Understanding Hierarchies in Nature and Society
Social structures, in almost all cases, are defined by some form of hierarchy. Whether in academics, sports, religion, business, or politics, there's usually someone at the top and others whose goal it is to get there. But while it's easy to think that we've designed our world to be this way, the truth may be that we had no choice.
Among our primate ancestors and other social animals we can see similar hierarchies in place: Alpha males dominating the troop while subordinates fall in line, pecking orders among various birds and dominance hierarchies among wolf packs. Even insects such as bees and termites form their own systems of social ranking.
Are hierarchies mandated by evolution? Is there something in nature -- in our genes, even -- which gives rise to the stratified society we live in? Though it sounds like a notion proposed by those with power in defense of their rank, the reality is that it may be a hard truth of human nature.
- Melvyn Fein - Professor of Sociology at Kennesaw State University, editor of The Journal of Public and Professional Sociology, author of Human Hierarchies: A General Theory
- Christopher Boehm - Professor of Biological Sciences and Anthropology, former Director of The Goodall Research Center at The University of Southern California Dornsife, author of Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior
- Steven A. Peterson - Director of the School of Public Affairs at Penn State Harrisburg, focusing on the intersection of biology and politics, co-author of Darwinism, Dominance and Democracy
Colin McEnroe and Chion Wolf contributed to this show, which originally aired on May 20, 2015.