It Does Baffle Me

This is a very “on point” meme for me.

It’s simply ridiculous to me that so many people seem to accept that there’s a natural pecking order, and that that’s OK – they never seem to think it through far enough to realize that they’re permanently situated at the bottom of that pecking order. So, if you’re destined to be under the boot, why on earth would you support, and cheer for, the boot?

Anyone who looks at human history ought not to be able to escape noticing that most people who are powerful inherit it and the rest steal it by being ruthless face-stabbing or back-stabbing bastards. Someone who supports that as “the natural order of things” is assuming that they’re kleenex that will be used and thrown away. As it should be.


  1. moarscienceplz says

    “[W]hy on earth would you support, and cheer for, the boot?”
    Because of fucking Horatio Alger and Ragged Dick, that’s why.

  2. moarscienceplz says

    @2 StonedRanger
    ☺ I can’t tell if you are serious or are snarking me, either way I like your comment.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    ” they never seem to think it through far enough to realize that they’re permanently situated at the bottom of that pecking order”

    The majority in favour of the pecking order are NOT on the bottom rung. The genius of those at the top is to ensure there are always people for the proles to look down at. Brown people, usually. Maintain the fiction that the rung they’re on is only one or two down from power, and you’re on the heavy train for life. The ladder in question reaches past the moon.

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    I suspect hierarchy is natural for our species. That doesn’t mean it’s necessary, though. If there are workable, implementable alternatives, I’m all ears.

  5. says

    Rob Grigjanis@#6:
    I suspect hierarchy is natural for our species.

    I share that suspicion. But we’re treading perilously close to the “nature versus nurture” question, and …

    That doesn’t mean it’s necessary, though. If there are workable, implementable alternatives, I’m all ears.

    It’s my belief (i.e.: not supported by fact) that it’s a learned behavior, and another behavior – if there was such a thing – could be learned instead. Humans appear to be very very flexible – so “nature versus nurture” may be irrelevant because we can overcome by learning behaviors beyond our “nature”. For example, I think pair-bonding may be an instinct in us, but all the fol-de-rol surrounding marriage rituals is learned/social behavior.

    If we accept my belief above, I’d say that any change to the system would be so severe that it’d amount to destroying the system and building a new one. I daydream sometimes of this: destroying society and re-creating it. But society appears to have evolved to protect and maintain itself and society has a pretty solid history of killing the people who try to change it a lot. I.e.: we’re fucked.

  6. moarscienceplz says

    @#6 Rob Grigjanis
    In our closest relative, the chimpanzees (I am still uncertain whether bonobos are a distinct species or simply a subset of chimps, the stuff I have read is inconclusive) are usually dominated by the most agressive male, BUT if that male chimp becomes too self-serving, then the tribe might form a coalition to overthrow him (as I understand it). If that is true, then we do have a proto-democracy in our genes, and it is our duty to fan that ember as much as we can.

  7. Reginald Selkirk says

    Socrates said it was a matter of specialization. Some people are killed and practiced at wearing the boot, so we ought to let them. Makes me want to cheer for the hemlock.

  8. Rob Grigjanis says

    moarscienceplz @9:

    the chimpanzees…are usually dominated by the most agressive male

    Not sure that’s always true. IIRC, sometimes the smartest chimp, with help from some allies, can take charge.

    Anyway, the ease with which one can depose bad rulers decreases drastically with population size. In a primate troop, everyone knows everyone else. When your ‘leader’ is miles away, surrounded by layers of protection, it’s a problem. Even when it works, revolution just replaces one set of douchebags with another, even when the new douchebags have good initial intentions.

    My own fantasy is somehow getting back to a ‘society’ which is composed of independent groups of no more than a couple hundred. But even then, some douchebag will eventually convince his group that they need to take over the group next door. Rinse, repeat.

    How do you nurture a population that will have no douchebags? Screen kids for sociopathic tendencies, and eliminate the bad ‘uns?

  9. Rob Grigjanis says

    moarscienceplz: Yeah, you said ‘usually’, so my ‘not always’ was unnecessary.

  10. moarscienceplz says

    Rob Grigjanis @#11
    We are ALL douchebags. And the douchey of us are usually trying to be the leaders. Reducing the size of the troop does expose the douchebag du jour to more individualized criticism, but whether more individualized criticism will help correct the path of the douchebag du jour depends on the particular douchebag we are concerned about.

  11. says

    Rob Grigjanis@#11:
    How do you nurture a population that will have no douchebags? Screen kids for sociopathic tendencies, and eliminate the bad ‘uns?

