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Somebodies and Nobodies (PDF)
Overcoming the Abuse of Rank
In the on-going attempts to overcome racism and sexism in North America today, we are overlooking another kind of discrimination that is no less damaging and equally unjustifiable. It is a form of injustice that everyone knows, but no one sees: discrimination based on rank. Low rank-signifying weakness, vulnerability, and the absence of power-marks you for abuse in much the same way that race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation have long done.
When discrimination is race-based, we call it racism; when it's gender-based, we call it sexism. By analogy, rank-based discrimination might be called "rankism." Somebodies and Nobodies explains our reluctance to confront rankism, and argues that abuse based on power differences is no more justified than abuse based on color or gender differences. It shows where analyses based on identity fall short and, using dozens of examples to illustrate the argument, traces many forms of injustice and unfairness to rankism.
Somebodies and Nobodies unmasks rankism as The Feminine Mystique unmasked sexism. It demythologizes the prevailing social consensus-the "Somebody Mystique"-to demonstrate the pervasiveness and corrosiveness of rankism in our personal lives and social institutions. The book introduces new language and concepts that illuminate the subtle, often dysfunctional workings of power in our social interactions. It presents rankism as the last hurdle on the long road from aristocracy to a true meritocracy, brings into focus a dignitarian revolution that is already taking shape, and offers a preview of post-rankist society.
Robert Fuller taught physics at Columbia University in New York, where he co-authored the classic text Mathematics for Classical and Quantum Physics. He then served as president of Oberlin College and, subsequently, worked internationally as a 'citizen diplomat' to promote democracy in developing nations. He has four children, and lives in Berkeley, California.
"I've been disturbed, especially during the past several years, by my restaurant encounters. The servers invariably wear an ID: Barbara or James. I, as patron, am always addressed with the prefix 'Mr.' I've always made a point to ask, 'What's your last name?' I'm not out to make trouble, just curious. The server then often mumbles, as though embarrassed, his or her surname.
Consider this a metaphor for the theme of Robert Fuller's wonderful and tremendously important book on the 'ism' that is far more encompassing than racism, sexism or ageism. 'Rankism' must be our prime target from now on in. Viva Fuller."
Studs Terkel, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Working and The Good War
"Somebodies and Nobodies is a shrewd and compelling look at the crucial but usually unperceived role of rank in all our lives. How easily we put down those we see as subordinate in title or wealth or origin; how silently we cringe at another's assumption of superiority. I saw myself in some of the examples, and I shuddered.
But the book is not just a personal analysis. The abuse of rank — the denial of equal dignity to others — corrupts relations between nations, and between the governors and the governed in a democracy. Robert Fuller is a realist, not an advocate of political correctness. He makes us understand that equal dignity, whatever one's place in society or the world, is a key to peace and social order."
Anthony Lewis, Pulitzer Prize-winning former columnist for The New York Times
"It's a book that parents should give their children, and a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of this country. Robert Fulle" is sure to make the history books with Somebodies and Nobodies."
Donald Corbett, former policeman
"At the core of every humiliation and indignity is a mental error, not just a habit — a lacuna so vast and unremitting that it passes unnoticed. You don't fix such a thing. It is not something to be patched. Nothing can be done until it is noticed, until it is named. Naming creates distinctions, distinctions create the capacity to change. Naming 'rankism' transforms everything."
Paul Hawken, author of Natural Capitalism
"I've been treated like a nobody for too long. I'm going to give a copy of this book to the principal of my school on the day I leave."
John F., 8th grade science teacher
"Robert Fuller's insightful book has penetrated to the core of human dignity. He helps us understand why nearly all of us, even those with visible status and power, often feel belittled and diminished as human beings by the power of still higher status. But Somebodies and Nobodies is more than a diagnosis; it is a new way forward toward a society that takes seriously the deep conviction that we are truly all created equal."
Peter Schwartz, Chairman, Global Business Network; author of The Art of the Long View
"Robert Fuller refreshingly revives the case for serious mutual respect among all human beings, and indeed foresees the struggle for individual dignity, and an attack on its nemesis, 'rankism,' as the next great public movement in the United States. An insightful, thought-provoking, and novel treatment of an age-old subject."
Richard N. Cooper, Maurits C. Boas Professor of International Economics, Harvard University; Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs in the Carter administration
"Somebodies and Nobodies deserves a place among American wisdom classics alongside Eric Hoffer's The True Believer. Robert Fuller approaches the fundamental problems of rank and human status-seeking from a new perspective, with new insights, and with wonderful originality. This book will promote liberating debate about social norms, organizational structures, and governance."
Michael Murphy, co-founder of Esalen, author of Golf in the Kingdom and The Future of the Body
"In many ballet companies, young dancers are constantly being stripped of their humanity, innate sense of artistry, and individuality by the internal abuse of power. Just imagine how brilliantly dance would move forward without the weight of this oppression! Thanks to Robert Fuller for identifying the 'rankism' that has been holding back our creativity for centuries."
Brook Broughton, corps de ballet, San Francisco Ballet
"Simply brilliant. A rare treat full of insight, inspiration and plain, sane Common Sense. A modern-day Thomas Paine, Robert Fuller argues persuasively that democracy will only realize its full potential when 'dignitarians' unite to overcome 'rankism,' the archetype of all 'isms' — imperialism, colonialism, anti-Semitism, racism, sexism. Buy multiple copies because you'll want to share this marvelous book with your friends."
