Functional difference not Rank

Reflecting on Rankism, I am getting wonderful insights and I see a problem. Robert Fuller makes it clear that there are illegitimate situations of rank, and legitimate ones.

I follow up with a few thoughts and some quotes from Robert Fuller.

(quotes that follow are from the Knol article.)

Rank and rankism are often confused, and differentiating them is crucial. Unless rank is inherently illegitimate—as are for example, the social rankings that have made second-class citizens of various identity groups—then the problem is not with rank per se but rather the abuse of rank. This distinction goes to the heart of many of the most vexing issues that arise in our personal lives, society, and national politics.

Yes, a good point in some ways. But rank, like a rung on a ladder implies hierarchy and yes that is OK sometimes, but sometimes not, often not! When it is OK and when it is not is confusing, not because people sometimes confuse it, but because there are world views that take different perspectives on these things, controversial more than confusing. Who is the legitimate God? Is a doctor a member of the social work team? Or a social worker a member of the doctor’s team? The conventional hierarchy is the latter. But it is wrong! It would be better if hospitals were primarily about social healing and not physical healing. The abusive doctor is not abusing his rank, thinking he or she is one rung up the ladder is the abuse!

Fuller calls racism a sub species of the mother of all isms, rankism. Not really, because it implies that race is a legitimate rank. Empirically it may be a rank but it is not legitimately so, and on those occasions it is right to abolish the ranking. Ranking is part of the problem a lot of the time.

The confusion occurs because rank is so commonly misused that many people mistakenly conclude the only remedy is to abolish it. This makes about as much sense as attempting to solve racial problems by doing away with all races but one, or addressing gender issues by eliminating one gender. Ignoring differences in aptitude, ability, and performance and attempting to eradicate the differences of rank which reflect them has repeatedly failed those who have tried it. “Levelers” in seventeenth-century Britain, Socialists in nineteenth-century Europe, and Communists of the twentieth century all disappointed their supporters.

Messy. By mentioning Socialism and Communism, he raises the question of whether ownership of the means of production creates rank. And it may be it does, but is it legitimate? And even if it is, who should then be the owners, the people who made it or those that inherited it?


I have found the term “functional difference” useful. And what I get from Robert Fullers work is that to treat people differently, and not as human, not to respect their dignity, based on functional difference is an abuse. Abuse is not a bad word there “away from the use” or purpose. His insight into dignity is really useful.

“human dignity – as a person, one is automatically worthy, honorable, and deserving of respect, regardless of status, station or stage of life”

From Dignitarians

To sum up, rank (structured hierarchy of functional difference) may apply legitimately on occasions but it is so often controversial, and sometimes part of the problem and on those occasions should be eliminated. The thing that should not be eliminated is functional difference.

Dignity is primary.

Eliminate abuse, illuminate difference, see it name it, value it.

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