Remembering Hierarchies

Hierarchies of all sorts get a bad rap these days. We’re all supposed to be equal and everything should be egalitarian. But a few days ago Aeon published an interesting article from a group of academic thinkers. (They don’t call themselves philosophers, though such is what they are.) They suggest we need hierarchies; indeed we can’t function efficiently without them.

As usual it was a long-ish read, so here, via a handful of extracts, is a summary of the key points for me.

Preamble …

The modern West has placed a high premium on the value of equality. Equal rights are enshrined in law while old hierarchies of nobility and social class have been challenged … Few would doubt that global society is all the better for these changes. But hierarchies have not disappeared …

… the idea of a purely egalitarian world in which there are no hierarchies at all would appear to be both unrealistic and unattractive. Nobody, on reflection, would want to eliminate all hierarchies, for we all benefit from the recognition that some people are more qualified than others to perform certain roles in society. We prefer to be treated by senior surgeons not medical students, get financial advice from professionals not interns. Good and permissible hierarchies are everywhere around us.

… We live in a time when no distinction is drawn between justified and useful hierarchies on the one hand, and self-interested, exploitative elites on the other.

Correct use …

Apart from their civic importance, hierarchies can be surprisingly benign in life more broadly. Hierarchy is oppressive when it is reduced to a simple power over others. But there are also forms of hierarchy that involve power with, not over …

Take the examples of good relationships between parents and children, teachers and students, or employers and employees. These work best when the person higher in the hierarchy does not use that position to dominate those lower down but to enable them to grow in their own powers.

A common Confucian ideal is that a master ought to aim for the student to surpass him or her. Confucian hierarchies are marked by reciprocity and mutual concern. The correct response to the fact of differential ability is not to celebrate or condemn it, but to make good use of it for the common [good].

Bounds of influence … Experts are expert in limited domains, but most real-life problems are complex and multi-domain …

To protect against abuse by those with higher status, hierarchies should also be domain-specific: hierarchies become problematic when they become generalised, so that people who have power, authority or respect in one domain command it in others too … we see this when holders of political power wield disproportionate legal power, being if not completely above the law then at least subject to less legal accountability than ordinary citizens. Hence, we need to guard against what we might call hierarchical drift: the extension of power from a specific, legitimate domain to other, illegitimate ones.

This hierarchical drift occurs not only in politics, but in other complex human arenas. It’s tempting to think that the best people to make decisions are experts. But the complexity of most real-world problems means that this would often be a mistake. With complicated issues, general-purpose competences such as open-mindedness and, especially, reasonableness are essential for successful deliberation.

Get a life …

One reason why hierarchy is offensive to the modern, egalitarian mind is that it implies deference to those higher up than them. But if the idea that deference can be a good thing seems shocking, then so be it. Philosophy should upset and surprise us.

Paternalism …

… paternalism … has become another dirty word. Political paternalism can be defined as coercive interference with autonomy. This form of hierarchy is generally regarded with great suspicion for very good reason: many authoritarian governments have disregarded the interests of the people under the pretence of acting in them. But there might be a justification for at least some forms of this, as paternalism can, in fact, foster autonomy.

See the Confucian argument above.

So in summary …

Hierarchy has been historically much-abused … Nonetheless, we think it important to put these ideas forward as an invitation to begin a much-needed conversation about the role of hierarchy in a world that is in many ways now fundamentally egalitarian, in that it gives equal rights and dignity to all. However, it clearly does not and cannot give equal power and authority to all. If we are to square the necessary inequality that the unequal distribution of power entails with the equally necessary equality of value we place on human life, it’s time to take the merits of hierarchy seriously.

Most Important People

I came across the attached article from the Naples Daily News (Florida) at the beginning of the year.

I don’t know I 100% agree with the author – well it is American! – as I think he has tilted the balance too far from the current norm and I think there is a balance to be struck. However from what I see around me the best adjusted children are those where the family apparently adheres, more or less, to his tenets.

Here’s an image of the article, and in case you can’t read it easily I reproduce the text below.

Click the image for a larger view

Naples Daily News, Sunday 1 January 2017

Your kids should not be the most important in the family

John Rosemond, Family Psychologist

I recently asked a married couple who have three kids, none of whom are yet teens, “Who are the most important people in your family?”

Like all good moms and dads of this brave new millennium, they answered, “Our kids!”

“Why?” I then asked. “What is it about your kids that gives them that status?” And like all good moms and dads of this brave new millennium, they couldn’t answer the question other than to fumble with appeals to emotion.

So, I answered the question for them: “There is no reasonable thing that gives your children that status.”

I went on to point out that many if not most of the problems they’re having with their kids – typical stuff, these days – are the result of treating their children as if they, their marriage, and their family exist because of the kids when it is, in fact, the other way around. Their kids exist because of them and their marriage and thrive because they have created a stable family.

