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Robert W. Fuller

Robert W. Fuller named the problem of rankism in Somebodies and Nobodies and described how societies can promote universal dignity in All Rise. With Pamela A. Gerloff he co-wrote Dignity for All - a handbook for the Dignity Movement. His most recent books are Religion and Science: A Beautiful Friendship?, Genomes, Menomes, Wenomes: Neuroscience and Human Dignity, and The Rowan Tree: A Novel.



Dignitarian Society

Modeling a Dignitarian Society

In addition to everything else they have accomplished, the liberation movements of recent decades can be seen as preparing us to confront rankism. Although the analysis of rankism may at first seem more complex than that of the familiar isms, there is one way in which tackling rankism is actually easier: everyone knows its sting.

The Dignity Movement

The dignity movement stands on the shoulders of all other liberation movements. Although these have done much to advance human and civil rights, there are still, even in the most advanced democracies, significant numbers of people living with indignity and injustice. While the goals of the emerging dignity movement support and reinforce those of earlier social movements, the movement for dignity is unlikely to resemble the iconic televised images of movements past. That is because rank is defined within various social and civic organizations. Therefore, attempts to overcome rankism are apt to arise within these separate institutions rather than “in the streets” in the form of an easily visible, unified social movement whose members share some trait.

When the dignity movement targets illegitimate uses of rank, it is likely to manifest not in million-man marches in the nation’s capital, but rather in millions of schools, businesses, health care facilities, churches, and families across the country – that is, within the relationships and organizations in which rank is being abused. The specificity of rank – parent, coach, boss, teacher, doctor, rabbi, roshi, imam, or priest – means that a dignitarian society will be built relationship by relationship, organization by organization.


The Greek mathematician Archimedes said:

“Give me a lever long enough, and a fulcrum strong enough, and I will move the world.”

Our lever is the will to dignity. Our fulcrum is the stand against rankism. Together, they will generate a force strong enough to change the world.


To create a movement you need to know both what you’re for and what you’re against. That’s why the concept of rankism is essential. Without it a movement for dignity is toothless. Try to imagine a civil rights movement absent the concept of racism, or a women’s movement without the concept of sexism. Until the targets of injustice have a name for what they’re suffering, it’s very hard to organize a resistance. In some situations, they may even blame their predicament on themselves and each other, never achieving the solidarity necessary to compel their tormentors to stop.

The Importance of Model Building

In building a dignitarian society, no tool will prove more valuable than modeling. Modeling has enabled humans to harness power and it can equally help us limit its damages. Once we have this tool in our repertoire, we'll apply it to reshape our institutions so they become dignitarian.

Models are everywhere and they provide us with useful representations of the world and ourselves. They also serve a variety of functions. Among these are to provide us a sense of identity, shape our behavior, maintain social order, and guide our use of power. Here are some common, every-day examples of models:

  1. Grand unifying models are the holy grail of every branch of science. In chemistry, it's Mendeleyev's periodic table of the elements. In biology, it’s Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.
  2. When we use parents, heroes, public figures, and fictional characters as “role models,” we're using models to shape our character.
  3. Social models include charters, by-laws, organizational charts, and even the 10 commandments.
  4. Business models, by examining a range of scenarios based on various assumptions, forecast success or failure in the market place.

By modeling the uses of power and choosing only those that protect dignity, we can do for standards of justice what modeling nature has done for standards of living. Conducting dignity impact studies in advance may sound far-fetched and utopian now, but this was true at one time of environmental impact studies, which are now mandatory. Furthermore, what we're calling dignity impact studies isn’t really a new thing. People do the equivalent every time they imagine the effect on someone of something they are about to do or say.

It is now time for our institutions to apply this tool systematically to their anticipated uses of power with an eye on their impact on dignity.

Likely Features of Emerging Dignitarian Institutions

It's impossible to tell in advance precisely what an organization will look like after it turns itself into a dignitarian one. This is because the process of transformation must be one in which everyone involved has a voice and everyone's views have some political weight. But here are some things that dignitarian institutions might do:

  1. Recognize and Listen
  2. Facilitate Questions & Protect Dissent
  3. Hold Accountable and Affix Responsibility
  4. Incorporate Flexible Rank
  5. Compensate Equitably
  6. Delegate Responsibility
  7. Break the Taboo on Rank
  8. Be Transparent
  9. Flatten Unnecessary Hierarchies
  10. Promote Peer to Peer Organization