Arnold Kling  

The Love of Hierarchies

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Denis Dutton writes,


Human beings are naturally hierarchical and they like arranging themselves into hierarchies of skill, age, wealth, competence, experience, whatever.

David Brooks writes,

they go into one of those fields like law, medicine or politics, where a person's identity is defined by career rank. They develop the specific social skills that are useful on the climb up the greasy pole: the capacity to imply false intimacy; the ability to remember first names; the subtle skills of effective deference; the willingness to stand too close to other men while talking and touching them in a manly way.

I would say that, generally speaking, every status hierarchy appears to be arbitrary, ridiculous, and a haven for the mentally unbalanced--except if you find yourself near the top, in which case the process is rational, efficient, and noble. If there is a silly hierarchy at work in journalism, do you think that is evident to David Brooks?

Tyler Cowen once had an optimistic take on hierarchies, which is that we are experiencing a proliferation of them, and that is healthy. If there is only one position of importance--tribal chieftain--then there is bound to be a lot of violence as people fight over it. But things work out much better if there are many different status competitions, so that you can participate in some of them for fun and participate in others to satisfy your need to win.


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COMMENTS (6 to date)
Acad Ronin writes:

And your opinion of academic hierarchies?

eric writes:

I think everyone wants to be appreciated, and this means, being higher in the status hierarchy. There are many hierarchies, but some stand out, such as wealth. A great scrabble player or wrestler, can be both on the top of one heap--the only one they care about--and irrelevant to others.

I think this is relevant to dysfunctional ghetto culture, that sees 'acting white' as shameful, because they are aligning themselves with a hierarchies they can't succeed in as stupid in the same way an economist would consider being a 'great sociologist' a rather dubious distinction. People choose hierarchies where they feel they will do well, and so, geeks avoid sports, jocks avoid math camp, and everyone is maximizing their status in unique ways given differing status hierarchies.

Mark writes:

If there is a silly hierarchy at work in journalism, do you think that is evident to David Brooks?

Yes.

There is a chapter in his book "Bobos in Paradise" about it.

Critics of Brooks will be happy to find his Rule of Punditry: "Always be wrong". That way, lots of people will increase your name recognition by finding it necessary to publicly disagree with you.

TGGP writes:

[Comment removed pending email response. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog.--Econlib Ed.]

Dan Weber writes:

I'm reminded of Paul Graham, nerd extraordinaire, and his talk about hierarchies.

http://www.paulgraham.com/nerds.html

He thinks that high school sucks because it has hierarchies, but that nerd culture doesn't because there's no hierarchy.

Of course, he cannot see the hierarchy, because he's at the top of it. (He also thinks that everybody uses a Mac, because he's said that's what nerds use, and so everyone who wants to hang around him buys a Macbook first.)

Jody writes:

Hierarchies help us operate beyond our monkeysphere.

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