The Berlese Pyramid
Oppression Points Downward

Essay by
Robert Wilfred Franson


1978; revised August 2001


Throughout history there has been a tendency, almost a compulsion, to regard society as a pyramid with the supreme wielder of force sitting at the lofty peak. From this apex the Pharaoh directs and oppresses for the good of all, that is to say, since the State is him, it's his good — for his society — he owns it. Even in a society more or less free, in which everything hasn't been subsumed into one structure of force, the government strives to occupy the upper levels of the pyramid. The King, President, or Director uses the power of this political structure to pretend to all and to himself that he is a leader of men.

I would like to suggest an alternate model to the traditional pyramid: the Berlese Pyramid.

This concept is based on the Berlese funnel, a device invented by the naturalist Antonio Berlese (1863-1927) to separate miniature fauna from a sample of organic debris. Such debris is perhaps a heap of twigs and leaf-mold, a fragment of habitat holding a number of hidden, tiny creatures that an entomologist wishes to extract.

Like any funnel, a Berlese funnel is an inverted cone or pyramid, open at base and tip. Across the broad opening on top is a screen of wire mesh on which the debris is piled and left to dry. Direct sunlight or a lamp will hasten the drying process. As the debris dries out from the top downward, the cryptozoic fauna move lower, seeking the shrinking dark and moist zone they require, seeking escape from sunlight and dryness. At the bottom of the funnel is their ultimate fate: a bottle of killing fluid.

Creatures that live in the sunlight, in the open air, have nothing to fear from a Berlese Pyramid. But the ethical course of an agent of oppressive political force is downward. The pyramid of tyranny points down, not up — since the official deceit, manipulation, and murder actually function best not in the sunlit world but in the dark cryptosphere. The inner weight of oppression accumulates downward; the more these means are employed, its agents multiply. Sunlight illumines the surface, so deeper into the secret dark wiggle the tyrants and oligarchs and all their petty agents.

Thus, the spiritual analogy suggested by the Berlese Pyramid is not what the Pharaohs claimed, a near-divine rise to leadership, but an ignominious crawl and fall to a poisonous suffusion.

Naturally, the Berlese Pyramid is only a model. Yet the traditional view of society structured from the top down by oppressive force, an age-old theocratic analogy beloved by Pharaohs and many rulers since, has helped millennia of tyrants to dignify their brutalities. In the traditional sky-pointing pyramid, the leaders are raised up; the populace are courses of stone, the dead weight of inverted leadership pressing them down, squeezing them into blocks of state.

And the proclaimed leaders? A murderer of one is imprisoned; a murderer of ten has his unusual mentality studied (as Mark Twain deplored); a murderer of ten thousand is a great leader. It is past time this top-down pyramid of status was reversed, so that we cease to condone one who heaps up a Tamerlane butcher's-pile of bodies toward the heavens, lauding him more, as a great war leader or strong discipliner of recalcitrant folk, the higher grows the pile.

Rather should our condemnation, yes, and our defenses begin to weigh on his back in proportion as he progresses downward. The open society is the enemy of tyranny; for oppression of all kinds, openness is a naturally hostile environment. The populace of an open society, rather than bottom ranks of stone, may better think of themselves as those who live in sunshine.

Sometimes mere exposure to the light of day is enough to show that the careers of sham leaders have indeed been downward, not up. More often, their paths are hidden, secret, cryptic — but we'll see them when they fall out of the bottom tip of the Berlese Pyramid.

The cryptic progression of the Berlese Pyramid, for the minions of oppression, is from forest-mold to formaldehyde. Within this downward-pointing pyramid it is the tyrants themselves who achieve truly outstanding progress, eventually reaching the inverted apex of their ambition. Their insect corpses might profitably be pickled and displayed, preserved like Vladimir Lenin's in front of the Kremlin, as a warning to posterity.


© 1978, 2001 Robert Wilfred Franson

It's not hard to build a Berlese funnel to sift out
some of your own backyard creepy-crawlies.
Sample diagrams and instructions from:
State University of New York at Albany
& North Carolina State University

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