Americans have many cultural traits that endear us to people from other countries. We have many cultural traits, many of which are currently in play, that seem to make other people not like us. Of late, the image of America in world opinion seems to have switched to that of an arrogant, willfull storm trooper.

There is a difference between America and other hegemons of the past, which is that America, both in our own culture and in our dealings with other cultures, is very egalitarian. A thirst for egalitarianism would seem to be a good trait in a people who seem to be on the verge of world conquest. Perhaps this egalitarianism is not apparent to those in other nations whose only knowledge of the United States is information about our agressive foreign policy; and it may be even less apparent to people who live in America and take it for granted.

Anyhow, it would seem on the surface of it, that egalitarianism is right up there with fraternity and liberty, and should be a cultural trait to be embraced without hesitation. I, however, have to disagree with this. I think that perhaps if we lived in a world where true equality was possible, egalitarianism might be a good idea. However, living in a world where people experience large differences in the amount of power they have, clinging to the illusion that we are all equal ends up just hiding these power differences, and allowing them to be abused.

I suppose most of the repugnance that many Americans feel at the notion of hierarchy is that it offends our secular sensibilities. Over a millenium of European tradition made all power ultimately grounded in divine authority. The foreman on the ditchdigging crew got his authority from the town council, who got their authority from the local bishop, who got their authority from the pope, who got his authority from God. Thus, accepting any kind of power relationship at all is equivalent to subordinating yourself to being a cog in a universal machine. Personally, I don't think this kind of explanation is needed to explain why authority exists. My own experience has been that in any undertaking that people do, whether it is trivial or a serious matter, there is always some kind of system of hierarchy, whether it be loosely organized or strictly defined. My experiences in making both the the 48 hour movie and its recent sequel has shown me that even in very loose, freewheeling creative projects, some idea of authority and order are automatically formed by the participants.

The fact that authority is a natural factor of human (and, for that matter, other mammals) relationships is one reason why it shouldn't be denied in our social lives. Another is the fact that the lack of any clear cut authority gives people the impression that what they do is occuring in a vacuum. This has to do with another great American myth: the myth of the level playing field, that we are all individuals existing in a neutral social sphere, and that we are merely fulfilling our desires, unemcumbered by other factors. I feel that in real human life, there is never a "neutral" space, that we are always living in a situation that is designed or controlled in one way or another by some person or idea. When no person admits to being in charge, however, it seems that we could indeed be living in a neutral world, which just makes the lack of neutrality harder to spot.

On a less theoretical, and more practical level, I think that positions and structures of authority are very helpful, not because they grant people power, but because they limit people's powers. As I said above, authority seems to spontaneously generate in any social situation. Often authority generates around a charismatic leader. However, a charismatic leader in some fields might not be the most capable, or even ethical leader in other fields. For example, a coach may have the minds and souls of his players on the field. However, the fact that he is called by the title "coach" hopefully lets his players know that he can only exercise authority or power over them while they are training and playing, and not on a personal level. Although their are certainly many exceptions, I think that investing people with well defined positions of authority actually decreases their ability to abuse their subordinates on a personal or sexual level.

Also, in my experience, having someone who knows what they are doing, who is willing to do it, and will take responsibility for it is a very good thing. While buck passing may be a way for a lot of people to refuse responsibility, refusing to have the buck passed to you is just as much of a way to shirk responsibility.

So, in other words, I believe that the American insistence that everyone is always so equal is not a totally good thing.

And no, this is not directed at you specifically.