Roles, Not Ranks: A More Natural Social Order
The central truth conveyed by the Kaneros framework is an important one, a crucial fact that’s been hidden in plain sight: in our hearts and minds, we’re all still hunter-gatherers.
In the modern world, we humans still think and act as hunting-gathering social primates. That’s what we evolved to be, and who we still are at our core. This recognition is significant, for two reasons:
- It points out a basic mismatch in our world.
Humans evolved to hunt, gather, and live in tight-knit bands of 100 people or fewer. Now we do industrial-era work, and live in loose-knit nations of 100 million or more. Thus, we’re ill-suited to the environments we’ve created for ourselves.
- It can help us build more vibrant societies.
This mismatch between our Stone Age natures and our Information Age world is the source of our biggest social problems. Recognizing that there is a mismatch can help us create new social environments that bring out the best in all of us.
Social stratification: a 5000-year-old problem.
For two million years, humans lived in hunter-gatherer bands, and our personality types still correspond to the social roles we served within them. Those roles involved tasks of subsistence as well as expressions of the sacred, and fulfilled both our physical and spiritual needs:
When humans began living in farming/herding settlements, a new sort of social order was required. We responded by creating larger versions of the small bands that we knew. Because the personal relationships that govern life in a small nomadic band can’t be maintained in larger settled groups, our social roles began to devolve into status ranks.
As societies became more populous and civilized, Fighting- and Hunting-type people aggregated most of the power and wealth to themselves, while Gathering and Tending types got relegated to the lower ranks. Today, in America, the ranks look something like this, in descending order of status:
Fighting: business owners, board members who “fight” their way into top positions
Hunting: financiers and brokers who “hunt” for good investment opportunities
Dancing: credentialed professionals who do the “dance” of educational achievement
Singing: middle managers, school teachers who “sing” the tune of their employers
Painting: tradesmen and techies who “paint” with hardware or software for a living
Crafting: construction workers, machine operators who “craft” basic infrastructure
Gathering: retail employees, secretaries who “gather” customers, goods, information
Tending: child care and nursing home workers who tend to the very young and old
We didn’t evolve to live within this sort of social hierarchy, so it doesn’t suit us. It distorts our character, disturbs our souls, and disconnects us from each other. A rank-based society is all most of us have ever known, so it seems “normal” to us, but from an evolutionary perspective it’s anything but.
We can return to a role-based social structure.
Striving to reach a higher stratum, or just struggling to stay within one’s current one, takes a heavy emotional toll, which is why stress-induced illnesses such as back pain and mental disorders are common among Americans. They’re treated as medical problems, but their roots are most often social, caused by alienation from our natural ways of living.
Fortunately for us, the rank-based societies that cause these sorts of problems are, in evolutionary terms, relatively new. This means that we don’t have to organize society according to rank. We can structure it according to roles—the social roles identified in the Kaneros framework as the ones humans evolved to occupy:
Implicit in this structure is the recognition that all roles are important, and none should be preeminent. The leadership provided by a Fighting Nymph is valued as equal to the care given by the Tending Muse who raised her. The wealth obtained by a Hunting Centaur is valued as equal to the story of his “rainmaking” written by a Painting Satyr.
A role-based social structure respects our evolutionary past, when no one was superfluous and everyone mattered. It’s when our social arrangements reflect this past that we’re most comfortable and healthy. The Kaneros framework helps us create these arrangements by helping people determine what roles they’re naturally-suited to take.
How do we create a role-based social structure?
Going from a rank-based to a role-based society is too big a shift to be initiated through politics or policy. New principles are required, and the ones we should observe are those by which our world operates at a fundamental level, specifically:
- Appropriate scale.
Everything has a size at which it works, and works best. For example, an animal the size of a mouse requires a body plan much different from one that works for a creature the size an elephant. This principle of appropriate scale also applies to human societies, so we must ask ourselves: What is the proper size for human social groups?
- Cellular construction.
Evolution creates larger structures by building upon smaller ones. For example, single cells evolved first, then served as the building blocks for multi-celled organisms. To create new social structures, we should observe this principle of cellular construction, and assemble large social units from smaller components.
In social terms, observing the principle of appropriate scale means that we organize ourselves in groups of the same size that we evolved to live and work in: around 100 people. When we try to cooperate in groups much larger than that, our problems of cohesion increase with the size of the group.
So, we can say that the upper size limit for a truly cohesive, cooperative human group is the ekon. The word is a combination of the Greek terms ekato, for “100,” and anthropoi, for “people.” Observing the principle of cellular construction means that we should create larger social units by assembling them from ekons.
What might a role-based social structure look like?
- In politics, the ekon would serve as the basic political unit. Groups of 100 citizens in a neighborhood would elect a neighborhood representative. 100 of these neighborhood representatives would govern a town. Each town would elect a representative, and 100 town representatives would govern a state.
Each representative would stand for election in the neighborhood that originally elected them. We evolved to evaluate our leaders at the ekon level, and at that level, we’re good at it. This political structure would go a long way towards keeping officeholders accountable and responsive to the people they’re supposed to serve.
- In education, schools would be organized according to the ekon. A school would have around 100 students in each grade, with 10-20 students in a classroom. Instruction would take place both in and out of the classroom, and mimic the play-and-exploration learning atmosphere that prevails in hunter-gatherer bands.
Schools would focus on helping each student to discover and develop her/his natural gifts. The curriculum would encompass all eight creative modes, and once students had developed a basic level of competence in each, they’d concentrate on the modes they liked best. Then they’d develop their natural talents in their dominant mode.
- At work, an ekon would be the maximum size of a for-profit company, government agency, or nonprofit organization. Companies and agencies could form consortia to undertake larger projects. There would be both a minimum and maximum wage, to ensure that people of all roles were adequately but not lavishly paid.
A six-hour work day would be standard. Humans evolved to spend 3-4 hours per day procuring food, with another couple of hours spent doing chores. That translates into a six-hour work day. Institutions that implemented it have proven to be productive and successful, so a six-hour work day would be the default in a role-based society.
Let’s build a role-based society.
When it comes to matters of life and death, such as warfighting, we already organize ourselves according to the ekon. In modern armies, the crucial unit is the company, and a company includes about as many people as an ekon.
Just as in a combat arms unit, where people naturally form strong, mutually-supportive relationships, a role-based society composed of ekon-sized groups would help us relate to each other in healthier, happier, more productive, and more humane ways.