Hierarchy

I once sat with a woman at a professional conference who was on the cutting edge of feminist theory. She was convinced that one of the roots of evil in the world was hierarchy. She saw hierarchy as a form of domination practiced primarily by men to keep women down. She argued that hierarchy needed to be replaced with an alternative form of organization. She was practiced in this argument, and she was accustomed to having her viewpoint acknowledged and accepted. On this particular day, however, she got into a public debate with a man who was highly articulate about organizational issues. He proceeded to tear apart her best arguments. She was deeply upset and afterward I spent some time trying to help.

After some time passed, she asked for my opinion. Given her negative definition of hierarchy, I asked her to define the opposite of hierarchy. “It would be a responsive collective of people who cooperate in a system of openness and equality,” she replied.

I indicated that now she had a negatively defined concept, hierarchy, joined with a positively defined concept. So I asked, What is the positive opposite of the responsive and open organization? She accused me of playing word games.

I was not playing word games. I was trying to bring to the surface a problem that existed in all of us. It is a flaw in our logic.

Hierarchical organization is positive unless someone allows it to become negative. But the same can be said for the adhocracy.

Because we are all like the woman in the above story, we are biased in our observations and arguments. Optimistic, right brain people tend to condemn the frozen bureaucracy and see responsive adhocracy as the only alternative. Realistic, left-brain people scoff. They condemn chaotic anarchy and call for the predictable hierarchy. Both groups tend to be blind. They cannot see positive opposites. Nor can they see the potential power in joining the positive opposites.

Change the World, pp. 36-37

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