June 26, 2010

IN FACT, THAT'S THE ENTIRE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE AMERICAN AND FRENCH REVOLUTIONS:

Out of line: An insubordinate general. A soccer mutiny. Why hierarchy matters, even in an egalitarian world. (Drake Bennett, June 27, 2010, Boston Globe)

The two events were not, of course, equal in global import. One was a drama on a sports team, the other may alter the course of a war. But both caught the attention of the world as they unfolded. And for all the distinctive political and cultural strands that each separately touched on, they both triggered an immediate and visceral sense that certain widely understood rules of appropriate behavior had been violated. Notably, in all of the commentary that swirled up around the two scandals, it was virtually impossible to find voices rooting for the rebellious underdogs, for the “runaway general” or the soccer players who turned on their coach.

What was at stake in each was a very basic idea: deference to the social hierarchy. Where people stand on the social ladder is a fact that governs all sorts of daily interactions, as well as how we build organizations, police one another’s behavior, and understand our own identity. It’s also something that social scientists are taking an increasing interest in. Talk of hierarchy or social rank may sound antiquated, especially in countries like America and France that each had its own revolution two centuries ago to overthrow an aristocratic political and social order. If all men are created equal, then thinking and talking about rank seems pernicious, a recipe for inflated egos on the one hand or crippled self-esteem on the other.

But psychologists who study status and power in social settings — and a growing number are — have found that human beings, in surprising ways, actually seem to thrive on a sense of social hierarchy, and rely on it. In certain settings, having a clear hierarchy makes us more comfortable, more productive, and happier, even when our own place in it is an inferior one. In one intriguing finding, NBA basketball teams on which large salary differentials separate the stars from the utility players actually play better and more selflessly than their more egalitarian rivals.

“Status is such an important regulating force on people’s behavior, hierarchy solves so many problems of conflict and coordination in groups,” says Adam Galinsky, a psychologist at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management who did the research on social hierarchies on basketball teams. “In order to perform effectively, you often need to have some pattern of deference.”


We in the Anglosphere correctly understand that God created all men as moral equals, while the continent has moved from disaster to disaster trying to force material equality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 26, 2010 7:09 AM
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