Hierarchy: The Scottish Highlands Reveals the Power of the Human Collective
For the past three-and-a-half months, I lived and worked at Culdees Eco-village in Fearnan, Scotland. I have come away with the kind of insights that oftentimes come from new experiences. I’ve gleaned a better understanding of the process and progress of building a fully self-sufficient eco-village. Most importantly, I’ve glimpsed something of the process and the progress that accompany any collective endeavor.
When a single individual or a select few hold the vision for an establishment’s continuation, progress for the commons becomes impossible.
Whether it is a small eco-village in the Scottish Highlands or a multinational corporation with outlets that can be found on every street corner, or the governing body of a world superpower, the modern paradigm that guides and governs the vast majority of human establishments is hierarchy. Hierarchy is the common template for creation that fails to embody anything common. When a single individual or a select few hold the vision for an establishment’s continuation, progress for the commons becomes impossible. Similarly, when the power of the project and the continual growth of that project is held within the grip of its sole owner, the populous body of the workforce becomes disillusioned with apathetic wanderings. Volunteers on a farm become mere day-laborers working for someone else; employees for a company become the expendable class under a payroll; citizens under the governance of a nation become the tolerable workforce of the economy.
Hierarchy is a higher position controlling a lower position, and whether that control is maintained through harsh authoritarianism as in North Korea, or whether that control is carried with utmost respect of the populous body, the continuation of the project or establishment will either be short lived or will not come close to fulfilling the potential of the human collective. Citizens will grow tired of being suppressed and will eventually rise up and revolt. And as history shows, they will most likely only go as far as adopting a modified form of hierarchy, submitting themselves to a new suppressive position very similar to the one they left. Voting other individuals into higher positions of power is only a modified and washed-up form of hierarchy. And if the hierarchy is a respectful control, as may be found on an eco-village in which the landowner has the vision and the volunteers perform the work, the process and progress of the project will not meet their full potential.
Citizens will grow tired of being suppressed and will eventually rise up and revolt.
The imagination, creativity, design, and direction of a collective body is far superior to the imagination, creativity, design, and direction of a single individual. If the collective body can agree upon these things together, every individual will be more fully empowered to reach their own potential, thus further empowering the whole. If the individual is suppressed to a severely diminished human level, the individual will devalue himself or herself, which is exactly why we settle with careers as cashiers, and grocery baggers, and accountants.
We fail to recognize human worth. Thus we fail to help humanity progress. Technological and industrial advancements are the impressive deceptions of human progress, because while they may make the day more enjoyable and convenient, they gradually create a dependence not just for the day’s enjoyment, but more importantly for the day’s survival. Think of it this way—if every technological and industrial advancement disappeared today, and every human was forced to return to a primordial existence, the vast majority would die as quickly as a helpless housefly. This dependence of survival has primarily stemmed from the working paradigm of hierarchy. We grow dependent upon the government to care for us; we grow dependent upon money to buy our things; we grow dependent upon another’s vision and direction of our day.
The dilemma of hierarchy and dependence-or-die is exemplified beyond the human collective. On an all- included worldly level, in which humans have hierarchy over nature, dependence-or-die has never been clearer. With a dangerously changing climate, severe acidification of the oceans, vast reaching dead zones spreading from our waterways, and a 10,000 times faster extinction rate than if humans had no influence, our position of hierarchy is failing to care for the planet. When the Earth’s resources have no other purpose than to serve the wishes of man, the system will eventually fail as any and every dictatorship will eventually fail.
the vast majority of humanity does not wish to ruin the planet
Such a proposal as collectively working with nature in a holistic manner is too foreign an idea for us to adopt even if we wished to. To completely dethrone ourselves from our comfortable positions of power is nearly impossible at this point. But we can begin small. We can re-instill the innate power of every individual. We can create, and design, and direct ourselves together. We can collectively decide on exactly how an eco-village will be designed and built; we can collectively construct a business model beyond the advice of shareholders; we can collectively govern a nation beyond votes and scandals. Human establishments and institutions will naturally localize themselves. Businesses “too big to fail” will diminish their control, thus empowering local businesses and local economies. Governments “too big to govern” will branch into smaller, transparent, governing bodies. People will empower themselves, no longer dependent upon a higher body.
My view is: the vast majority of humanity does not wish to ruin the planet. But under the modern paradigm of hierarchy, in which someone else makes world-altering decisions, the vast majority of humanity has no power to do anything about it. Recycling our plastic bottles and buying organic produce is about as far as most of us see presently possible. But this is not so. Local communities, economies, and governments are gradually sprouting all over the world. Growing solutions are being found in such things as Transition Towns, the practice of permaculture and community gardens, Waldorf schools, and similar approaches that are still often considered radical alternatives to modernity, but empower each individual to a fuller capability.
Suppression is short-lived. Human empowerment is global empowerment. And I have confidence that any human collective would vote for global sustainability.