In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari writes, “unfortunately, complex human societies seem to require imagined hierarchies and unjust discrimination.” This idea seems grim, and my first response is to begin thinking about a just utopia that I hope the United States is working toward. The idea that even my idealized utopia would still be based on imagined hierarchies and tacitly accept unjust discrimination is an idea I would want to reject.
However, political science theories such as Social Construction and Narrative Policy Frameworks seem to suggest that Harari is correct. Our understandings of how we relate to others within society is often based more on narrative than something objective. Movie stars may entertain us a lot, but few would argue that their work is truly more important and valuable for the future of humanity than the work of a teacher, but we clearly reward movie starts with much more money and status than teachers. Additionally, our world has limited resources, meaning that we cannot provide everyone with everything they want. We have different concepts for dividing things in an equitable manner, and we often argue over what values are used when making such decisions.
In the United States, children have no political power, because they don’t vote. Veterans are celebrated, but are relatively few in number and similarly lack political power, though they are a powerful rhetorical tool and audience. Business owners are also celebrated while drug users are denigrated. While we say that all men are created equal and strive toward equality among all people, our imagined hierarchies make true equality impossible. We may have good reasons for valuing retirees and small business owners more than drug users and community college students, but at the end of the day, the hierarchies in place are based on a host of social and cultural factors, not entirely on objective differences in merit and value between people. Within complex societies with limited resources, hierarchies seem inevitable, with some people being advantaged and others being discriminated against.