I was fighting for dominance long before I understood hierarchy. In classrooms, on playgrounds, and on neighborhood fields, I considered it natural that I should be in charge.
I didn’t necessarily like most other people. I didn’t much care whether they liked me. But it was important to me to have as much control as I could get. If I couldn’t have leadership of the larger group, I would at least be the leader of the opposition — those who refused to go along. It was rarely open conflict, but everybody knew which few were competing for power. I was always one of those.
I read a long diatribe online today from a woman who was denouncing “male power hierarchies.” She claimed they were an instrument of “white supremacy” and she claimed white men were trained in this “unnatural power system” in order to oppress minorities.
I had to laugh. Nobody ever taught me to want dominance. Humans are naturally drawn to form dominance hierarchies and certain people among groups want power. Some people tend to be given power, even though some of them — those like me — weren’t the best liked. And this woman who was ranting would be shocked at the vicious power hierarchies among groups of young black men I’ve known. Is their hierarchy all about “white supremacy,” too?
Humans need hierarchies. We couldn’t survive without them. I can’t explain how we decide who gets power in a room, but we’ve all been in plenty of situations when we’ve known — without words — who was in charge and who would lead us.
I’ve sometimes been the one in charge — and I’ve sometimes been the one pushing power buttons to disrupt someone else’s control of a group. Like it or not, these are essential human skills.