A lot of discussion in social psychology revolves around the idea of the dominance hierarchy. This refers to the fact that humans, as a form of primate, have social dominance hierarchies like other primates (and other mammals). There are actually three separate forms of dominance hierarchy, depending on the nature of the situation, as this essay will examine.
The elementary dominance hierarchy corresponds to the realm of iron. This is the same as the dominance hierarchy that exists in a state of Nature.
In principle, there’s little more to the elementary dominance hierarchy than who can beat up who. The dominance hierarchy relating to iron is similar to the dominance hierarchy that exists in prison. Authority is determined by a capacity and a will to use violence. The top of this hierarchy is held by mighty warriors, warlords and kings.
All the posturing one sees about who could beat up who is establishing a dominance hierarchy in the realm of iron. There is a whole art to posturing in this manner, and males will start learning it while they are still boys. The point of it is to establish who is better at fighting, but without actually fighting. The man who is believed to be the best fighter is at the top of this hierarchy and, if you disagree, he will bash you.
The dominance hierarchy that corresponds to the realm of silver is the same as the social hierarchy.
This hierarchy doesn’t reflect fighting ability but rather social status. In a civilised setting, where peace reigns, the person who generally makes the most intelligent long-term decisions will be at the top of the dominance hierarchy. Fighting in terms of social status means that the loser gets ostracised (or incarcerated) instead of killed.
The dominance hierarchy of silver is the same as the hierarchy of all the people who have agreed to play by civilised rules. The uncivilised can contest the dominance hierarchy of iron by bashing and stabbing each other, but in doing so they will fall down the hierarchy of silver, because civilised men will not respect them.
In practice, the hierarchy of silver often represents the hierarchy of wealth. When it comes down to it, this hierarchy is an extension of the hierarchy of iron because silver gives you the opportunity to hire men of iron to do your bidding. Wealth can buy loyalty, even if only temporarily. It can also buy land, weapons and propaganda.
However, social status can be afforded to people on the basis of their knowledge alone, which is why the hierarchy of silver can, on occasion, promote a knowledgeable man above a wealthy one. This is most obviously the case in the university system, where extremely knowledgeable people are afforded a high status.
The third form of dominance hierarchy is much more subtle, and consequently it corresponds to the realm of gold.
The spiritual hierarchy reflects those who are most closely attuned to the Will of God. Because every person has their own idea of what the Will of God is, it’s rare that people openly agree as to who is at the top of the spiritual hierarchy. Therefore, this hierarchy is subtle, sometimes even occluded.
At the top of the spiritual hierarchy is the person with the greatest knowledge of God. In most cases, this will not only be a person who believes in God, but will also be a person who maintains a practice that keeps them in connection with God. This means that they have explicitly repudiated the other two dominance hierarchies and no longer contest them.
These three hierarchies interplay with each other in many ways.
The hierarchies of iron and silver clash all the time in civilised society. The hierarchy of iron is almost always topped by a male aged between 20 and 40, because it’s in these years that men possess maximum physical strength. The person at the top of the hierarchy of silver, by contrast, will have achieved their position after decades of building social and financial capital, and so will be much older.
This means that the person at the top of the hierarchy of iron is almost never the same as the person at the top of the hierarchy of silver. This is all but inevitable if the population is larger than 50 or so. With two different people at the top of two different dominance hierarchies, conflict between them is possible. This is why some ancient tribes used to split leadership into a war chief (man of iron) and a peace chief (man of silver).
Likewise, the person at the top of the hierarchy of gold will not be the decision-maker all the time. This person will only be in charge as long as others put their egos down and seek wise counsel instead of trying to force their will on others. As long as people choose to fight, then they will fall behind the leadership of either the best physical fighter or the best social fighter, and neither will follow the man of gold.
Because of the Conceit of Silver, people of silver will regularly fancy themselves to be people of gold. This leads many people of silver to adopt the trappings of the people of gold and to start mimicking them. Therefore, one can never be sure that anyone claiming to be a believer in God really is one. This means that the hierarchy of gold cannot be measured.
The hierarchies of silver and gold naturally clash with each other, as those driven by egoic desires for self-aggrandisement clash with those driven to minimise the suffering of all sentient beings. The men of silver are generally happy to cause suffering to other sentient beings if it grants them more power, but in doing so they inevitably provoke the ire of the men of gold.
These three dominance hierarchies can be observed in virtually all human groups. The interplay between physical strength, social strength and moral strength all but ensures that ultimate decision-making power is never held in the same hands for long.
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