Hierarchy is a word that comes with a lot of baggage these days, calling up thoughts of privilege, inequality, unfairness, abuse, and the list goes on. The practice itself has also has had what one might call a run of bad luck; over three thousand years ago the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II was worshipped as a divine being. No ruler today would be thought of in such a way. Even as recently as the middle ages, kings, while not divine, ruled by divine right. This is of course no longer the case,  which is a very good thing, indeed. Who could argue otherwise?

But every movement, continuing unhindered, will overshoot. The centuries’ old movement towards equality and away from hierarchy will likely some day be no different. Already we are beginning to see fissures in many ways—some smaller, some larger. A professional reviewer rating restaurants for the Michelin Guide with thousands of hours of experience and technical training is paid less attention to than a couple of unhappy souls on Yelp who were having a bad day when they ate out one night. We don’t listen to an epidemiologist when considering the virtues of a vaccine; instead we go to Facebook. And we elect to office people who have no experience in governance, believing that an outsider could better govern us. So, one can begin to see that instead of an ideal egalitarianism that we are all striving towards, we are in some ways moving from hierarchy towards a kind of lowest common denominator of social organization, with the loudest, least able and least knowledgeable taking on more and more power. And this trend is accelerating, leaving us between a rock and a hard place.

I am not really writing about this topic to render an opinion about the pros and cons of hierarchy within our society, though. Instead I wonder if we shouldn’t be more concerned with trying to understand hierarchy within ourselves, rather than in society at large. Who is in charge? Is anyone? Do my various parts recognize an authority within, or only pay lip service to the idea? Are the parts of myself in opposition to each other, taking turns running the show to the detriment of the rest? These are not new ideas of mine. Others have spoken and written about them before. But the idea of self-examination in order to discern how I am organized is one I don’t pay enough attention to, actually less attention than I pay to judging the state of our society. If I do look within I see that my situation is usually one of disorder, a little better than anarchy, perhaps, but still lacking in a common direction. How would I begin to establish such a direction?

I could begin with the thought that perhaps I should be guided by some definite standard of morality. But when I get into the details I see that what is considered right and correct for a moral man or woman in America, as compared to a moral man or woman in Saudi Arabia, they diverge in a lot of ways. So much so that the one in Saudi Arabia would consider many of the actions and ideas of the one in America immoral, and vice versa. Apparently, there is no solid footing to be found here. What if I were to look to the laws that the government has established? Might it not be enough to only rely on staying within the lines that have been drawn by law? Stay out of trouble? This approach is likely necessary most of the time, but seems greatly insufficient. By turning to society to act as my master I have abdicated a certain responsibility, relying on the fear of punishment to determine the course of all my actions. To say that what is not forbidden should be allowed sets a pretty low bar for a person. So, it appears that neither external morality nor external constraint is the right path to follow in establishing an inner hierarchy; instead I must find my own way to a solution.

In addressing my dilemma, I must, as always, begin where I am. I have parts of myself that act based on purely personal satisfaction. I don’t think this is going to change. There are other parts somewhat less egoistic ones, oriented differently, towards something more subtle. This is my dichotomy. In order to develop unity I need to find something that is not external to myself that can rule all of my different parts. It is an error to say that the solution is to eliminate the more egoistic parts that appear inferior, then only “goodness” would remain. From long years of experience I know that those “inferior” parts also wish to live, and have shown a tenacity that has overcome my efforts towards self-improvement.

What if instead my effort is not to eliminate some parts of myself, but rather to develop something within that is not yet present, something whose role is not of affirmation or of judgement, but rather of seeing myself—a seeing that is permeated through and through with a wordless lucidity—perhaps then not to call it seeing, but rather to speak of it as witnessing. This new quality of sight might serve to illuminate all the aspects of my psychology, not to praise or condemn, but whose silent gaze might cause the various parts to come out from the places within myself where they now dwell, separate and isolated.

If I could be seen by this other, newly emerged part of myself as I go through my life something might begin to change. I would at first shy away from the fact that I am seen. Judging myself as I now do, I would wish to hide, not wanting to be exposed to myself. Over time I might come to realize that this newly emerging seer does not judge, but instead simply witnesses all of my identities in turn. I might then discover that my disparate parts actually wish to be seen in this way. That would be a great shift, a life changing shift, whereupon all of myself wishes to be under this light of being seen. And, wishing to be seen, the different parts of myself would begin to align, following this common direction. It is just as when a magnet is brought near a random scattering of iron filings, which were laying all helter-skelter. Everything then changes, as an order is established with all of the filings pointing in the same direction, towards the magnet. If this were to happen within myself it would create the beginning of an internal order, based not on coercion, but on a law of nature, an inner law, wherein there is a common direction under a sovereign that is beneficent but also unaccepting of the slightest evasion. Such a direction would be worthwhile, indeed. But the path towards self-rule, whether in society or within oneself, is never an easy one. It is, rather, the work of a lifetime. And, like society, I see that the creation of a right hierarchy occurs in stages, sometimes moving forward, sometimes regressing. It is how things are, and our work is to combine acceptance and effort in equal measure.

Friends, your comments are welcome.



  1. Hello Dennis,

    Greetings from Oregon! After reading your words on Hierarchy, which I found both timely and insightful I recalled something I was recently reading – that being – notes from Orage meeting 16 Nov 25. It’s on
    Conscious or objective morality. I think you may find it worthy of your time but perhaps you’ve already read it. If not I’d be glad to forward it to you.

    Best wishes to you and Karen for a healthy and joyful 2021

  2. Hello, Karl, it is very good to hear from you and I hope you and those near to you are well. I have not read the material you mentioned, I look forward to receiving it, thank you, Dennis

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