alexis nexus

Friday, November 18, 2005

Hierarchies and Webs

So I've been thinking about the notion of hierarchies (in part because of our discussion of what it is like to really know what somebody else's experiences ar e like. In that discussion, I pointed out that:
I tend to think the whole 'knowing what it is like to be "x"' in terms of concentric circles radiating out from myself (or from individuals in general). Nobody can "know exactly" what it is like to be *me*--starting with the fact that they can't have lived my exact life and branching out from there--but white, middle-class men will probably have a better (initial) idea about what it is like to be me than, say, rich white men

and Alexis added:

i think your "circles of understanding" is pretty good, and add to it that circles are not nested in a strict hierarchy: the middle class black man may share a lot of perspectives with you, but the rich white man may share different perspectives with you.

I think this is a good example of how thinking in terms of hierarchies does a lot of work, but then only goes so far (and can be a detriment, in the final analysis).

Take for instance, friendships and other intimate relationships. I had several invitations to Thanksgiving dinner, not all coming at the same time, and I had to choose which one I wanted (if any) to take people up on. (First of all, I feel lucky/thankful(!) that I had invites at all--could have gone down very differently.) During the choosing, I got to thinking that there is a way in which I'm placing my friendships on a hierarchy--if I go to T-day with Kareem, Jessie and Max, that places my friendship with them somehow 'above' my friendship with, say, Jen. But of course it's not that simple--there are other factors, but more importantly there are different facets of each friendship that I value, and T-day is involved in some of those facets but not all. That is, one of the things I value about J, K and M is that I like feeling like their extended family, and I sort of like doing the more adult-ish traditional things with them (in part becuse I know they're not very adult in ways that I'm not very adult). I like hanging with Jen for slightly different reasons, and Thanksgiving Day doesn't (as closely) address those reasons.

Of course there are more forceful examples, generally having to do with *even* more intimate relationships, but I thought the T-day one would be a good jumping off point.

Does anybody else struggle with remembering that hierarchies aren't as strict as they sometimes seem? What does it mean when you get married (for instance)--is part of getting married putting your betrothed 'on top' (snicker) in various ways?