The keynote speaker at the Sociological Imagination Group meeting in Boston this week is Robert Fuller, the former president of Oberlin and long-time social activist. He argues that the fundamental social problem at the root of all the other bad isms that we have been changing in modern societies is "rankism."
Fuller argues that there is nothing wrong with rank. The knee-jerk egalitarian movements that would throw out all functional hierarchies throw out the baby with the bath water. The real problem is the abuse of rank. Privileged people who use their rank to disrespect the dignity of those below them in the hierarchy do them an injury. Predictably, the injured resent, resist, and will do worse disrespect when they get the chance. Abuse of rank leads to a vicious social cycle.
Fuller told a story of walking along the street with this book, Somebodies and Nobodies. A woman saw the cover and called out "I ain't nobody." Fuller saw that she was drunk, in rags, living on the street. But she was not nobody. She asserted her dignity. But clearly she had been dissed as a human being often. And her next words were "That woman over there is a nobody."
Abuse of rank is rampant in all the divided political groups, insulting the intelligence and/or morality of Them. Fuller wants to promote a "dignitarian" consciousness.