Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Off With Her Head
In short, our allegiance to equality is, well, lukewarm and intermittent at best. Instead, our fierce animal cravings to dominate almost always trump our occasional pious yearnings for peace and justice. And though we will cooperate with others in order to advance a personal goal, even then we secretly strive to be the "best" or the "boss." Heck, we just plain LIKE competition, conflict and confrontation. Doesn't everybody want to be top dog, king of the mountain? Or, if not "top" dog, at least superior to somebody, at least some of the time.
This is an important point. At some moment in our evolution as a sentient species, we seem to have realized that EVERYONE cannot actually dominate EVERYONE, ALL OF THE TIME. Such "equitable superiority" would be the equivalent of the communistic heaven imagined by certain wimpy religious thinkers but found so totally unpalatable by actual holier-than-thou believers that both the Catholics' Paradiso and the Muslims' Jannah have been tricked out with a number of progressively higher circles of ever more perfect bliss (never mind the illogic of some saved people being more saved than others).
Anyway, in order to avoid the unpleasantness of both inferiority and equality, we humans invented multitudinous and frequently overlapping hierarchies--ingeniously complicated social orders which, when they function properly, allow almost EVERYBODY to feel superior to at least SOMEBODY at least SOME of the time.
Now these hierarchies vary greatly in nature. Some are institutionalized and thoroughly systematized, with clear delineations of each rank and status within the overall structure, e.g., military, ecclesiastical, professional, corporate, educational hierarchies. Others have no "official" character, but are generally acknowledged within a given culture, e.g. status derived from wealth, ancestry, occupation, etc. Still others are both unofficial and, in the minds of many, untenable--a condemnation that does not, however, prevent many devotees from thinking in these terms--e.g. hierarchies determined by race, gender, marital status, sexual preference, religion. It should be noted, though, that rank derived from any of these third-category conditions, in Western countries anyway, tends to have weight and consequence only within groups of like-minded people (e.g., Mormons, white-supremacists). And those who do not belong to the in-group often regard third-category "rankings" as fantasies at best, prejudices at worst.
The essential thing, though, is that we have created hierarchies in almost every domain of human experience and based upon almost every conceivable human condition. Such variety is desirable, of course, since it affords almost everyone the opportunity to feel superior to others in some category or other of social or genetic reality.
Of course, we must also remember that not all hierarchies are equal, but that certain systems of ranking are seen as superior to others. For instance, there can be little doubt that much greater prestige accrues to a higher-up in the U.S. Army than to a higher-up in the custodial staff at Winona State University. In other words, we have hierarchies of hierarchies.
And according to what criteria do we rank our hierarchies? I'm not entirely certain, but I'm going to hazard a guess anyway. I'm inclined to believe that we value most those hierarchies that are the least "user-friendly," the most demanding to enter, and within which upward mobility (not to mention absolute supremacy) is the most difficult to realize.
Consequently, I think we generally accord more status to hereditary monarchs than to elected heads of state or dictators of any sort, tinpot or terrifying. Because, obviously, it's just awfully damned difficult to break into or move in any direction at all within, say, the House of Windsor. Don't misunderstand. I realize that Queen Elizabeth has considerably less real power than President Obama or even Kim Jong Il. But the "slot" she occupies--because it is available ONLY to her--is regarded as superior, even if her actual responsibilities are inferior. Unsurprisingly, then, she is accorded almost universal, objectively verifiable respect--because she is The Queen. Inversely, the status derived from being a born-again Christian--a slot available to anyone at all and superior primarily in the eyes of the born-again individual himself--is easily dismissed as subjective and therefore of very little real world significance.
All of which brings me around to subject which originally prompted me to write this blog: the upcoming wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
And then, finally, I was obliged to acknowledge what my friend, Carole, has been suggesting: that what people really care about is the SLOTS these two mediocrities occupy within the most prestigious of Britain's hierarchies--the hereditary monarchy. Their actual merit as human beings is almost entirely beside the point--they could be Beavis and Butthead and the world would still be enthralled. Because Beavis (or is it Butthead) will one day be King of England and the other one, whichever that is, will be the Queen consort.
So I guess I'm going to have to put up with "news" about the train on Kate's dress or the nail-polish she has chosen or the groom's cake made of cookies (biscuits?) or the ring that William refuses to wear.
I do wish, however, that these tedious top dogs would provide a bit more entertainment. Seriously, haven't things grown excessively dull now that Diana The People's Princess is no longer titillating the plebes with revelations about bulimia, boyfriends and break-ups? Ah, how I yearn for another Henry VIII. Now there was a real alpha top dog--someone who could be counted on to "pay for" his status with plenty of crowd-pleasing death and dismemberment--such as, for example, impalings, hangings, disembowelments, poisonings, and, of course, almost daily beheadings.
Now I have nothing against Kate Middleton, though she does appear to be something of an airhead fashionista (her similarity to Diana in this regard may be part of her appeal to William, who, for his part, is beginning to acquire the horsy features so characteristic of his line). Still, I was rather hoping that, once Wills becomes William V, he might see his way to do to her what Henry VIII did to Anne Boleyn: yes, chop off her head! OK, it's a bit mean, I suppose, and a bit less exciting than mad and lethal car chases in Paris tunnels. Still a nice little hatchet job on the Tower Green might be a real morale-builder for the British royals--just the thing to keep the lackluster House of Windsor from slipping in hierarchical status to the level of that Other Defender of Still Another Faith--(elected, gasp, and Catholic) Pope Benny the Rat.
Kate actually looks a bit like Anne, don't you think?