More Than Money
Issue #35

Money and Leadership

Table of Contents

“Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank”

By Robert Fuller (New Society Publishers, 2003)

Reviewed by Mark McDonough

In this groundbreaking book, Robert Fuller argues that there is an abuse of power broader than that of racism and sexism; he calls it "rankism" because it is based on differences in power as signified by rank. Fuller does not object to rank, per se, but to the abuse of rank. Rank and some of the privileges that come with it can be useful-such as the library privileges afforded professors who need special access to do their jobs well. But when one takes advantage of privileged status-such as demeaning or sexually harassing a student -that is rankism.

Although everybody seems to want to be a "somebody," Fuller makes the fascinating observation that being a "nobody" has advantages, and that we often switch back and forth between being a somebody and a nobody at different times in our lives or even at different times during the day. Being a nobody is wonderful, for example, when you need time to try out a new identity under the cover of invisibility. Being a somebody can be a burden when people over-generalize and don't see who you really are. For those who have rank because of money or leadership positions, this book can help develop greater sensitivity to the circumstances of both somebodies and nobodies.

The author's observations also serve as cautionary signposts for well-meaning activists. He notes: "The fact that you can't overcome rankism with rankism explains the puzzling ineffectiveness of many progressive social groups. If a tone of moral superiority pervades an organization and infects its rhetoric, some adherents are attracted because membership affords them an opportunity to feel superior to nonmembers -'the unenlightened.' The message being promulgated, no matter how timely and important, will remain unheard and unheeded by the vast majority until, in its content and presentation, it is shorn of moral rankism."

This wise and thoughtful book gives us all a metric to better understand when we are in fact abusing rank, and offers insight into how and when rank may be used productively, without harm to others.

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