Monday, January 4, 2010

Note on Layers, Hierarchies, Flatlands

The image of culture as a layered arrangement rests on a hierarchical conception of reality. Here I note that hierarchy is built from the concepts of “the sacred” and “rule”; thus the word had a cosmic flavor initially before it came to be applied to characterize every kind of governing situation.

Interesting concept. If we see it as “rule from on high,” it has a top-to-bottom dynamic. The peak is therefore both the source and support of that which is beneath it. When we move this concept into an architectural environment, the bottom layer is the most important: it must be firm and wide enough to support all that it must carry, and so on as we ascend. We see both aspects of this arrangement in the visible world. The most important bottom-up structure we know is life. It vitally depends on a foundation of autotrophs, certain algae, bacteria, and plants that use inorganic matter and sunlight to produce the initial layer of the food chain. All creatures above this layer (heterotrophs) feed on autotrophs or other heterotrophs. All governments of whatever kind are top-to-bottom structures in that they are rule-setting and enforcing structures, and the governed exist in the environment thus maintained. Regardless of the prevailing cultural bias, structures of both kinds are always present. But there tends to be a leaning in cultures now toward one, now toward the other view of reality. The bias toward a top-to-bottom view comes when disorders mount. The bias toward a bottom-up view grows when authority becomes oppressive. Oppression grows with authority, disorder with freedom, hence cycling is our fate.

A hierarchical conceptualization is always based on values—and these are also viewed as hierarchically arranged. This view invariably produces the assertion that real agencies, thus autonomous beings, exist (ourselves included). And the hierarchy culminates in a single Ultimate. A flatlands conceptualization is based on the denial of values if these are considered to be in any sense as “absolute”; values are admitted, but only as subjectively perceived conditions. The operant explanatory principle of the flatland view is therefore chance. Its pragmatic explanation of rule is therefore based on probabilities. Those phenomena will govern that are most probable, and this means that large numbers will prevail. Democracy is therefore a natural expression of a value-free cosmology. No value may be asserted as in itself superior to others. Values are subjective, but if many many people hold them, they will prevail by producing high probabilities of adherence.

The disorders in our current layers of culture (if viewed from a position that favors a hierarchical dispensation), are due to the prevalence, currently, of a bottom-up conception of reality; it dates from the French Revolution, roughly, and materialism is one of its servants. All public efforts are therefore bent to persuading the largest possible numbers to give value to some outcome those doing the persuasion wish to impose. Multiple authorities compete to persuade us—because, with our flatland leaning, we deny any one of them ultimate power. We do have one authority in the United States with a final say. Thus we still have a toe-hold in the hierarchical dispensation. But to that authority we only grant a negative power; it may only say No. It is the Supreme Court.

1 comment:

  1. I like this post a lot. The notion of cycles and how and why they occur is very nicely summarized with; "Oppression grows with authority, disorder with freedom, hence cycling is our fate."