OPINION: The Necessity of Inevitable Hierarchies

By Kevin Hartung

In every society, there exist the haves and the have nots, management and workers, the makers and the takers. Hierarchies form naturally through distinct selection processes whether in humans or insects. Hierarchy establishes social order and facilitates social increase. Hierarchies add structure and regularity to movements with the social order. They provide routines, duties, and responsibilities. We may not realize that we need such things until we lose them.

Value Judgements 

Along with the naturality of hierarchies is a natural tendency to make value judgments where the only basis is supposition. His father is a bricklayer, and he will be a bricklayer. There is no factual basis for that judgment.

For example, one person is born into privilege, another is born with a disability. One is deemed more worthy than the other because one has status and the other has limited potential. When judging ability, one is believed worthy of encouragement and patronage. The other is believed worthy of survival. One is presented with opportunities and challenges. The other is presented with tasks that assure his independence and sustenance. As they evolve, the first finds life mundane and undemanding. The other finds life a challenge and full of struggle. The first becomes cynical. The other becomes inspired. The first goes to prison, the other wins a Nobel prize.

Value judgments are wrong when deliberating human capital. Judgments use assumptions or suppositions and cannot state empirically where another’s possibility lies because capability is a personal discovery.


Value judgments or selective evaluations destroy societies. They create conflicts in society, and it becomes an either/or proposition or a win/lose situation.

A teacher of 30 students discovers two exceptional students. One is a quick learner, the other a slow learner. One is bored with school waiting until the last minute to do homework which is correct but shows little effort. The other is an eager student taking hours to do homework. His work is also correct but shows extra thought. The teacher recognizes the aptitude in both of them. One needs greater challenges. The other needs extra encouragement. The teacher cannot design curriculums for each student. Time is a limited resource for her. She realizes both of her students have possibilities. She deliberates on who is more deserving of additional attention. In helping one, she diminishes the chances of the other.

Research shows that the rate of social progress depends upon the degree to which power is matched with intelligence. Yet in these scenarios, both students possess intelligence. At this point, their education will determine the trajectory of their lives based upon the extent to which the teacher challenges or encourages them.

Failing Society

We cannot decide who merits more conscious diligence than someone else. In a balanced view of life, we need to consider the failures, as well as the successes. Otherwise, our failures may swamp our successes.

Judging potential is the worst damage we can inflict because of the reprehensible harm we are doing to our children’s minds. We tell them it is important to be successful but counter that with limitations. “One should not be too successful because your success is inhibiting another’s victory. It comes at a cost.”

There is no difference between natural success and earned outcomes. Are those born into privilege less deserving of the netted results of their efforts than those born into hardship?  What qualifies anyone to make that decision?

Cancel Culture

Meritocracy is the enemy of a cancel-culture society. The certitude that we were not given the same advantages leaves us determined to bring down the elites.

The first Rockefeller had no more opportunity for success than the rest of us. Young John grew up helping work the family farm and tending to his younger siblings. In school, he was considered dim-witted and slow at his studies. He worked hard at everything; not talking much and studying with great industry. Eager to become an autonomous and self-reliant young man, he learned the basics of bookkeeping, penmanship, and banking, and then graduated ready to move up in the world. Rockefeller felt that many fail to achieve big things because they lack the power of concentration, the ability to concentrate their minds on the thing that needs to be done at the proper time to the exclusion of everything else. Training your mind to find solutions to difficult problems is the real secret to making money.

Because one Rockefeller made it big, the next generations of Rockefellers are not deserving of increased wealth. Mishandling of assets at any time could have derailed their dynasty. The economy failed everyone. The Rockefellers managed to hold onto their assets and, when the economy improved, to add to those assets. We should not deem the current generation of Rockefellers unworthy because they have a talent for making money.

Currently, there is a war on competency, skill set attainment, knowledge accumulation, success, and intellectualism. Is that how societies operate? Where one must be embarrassed by their accomplishments? It is beneath our dignity to impugn success for no more reason than they have, and we have not.

Education Equality

We are also certain that our educational system is rewarding high achievers at the expense of lower achievers.

