Dec 3, 2011

The Hierarchy We Love To Hate: Top 10 Ways We Benefit From Social Enslavement

Enslavement (noun) - to reduce to or as if to slavery

There's a concept in human psychology called "secondary gain". Secondary gains are basically the positive, unconscious benefits of disease and dysfunction. Another way of saying it is that we usually get something good out of being sick, whether it's sympathy, decreased responsibility, or just a good excuse for not having to change.

All the attention the Occupy Wall Street movement has received got me thinking about whether the "diseases" of society itself offer us hidden benefits. Social disease in this context might include things like crime, unequal distribution of resources, exploitation, maybe even hierarchy itself.

I'd be the first to admit that I take a somewhat dark view of the human condition, but isn't it interesting to consider that, despite all efforts to the contrary, no human society has ever really been equal? Just the concept of leadership implies a pyramid shape where a small group supposedly speaks in the interest of a larger one. Few human beings in a "leadership" role can resist using it in the interests of personal gain at the expense of group interest.

Some have argued that the vague but powerful OWS rebellion stems from a repressed need for a more primal kind of freedom that has nothing to do with better jobs, more money, or demands for higher quality leadership. I agree, but the above post from kulturCritic also states that once humans regain their "lost primal autonomy", we will "dwell comfortably in honest egalitarian communities; social enclaves grounded in strong consanguine and affine relations" (translation: we'll have more in common, like each other better, and have stronger relationships). This seems unlikely to me, but I don't have a PhD in Religious Studies.

I would argue that even the most "egalitarian communities" in human history still had the poisonous seeds of social hierarchy lurking within them. SOMEBODY always gets preferential treatment, which means somebody has to get the shaft, at least relative to the society they live in.

But getting shafted isn't all bad. Consider my own Late Night Top 10 List, The Top 10 Ways We Benefit From Social Enslavement. Paul, a drum roll please:

#10). We get to avoid fear of failure
Fear of failure could also be stated as fear of being wrong, being shamed, or fear of being humiliated. Our perfectionistic society loudly trumpets that anyone can achieve any level of success provided they have enough chutzpah and determination to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps". But strangely, we also actively discourage real success by heaping scorn on failure. The road to success is often one of trial and error, and the "error" part is generally not well-tolerated. People get the message it's too dangerous to fail, that it's safer not to take risks while simultaneously being told they can achieve anything they want. We get a sullen kind of security out of playing it safe, not "getting too big for our britches", and not trying to rise above our station in life. We get to avoid the risks of failure at the cost of secretly feeling like failures.

#9). We get to avoid fear of success
The rarefied realm of the successful is a reverse mirror world which lies on the other side of the looking glass from our everyday reality of broken dreams. A corollary to fear of failure, fear of success rests on the belief that there are others out there who are better than us and who will replace or displace us if we don't maintain our performance record. It's also motivated by hidden beliefs that we are undeserving of the good things and recognition that may come our way as a result of our accomplishments. Social messages telling us to strive for success while urging us play it safe allow us to avoid the possibility of being stabbed in the back and cast aside for someone more truly worthy of the rewards of achievement.

#8). We get to wield power over others
If society really does enslave us, then someone has to crack the whip. Enslavement may be a dirty job, but hey, somebody's gotta do it. Bending others to our will must be one of the purest, most human pleasures in existence. We are predators. We love power. We love control, and we adore killing, especially killing that enables control of our environment. Nothing beats the pure rush of using violence or the threat of violence to make people shut the hell up and just fucking do as they're told. It's the ultimate form of control and all human cultures encourage it, if only psychologically. And the best part is, we all get to play. Hierarchy offers infinite gradations of power wielding to all its members, because there's ALWAYS somebody lower down than you are. God bless America!

#7). We get to feel superior to others
This is another version of wielding power. As I said, there's always somebody below us we can feel superior to. We're always better than someone else. Feeling superior is a psychological win because it  lets us project our own feelings of inadequacy outwards onto others. Superiority also subdues anxiety, builds "self esteem", and can even give our lives meaning and purpose. Superiority is really the backbone of social hierarchy and offers a pre-built weapon against internalized desolation

#6). We get to have someone to blame
The best thing about being a slave is that it releases you from any responsibility for your own plight. It's deeply satisfying to KNOW who's responsible for the pain you have to endure, to be able to indentify a REASON for your suffering besides the apparently random and senseless vicissitudes of existence. "If only they would _________!" has to be one of the oldest phrases in human language, second only to "How much?" and "Where's the bathroom?" Like superiority, blame is a projection of ourselves onto another and can do a superb job of freeing us from having to claim responsibility for our role in creating the mess we're in.

#5). We experience empathy towards people who are like us
Subjugation is a powerful bonding experience. Think of the Israelites in the Egyptian slave camps. Think of black American slaves working the plantations. Now think of modern day wage slaves eking out a meager existence at your local box store. Sharing a common (and hated) master brings us together like nothing else.

#4). We don't have to question the meaning of existence
Nietzsche said that if you gaze into an abyss, the abyss gazes back into you. Coming to terms with "why we're here" is often a profoundly difficult human experience and can feel like staring into a bottomless pit. Social hierarchy takes the lonely struggle for personal meaning and turns it into a group project. The "meanings" of life hierarchies provide of course vary from culture to culture, but they pretty much all say the continuation of hierarchy is meaningful in itself. Our American hierarchy defines the meaning of existence as "get more stuff"! And pepper spray anyone who gets in your way.

#3). We get to avoid fear of the unknown
Now it's time for those three little words we find so hard to say: I...Don't...Know. We fear the unknown because it's beyond our ability to understand and thus beyond our control. It also has a nasty habit of presenting us with information that might force us to change. Change means doing things differently, which by definition is unknown. Like flies in amber, the strata of social hierarchy present us with many "good reasons" to allow our fear of change to harden into solid rock. Plus the hierarchy further mitigates need for change with leaders who are only too happy to solve our problems for us (in exchange for a small fee). They always do a bang up job.

#2). We get to believe the myth of salvation
If society's attenuation of fear of the unknown is good, then its complete relief (a.k.a.salvation) must be truly spectacular. God, that supreme topper most of the topper most of the hierarchy, is the ultimate 1% and is the pyramid's architect that both contains and explains everything, everywhere. Make no mistake, God has a plan for your life and your life is His plan. We are meticulously cataloged bricks and mortar in His blueprint for the universe. Salvation is authority, superiority, blame, and the meaning of life all rolled up into one extremely powerful drug. It's a speedball of hierarchical secondary gain that's injected directly into the psyche.

And The #1 Way We Benefit from Social Enslavement Is: We get to avoid fear of death

If you need an explanation for this one, there's an open park bench on Wall Street with your name on it.


  1. Your an asshole U government tool!

  2. Yep! He certainly is.

  3. I think that most people are mature enough to be able to move on from these things, mr hard life. no one wants to be oppressed, although certain stupid people do buy into corporate america, with some very bad results. but, given the alternative, I think that most people will take the alternative.