
Human beings are naturally hierarchical and they like arranging themselves into hierarchies of skill, age, wealth, competence, experience, whatever.
they go into one of those fields like law, medicine or politics, where a person’s identity is defined by career rank. They develop the specific social skills that are useful on the climb up the greasy pole: the capacity to imply false intimacy; the ability to remember first names; the subtle skills of effective deference; the willingness to stand too close to other men while talking and touching them in a manly way.
I would say that, generally speaking, every status hierarchy appears to be arbitrary, ridiculous, and a haven for the mentally unbalanced–except if you find yourself near the top, in which case the process is rational, efficient, and noble. If there is a silly hierarchy at work in journalism, do you think that is evident to David Brooks?
Tyler Cowen once had an optimistic take on hierarchies, which is that we are experiencing a proliferation of them, and that is healthy. If there is only one position of importance–tribal chieftain–then there is bound to be a lot of violence as people fight over it. But things work out much better if there are many different status competitions, so that you can participate in some of them for fun and participate in others to satisfy your need to win.