A Dignitarian Movement
By Robert W. Fuller
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.
Rankism is both the illegitimate use of rank and the use of rank illegitimately acquired or held. The subordinate social rank once officially enforced on people of color in the United States is a prime example of illegitimate rank. Rankism of this kind usually acquires a name of its own – “racism”, in this case – and is overcome by public demonstrations that defenders of the status quo perceive as a threat to the social order.
In contrast, 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 focus on rank – the locus of power – is exactly what gives this framework transformative power. 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. Rankism begets rankism, so as surely as somebodies visit it upon nobodies, so too do nobodies inflict it on each other. Interpersonal rankism among the rank and file undermines their willingness to cooperate and unite against the more insidious forms of institutional rankism that marginalize them all.