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."

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