Chris Dillow at Stumbling and Mumbling thinks that, instead of reinforcing and perpetuating hierarchy through selective education, we should concentrate on breaking hierarchies down. Part of his argument (I think) is that hierarchies are unmanageable and in any case, even the cleverest people sometimes make decisions that are irrational or sub optimal.
That maybe so and perhaps reducing the importance of hierarchy would make life better for us all. The trouble is, whenever you try to break down hierarchies, they have a horrible habit of reasserting themselves.
I have been on a number of management development programmes over the years which have involved experiments in leaderless of self-managed teams. In every case, some form of hierarchy has emerged within the group and someone has ended up taking control. Where the participants have been from the same company, it is often the senior person who ends up giving the orders. If the task requires specialist knowledge then the expert may find himself propelled into a leadership position. In other situations, it was just the most charismatic, mouthy or bullying member of the group who took over.
What strikes me every time I am involved in something like this is how uncomfortable people are without hierarchy. They might say that they are not status conscious or that they despise concepts like class and rank, but subconsciously, even the most egalitarian people seem to want some sort of hierarchy and if it isn’t there, they will create it.
This is hardly surprising. Even children create hierarchies among themselves. In all but a few societies, there are formal structures of leadership with ranks and titles. Humans have been hierarchical for thousands of years and we are conditioned to accept the idea of leaders and followers from an early age.
So, do human beings have some innate need for hierarchy or do we just accept it as a result of social conditioning? And, given that hierarchy continually reasserts itself, is it futile to pretend that we will ever rid ourselves of it completely?