I believe formal systems of rank contain a wealth of knowledge about the secret inner workings of informal social status, if we can discern them. In particular, I’ll be looking at US Army ranks. This is mostly just an exercise in intuition, comparable to using Army ranks like Tarot cards.
My premise is that rank is an ingenious social technology that creates a lawful population out of relatively lawless individual participants by redirecting simple social instincts. Compliance—to specific commands and general codes of behavior—is enforced primarily by threats of punishment from immediate supervisors, who are in turn held in compliance by their immediate supervisors, and so on. It is also possibly (but not necessarily) encouraged by hopes of promotion. As with other lawful systems, compulsion is ultimately accomplished by the threat of escalating force by the entire apparatus, so that individual defectors suffer disproportionate consequences but group defections can trigger a preference cascade (i.e. a revolution).
The most important idea is that of officers and enlisted men. In my blue pill days I was mystified at the idea of two entirely separate ranking systems, with one overwhelmingly superior to all ranks of the other. My red pill perspective is that most of humanity’s history is shaped by the institution of slavery, and therefore our social instincts are as well. So I believe that the institution of officer castes is a custom that is best explained as an artifact of imperial militaries, where soldiers from a conquering master race lead conscripts from conquered slave races. Nowadays it’s just “common sense” that 20-year veteran first sergeants have to follow lawful orders from college brats on their first day of work. I think the other explanations are bullshit rationalizations. And I think this maps easily to the civilian idea of upper vs. lower class. Even a child in the upper class is imbued with inherent superiority, whereas a slave only has utility as a sentient lever for doing work.
Speaking of upper and lower classes, I’d like to break these down a bit using specific military ranks as a guide. First, the lower class.
Paul Fussell divides proles (grunts) into out-of-sights, mid proles, and high proles. I believe these correspond simply to functionality within their specialized job functions. Out-of-sights can barely be trusted with a broom, mid proles can be trusted to show up most of the time and sober some of the time, and high proles can be trusted to show up every day and take pride in their work. They are distinguished from each other by ability and conscientiousness, and they are distinguished from the middle and upper classes in that they have no subordinates. In a healthy society, they constitute about 60% of the population. In SMV terms, they are Heartistean BETAs. In Vox’s SSMV terms, they are predominantly Deltas, Gammas, and Omegas. In Army ranks, they are meant to be the privates and corporals.
I believe that if we’re using a two-class system, the “middle” class falls under the umbrella of the lower class:
Upper middle (technocrats, demagogues, neurotics)
The middle class is generally between 5 and 20 percent of the population, and more functionally diverse than the others. This is reflected by the split in enlisted ranks above corporal:
I think the middle class proper can be split into four broad categories: knowledge workers, strivers, management, and generalists. These correspond to the four sergeant-level paths pictured above (techs, specialists, ordinary sergeants, and first sergeants). The fact that these weird paths for ranks exist in the first place indicates to me that they were somehow necessary, likely because the underlying mechanics of human status competition demanded them. No doubt the central planners would have preferred a linear enlisted hierarchy, if the human element had allowed it (this follows from the idea of distributed enforcement in the second paragraph).
Knowledge workers are the semi-professional box where your typical nerds go: IT, mechanical engineers, those guys. They’re characterized by higher than average cognitive ability, OCD, and a complete inability to get along with anyone except other nerds (and the latter…not always). It’s best to remove them from the general work area for the sake of everyone’s sanity. Functionally, their technological expertise and innovations define what is logistically possible for the central planners.
Strivers are the go-getters who do sales, start businesses, and otherwise seek fame and glory via will-to-success. They’re characterized by narcissism and way too much energy. These are the guys who actually accomplish missions or make the company’s money. In the final analysis, the sales people are the only necessary element to any business. The ultimate goal of strivers is to become a one-man business, where their job is to sell nothing except the sale itself, i.e. public speaking or consulting. It’s very zen.
Management are the boring Deltas who show up for 20 years, have no personality problems, and know their corner of the world inside and out. They are given an office on the factory floor in honor of their meager station, after which their entire life consists of reading and writing reports. It’s a thankless job, but at least it doesn’t matter. One perk of the job is they can vent their frustration on the proles, who can’t retaliate because they dream of someday having his job (which they envision as consisting entirely of resting one’s feet on the desk).
Generalists are probably the most interesting because they’re the “natural aristocrats” that the upper class believe themselves to be. (One generally observes that the strength of this belief is inversely proportional to its predictive power.) These represent, for instance, the melonhead polymaths who very, very occasionally pop up in African slave classes, to the great chagrine of their nordicist Aryan conquerors. They are often prized for their unusual abilities and social graces, and rise to the top of the slave ranks (the biblical Joseph and Daniel come to mind). But because the ethnic divide generally must be protected at all costs, they are often unable to rise into the ruling class as melon genetics are otherwise wont to do. I’m not really sure what motivates first sergeants to follow the enlisted path nowadays when there’s no barrier to the officer track…maybe they just enjoy working, or taking orders from 20-year-olds.
Entering into more speculative territory, podrag informs me that there’s an implicit caste divide between lt. colonels and “full-bird” colonels. In overwatch theory terms, I think Colonel is the rank where politics begin in earnest and become a person’s primary daily concern. Below this level one finds the neurotics, demagogues, and technocrats, and only politicians, alchemists, and other genetic outliers are found in the sparsely populated upper ranks. In edenic terms, the latter would be all the pure-bred melonheads and a few other genetic freaks, who constitute something like 0.5% of the general human population. The former would be the hybrid lovechildren of these melons and their slaves, who might not have “the right stuff” or be subject to strict upper class breeding laws, but they can at least hold down a sinecure and relay orders to sergeants.
I’m not familiar enough with military culture to avoid making embarrassing mistakes, so point these out in the comments. Please note that I’m not drawing strict correspondences like “tech sergeants are Army engineers”, that’s not my intention. What I’m trying to do here is observe functional social roles that arise in scaled human hierarchies due to general social dynamics.