    That’s the plot of Sherri Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country. It’s an interesting book. Spoiler-free synopsis: women decide that they need to treat men as a controlled breeding experiment.

  12. says

    Oh, also, natural order fetishists accept that it’s OK because it’s natural. As we know, cyanide is also natural, but that doesn’t make it a great topping for your pasta.

  13. Tethys says

    I don’t think it’s helpful to compare chimpanzee and human social structures. Humans do pair bonding as the basic social unit, like our common ancestors the Gibbons. Chimps and gorillas have a harem structure.

    All the bro’s like to talk about alpha wolves in the context of male domination, which is equally irrelevant as humans aren’t pack hunters who only allow the alpha pair to breed.

    The common thread between both comparisons seems to be based in thinking male violence and domination is somehow normal, rather than sociopathic behavior.

  14. brucegee1962 says


    Remember that, for the true medieval conservative natural order fetishist, the “great chain of being” stretches both above and below humanity. So it isn’t only that those near the bottom get to look down at the paupers. They also get to look down at all the beasts (ranked into their own hierarchies), the plants, the minerals, all the way down to the dirt. Likewise, the kings and emperors get to say “Hey, up above us there are angels and archangels and powers and dominions and so forth, so we’re just occupying our little niche. No need to get all revolution-y.”

  15. says

    Think in terms of sports or “fraternity” hazing. The younger and new ones get abused, then when they get older, they see themselves as having “earned the right” to abuse the new younger ones. And because they’ve been abused, they see no reason to stop the cycle, more concerned about doing to someone else what was done to them.

    We need a new word for it. “Revenge” is what you do to those who hurt you. What do you call it when you hurt others as “revenge” because you were hurt?

  16. chigau (違う) says

    Chimps don’t have a “harem” structure and the major decision maker is usually a matriarch.
    Wolf packs are a family, the “alpha” female and male are usually the parents of most of the pack.

  17. Rob Grigjanis says

    Intransitive @18: I think the psychological term is ‘displacement’. ‘scapegoating’ probably comes in somewhere.

  18. Tethys says

    True, calling chimpanzees harems is an oversimplification, but that does not change my point about comparing humans to other social species. Human animals exhibit far more violent behavior than most other animals. There is a great deal of social variation among different populations of Chimpanzees. Chimps nearly always have dominant males, but they do not have exclusive mating like gorillas.

    Gorillas function in the terrestrial environment, in homogenic harem groups (a male and his females), in which daughters and sons leave the family. Gorilla females do not exhibit external signs of ovulation, and therefore, an estrus is signaled by behavioral signals such as proceptive behavior (Stewart 1977; Watts 1991). Chimpanzees live in large terrestrial and arboreal heterogeneous herds with a dominant male, and their females signal the estrus with anal–genital swelling (Goodall 1986). Matriarchal bonobos are also terrestrial and arboreal hominids which live in heterogeneous herds. They do not have the dominant male; males are dominated by females.


  19. says

    Chimps nearly always have dominant males, but they do not have exclusive mating like gorillas.

    And the differences between “regular” chimps and bonobos appear to be significant. Is their sexual defusing of conflict a learned behavior, or a product of evolution?

  20. tuatara says

    While it may be somewhat useful to compare human societies with those of chimpanzees, gorillas or gibbons, we do actually have human societies still extant that are not power hierarchies, from which we can learn even more about human “nature”. Perhaps y’all might look into those for a (refreshing) change.

    I don’t think that a power hierarchy is inevitable in human society. In fact, moving from a power hierarchy to a society of balance would seem to me to be the inevitable destination to which we as a species are travelling. We have been there before, some remnant groups are still hanging in there, here and there .Let’s please not discount them before they disappear.

  21. lochaber says

    I’ll be sitting over at the “learned not innate” table. And, as others have said, I think it can be educational and interesting to see how other animals of various close-relatedness to humans act without significant education/culture/philosophy/etc., it should be something to learn from, not to aspire to…

    Not an antrhopologist, and all that, but I feel like the old bit of: “It takes a village” holds a lot of meaning.

    Prior humans sprawled over 6 of the 7 continents, and killed and ate almost everything bigger them, while differing very minimally from the first humans to spread across Africa. And we did that before we invented (discovered?) the wheel, or figured out how to use metal. It wasn’t due to this “alpha dog” competitive “establish dominance” bullshit that incels and others on the right like to prattle on about. It was because we excelled at teamwork, problem solving, and tool use.

    Also reminded of that anecdote about Margaret Mead(?) about the first sign of civilization being a human femur that showed evidence of being broken, and healing. Humans take care of each other, it’s our thing. I mean, for fucks sake, it takes close to two decades for our offspring to mature and become independent, that’s longer than the entire lifespan of a lot of mammals.

