Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Decline of Hierarchy

For some reason the other day I got to thinking about cars. (Maybe it was prompted by the bankruptcy of GM.)

In the American Revolution, one of the strands was the rise of democracy and the decline of aristocracy. Where once people tipped their hats in respect to their "betters" (and elders), that sort of deference declined. John Adams was mocked for his enthusiasm for aristocratic and monarchical seeming titles. Then the great Scots-Irishman Andrew Jackson became President and the people were really rising.

But all the historical emphasis on the rise of democracy obscured the ways in which hierarchy still ruled. In my youth it was cars. GM and the others had a deliberate hierarchy--start with a Chevy then move up the ladder until the apex of the mountain was the Caddy. You could drive down the street and place people by the make and age of their cars. A new Cadillac was king of the road, a crapped-out old Chevy had to cower in the side streets.

No more. The Big Three are gone, their vehicular hierarchies are dissolved, the distinctions among cars are blurred. Now when you walk by the community swimming pool the lifeguards may be driving small foreign cars or bigger SUV's. Who knows.

I'm sure there are other hierarchies remaining or evolving, but I notice most the changes from my youth.

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