On Hierarchy, Meritocracy, and Gender

“Hierarchy” is a dirty word nowadays, often spoken of in terms of the oppressor-oppressed paradigm. But after some dwelling on the subject, I am compelled to ask: “is hierarchy truly so bad?” Of course, not all hierarchies are created equal. Some are good and worth keeping; others ought to be torn down and rebuilt. In medieval Europe, hierarchies were based around ties of blood, and one person would rule over others simply by chance of birth. Latin-American societies are almost wholly dominated by the rich. Other hierarchies (such as the practice of medicine before evidence-based approaches began to dominate), were based on seniority. Such hierarchies are unfit to stand for very long, due to poor leadership at the top and resultant resentment at the bottom.

Meritocracy and Cognitive Ability

But merit-based hierarchies are something I enthusiastically support. Militaries are good examples of a meritocracy, where position within the organization is based entirely on being stronger, faster, and (above all) smarter than the competition. The U.S. military has throroughly mastered the science of selecting recruits based on cognitive ability – so much so that most people in America aren’t smart enough to join the military. Steve Sailer has written extensively on the subject (see here, here, here, here, and here). The software development community is another such meritocracy. Hell, the members of this hierarchy don’t pull any punches with titles: founding members of popular programming languages, operating systems, or tools, are often termed “benevolent dictator for life“, with whom the final say always lies on matters regarding the software.

Unfortunately, American society isn’t entirely meritocratic (though it comes reasonably close). The merit-based hierarchy is heavily influenced by the heritable trait of IQ, which correlates strongly with income and occupation. Nowadays, one’s position in the American societal hierarchy is increasingly based on inherited cognitive ability and inherited wealth (though these two are highly correlated). This great for people born into a high-cognitive, high-earning bloodline – but is disastrous for those born outside of one. This state of affairs is discussed at length in the works by Charles Murray, e.g. The Bell Curve and Coming Apart. But these pale in comparison to affirmative action and other racial set-asides, which have nothing to do with merit and everything to do with the Democratic Party bribing minorities for votes.

Leaders and Education

In my own experience, having an educated (there’s a flimsy word if there ever was one), able leader on hand to guide those beneath himself is a far better approach to problem solving than relying on the group to “sort things out.” A big problem is that there is no real way to define an “educated leader.” Who defines who is educated, or what an education is? I’ve tried my best (here too), but even my attempt is feeble and filled with holes. The great dictators of the 20th century (Mao, Hitler, Stalin, Lenin) had their own ideas on what constituted an “educated” person. A genuine education in genuine subjects lies in stark contrast to a miseducation of lies and propaganda. Having a miseducated leader in charge is far worse than an uneducated one, as the uneducated one may still be able to learn from his mistakes – but the educated fool is often too committed to his ideology to learn what works and what doesn’t.

This lack of genuine education is why I don’t think people outside of STEM fields of study are fit for leadership positions in society. Fields of study outside of STEM have become so watered-down and stupefied as to cast doubt on the intellectual integrity of the degree-holders. Education is probably the worst offender of this bunch, especially since you’d expect the brightest and most intelligent people to be in charge of educating the nation’s youth – but in reality, it’s the bottom of the barrel that educates our children.

The Gender Angle

Another observation on the best leadership (which is likely to ruffle many feathers), is that men make far better leaders than women do, for the most part. With noble exception, women tend to make poor leaders. They lack the stomach and fortitude to make tough calls, or work too hard trying to appease everyone and keep everybody happy. Men, in a hierarchy composed of men, always seem much more “on point” and focused on getting the task at hand done, while women are preoccupied with personal comfort and managing their affairs outside of work. The great task of the leader is to ensure the common welfare of the group; not to make individuals happy. Of course, the leader ought not grind others down for the comfort of others either. A balance is needed, and an intelligent leader will be able to pick up eventually on where the balance lies with his subordinates.

My main experiences related to the last paragraph stem from my time in engineering graduate school and my (admittedly brief) time in the workplace. Virtually the entire engineering staff at my job is male (though there are plenty of overweight female secretaries and “administrative assistants”). My team is entirely male. We all know when in a team of men, that is time to take care of serious, professional business. Grad school wasn’t much different – though there were a few capable females in my research group. But my professors (along with most of the faculty in my department) were capable, able men. In graduate school, I was truly impressed by my professors. They were razor-sharp people, that knew their stuff, and wanted you to know it too. The lot of them were capable, intelligent, educated men, that knew what they are doing, and had earned their position in society through study and hard work. It was a privilege to work and study alongside such people.

I compare that to my time in public school, an institution which was almost completely dominated by females. I hated pretty much every minute of it; the stupidity, the arbitrary rules, the arbitrary punishments, and the open hatred males has left a last impression on me of female-dominated organizations. I want no part in them.

The Alternative: Anarchy?

What is the alternative to a hierarchy in society? Having everyone be “equal” appears to be an impossibility to me. Hierarchy appears to be an inevitability, since human beings instinctively sort themselves into a hierarchy when thrown together into a mix. The result is…well… just what you’d expect: anarchy. Stanford professor John Sutton has some interesting remarks on the matter of hierarchy in the business world which echo these sentiments.


In summation, instead of raging like an immature teenager against hierarchy, much effort could be rewarded by studying ways to make existing hierarchies more efficient – assuming an appropriate definition of efficiency can even be made. I found reading about the types of organizational structures to be an extraordinarily boring chore and not worth a great deal of study – so I leave the task to people more motivated and capable than myself. I personally don’t mind the existence of hierarchy; I’m happy with my place at my job, and don’t mind having some people above me and no one below me. Then again, I’m not really the “career ladder climber”, eager to improve my position in the hierarchy. Life is too short to care about such things in my opinion.


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