Who controls society?

A commenter (read “Troll”) on Sarah Hoyt’s blog in the course of his posts made a statement about determining “who controls society”.

After much facepalming, I replied.  I expand a bit on that reply here.

I don’t know why I try, but I essay:

This statement here shows such a profound ignorance that you can’t even ask meaningful questions. It’s a null statement. There is no answer to it as worded. It assumes a strict hierarchy that totalitarian regimes may approach but that never actually achieve.

Consider the barnyard example of a “pecking order” among chickens.  This is a common grade-school example of heirarchy. Anyone who actually knows chickens knows that this is laughable. It’s not a hierarchical order but a collection of interacting relationships.

Likewise with canids. People talk about the “alpha wolf” the “beta” and so on down to the last one. (Fortunately, for people making these assertions, wolf packs generally don’t get large enough that they run out of Greek letters.)

Look, I’m a “dog person”. When I acquire a new dog, the dogs among them will establish their own internal dominance structures. However, despite the fact that I am “alpha” to all the previous dogs (I have to be since the dogs have to exist in mutual safety in human society) I still have to establish my individual dominance over the new dog even if it is subordinate to the other dogs. Individual relationships, not a fixed hierarchy.   For example, “Hachi” is subordinate to me. We get the new dog“Trunks”. (My daughter gave them their names.) Trunks is subordinate to Hachi. (Hachi’s got real attitude–Bolt, the Pit Bull mix twice her weight is subordinate to her.) This does not mean that Trunks will automatically be subordinate to me just because I “rank” over Hachi. I have to establish that separately. And, incidentally, were I to fail to do so (purely a hypothetical in this case) that would not mean that Hachi, dominant over Trunks, would automatically become dominant over me. “Dominance loops” can, and in fact, do, exist.

Thus, the whole idea of “who controls society” does not, and indeed cannot have an answer. It’s like asking “how high is up”, or asking a person not affected with synesthesia what the color blue smells like (not a blue object, but the color itself).

Consider for instance how this works in the case of fashion. In China for a long time foot binding was a fashion. A horrible, horrible fashion. This is often described as being something imposed by men on women to force subervience on them. (After all, traditional Chinese culture was strongly patriarchal–few would dispute that–so of course, the men have to be the ones dictating this.)

When I was in college, I had to take two courses, 6 credit hours, in “World Civilizations”.  One of the courses I took covered China.  One of the texts we used was the book  “Wild Swans”, a biographical account of three generations of Chinese women spanning pretty much the 20th century (and was used as a text in the “China” class in World Civilizations in college) describes the last generation to practice foot binding (while Manchuria, which did not practice foot binding ruled over the rest of China). It wasn’t the men imposing it. It was imposed by other women.

Note, the ruling Manchurian dynasty did not practice foot binding.  Yet Chinese women, of other ethnicities within China nevertheless enforced it on their daughters.  It was not a “patriarchy” imposing this on women, but women imposing it on each other.

Likewise with more mundane fashion choices. Men pretty much don’t care. At most men will be interested in whether or not the fashion shows off the female form because, for evolutionary reasons, men tend to highly approve of the female form. No.  Fashion choices and the impositions thereof are driven almost entirely by pressure between and among women. (Yes, many fashion designers are men–but much of that crap they go down the runway with is never actually worn in public. It’s more “performance art” than actual fashion.)

Most of the pressures placed on women in modern Western society are placed their by other women for the ostensible benefit of those other women. Men don’t control that. They may try to grab hold for the ride, but the control is firmly in women’s hands.

Indeed, one can also argue that many of the pressures on men are put on them by women for the benefit of women and children.

Consider the various mating rituals in the animal kingdom. The brilliant plumage and mating dances of male birds. The “fights” of rutting bucks. A lot of people naively think that this competition is a display of male dominance.  Exactly the opposite is the case.

These things are designed to impress the female because it’s. the. female. that. chooses. While the male activity is more visible the actual power lies with the female.

Likewise with many of the things that people claim are “patriarchal” in American society. They are actually aspects of female power and female choice. And even there, it’s a matter of individual issues with multiple subgroups.

Consider, I’m Goth (well, perhaps “Goth-lite”). Among many folk that would automatically make me lower in their personal heirarchy simply from my choices of style, appreciation of the dark, and liking for music with dissonant tones and dark subject matter. On the other hand, I can show up at a major business, deal with businessmen in their three-piece suites and short, parted on the left hair while I’m dressed in black T’s and jeans, long black hair with a purple streak pulled into a pony tail, and black painted nails and they don’t say “boo”. Because I bring something to them that they can’t do and they know it. (BTW: if you have a Blu-Ray player, you’re welcome.)  People tell me that tailored suit and tie makes a person look powerful.  People paying me to come fix their problems in my T-shirt, jeans, and pony tail?  That, my friend, is power.  And yet, the same people who come to me for help and pay the rather substantial fees my boss charges for it would have no problem disparaging me in a different context because their conventional style is considered higher status than my “looks like a freak”.