Furthermore, without them. their kids wouldn’t eat well, have the nice clothing they wear, live in the nice home in which they live, enjoy the great vacations they enjoy, and so on. Instead of lives that are relatively carefree (despite the drama to the contrary that they occasionally manufacture), their children would be living lives full of worry and want.

This issue is really the heart of the matter. People my age know it’s the heart of the matter because when we were kids it was clear to us that our parents were the most important people in our families. And that, right there, is why we respected our parents and that, right there, is why we looked up to adults in general. Yes, Virginia, once upon a time in the United States of America, children were second-class citizens, to their advantage.

It was also clear to us – I speak, of course, in general terms, albeit accurate – that our parents marriages were more important to them than their relationships with us. Therefore, we did not sleep in their beds or interrupt their conversations. The family meal, at home, was regarded as more important than after-school activities. Mom and Dad talked more – a lot more – with one another than they talked with you. For lack of pedestals, we emancipated earlier and much more successfully than have children since.

The most important person in an army is the general. The most important person in a corporation is the CEO. The most important person in a classroom is the teacher. And the most important person in a family are the parents.

The most important thing about children is the need to prepare them properly for responsible citizenship. The primary objective should not be raising a straight-A student who excels at three sports, earns a spot on the Olympic swim team, goes to an A-list university and becomes a prominent brain surgeon. The primary objective is to raise a child such that community and culture are strengthened.

“Our child is the most important person in our family” is the first step toward raising a child who feels entitled.

You don’t want that. Unbeknownst to your child he doesn’t need that. And neither does America.

Message Getting Home

At long last a few UK politicians are getting the message about the need to decriminalise sex work. This is from the Independent a few days ago.

Liberal Democrats move to quash all historical sex-work convictions
of prostitutes and punters

What I find especially interesting, and slightly surprising, is that ex-senior policeman Lord Paddick is in favour. The police aren’t generally considered to be forward thinkers, but then Paddick has always been an outlier.

Now to get the message home to the rest of our politicians that New Zealand seems to have the best model.

Idea Rights

I’ve just come across this on Twitter …

Click the image for a larger view

It’s clear, concise and correct.

Although as a couple of people have pointed out in the comments

people have the right to ideas, thoughts, according to UN Declaration of Human Rights


people actually have the Human Right to think what they want

Which is right — the abstract (ideas) and the non-living (eg. rocks, buildings, cars) cannot have rights per se although in some circumstances the living might be said to have rights on their behalf (think, burial of the dead). It is people — in fact arguably all living things (people, cats, cockroaches, trees) — which have rights.

Talking Therapy

Over the years I’ve tried talking therapies, of various sorts, on a number of occasions and each time I have found they don’t work even if one persists with them for a protracted period.

In fact it is my contention that they don’t really work for anyone, although some may be able to delude themselves and reach a cosmetic resolution — which I guess is working of a sort.

Last evening I was reading a blog post by our favourite zen master, Brad Warner under the banner I Hate Myself. Brad points out that the root of the problem is that the “I” and the “Self” are one and the same, so trying to fix one to fix the other is as useful as trying to argue your way out of a paper bag — pointless and productive of very little. And because we become aware of our failure it often makes the situation worse, rather than better.

Indeed it seems to me this is what talking therapies are trying to do: to fix (your variant of) “I Hate Myself” by getting you to separate the “I” and the “Self” when this is neither possible nor sensible.

And this is why talking therapies don’t generally work: they’re based on the false premise that “I” and “Self” are different and can be separated.

In the words of the exam paper: Discuss.

Don’t Criminalise Us …

The fight to get governments to decriminalise sex work (and sex workers) continues. Here’s a piece which highlights the views of Europe’s sex workers — most of whom are (voluntary, not trafficked) migrants.

It is notable that it isn’t just the sex workers who are saying sex work should be decriminalised. This view is backed by

major human rights organisations such Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the World Health Organization and several other United Nations agencies such as UN Women and the UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work are also calling for the decriminalisation of sex work, noting that decriminalisation guarantees better working conditions, and reduces the social vulnerability and marginalisation of sex workers.

And as that implies many are now warning that the basic human rights — as covered, for instance, by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union — are being violated; and that those violations are state sanctioned the world over.

When are people going to wake up to what’s going on around us? It’s being done in our name, and yet how many of us agree with it?

No Sex Please …

OK, so here’s another nasty, not so little, piece of legislation from the UK government.

The new digital economy bill, which is currently going through parliament, intends to block websites hosting “unconventional” sexual content. So who decides what is conventional, and who will implement and police such a ban?

There’s a piece in yesterday’s Guardian (yes, again!) which tries to explain the What, how and why?

Now whether you like so-called pornography or not, this is worrying. The legislation is ill-conceived and appears to be not just draconian but also potentially arbitrary and ill-defined.

Worse, my personal belief is that it infringes freedom of speech (and belief) and I would agree with critics of the bill who say it is not the government’s place to police what kinds of consenting sex (or indeed anything else) can be watched by adults.

