Equality Is Unnatural



Christopher Ebbe, Ph.D.    6-14

ABSTRACT:  Social hierarchies seem to be a “natural” assumption and experience of human beings, while equality is a less “natural” and perhaps more difficult state of relations.

KEY WORDS:  equality, authority, hierarchies, social order

From birth, human beings are cocooned in authority hierarchies, due to our helplessness as infants and children and to the very long brain development period of the species.  We view parents as god-like and powerful, and most of us accept our places in these hierarchies, together with their attendant right and duties.  Human beings carry their parent-child notion of hierarchy into adulthood, readily accepting the authority of those above them without question (except for griping and occasional rebellion when mistreatment from above occurs).  Some adults strive to take the position of parent in their hierarchies (to have the power, to be in control), and some remain in the child position.

Those who have basically positive experiences with their (powerful) parents seem to have a sort of nostalgia for that experience, which can be seen in the positive attention paid to the activities of the remaining royals in the world and the general hero worship that the public has for the high-ranking, in government, business, religion, etc.  This is another indication that to have workable “equality groups,” we must consciously apply a different set of rules and expectations.

Since human beings are all at different points in their birth to death journey, and since human beings each have different capabilities, it is inevitable that practical functions will be divided and specialization will develop (becoming increasingly specialized as economies develop), so that adults each have different rights and duties.  This makes it more difficult to group adults into broad categories and to have simple rules for societal interactions.

Further, since human beings all have different arrays of skills and abilities and are relatively “tabula rasa” with regard to conceptions and values conditioning, they seek constant reassurance with regard to their positions in their various groups, and as a result they compare themselves with one another constantly and naturally construct hierarchies of ability, possessions, beauty, and other socially meaningful dimensions.  Placement on these hierarchies may or may not be identical in the minds of various individuals, but people tend to “school” in this regard and to adopt the hierarchy assessments of those around them. 

This predilection toward authority-based hierarchies on the part of human beings implies that equal relationships are peculiar in our experience, and it is clear that they require new learning with regard to how to make them workable.  If we are equals, then no individual’s decision has default authority, and a structure must be developed to “tell” us who has decision authority in each of various social situations.  These assignments of authority are often unwritten and unstated in the home, but in most groups they are written into by-laws, a constitution, legislation, etc., and they are institutionalized in position titles, pay grades, etc. 

We are therefore used to functioning in hierarchical groups and tend to bring those values and ways of operating to our “equality groups.”  Even in groups that are constituted as being among equals, many people “pull” the group toward more of an authority hierarchy.  Men size up other men for power and status all the time, in both hierarchy groups and “equality groups;” women are no better than men at being comfortable with equality; and children are always clamoring to be shown (by favoritism) that they are more special than other children.  In politics, some people in our country try to get the President to take more actions that would promote their own views of how things “should” be, regardless of the wishes of other citizens and even if the President does not have that authority by law. 

Also, many people do not wish to accept the decisions of the majority (even though that is the way our system works on paper) but instead continue to fight to have things their way instead of the way the majority has decided.  (This attitude is becoming a problem for us in so far as many people push their representatives and senators to accept only very specific legislative outcomes rather than being willing to accept compromise solutions to national problems that have been arrived at after appropriate discussion and debate.)  Such people strive to have their own views take precedence over those of others with whom they disagree.  It is certainly appropriate for each of us to try to influence the total group to do things in ways that will be good for us individually, but in a large democracy not every decision can go our way, and therefore it will be necessary for us to get our way sometimes but not others, in which case it is appropriate to accept a total group decision even when it is not exactly as we would want it.  It is understandable for persons who want to change the group’s stance on an issue to work to change the opinions of others, but it is inappropriate to attack those with whom they disagree with labels of “wrong,” “wrong-headed,” “crazy,” or “un-American.”


There are certain attitudes and behaviors that are necessary for all parties if a group of equals is to be able to function adequately as a group.

1. All individuals (in our families and our smaller groups as well as in the planet-wide human family) must be seen by other group members as having an equal inherent value just for being, although we each will value certain persons more than others for certain qualities or for their impact in us.

