Friday, December 11, 2009

Notes on hierarchy, apathy, and other things

A common argument against establishing any kind of radical or egalitarian societies and lifestyles rests on the painful notion of "hierarchy." Opponents often remark how hierarchy is replete in "nature" (a vague term used by an even vaguer understanding) and therefore humans must be a hierarchical species. Simply put, arguments range from a crude oversimplification of processes (whether it be evolutionary, historical, or ecological) to complete misunderstanding. Even if all biotic phenomena could be "proven" that it operates in strict "hierarchies" (which is largely a projection of our internalized notion of hierarchy, a derivative of our actual social stratification onto other aspects of life), it does not presuppose that humans must function within social hierarchies. Natural evolution has endowed humanity with a complexity that resulted in the capability to alter our environments (sociality or second nature) and capacity for self-awareness (our "apartness" from other natural aspects-- and this "apartness" neither implies dominion nor superiority). Hence, even if hierarchies were ingrained in biological systems, our very ability to fix our social structures around nonhierarchical lines and to consciously reject a hierarchical mentality reveals one of the many fallacies of this argument.

Murray Bookchin in his magnum opus, The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchies notes that terms, such as 'hierarchy' in explaining ecological functions, ". . . are laden with socially charged values. . ." that are ". . . striking commentar[ies] on the extent to which our visions of nature are shaped by self-serving social interests" (92). Furthermore, Bookchin reveals that "What this procedure does accomplish is reinforce human social hierarchies by justifying the command of men and women as innate features of the 'natural order.' Human domination is thereby transcribed into the genetic code as biologically immutable. . ." (92).
Another thing that has been troubling me for some time is apathy expressed towards anything deemed "serious" by people-- especially those I regard as close to me (for the sake of this writing). I understand that in our capitalist culture (capitalism has evolved beyond a mere economic system, it is now an integral element guiding our cultural thoughts, values, modes of expression, relationships, outlooks, etc.), where we are stripped of any real empowering features in our lives-- be it through the inundation of advertisements by corporate entities aimed at creating an unthinking, self-loathing, passive body that consumes products in a misdirected attempt for self-fulfillment; or through our general disempowerment of decision-making in our greater political and social affairs (lack of "self-management" or a public sphere that fosters it)-- that apathy is a rather "normal" or conditioned response. Alienation, detachment, depersonalization, apathy or whatever adjectives occur in response to a bleak and harrowing world, we-- as economically privileged individuals (in terms of the majority of the world)-- merely experience the "least bad" part of it. While others are very realistically struggling across the globe for physical survival (and often times directly related to "our" side's consumptive and endlessly acquisitive society-- for example, nonhuman animals in factory farms or environmental dislocation, as in Coca Cola's depletion and pollution of water in India). By no means am I advocating a strict asceticism, because I believe collective pleasure, beyond simple survival happiness (that is, material necessity) is fundamental in establishing a free society (another topic for another time). But lest I be misunderstood, pleasure through commodities is a mentality produced by our society and not necessarily what pleasure must be regarded as. But I do advocate the recognition that our actions do have consequences and that we need to understand how they impact life apart from our persons. This is where we comeback to the notion of apathy though: whenever I express similar thoughts, I am often derided by people I know as "stupid," "lame," "PC," or even "gay" (implying that being "gay" is a negative and unworthy state). This is obviously a product of our culture, where our interests are reduced to trivial matters, and any conversation expressed beyond this trivia or that is even emotionally charged/confrontational, forces others to revert back to "safe" topics or subvert the subject all together by deriding the speaker. So when people do deride me as a person when I attempt to initiate serious discussions, rather than articulating an argument against what I'm saying, it tends to bother me more than just plain uncaring. Though I feel "amorality" and "apoliticalness" are political stances in themselves that support the dominant economic, political, and social systems; going beyond that to ridicule those attempting to shed some rational light on the world's social deformities, is purely despicable.

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