You’d think we’d notice horizontal, egalitarian communication emerging spontaneously in the West.  Such progress takes visible effort.  Education, legislation and political conflict are necessary to flatten stratified habits.  Still, there is evidence to suggest that powerful hidden forces are at work.

Something as subtle as changing perspective can have powerful effects.  What does it take for such a shift to happen?

I was raised a capitalist.  My immediate family was middle class (old house, camping vacations, furniture from relatives), but my grandparents were wealthy.  Though I was fascinated by science and attracted to art, the family matriarch made sure I kept my eyes on the bra.  Myrla wanted to make certain I took over the factory that my father ran, the one that she and her husband owned.  It was a girdle and bra factory.  As far back as I can remember, there was no question about what I would do when I grew up.  I would run the factory and grow the family business.  I remember wanting to make the family business multinational.

My budding capitalist tendencies faded during my mother’s second extended hospital visit for manic depression.  I was in high school.  Several years of protests against the war began to reach my ears.  I was in distress.  The culture was in distress.  Embracing counterculture, I began protesting and shifted to educating myself to be an artist.  What caused this shift was not subtle.  The world had stopped making sense.  I needed to see the world in a different way.

Over 200 years ago the Great Chain of Being placed white western males at the top of a pyramid of relationships that began with dirt.  It was believed that God had ordained the structure.  More complicated animals were established higher than the simpler animals below.  “Civilized” white males towered higher than the African or Australian aboriginals below.  Biological/social stratification was God’s plan.

As 19th Century decades progressed, that tower or chain teetered, then toppled.  First, evolution as a concept was considered.  Next, evolution as a concept by many was assumed.  Finally, evolution with explanatory principles was articulated.  All of it happened in a single lifetime.  The Great Chain of Being was turned on its side and introduced to time.  Instead of dirt at the bottom, dirt was on the left side.  Man was not at the top but at the right side.  A narrative had been added to the tower, transforming the vertical Chain of Being into a horizontal network of branching relationships.  Turning one’s head sideways, add time, profound systemic transformation.

Shifts occur both violently and subtly and sometimes both visibly and invisibly at once.  Horizontal, egalitarian communication and resource-sharing was often characteristic of disappearing aboriginal cultures.  Yet, these are also features of the current western transformation exhibited by the rising influence of the EU, flattening global commerce, social networking and the web.  As individuals, communities and cultures we are changing.

The Great Chain of Being still has influence.  Republicans still put white, male westerners at the top.  But, the tower has toppled.  The chain is broken.  Now we are connected by a web.


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