Who Controls Society? A Blast from the Past

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.

3 thoughts on “Who Controls Society? A Blast from the Past”

  1. Chuckle Chuckle

    Modern women who “look down on” English women prior to (lets say) WW1 because those women “lacked the power that modern women have” don’t understand the Social Power (mainly in High Society) those women had.

    The High Society Matrons had considerable power in their world even if they weren’t in Government or Business.

    Those Matrons decided who was “acceptable” to be invited to the High Status Gatherings where plenty of matters were decided (both in Government and Business).

    For that matter, if a Gentleman married an “unacceptable woman” by the Matrons’ standards, that woman would not be allowed to attend the High Status Gatherings.


  2. Once upon a time a fellow tried to claim superiority due his being less-furred than I. I am not eloquent, but my reply was roughly of the order, “Competence does not need conformal disguises.” He was.. less than happy.


  3. Concur on “perceived power” vice “actual power.”

    A lot of Yuppie/business types look down on me because I wear BDU pants and a button-down short-sleeve shirt (untucked,) and I don’t shave very often (it’s a hassle. I just “mow” it once a week with a trimmer, and have a defined van Dyke beard.) They figure I don’t know anything because I’m a rough character that tends to work with my hands.

    But, /who/ gets called when something breaks and they can’t work anymore? /Who/ do even the IT/Telcom guys call on (they’re often considered the “heroes” to these individuals) when they can’t get something physically sorted?

    Yep. Me. As you said, that /is/ power.

    So I work with my hands. I /like/ working with my hands. I also have a tested IQ that is likely somewhat higher than the people who look down on me, and I speak a dozen languages.

    But *I’m* the idiot, because I work with my hands. Right.

    You know what else I control? The order in which jobs get assigned and completed by my team. I hope your thinking that *I* am the idiot comforts you while you’re sitting there in the dark and cold… (Spiteful of me, I know, and I’m really working on that. But, sometimes, power must be demonstrated…)


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