Jeff Gates, author of The Ownership Solution and Democracy at Risk
"Somebodies and Nobodies will precipitate a national conversation about a pervasive but, until now, unnamed social dysfunction — 'rankism.' Watch for a 'dignitarian' movement against rankism that, like the civil rights and women's movements, will transform American life — in the boardroom, the schoolroom, the bedroom and, a lot sooner than we might think, at the ballot box."
Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream
"This book is essential reading for those who wish to restore human dignity in the world. It demands an end to a rather subtle but deepseated discrimination in our society, one based on status and rank. All presidents, politicians and CEOs should read this mind-boggling book. It will blow away their self-aggrandizing cobwebs."
Satish Kumar, Editor, Resurgence
"We know from statistics that U.S. society has become dramatically more unequal over the past generation. But Robert Fuller excavates the real-life stories behind the numbers, showing how 'rankism' tramples on human dignity. Somebodies and Nobodies is a lucid and provocative manifesto for a more equal, and therefore more just, social order."
Robert Pollin, co-author of The Living Wage: Building a Fair Society, Professor of Economics and Co-Director, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
"In Somebodies and Nobodies, Robert Fuller brilliantly describes a pervasive form of discrimination he calls 'rankism' — a painful reality commonly experienced but previously unnamed. This book will change the way we think about class, power, and status in America."
Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian, Dean of Religious Life, Mount Holyoke College
"Somebodies and Nobodies makes an important contribution to understanding what really ails us. It eloquently describes the 'rankism' inherent in the domination model identified by my research as the opposite of the partnership model for human relations. It speaks to us from both the heart and mind. I highly recommend it."
Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice and the Blade, Tomorrow's Children, and The Power of Partnership
"Bullies and abusers seek power, control, domination and subjugation, and the pursuit of superior rank is their means to this end. When 'rankism' is removed, deference no longer stifles dignity, fear gives way to mutual respect, and individuality and creativity flourish. Somebodies and Nobodies reveals the wisdom behind the saying that there's no such thing as an important person, only an important title."
Tim Field, author of Bully in Sight, creator of ⪦www.bullyonline.org>
"The lure of 'rankism' has severely limited our understanding of diversity as a generative phenomenon and has put a stranglehold on our ability to maximize its potential. Somebodies and Nobodies moves us light years ahead in this regard. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this book. I know that in order to do it, you had to dig around in the deep recesses of your own experience, which could not have been easy. But we're all the better for your having done it."
Toni Gregory, educator, consultant and former Director of Research at the American Institute for Managing Diversity, Inc.
"Robert Fuller's courageous study of 'rankism' attacks the core 'ism' at the base of them all: how humans wield authority and status as weapons. It is impossible to read this book without a shock of recognition, a shriek of outrage — and a radical shift in worldview. I imagine (hope!) that many practicing rankists will receive it as an anonymous gift."
Denise Caruso, founder of the Hybrid Vigor Institute, former technology columnist for The New York Times
"In Somebodies and Nobodies, Robert Fuller traces many threads of social oppression and interpersonal violence to a common root — the abuse of rank. He challenges us, as we struggle to end discrimination towards our own community, to remain mindful of the universal struggle for justice and equality. This is must reading for activists of any stripe."
Chris Palames, co-author, Americans with Disabilities Act, Title II Action Guide
"In September 11, many Americans learned that what they do not know can hurt them: terrorism, whether in Jerusalem or New York, has its origins in humiliation. It persists when a disempowered people experiences chronic indignity. This pathfinding book pinpoints 'rankism' as the primary source of disrespect and the indignation it breeds. Its message that eradicating international terrorism requires rooting out international rankism could not be more timely."
David Michaelis, Senior Producer, Israeli Broadcasting Authority; Co-Director, Internews Middle East; co-founder and Director of Current Affairs, Worldlink TV
"Somebodies and Nobodies is important and original. Fuller coins more than phrases; he coins concepts. You've heard of attention deficit disorder. Think about the damage done by a 'recognition disorder.' You've heard about egalitarian leveling as a solution to inequality. Fuller gives us a 'dignitarian' approach to inevitable differences of power and status. The book's organizing concept — 'rankism' — links politics and ethics in a way that provides new hope and direction to those seeking social justice."
Jay Ogilvy, co-founder and Managing Director of Global Business Network, former professor of philosophy at Yale University and Williams College, author of Creating Better Futures, Many Dimensional Man, and Living without a Goal
"This book should be required reading for everyone in the health care community where, sadly, 'rankism' still thrives. The 'initiation' mentality, whereby old-timers who suffered rankist abuse on their way up impose the same indignities on novices, is still commonplace. I was unprepared to find myself in this book, but I did. Reminded of past humiliations, I was outraged; catching a glimpse of myself as a perpetrator, I was chagrined."
Elizabeth Jones, medical services coordinator, surgical and hemodialysis technician
"Robert Fuller's book is a must-read for progressives and conservatives alike. It enables us to resolve a confusing core issue central to both society and our personal lives — hierarchy vs. equality. For decades, our value of equality in relationships and desire for 'flatter' organizational structures has been challenged by our daily experience of rank and hierarchy, such as the natural hierarchy of parent-child, the organizational ladder of boss-underling at work, or that of director, staff, and volunteers in nonprofit groups. Robert Fuller shows us how to distinguish between appropriate ranking and the abuse of rank — 'rankism' — and set aside the latter in our personal relationships, our organizations, and our international relations."
Bill Moyer, author of Doing Democracy
Igniting Passion and Purpose as an Elder
Strategies to Ignite Social Justice
Embracing Spiritual Diversity
A Manual for Effective Citizen Action