Hierarchies and Status Roles

Why did we domesticate certain animals such as dogs, cows, chickens and camels? Why not zebras, spotted deer or hyenas?

Domesticable animals share certain traits. They live in herds with an established pecking order, but ones that are not particularly territorial. They do not display aggression in an unpredictable manner. Further, they do not panic at the mere sight of a human. If any one of those factors were absent, that animal would not be a suitable domesticate.

The first factor, the one concerning hierarchy, is especially useful. On domestication, humans simply are at the top of an existing pecking order.  (Incidentally, the term pecking order is derived from chickens).

One species that checks all the boxes above is homo sapiens. We humans live in bands and tribes, and follow the “herd”. Hierarchy has always been an explicit or implicit part of our social groups. In extreme cases, these factors have manifested as colonization and slavery throughout human history.

Hierarchies can be either be formal structures or informal status roles. Status roles are implicit rules in our society that dictate who gets to eat first and to whom we ought to defer to in any given situation. A low status is a source of shame, and this causes us to protect our stature by adhering to social norms, purchasing expensive cars and organizing grand weddings.

It is this combination of hierarchy and status that marketers and politicians use to manipulate us. Advertisements convince us of how our lives would be incomplete without a certain product, while politicians convince us that only somebody who shares our ancestral background – somebody from our herd – can represent us in parliament.

Hierarchy and status roles are human conditions that we cannot change. But it pays to know when somebody is using them against us to serve their own ends.


  1. Guns, Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond
  2. Status Roles – Akimbo, a podcast by Seth Godin

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