2. Group members must accept that no individual is really any “better” than any other individual (and therefore has no greater right to get his/her way), even though as individuals we will continue to rank order people in terms of innumerable qualities (beauty, wealth, achievement, intelligence, strength, abilities, etc.).

3. All members of a group (family, senate, church, etc.) have an equal right to have their desires and concerns heard, although the group may assign certain individuals to assist the group with information or analysis, and we may designate certain times for which certain groups assume an hierarchical control system (the army, during war).

4. All equal members of a group deserve basic respect at all times (including children, the mentally different, sinners, and the convicted).  (If this basic respect is not given to all, then the group may still be a group of equals, but they are equal only in their opportunity to use any means, including force and abasement, in their efforts to influence others to agree with them.)

5. All equal members of a group deserve basic acceptance (i.e., acceptance as long as they are not harming others).

6. Simply acknowledging and accepting that others in the group have beliefs and values that are different from our own is helpful in equality groups.

7. The desires of all equal members are seen by others as equally valid as their own and should not be criticized, even though the group must constantly decide which desires can be honored and gratified and which cannot (due to resources and impact).  The views and values of others are just as important to them as yours are to you.  You do not have to agree with others’ views and values, only to acknowledge and accept that the differences are meaningful and must be taken seriously if the group is to be able to function amicably and with maximum effectiveness.

8. It helps equality groups to function well if members treat others as important and recognize their needs and wants as meaningful.  It helps to attend to their needs and wants as being almost as important to you as your own.  It is well to be “your brother’s keeper,” since you will be affected by the ultimate decisions and functioning of those other people.

9. It helps the group for you to understand others’ views and values.  The better you understand the views and values of others in the group, the better you will work together to solve problems and get the work of the group done.  This requires taking their views and values seriously (rather than understanding them only to better demolish them). 

Using empathy in your efforts to understand is helpful, not only because it helps you to understand them emotionally but because to approach others with empathy means that you are open to fully understanding them (rather than just superficially).  Of course, you can have empathy for others much more easily if you accept them as having legitimate needs and wants and if you believe that cooperation and compromise will get you more of what you want than using power tactics alone.

Finding out how others live (geography, jobs, religious participation, family members, ethnicity issues, etc.) helps you to make more sense of their views and values.  Look for the information another person is using to form her views and values, since this helps you to “make sense” of them.

10. In equality groups, every person should be listened to with basic respect and with an interest in understanding his or her desires, before others express disagreement.

11. Using scorn, rejection, put-downs, disapproval, shaming, and guilt-induction to try to get others to agree with us or not oppose our wishes is demeaning, is destructive to the group’s ethos of equality, promotes splintering and conflict, and should be discouraged.

12. Trying to gain advantage for oneself at the expense of others in the group is anti-democratic, is destructive to the group’s ethos of equality, promotes splintering and conflict, and should be discouraged.  This includes all attempts to bring emotional or physical harm or material harm to others in order to coerce them to agree with us.  (Currently a large amount of the interaction between American citizens and government, at all levels, is for the purpose of attempting to gain advantage at the expense of other citizens.)  It is appropriate for all group members to try to get what they want from the group, but this should be done by acceptable and non-harmful means.

13. Lying to others in the group in order to take advantage of them is destructive to the group’s ethos of equality, destroys trust in the group, promotes splintering and conflict, and should be discouraged.  (“Lying” is presenting to others a version of the truth that we know or could readily know is not the most accurate version available.)

14. Sharing and taking turns are helpful behaviors in equality groups.

15. Treating others as we would like them to treat us is helpful in equality groups.

16. It helps in equality groups to approach others with a positive attitude.  Assuming that you and others will all be trying to help each other promotes maximum group effectiveness, and obviously, demeaning others and approaching them assuming the worst will produce mostly negative results.

17. In every discussion of issues and plans, it helps to attend to how the maximum number of other people can get something they want.  Even if you can get what you want right now without their help, if you ignore their situations, you will kill future cooperation.  More will be accomplished if each of us looks out for the welfare of everyone else, because it is only with a positive attitude and expectations that we can achieve maximum cooperation.