Status vs. Class Hierarchies
The other day I Googled "class division, origins" and other than the usual and expected tiresome Marxist stuff, got nothing. It figures, for when doing research on The Primal Wound
in the Concordia University Library, I looked for books on class origin, and orthodox anthropology had nothing to say on the subject. But they do have loads to say about STATUS.
The problem for me, however, is there is a world of difference between CLASS and STATUS. Luciano Pavarotti is a wealthy man and has all the status that you could ever want. Yet, he has no power to force anyone to do anything, nor does he exploit anyone. If he is rich it is because we like his music and pay to hear it. The most miserable small town petty bureaucrat has more power over us than Pavarotti.
Status is based upon respect for ability. One cannot force status anymore than one can force love. In a natural society – i.e. one that has neither state nor class, there is oodles of status. Since the notion of status is based upon ability, you thus have a wide number of statuses - the best poet, best dancer, best potter, best lover, best gardener, best carpenter, best warrior, best hunter, best conciliator, etc. And since ability generally improves with practice, most people in such a community, will in time, achieve status. Indeed, all will, if they live long enough, since the old are the repository of knowledge. Someone who might have been mediocre in everything earlier on, will still be respected as a Village Elder, late in life.
In such a society status becomes a factor for both survival and social cohesion. (The wide range of statuses makes for social cohesion – if only a tiny minority could achieve any level of status, there would be envy and destructive competition.) The best people are chosen for the job, and where community mobilization is needed, a natural leadership arises. If the leadership fails, those involved descend in status. Since they rely on the active support of their fellow villagers, they have no choice other than to hand their leadership over to others.
In a status-based society, there is no ability to coerce. The high-status cannot force others to do anything, all they can do is ask, plead, or at worst, slyly manipulate. There is no army, no police, no bureaucracy to bully people. A class society, on the other hand, is founded directly on the ability of a minority to coerce the majority.
Class society, creates a false sense of status. The king, priest or general, might well be (and usually is) the worst person in his society, both vicious and incompetent, yet having the ability to terrorize, creates the pretense of being the best, the wisest, the holiest. A chief in a status society, is often no richer than his fellows, or if he does hold the clan wealth in trust, he must give it away in a potlatch. The king, "nobility", or capitalist owns much of the wealth of society as his personal property and forces other to give him their wealth through state-enforced taxes, tithes, corvees and unequal contracts backed by potential violence.
This is not the place to discuss the origins of class society, but I wish to get back to my original point that orthodox anthropology ignores this issue. They fudge or deliberately confuse status and class. Since status is found virtually everywhere among human societies, by confusing class and status the underlying and very ideological assumption is that class society is therefore natural. Making something appear natural when it isn’t, is a common method of control. Orthodox anthropology engages in a cover-up of the origins of our present coercive and exploitative system.