The history of hierarchy is a key to understanding civilization’s past and future. For most of human history, our ancestral hierarchies were composed of a small number of geographically and genetically proximate individuals. Nature, habit and tradition predetermined behavior when it came to who was in charge.
Parents were and remain civilization’s most important leaders. Newborns learn to take directions early on. They depend upon adults for survival. Infant dependence is inevitable. Patterns of hierarchy are deeply imprinted by the end of childhood.
Military personnel are ranked in a leadership hierarchy called the chain of command. Soldiers enter service with an internalized chain of command connecting them to home ties and prewar relationships. Then they learn to follow orders.
Battles are dispersed situations. Soldiers in combat are the center of their own battlefield. They serve with others, yet remain alone. Each soldier strives to come to terms with their own situation. Many feel isolated.
The complex hierarchies people experience today change rapidly and repeatedly in a lifetime. In some ways, living in the modern world resembles the experience of people serving in war. We serve with others, yet remain alone. Many people feel isolated.
Leadership by men on white horses doesn’t change the fact that in peace and war, managers often have little control over the direction of events. Military leadership strives to reinforce the idea that the morale and personal commitment of common soldiers influences the outcome. Personal initiative is important in surviving chaotic circumstances.
Beginning in 1776, American revolutionaries (people of the left at that time to be sure) seized leadership from the nobility. Leadership authority was eventually expanded to include the middle and lower along with upper classes. An entire people joined the aristocrats in the chain of command.
Rigidly hierarchical mandates have been replaced by voluntary decision making. America’s answer to the question of hierarchy and leadership is revolutionary to the extent that significant management responsibilities are constitutionally assigned to every citizen. Democracy is healthiest where the people defend and exercise their personal right to lead constructively.
In the hierarchy called American democracy, we’re all in charge.
More people need to act like it!