Civilization is not only a method of living but also a way of thinking. This is very nearly a priori true. But, for the sake of argument, when a person lives in a certain social structure their minds become adapted to viewing the world in this social structure. For instance, a Christian sees the world in terms of forces of good and evil fighting each other for the domination of the world. This has a direct correlation with the theology of Christianity. In civilization, this leaves us with a way of thinking that relies on hierarchal structures. We then use these structures to organize our thoughts. And this shapes the way we view ourselves, our place in the world, and reality itself.
This structure sees things as subsets of each other, rather than as elements affecting each other. As such, it also views certain elements as innately superior to others. This paradigm innately follows a hierarchal social structure. If humans are arranged in a hierarchy, why should the rest of the universe be any different? But it is. The universe is made up of a number of individual and equal elements of a number that is so inconceivably large as to be essentially infinite, and certainly infinite for our purposes. These infinite elements make up quarks, leptons, and neutrinos. These interact to form what we call protons, neutrons, etc. Which in turn interact in ways that we call atoms. And those atoms interact into molecules. And molecules interact into stars and planets. Into life-forms. Those stars and planets then interact in ways that make up solar systems and galaxies. While life-forms interact in ways that we call ecosystems. But it is not a hierarchy with one element above another. It is made of an infinite number of equal elements interacting together in an equally infinite number of ways. And so do we, too, interact. As we are made of these elements we cannot rule, we are part and parcel. We must interact equally as we are made of the same base material that everything else. The only difference is that, for us, these elements are currently interacting in a way we call “human.” And, by the same token, we cannot serve.
However, these truisms do not stop people from seeing the world in this way. As planets being superior to moons, stars to plants, and galaxies to stars. Apparently with size being the only justification. It is this kind of thinking that also leads to human exceptionalism. This is what leads to people thinking about evolution like a process leading somewhere. This is even what gives people the idea of “progress” at all.
Without such a mindset it is readily apparent that humans must interact with all other elements, and any belief that humans could be exempt from such interaction is obviously foolhardy. Evolution is merely elements reacting to each other, with no certain destiny discernible. And there can be no certain development at all. One set of interactions can be judged ultimately superior to another, merely superior for the circumstance.
With this in mind we are forced to no other conclusion than that hierarchy is a farce. We perceive an individual as being superior and in so doing make him superior to us. It is something we made up. A single star can affect the whole galaxy. And a single slave can affect the whole empire. By simply perceiving a ruler as no more powerful than any other individual he becomes no more powerful than any other individual. And by doing so we can see that their interactions have no more affect than any of ours. There are certain things we are compelled to do by circumstance. And it is these things that comprise most of what a ruler does. The Egyptian Pharaoh was the most powerful person in all of Ancient Egypt, but the vast majority of things he did were not his choice but his obligation. These things are determined by ceremony, general opinion, and the material needs of your society. In a very real way President Bush had little choice but to invade Iraq. The United States is utterly dependent on oil and has little in the way of reserves in the territory of the United States. Since transitioning to another energy source is difficult and time consuming (if even possible), the only immediate and logical solution is to obtain the needed resources through warfare. I make no moral judgement here, only an acknowledgment of current fact. Ultimately, the lower we are placed in a hierarchy by general consensus the more freedom we have in our interactions. This leaves our net effect the same. Specifically, exactly as far reaching as the energy we put into that interaction.
– Benjamin Shender