Intellectuals now are members of the elite or ruling class. The phrase “too cool for school’ actually means if you like school or want to learn and become more competent through academic attainment, you are an outcast, denigrated and humiliated. This is seen as you breaking away from the rest of those willing to accept a nominal education—and is seen as you aspiring to become one of the ‘others’ (the elite). It is you distinguishing yourself from the working masses based upon your pedigree, i.e., attending Harvard or Yale as say, just, getting a high school diploma. This distinction supposes you are more worthy of an elite membership in society.

Students who outperform their peers in school deserve to be fast-tracked for higher education, and every student has that chance to be the best. We can all excel wherever we attend school. Even when it is not as well-endowed as others, it offers education, and it is up to you to take advantage of that opportunity by doing your best.

Excelling in school helps students achieve admission to top universities. Excelling in those universities gives students admission to renowned graduate schools. Those universities and graduate schools determine the quality of education students receive and the skill sets with which they graduate. The knowledge and skill set of those graduates showcase their competency, and that expertise determines their success in life which, in turn, advances them to a more elite membership level in society.

We decide our achievement level. If we choose to underachieve, to not apply ourselves, then losing out is our choice. We can then join with cancel culture and call out those who have achieved for being unworthy of their success.


Hierarchies are a necessary and self-evident fact of existence. Prioritizing allows compartmentalization of things in a way that facilitates our understanding of the world. This understanding of how the world functions enables us to cooperate and coordinate our efforts for advancement.

Hierarchical order is appealing psychologically because it helps resolve individual needs for stability, and organizationally because it is effective for the coordination of activity. The purpose of social hierarchies is to allocate within social groups limited resources, such as mates and food, facilitate social learning, and maximize individual motivation and promise.

After the Ice Age, humans dispersed far and wide and societies began forming. Those societies eventually encountered one another and clashes were common. Conflicts exerted powerful selection processes on societies. Those societies that were better formed and organized outperformed smaller and weaker societies. Thus, hierarchies evolved from this preferred selection process among tribal societies.

Both political and religious organizations help to create and reinforce social hierarchies, which are clear distinctions in status between individuals and between groups. The top of the hierarchy usually had the most power and wealth, and they always had the most influence. Hierarchies in ancient civilizations were the key to the allotment of power, wealth, and influence, and it was all a product of chance.

Hierarchies do not have to be governmental—established by power and control. They can also be based upon competence, skills, or knowledge. An Individual might have a hierarchy of likes and dislikes. For example, he might enjoy reading legal thrillers. He may search for books in that category. Failing to find anything intriguing. he then looks at other genres that interest him, not as much as legal thrillers. This is still a type of hierarchy. It is a simple type, based upon an individual’s evaluation of what constitutes a novel worthy of spending his time and money to read.

A generational family tree is a hierarchy starting way, way back with your first ancestors. Human needs are given a hierarchical structure from basic needs—food and water—to complex stuff like desires and values that make you who you are. Poker hands are hierarchical from a royal flush down to a high card, and even our military is hierarchical from a 5-Star General down to a private.

The Failings of Hierarchy

Hierarchical structures for growth and development within society are helpful and necessary. However, class selection based on evaluations of ability is prone to failure for the simple reason that you cannot know another person’s mental capability. Individual growth is inevitable. Even the baby of a farmer can thrive and experience the world through the eyes of an astronomer, a philosopher, or a politician.  Abraham Lincoln was the son of a carpenter/farmer. His observations of life led him to believed he possessed greater promise which stimulated his efforts to improve his lot in life. His speaking and thinking powers eventually lead to his elevation in the social hierarchy.

Like social hierarchical structures, government hierarchies have failings. In their very existence is the potential for corruption. That potential for corruption lies within the individual. It is well known that people with power, wealth or status will eventually corrupt the hierarchical system to maintain the status quo. Political hierarchical structures degenerate into monolithic constructions over time through the consolidation of resources within the group.


Throughout all time, places, and civilizations in human history, hierarchies have arisen in various forms. We need to accept that as fact. Then, we can move on and put an end to the irrationality that is destroying our nation.

Nirvana will never exist. We form societies for group motives, but inside that group are personal drives. It is in the sensible management of group activities and resources that we allow for personal goals to thrive. That does not mean we promote equal outcomes. We present equal opportunities to compete; the rest is individual effort.

In acceptance of the necessity of hierarchical structures, whether formed through natural or managed selection, we free ourselves to concentrate on our success. We can lose the judgments and appreciate another’s success as a roadmap for our own. We can live as a ‘have not’ until we become one of the ‘haves.’

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