Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It's all a problem in mindset.

Just another rant about hierarchies.

There are no hierarchies; they do not exist. We, as humans, enjoy "creating" them, or rather "believing in" them. They are a side effect of categorization--this is true--but there is little in categorization that guarantees their existence. Plato, of course, would tell you that having two separate groups did, in fact, create a hierarchy. His solution was to pick one. This is obviously not a very humane or even productive solution, since there is little to no benefit to minimizing diversity, as far as I know. My solution is to say that Plato was, and is, wrong. Easy way out, I know. But I can supply some evidence for my thought process.

Although I am currently perhaps a better expert on the first season of The Mentalist than damn near anything else, I am going to pull these examples from poetry. Namely poems that I have read recently that directly relate to the ways in which we can begin to demolish hierarchies. I don't see the point in debating the pros and cons of hierarchical thought. There are no pros, in my opinion, and I obviously think my opinion is the correct one, creating a hierarchy--thus debate would only make this subject matter messy. Thus I would like you to bear with me.

So what hierarchies are there? Too many to even attempt a list here, since that would reveal more about my thought process than I would like (Colbert once allowed a writer to speak to Louis XIV but not to visit the library; Louis could lie, while the books could not--my work tends to be on the opposite side of this spectrum), so I'll just let you think of a few. You are literate with internet access, so I'd hazard to say that you can come up with a few. (And not to be facetious, but you probably also have a search bar in the top corner of your browser where you could type in "hierarchy" if this was somehow not the case...)

My two examples here, however, as I must share them at some point deal with racial and gender hierarchies. Now I do not mean to point out that either of these issues is solved: there are still numerous unfair biases in either domain, but the engine is running, and society does tend to be heading in a direction that will continue to beat down these hierarchies. So how do you begin to end a hierarchy?

Here's where my examples come in: you actually begin the end of a hierarchy by creating a new hierarchy. It is, of course, the same hierarchy, so there is some question as to whether you have created anything. You simply turn it over, like a reversible table cloth. This is what Aimé Césaire did with Cahier d'un retour au pays natal [Notebook of a Return to My Native Land], or more accurately, the whole discipline of Négritude would be able to do, in part to Césaire's efforts and the popularity of his aforementioned poem. Négritude (in a horrible simplification on my part) states that Africa is better than Europe, and was able to come out of a Europe full of people pissed off at themselves due to the world wars.

Now this would not be enough to imply that hierarchies can end. Césaire, as I have said, did not end the hierarchy, he reversed it. This was a necessary act, since the people at the bottom of a hierarchy due deserve time at the top. The question of how much, if the act should be ceremonial or something, and the rest of this mumbo-jumbo is too much for me to consider, but I do think there are two types of just inequalities: (1) is the medical/biological inequalities that allow doctors to better treat individuals of specific gender, belief, or background (I'm sure there are studies that back me on all points there), and (2) the more flippant category of resetting the equation. Seven will not equal five unless you give five two more and all that.

But the story didn't end there. After Césaire and Négritude (which also had two other founders, if you're interested), came Antillanité and Créolité, which are two movements that expand the structure to include more groups. This system is chewing away at hierarchy and I believe it has worked well. And although Césaire may have thought of those two later (and latter) movements as a part of Négritude, but he wasn't against them, as far as I know, and so the system seems to have been started.

For gender hierarchy, my example of the coin flip is a book I'm currently reading, Marge Piercy's classic, The Moon is Always Female. Inherent in a title like this is a hierarchy. The metaphor of the female moon has some sort of positive or negative connotation and this is being affixed to women. As one would assume, this is a positive connotation (or at least I would say it is; Piercy might think differently, since I am not exactly sure of her thought processes--unlike with Négritude, I haven't had whole classes devoted to her ideas, so I guess maybe I shouldn't be speaking for her...), and it works to start the wheels of the bus going around. Or the wheels of the bicycle maybe; remember how you are always supposed to be able to ride a bike, no matter how long it's been since you last did so? Now I haven't read any more of Piercy, so maybe her own work shifts into the second stage of hierarchy destruction, but I wouldn't know. What I do know is that Adrienne Rich, a contemporary poet (both are still alive--rich is actually a bit older), has taken this further step. Consider The Dream of a Common Language, which in its very essence is asking for an equalling, a language that two sides might use to speak to each other.

Language is, perhaps, one metaphor for the dangers of hierarchy. When we speak to each other, it works better if the definitions of words happen to be similar, if not the same. This leads to understanding. I don't think I'm surprising anyone here with this train of thought. As a writer, I put an exaggerated emphasis on written language, so Rich's ideas are especially inspirational to me. But that's pretty much the whole point to all the works I've mentioned: they are meant to inspire. They are not showcasing the final societal products, but are simply stepping points.

Once we look as hierarchies as something to be minimized if not eliminated, these stepping stones become apparent. For someone like me, they seem to appear everywhere. For example, when atheists attempt to criticize people who believe in a religion for not thinking rationally. I'm not taking sides here, I'm simply observing. Considering a history of killing heretics, I think it is not difficult to see this sort of anger/vanity as another stepping stone. I like to think that in noticing these situations, these potential permutations, we can use this sort of righteous anger and shape it into a more productive tool for the future.

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