All structures of domination (racism, sexism, classism, etc.) are based upon what anthropologists called "ascribed status"." A person is granted a certain social status, without regard to her or his consent, purely through being born in a certain state or condition (gender, race, location, nationality, etc.) This status entitles a person to unearned social benefits, or subjects her to undeserved disadvantages.
The mechanism of status hierarchy is deeply wired in human behavior. Our primate ancestors have distinct status hierarchies, centered around variables like gender, age and physical strength. For these animals, status, however limiting, is an adaptive survive mechanism.
Humans, however, have evolved a sense of self which is potentially capable of transcending status hierarchy, a selfhood which can view its intrinsic worth and value as centered within itself, rather than ascribed and derived from environmental circumstances. The drive for this inner transcendance has emerged in many societies at various times, although it has most clearly showed itself in recent Western culture. This evolutionary step does not belong to any one race or culture, but is a potential of all human beings.
Domination is natural. Systems and patterns of domination evolved with the species, and some tendency in that direction is very likely encoded in our genes. That does not mean that it is inevitable, however, let alone ideal. Human culture has shaped itself over the ages, shaping genes in the process. Now, as self-aware individuals, with a widespread global system of education and communication, we are capable of taking a far more conscious hand in directing our own evolution and growth than ever before in history. Deconstructing structures of domination, and replacing them with individual freedom, self-determination, and mutual respect, is a process that begins in the mind -- in the individual mind, although the meme of change is spread collectively, through social interaction.
Status domination is a psychosocial phenomenon -- a belief inhabiting human minds like a virus, which directs people to unconsciously evaluate themselves others on socially-derived criteria. It is not merely categorization; it is natural and necessary to sort people and other phenomena into categories. It is, rather, the automatic ascription of differing degrees of value to someone based on such categories: to view someone as greater or lesser, better or worse, not based upon their behavior but upon things irrelevant to such evaluation. Domination gains its power through prejudice and bias -- that is, through irrationality. It is natural for humans to be irrational in some respects, but it is hardly inevitable or ideal.
Although domination is a meme, a mental phenomemon, it works in complicity with coercion, physical force. The relation between the two is circular and mutually reinforcing: higher status allows and encourages a person to use force, which in turn establishes and reinforces that person's dominant status. This force can be direct physical violence, or indirect force through the imposition of law. In any case, domination and coercion go hand in hand.
Domination can also occur on more subtle levels without the use of actual coercion. However, coercion -- the threat of force -- is the ultimate lynchpin that holds such structures in place. If a group fears no physical repercussions, they can more easily shrug off the mental attitudes of submission. In libertarian analysis, a clear distinction must be made between true coercion, which involves physical force, and psychological influences, which encompass the spectrum of manipulation and persuasion, from the "hard sell" to the "soft sell". Psychological structures of dominance are equally important in their own sphere, but the levels must not be confused. The mind has its own dynamics, which are not identical to those of the physical world, and different strategies must be applied for each.
In particular, libertarian philosophy forbids the use of physical coercion, including law, to influence behaviors which are only mental, social, or verbal. Physical force may be used only in response to physical force. The physical and the psychological are kept in their proper spheres, and conflict is not escalated from a psychological to a physical level.
In other words: to think of hitting someone is not the same as to hit. A media depiction of violence is not the same as actual violence. Demeaning words or images are not the same as physical blows. This primary differentation between coercion and manipulation, between mind and body, is a central facet of libertarian philosophy. Although the two levels are highly interconnected and interact in complex ways, each also has its own nature and logic.
A libertarian approach to social liberation, therefore, focuses on deconstructing psychological structures of domination without recourse to coercion, without violence or state power, though peaceful means only. The reason behind this separation is not that the world of the mind, of speech, art and culture, is weak, unimportant or impotent, to be kept apart from the serious business of running the world. Quite the contrary: it is because the mind and psyche are so powerful, so central and important, that they can achieve great changes in the world without recourse to fist, club and gun.
Libertarian social analysis is thus based on a fundamental trust in the mind of man, in the human capacity to think, feel, be aware, and choose. It is based on an optimistic acknowledgement of our capacity for reason, and for growth and change. Society, like the physical world, is an evolving system, and so is each individual mind. The transition from dominance and hierarchy to individualism, equality and mutuality begins within the sphere of the psyche and spreads through the collective networks of communication and consciousness.