    On my brief attempt at Reddit, I used to read the survival and bushcraft subs (amongst others), and while there was sometimes some interesting info, it was often drowned in a swamp of toxic masculinity, full of bullshit about “culling” the “dead weight” in a survival situation like a downed plane or bus wreck in the wilderness. A fire can keep three people just as warm as one, and building a slightly bigger shelter to hold another person isn’t nearly as much work as building multiple solo shelters. etc., etc. And these assholes almost always had a paracord bracelet and a tanto-point knife…

  22. Tethys says

    Cultures evolve far faster than genomes, so I agree with tuatara that it would be better to analyze various human societies for insight, rather than the social structures of other primates.

    I’m sure Marx got many of his ideas about the ideal modern industrial society from observing the communal Anabaptist settlements that were established all over Eastern Europe between 1800 to 1850. They refused military conscription as a moral principal, as well as rejecting any interference in their own local governments by the ruling state.

  23. says

    I’ll be sitting over at the “learned not innate” table

    Here, you can sit in the siege perilous.

    Seriously, though, it seems to me that if one thing is meta-programmed, then it makes sense to make damn near everything meta-programmed. Of course evolution doesn’t try anything, but one characteristic of evolved systems is that features get duplicated and re-purposed; there’s a sort of conservation of effort in effect. All of that argues to me that once you have a learning model, then a lot of things just take care of themselves (or the organism dies). I know this is not science but, whenever I think of the “nature versus nurture” question I remind myself that horses and humans are born not knowing how to run. Isn’t that freakin’ incredible? We have these meta-programmed thingies attached to us that we have to figure out how to use in order to get around, and they’re really good at getting us around if we figure them out but it’s not a sure thing. And I remind myself that the samurai in the Edo period did, in fact, learn a different way of running from European warriors (and it was less effective, it turns out, if you don’t have to worry about having a sword fall out of your sash) These things make me definitely sit at the “learned not innate” table – we innately have legs, but using them is learned.

  24. Matthew Currie says

    I don’t see that meme as really about fetishism but about optimism.

    People too poor to clean their children’s teeth vote for the society they’ll like when they win the lottery.

  25. Pierce R. Butler says

    Marcus Ranum @ # 22: … bonobos … Is their sexual defusing of conflict a learned behavior, or a product of evolution?

    IANA Primatologist, but I feel I learned a little from Malcolm Potts and Thomas Hayden’s Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warfare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World (which I consider a cut above just about all the other evo-psych books I’ve read, admittedly a limited sample).

    Anyway, to crudely summarize their argument: chimpanzees and bonobos live on opposite sides of the Congo River. The chimps share their habitat with gorillas, who enforce a rule: Chimps Must Leave Edible Leaves for Us. The bonobos don’t have that problem. Therefore, pickings are slim enough on the chimpanzee side that each individual has to forage alone, within their group’s territory; bonobos can hunt ‘n’ gather in twos and threes.

    On the frontiers of each group/family’s domain, when a chimp sees a stranger, he will typically slip away, round up a couple of buddies, and attack (often with fatal results). Bonobos in a similar situation find it more difficult to assemble enough allies to kill a group of intruders: some yelling and throwing might occur, but things rarely get bloody. That reinforces the “culture” of cooperation, and has apparently had selective impact on bonobo behavioral genetics.

    Perhaps if Ford Prefect, when stuck on Earth with only a time machine, had left the giraffes alone and helped our ancestors out with their gorillas problem, we’d get along better today.

  26. Dauphni says

    @Rob Grigjanis #11

    My own fantasy is somehow getting back to a ‘society’ which is composed of independent groups of no more than a couple hundred. But even then, some douchebag will eventually convince his group that they need to take over the group next door. Rinse, repeat.

    My biggest problem with anarchist fantasies like these isn’t even that someone will break the rules and take over as you describe, it’s also that going back to independent small scale societies also means giving up on a lot of things that make modern society so great.
    And for a lot of those things losing them won’t even be so bad, you can live just fine without a car or smartphone. But modern medicine? With a couple hundred people making your own aspirin or penicillin would be doable, but something like insulin? MMR vaccines and other childhood immunisations? Living in independent small scale societies would condemn a lot of people to death from a simple lack of advanced resources.

  27. birgerjohansson says

    Looking at the Scandinavian countries- especially Iceland- I think it is possible to get adult humans to minimise the hierarchial behaviours. Especially the politicians in these countries rarely get to practice the kind of douchebag- iness we are used to elsewhere, not if they want to remain respected.

