Social stratification is the ranking of individuals using various factors such as wealth, income, education, etc. While I was preparing this post, I could not find any evidence of a classless society. In fact, some of the sources claimed that no such society as a classless one has existed. This implies that stratification is a natural part of human existence whether people like it or not.
What causes this is not always apparent. For some reason, people often like to exalt themselves and be above others. There is a tendency in some people to desire control and dominance. Sometimes people are chosen to be the leader or in a higher social position by others in the society. Leaders often fall into this category and can include politicians, clergy, and kings. Others gain a higher status through hard work, and people admire and appreciate this. For example, Napolean was able to rise through the ranks of the military due to his brilliant leadership and eventually became emperor.
There are also examples in history of people gaining power not just for selfish reasons but for personal protection from one’s enemies. Ceaser was truly driven by a desire to rule, but he also had enemies who were waiting for him to lose power so they could attack him through various legal means. Therefore, Ceasar looked for ways to maintain the leadership of provinces and be consul of Rome to maintain his legal immunity. Even when taking power, he generally would grant amnesty to enemies to avoid stirring up more enmity. However, as he became more powerful, he just became even scarier to the other elites who simply murdered him one day.
The best it appears people can hope for without being cynical is a world in which the elite and upper class refrain from abusing and mistreating the people below. There is also little historical evidence of elite restraint as there is almost no evidence of a classless society. Different people put in different amounts of work, and some find different ways to cheat their way, and thus there will always be differences between the ranking of people.
There are several terms related to social stratification. The caste system is one. With the caste system, people are born into a certain level of society, and they are stuck there forever. There is no social mobility. Examples of this can be found in India, Feudal Japan, and Medieval Europe.
Marriages between caste are frowned upon or even illegal. For example, a friend from India told me how they got married. She was from the warrior caste, while her future husband was from the priestly caste. Since they were Christian, they did not think they were bound by the tradition of the caste system and for married. Being it was a Christian community, everyone was okay with it; however, several people were still worried that something “bad” might happen to the newlywed couple because of the country’s cultural background. India abolished the caste system, but its roots are still strong in some situations.
Class System and Meritocracy
The class system is a more flexible style of social stratification in which people belong to one of many different classes based on their wealth, education, etc. Examples of classes can include upper, middle, and lower classes. Unlike the caste system, which discourages marriage, the class system does not generally condemn marriages of people from different classes.
Meritocracy is social stratification based on effort. At best, meritocracy has been partially implemented in many places. No matter how hard humans try, people are just good at findings ways of getting through the system without equal work. This leads to frustration by those who “play by the rules.” Another problem is that some people will achieve a great deal in one area, but this area is not valued as important by society.
Highly educated people often have amazing expertise in minute details of life that are not generally valued by the larger society in terms of prestige and financial remuneration. This can lead to frustration and desires to challenge the social stratification. At times, some of the strongest proponents of a classless society are people who do not have the status they believe they deserve.
Stratification is always going to be a problem. This is because people will always find ways to move up the social hierarchy through honest hard work and abuse the system for personal gain. Unfortunately, people may lose status due to mistakes or injustice, and those who are higher up may mistreat those who are lower, which is not fair or right again.