Day 131: Defy hierarchy.Posted: May 11, 2011
When Robinson Crusoe found himself alone on an uninhabited island, he quickly declared himself king, lord, emperor of all he surveyed. He had no subjects for two and a half decades, but he was still the king, dammit.
He eventually acquired a savage – plucked from the jaws of
death cannibals – and, a few years later, a Spaniard. He sent the Spaniard off in search of other subjects, and then skipped town when an English ship happened by his island. He quickly took command of the vessel – though he let the former captain pretend to still be in charge – and left a few mutineers behind with a letter for the Spaniard. Then they all sailed back to England.
Even though he was absolutely alone, Crusoe couldn’t resist putting himself at the top of a hierarchy. It’s human nature: we want a pecking order, we want someone to be the alpha male, we have to know who the leader of the pack is, we want other animal metaphors.
In general, people defy hierarchies with the goal – reasonable or otherwise – of instituting a new hierarchy with themselves at the top. This is why we have coups and revolutions and hostile takeovers and homeowners associations and office politics and aggressive salespeople and dudes who talk too loud at the coffeeshop about whatever the fuck it is they’re talking about.
This sort of defiance is directed toward the current system, the current hierarchy – sometimes justifiably, certainly – but it doesn’t call in to question the coercive and power-hungry nature of hierarchical systems as such. This sort of defiance seeks to replace, not to dismantle. Even when the defiers talk about dismantling, it is always with the unspoken assumption that something new will be built from the wreckage of the old.
A true defiance of hierarchy requires a rejection of power, a rejection of position and advantage and benefit – it requires a rejection of action itself. It requires one to say, with Bartleby, “I would prefer not to” – and to then walk away, and not give a fuck about the consequences.
Because there are always consequences: one doesn’t just defy a particular hierarchy, or a particular representative of a particular hierarchy; rather, one defies all particular hierarchies, and Hierarchy itself, in defying one of them. What you do to the least of these…
Hierarchy does not like to be defied. It will break you, and put you back in line, if there’s enough of you left to stand in a line. The only way to keep from being broken is to be utterly passive: like water, like the Tao, like Bartleby. Yield and overcome.
Of course, you have to sleep in your office, eat nothing but peanuts and stale cookies, and wear the same shirt all the time in order to pull this off – so, maybe not worth it?