  28. Rob Grigjanis says

    Dauphni @29: That’s why it’s a fantasy; it runs into problems almost immediately. There’s also the problem of infrastructure (roads, rail, sewage, irrigation, etc). One can imagine workarounds; higher ed and research could be located in neutral territory, and draw people from the surrounding communities. But it all get very complicated very quickly.

  29. dangerousbeans says

    a thought about the learned vs innate part of this discussion: the autistic people i’ve met have tended towards less hierarchical social structures. not all, obviously, but in general they tend towards a non-hierarchical organisation. this seems to be one of the problems with trying to indoctrinate autistic people into allistic societies.
    given a lot of autistic social struggles seems due to an inability to learn “unspoken” rules, it could be that a lot of the hierarchy stuff is part of that.

  30. lorn says

    First, a couple of notes from other species:
    Beware any reference to wolves. Even the use of Alpha and Beta are references. The people who did the original study got it wrong and have said so. The original study was conceptually very similar to “Call of the wild” with random wolves/dogs fighting for dominance and dominance being regularly challenged. The whole thing was romantic, but absolutely wrong.

    Unfortunately the idea and language has poisoned our culture. Being a dangerous “Alpha male” is the goal for TC and a whole lot of other meatheads who, unfortunately, think of themselves as well informed and in agreement with ‘nature’.

    Fact, as confirmed by DNA studies, is a wolf pack is an organic family group and there are no major fights, much less any to the death. A mating pair has pups which makes the pack. In time the adult drift off and form their own packs. It is a far less, coercive, red tooth and claw, social environment than originally thought.

    Primate societies vary widely. Most are far less coercive than originally believed. Actual serious injury or death are almost unknown. The most egregious violence seems to have been related to the way the primates were studied. They literally went to areas already stressed for food and set up a feeding station. The catalyzed violence was takes as normal. Decades later the mistake was recognized and while violence was not unknown it was clear it was much less frequent and far less severe.

    Female run primate societies are generally less violent and somewhat more supportive of out groups and the disabled.

    Bonobo culture almost eliminates violence. Sexual expression as outlet, easy resource availability, and female rule combined make for a more peaceful society.

    That out of the way, the subject at hand comes down to fear and the feeling there has to control. Change – societal, interpersonal, and psychological change is always painful and difficult. Creativity and criticism are always risky if your goal is stability. The right-wing, conservatives, and business, desperately desire a near-steady-state system.

    I’ll leave this here, a post from earlier today about the right0wing attraction to Orbon’s Hungary :

    Yes, Hungary is becoming something of a right-wing paradise. They love the raw power, the control, the masterful voice and the unity of every public face saying and thinking the same thing.

    The key here is the go-along dynamic. Right down to the most trivial thing you dare not contradict the power. Bad things, ‘it’s all perfectly legal’ , happen to people who do not cooperate. When was the last time your taxes were looked at? And there are always people willing to incriminate you to curry favor with the powers that be once it becomes clear the power finds your attitude difficult.

    The signals permeate the society because all media are under Orbon’s control. He has allowed his system to work. At first there were a lot of physical threats and some number of people were killed, beat up, exiled, or fled after being picked clean. Once the order of the day was established there is far less need for obvious violence.

    He changes things up just enough to keep people guessing and to prevent anyone challenging him from the right. It is a nearly perfect mafia based society. Everyone knows his place in the pecking order and everyone pays. Everyone in any position of power gets a cut. But never too much, or from the wrong people.

    Everything is wonderfully well controlled. No discord or opposition. No play or creativity. The entire public life is dead as a stone. You dare not voice any doubts, even with your family or closest friends.

    It is a wondrous chimera. Russian-style corruption and strong-man politics. Near-absolute Chinese-style media control. East-German-style secret service with webs of informants, monitoring and secret files on everyone. What might have started as Japanese-style nationalism with deep concern for the ‘family’. Over it all a thin veil of all-American artificially manufactured, AstroTurf, populist democracy.

    A right-wing Hell where choice is an illusion. Where freedom is redefined as having that imaginary choice. Where everyone is ‘safe’ but miserable because change is not possible.

  31. Rob Grigjanis says

    I think comparing ourselves to other primate species might have had some validity when we were hunter-gatherers. But agriculture changed everything. Surplus food and the ability to stay in the same place drastically changed our communal behaviour. Specialization was possible, and larger communities and centralized control become, I think, inevitable. Is there an example of an agricultural civilization which wasn’t hierarchical? More to the point, how could a society develop in a non-hierarchical way which wouldn’t be vulnerable to domination by neighbouring hierarchical societies?

Leave a Reply