Why Societies Need Hierarchy to Function (and What that Means for Occupy)

The Occupy Movement is unique in seeking more equitable social change without the visible presence of individual leaders. But it's disdain for hierarchy may ultimately hurt its goals. 

What's the Latest Development?


The Occupy Movement, which has become the most palpable social force of the 21st century, is unique in its desire to change society without the visible presence of individual leaders. By focusing its activism on social media, it believes that the dissemination of information without appeal to authority will create a more egalitarian society. But new research suggests that social hierarchy is beneficial to populations whose size makes soliciting everyone's separate opinion not only very time consuming, but actually counterproductive in achieving the stated objective of creating a more equal society.

What's the Big Idea?

To be sure, the dissemination of accurate information is essential to creating a more equitable society, but what researchers at Birkbeck College in London and Oxford University have found runs contrary to common wisdom. While it is thought that cheap communication (Twitter is free minus the cost of a computer) can subvert hierarchy, "if there is an initial inequality in how information is distributed, lowering communication costs counter-intuitively sustains steep hierarchy and promotes inequality. ... If we want to avoid this effect of cheaper communication, they say, then we'll need ways of compensating for itfor example, by greater social investment in education to disseminate knowledge. The web won't do it for us."

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

Car culture and suburban sprawl create rifts in society, claims study

New research links urban planning and political polarization.

Pixabay
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Canadian researchers find that excessive reliance on cars changes political views.
  • Decades of car-centric urban planning normalized unsustainable lifestyles.
  • People who prefer personal comfort elect politicians who represent such views.
Keep reading Show less

How to split the USA into two countries: Red and Blue

Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.

Image: Dicken Schrader
Strange Maps
  • America's two political tribes have consolidated into 'red' and 'blue' nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences.
  • Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce and give the two nations a country each
  • Based on the UN's partition plan for Israel/Palestine, this proposal provides territorial contiguity and sea access to both 'red' and 'blue' America
Keep reading Show less

NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller on ​the multiple dimensions of space and human sexuality

Science and the squishiness of the human mind. The joys of wearing whatever the hell you want, and so much more.

Flickr / 13winds
Think Again Podcasts
  • Why can't we have a human-sized cat tree?
  • What would happen if you got a spoonful of a neutron star?
  • Why do we insist on dividing our wonderfully complex selves into boring little boxes
Keep reading Show less