The Cardassian hierarchical instinct is one of the key traits that has shaped any incarnation of Cardassian society, but one of the most misunderstood by species that do not possess its like. While humans most often compare it to the pack instinct possessed by Earth's canines (dogs, wolves, and so on), a Cardassian's thoughts and emotions are the ultimate arbiters of his or her actions, making it difficult to assign hard-and-fast rules to Cardassian behavior as one might to non-sentient species possessing similar instincts (or, for that matter, species whose instincts are so strong that they override rational thought). (Star Trek: Sigils and Unions)
- Captain Edward Jellico seems to hint, in TNG: "Chain of Command, Part I", at the existence of something like the hierarchical instinct; however, the Star Trek: Sigils and Unions continuity holds that he made a critical mistake in understanding what it is and is not.
Explained simply, the Cardassian hierarchical instinct creates an innate need for Cardassians to find and understand their place in society. One's age and position, within the family and outside of it, find a more profound expression in a Cardassian's understanding of self than they might in humanity. Cardassians, therefore, tend to dislike socially ambiguous situations, and will quickly maneuver to determine what their position is in any given group. Contrary to some popular misunderstandings, this does not necessarily equate with dominance-seeking, though with certain personalities (especially those that have absorbed the ills of the Cardassian military culture) this may be the case. Others, however, do not feel that they must seek a leadership position; they simply want to be certain of where they stand. (Star Trek: Sigils and Unions--"Ties That Bind: Culture and Instinct in Cardassian Relations")
To be without these ties, or to defy natural behaviors (most particularly obedience to superiors) can be difficult for a Cardassian and lead to much mental and even physical stress. This is one reason why exile is such a powerful punishment for Cardassians, and some (such as Elim Garak) have been known to turn to extreme measures in order to cope with being cut off from social interactions with other Cardassians. (DS9: "The Wire", Star Trek: Sigils and Unions--The Thirteenth Order)
- Obviously the term "hierarchical instinct" is never brought up in DS9: "The Wire"; however, it does fit well as an exacerbating factor among the others Garak mentions as making life on the station very difficult for him.
That said, this does not mean that with compelling reason, a Cardassian is incapable of atypical or defiant action. The hierarchical instinct may present an additional difficulty, but both the Cardassians and, in one alternate universe, humans genetically engineered to possess identical instincts have successfully rebelled against oppressive governments. (Star Trek: Sigils and Unions--The Thirteenth Order, "Those Who Remain," "The Nature of the Beast")
The use and interpretation of certain nonverbal mannerisms, much like with Earth's canines, is innate to the Cardassian species and allows for interpretation and acknowledgment of social positions on a near-subconscious level. Those who attain high ranks in the Cardassian Guard are known to receive specific training to help bring these subconscious reactions to light and allow those individuals to more specifically control the impressions they give to those around them to achieve the desired submission or other reactions that they wish...or, if they wish, even to convey the fact that what they may be saying aloud is contrary to the actual situation. ("Those Who Remain") Such signals can also be used to include or exclude persons from social groups. ("The Nature of the Beast") Finally, one of the greatest advantages provided by the hierarchical instinct is a phenomenon referred to by the Cardassians as synchronicity: the ability to shunt group relations into an almost subconscious mode during tense situations, allowing for absolute focus on the matter at hand without having to consciously concern oneself with group dynamics or power struggles. (The Thirteenth Order, "The Nature of the Beast")
Abuse of the hierarchical instinctEdit
In multiple universes, the natural drives of the hierarchical instinct have been abused by unjust leaders to quash dissent against policies that otherwise would have provoked the ire of the people. Leaders have deliberately played upon the natural deference to authority to forbid free expression of disagreement with these policies. The first group, chronologically speaking, known to have done so is certain members of the Oralian clergy, in Hebitian times.
Angered by the suppression of discontent with failed government policies in the wake of the Cataclysm, a revolution led by Tret Akleen deposed the religious authorities and their government--but instead perpetrated their own abuses, taking manipulation of the hierarchical instinct to a whole new level with extreme indoctrination and the instilling of fear through the Obsidian Order. This led to the acceptance of severe atrocities against the Cardassian people themselves and other species around them, abuses which are sometimes mistaken for the inevitable effects of the hierarchical instinct when in fact they result from the perversion of said instinct. (Star Trek: Sigils and Unions--"Point of Divergence")
A third abuse was the alternate-universe attempt by the Dominion to prevent a conquered human race from rising up against its conquerors. The victorious Dominion engineered humanity by means of a virus to possess a genetically and neurologically identical hierarchical instinct. Despite the extreme social and psychological difficulties created by this unnatural and rapid alteration of the human race, humans and Cardassians succeeded many years later in banding together and overthrowing the Dominion. The subject of retaining or removing the Graft, as it is called, is now a matter of deep ethical debate by the postwar human race, given that 45 years have now passed and there are two entire generations that remember nothing else, some of whom consider the hierarchical instinct vital to their identity. Due to the great similarities--the shared mannerisms and other reactions--some altered humans often refer to the Cardassians as their "cousin" species. (Star Trek: Sigils and Unions--"The Nature of the Beast")
The hierarchical instinct is inspired by a combination of the canine pack instinct and the results of two real-life experiments (albeit two very unethical experiments, given the profound effects they had on the participants): the Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures and the Stanford Prison Experiment.
It is likely that among Cardassians, exaggerated responses to these experiments might be seen. However--it is very interesting to note that once humans are educated on their own innate responses and where they could potentially lead, it becomes easier for humans to recognize the effects of these responses upon their actions and to head them off before serious damage is done. It is the belief of the Star Trek: Sigils and Unions author that Cardassians, when similarly educated and warned against the potential of going too far, are just as capable of making their own decisions even though they might pay the price in greater mental and physical stress than humans might experience. The Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius universe is intended as a look at a scenario where such education and caution regarding the darker potentials of the hierarchical instinct takes place and a much different society has emerged--even with the same innate drives.