I continue to believe that pornography (unless violent, coercive or involving minors) has a valuable place, just as does the rest of the sex industry. You, personally, may find it distasteful — just as I find the idea of male-male sex distasteful — but that doesn’t mean either should be banned and I would always defend your right to indulge should you choose.

The whole of the English-speaking world has a history of drawing its rules of censorship much more tightly than continental Europe. But that changed with the internet allowing information to be streamed direct to our homes without restriction. And the English-speaking, puritan, nanny state doesn’t like it.

It’s time we started treating people like adults and allowing them to make up their own minds. But to do that requires us to invest in sensible education of our children, and isn’t it easier to keep them in ignorance and subjugated?

So-called pornography is not being forced down people’s throats. It is complete myth that the internet is awash with porn at every turn and it’s being gratuitously feed to every child in the land. Yes, it is there, but you (whatever your age) have to look for it. My systems have every available filter turned OFF and still I do not get a continual stream of emails offering me penis enlargement (surely fairly tame?) nor does every Google search bring up 27,000 pages sex videos and bestiality.

It is worrying enough to have the state control our sexual predilections but the fear is that this will go way beyond pornography; it is the first example of any liberal democratic country creating an internet censor. The fear is what such a framework could go on to be used for.

Yes, this is censorship and as such must be resisted.

Wake up, the coffee pot is bubbling on the stove.

Nudity. Why Not?

Yesterday, in between doing lots of other interesting things (which I’m not allowed to write about, at least yet) and having a day off, I came across a thoughtful piece of journalism on nudity.

In The Scientific Reasons Why You Should Just Always Be Naked Lauren Martin looks at some of the evidence in favour of accepting nudity. OK, it’s American — although that doesn’t make it any less valid elsewhere — not greatly detailed and is written with many questions in order to challenge our prejudices and taboos.

It is well worth reading the whole article, but here is the essence:

Things are only taboo because we make them that way.
… … …
Nudity is a taboo … because we primarily equate nudity or nakedness with sexuality and we have taboos about sexuality.
… … …
What would happen if we accepted our bodies the same way we accepted everything else? What would happen if we stopped covering up and started stripping down? What would happen if we all just let our bodies hang out in the open and didn’t hide them …?
… … …
There’s … no denying … that if we could get past our childish perversions and accept nudity as a basic and natural human form, there would be a lot less “deviousness” and fewer obsessions with the human body — and we could all just stop caring so much about it.
… … …
If men … were exposed to nudity on a normal, everyday basis, they wouldn’t fantasize and obsess over it the way 14-year-olds do at the sight of their first breast … By making nakedness an ordinary, matter-of-fact, common experience, unassociated with sexuality, the unhealthy prurient interest in pornography would be considerably lessened.
Imagine if men were desensitized to the female body … Imagine if men stopped putting all their time and energy into seeing women naked and just learned to live side-by-side with them?
… … …
Imagine if we all just looked at each other the way God made us without any implications or idealized notions of the perfect body? … it’s our clothing that creates our insecurities and inability to accept and love each other the way we should.
… … …
What if we’d grown up in a nude household? What if we’d been taught from a young age nudity is natural [and] beautiful?
… children exposed to nudity from a young age became … unfazed by the human body later in life and sometimes, psychologically stronger because of it … children raised around nudity [grow] up with a higher body self-concept … coming from a nudist family [plays] a more significant role in the children’s positive self body-image than their race, gender, or area of the country in which they lived.
… … …
Humans donned clothing to keep away parasites and filth, yet only created breeding grounds for different types of infections and disease … Along with infertility rates and Lyme disease, clothes also contribute to yeast infections and UTIs.
… … …
It seems arbitrary, but walking around barefoot increases brain flexibility. It doesn’t just make you feel young again, it makes your brain feel young again.

I was brought up in a household where nudity was natural and pornography was seen as a healthy part of life’s rich pattern (but violence and abuse were definitely not acceptable). To this day nudity and pornography don’t faze me — and I fail to understand the taboos around sexuality. I’ve long been an advocate of mixed student residences and mixed changing rooms — if we were all well adjusted to nudity and our bodies this should not be a concern for anyone (but until we are it will be).

I spend time in the nude when I can and I know I have a lot fewer problems with yeast infections and so on because of it. Despite admonishment from the medics I do spend almost all my time at home barefoot (it has to be really cold for me to put socks on) because fresh air is not only better for the feet (see yeast infections, above) but there is thought to be a protective effect against dementia.

So there you have it. An article which looks at some of the evidence and comes out supporting what I’ve been saying for nearly 50 years! Nudity is healthy, mentally and physically, and embracing it would benefit all of us both individually and as a society.

So what really is so special about nudity that we have to make a taboo out of it? Nothing! Get over it.

PS. As an example of how daft all this is, it took me longer to find a suitable illustration for this post than it did to actually write the thing!