Recently, a commenter said something that indicated confusion about
what Alpha and beta status is. Because these terms are so commonly misused or used as insults or compliments in the wrong context, I thought it wise to clear things up. Readers of this site should not be confused.
Alpha is a term in biology that is used to describe the one who is the highest ranking in a particular group. He or she is the one the others defer to, and he has the greatest access to the group’s resources. This individual can be male or female. The alpha female is not necessarily
the counterpart of the alpha male. Some animals, such as the hyena, have an alpha female, and no alpha male. Male hyenas rank lower than the lowest ranking female by default. Some animals have what’s called an alpha pair, and they share dominance over their group.
Human societies are generally partiarchal, but not as strict in gender roles as some other species. A queen for instance, would not be expected to defer to a male peasant just because he is male and she is female. In fact, any female who is above his station would not be expected to defer to him. In absense of a firm aristocracy, other criteria are used to determine a person’s social status.
See where I’m going with this? Whatever the recognized social hierarchy, Alpha, beta, gamma, and the newly coined omega, are descriptions of a person’s rank. Whether or not that rank is based on social status or merit is another issue. Some people fit the role associated with a particular rank more than others.
In a society without a firm aristocracy, or where it its influence is
reduced or just hidden, people arrange themselves based on income, access to resources, and influence. However, roles are somewhat flexible because a person’s personality and ambition can change their status within their subgroup and beyond. It is not impossible for someone from a poor and obscure family to become rich or otherwise influential, if he has the will and the luck to be so. The kind of person who is powerful by nature is called an Alpha type person. They may not be the Alpha male of their group or society, but they are in the running.
By the same, a beta male in one’s society may not have the requisite drive or ability to compete with his peers, and this would reduce his ranking. If on the other hand, a beta does compete and wins, he becomes the Alpha at least in ranking. He could well be so in type. Some Alpha type males get fed up with social games and opt out by isolating themselves. Some take risks that end up costing them their physical freedom. This reduces their social status, but it doesn’t change what their talents
and abilities are.
So, to my readers: when you see me speaking in terms of Alpha, beta, gamma or omega, I am not attempting to devalue or dehumanize anyone. I’m simply describing a social status or natural capability. Being more of a leader or a follower never made anyone a better or worse person. Each of us humans is still accountable for our actions, and responsible for whatever harm we do to others.
The general is no better than the private. They’re just in different positions. The private may be a strategic genius, and the general a complete dumbass who will get people killed for stupid reasons. I understand this, and you should to.
Tags: alpha, anthropology, beta, evo bio, evolutionary biology, female, gamma, gender, male, omega, role, social, social hierarchy