There is no one who “controls society”. It’s a lot of individual interconnections and relationships that are always changing, not just over time but with context, a chaotic system at best which cannot be predicted, much less controlled.

25 thoughts on “Who controls society?”

  1. People who want to “determine who controls society” or even want there to be a thing/person/people/sortinghat that “determines who controls society” should be watched carefully and kept far from anything important.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Yes, many fashion designers are men–but much of that crap they go down the runway with is never actually worn in public.”

    A great number of male fashion designers are gay. I’d always figured that those hideous things they created were a statement of dislike for women.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I might have said God controls society, or maybe it’s the Rothschilds or aliens. Lately, it appears my dog Teddy actually controls society, at least the society in our home. My wife and I do everything he wants. It might be even worse if we had a cat.


  4. I’ve always assumed that societies are the most complex example of emergent behavior on the planet. A complexity arising out of simpler rulesets, like laws and tradition. No person can comprehend the dynamics of the culture, even though it has lifelike properties, trying to predict it’s directions over small range of time like a few years is beyond anyone. Without the ability to reliably predict outcomes there can be no control. The reason the question of control is asked is because emotionally the questioner realizes that cultures skirt on the edge of chaos and would prefer otherwise.


    1. I’ve studied Chaos since before Jurassic Park came out in 1992, and I’m pretty sure that there is no such thing as “Chaos,” because there are in fact rules being followed, but what we are perceiving can more accurately be called “unpredictable by humans.” Or maybe what I mean is that true “chaos” might be what it was like before the so called “Big Bang,” before there were coherent atoms and such like. Even then it might not be properly called “Chaos” because otherwise the primordial substance couldn’t have become organized the way it was.


  5. Female clitorectomy, as practiced in some cultures including Islam, and viewed as an expression of patriarchy, is also actually policed and imposed by the women themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Women have so much more control than they admit to. They are the enforcers of conformity, rules, and status.
    I don’t trust them. They are back-stabbers who are out for themselves, and will turn on their own ‘best friends’ if it benefits themself.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Very good argument, but the fact remains that, in human societies, the power of coercion is never distributed evenly: it’s more like a Pareto distribution, so it makes sense to talk of a ruling class.

    That does not mean that the ruling class has the same amount of power of coercion in every country: the power of the ruling class is much less in a well-constituted republic than in a totalitarian regime, and only in the latter case can it make sense to say that the ruling class “controls” (as opposed to “rules”) society.

    Furthermore, just because the ruling class has power, it does not mean that it uses it: the British ruling classes had little constitutional restraints in Victorian Britain, but still left people alone.

    Finally, let’s go back to Hoyt’s post. That was about patriarchy, which has nothing to do with ruling classes. Ruling classes are organized minorities: only a small percentage of adult men can be in the ruling class. In some countries, there are/were very few White men, so that all White men could be in the ruling class; but in the US, even Jewish men are too many for all of them to be in the ruling class. (Though antisemites seem to think otherwise.)

    In conclusion, I agree that it makes no sense to ask who controls society, but for reasons different from those that you give.


      1. Fair enough.
        What bothered me about your original post was the apparent implication that there is no ruling class. It bothered me, because the way i make sense of the Weinstein saga is: if you are in the American ruling class, you can abuse (within limits of course) women outside the ruling class with impunity; and heterosexual men outside the ruling class will expiate your sins, being punished for being of “the patriarchy”.

        Not quite by coincidence, i wrote almost the same thing in a comment on Samizdata yesterday:


    1. You refer to the power of coercion, but in the “West” hasn’t the “ruling class” come to rely on the power of bamboozlement to a far greater extent than physical violence? They shine us on and we follow like lambs to the slaughter.


      1. I’d say that both bamboozlment/propaganda and the **threat** of violence (as opposed to actual violence) are necessary for the ruling class, and not only in modern times: just think of the Divine Right of Kings; and not just in the West: just think of the Mandate of Heaven in China.


        1. Yes, the threat of violence is always dangled over our heads. I wonder though how things would go if masses of people no longer passively accepted the promulgated narratives but started saying out loud they didn’t believe what they were being spoon fed? No violent insurrection or anything like that, just a quiet affirmation that we don’t believe what they are saying and we will adjust our behavior accordingly. Would violence be enough to keep the ruling class in power? I guess we can’t rebel if we’re dead.


      1. When they came for the verbs, I did nothing, because verbing weirds language.

        Then hen they came for the nouns, I nothing because I no verbs.


        1. Sorry I called you “hen.”
          When they came for the verbs, I did nothing, because verbing weirds language.

          Then when they came for the nouns, I nothing because I no verbs.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: