In this chapter I am going to begin by assuming that we can reach a better understanding of the Pukhtun of Swat, in northern Pakistan, by making comparisons with the United States. This would seem a preposterous claim at first glance-the Swat Pukhtun live in a remote mountain valley, far from the centers of power. The mostly illiterate population of the valley has been justly described as “backward” and “tribal.” They are not stratified by the capitalist division of labor; their fealty to the central nation-state of Pakistan is minimal. Instead, they are loyal to their local clans, and their relationships are structured by a patrilineal segmentary lineage system divided into factions based on the rivalry between cousins. Instead of formal law, feud and self-help remain the main instruments for maintaining order; rational bureaucracy is at a minimum, as the traditional values of the Pukhtun code of honor-hospitality, refuge, and revenge-continue to motivate people’s actions and beliefs (for standard studies of Swat and the Pukhtun in general see Caroe 1965; Barth 1959; Ahmed 1976, 1980; Lindholm 1982). All this is very far from the social complexity, bureaucratic-legalistic rationality, and capitalistic free-enterprise system of the United States. Yet, there are fundamental similarities in worldview that make comparisons both plausible and significant.1 Most importantly, in both the United States and in Swat, people are assumed to be essentially independent actors, each separately responsible for his or her own fate and endowed with a God-given potential for free choice and agency. Moreover, in both societies each separate individual is believed to be motivated by a natural desire for self-aggrandizement and the accumulation of desired goods: money in the United States, honor among the Pukhtun. As anthropologists have often noted, these assumptions about human nature are hardly universal; in fact, “sociocentric” views of life are probably more predominant worldwide. A correlating similarity between the value system of the United States and that of the Pukhtun is the profound faith that all men (though not women) are equal before God and the law, and have an absolute right to assert their value as human beings deserving of respect.2 Consequentially, among the Pukhtun and in the United States all individual men-the poor and the rich, the landless and the landowner-in principle may eat side by side, speak among themselves with an

absence of abasement or insolence, and look one another directly in the eye.3 In sum, the Pukhtun, like the citizen of the United States, envisions human beings as “possessive individuals,”4 that is, as free, equal, autonomous agents, each essentially similar, each acting for personal self-interest.5 In their understanding of human nature, these two societies are unlike the vast majority of social formations that are motivated by a more collective and hierarchical vision of humanity. The most extreme contrast is with caste society India, but the societies of Europe also have (or had, until they became Americanized) notions that human beings are ranked and differentiated by class and occupation. To be clear, I am not arguing here that there are no hierarchical and collective distinctions in either Swat or the United States. That is obviously untrue, especially in the USA. I am arguing that such distinctions are not considered to be intrinsic and permanent; as a result, superiors are not offered the deference of their subordinates, and subordinates do not accept the condescension of their superiors. However, superiors and inferiors do exist, as do collective identities, and social relations must take account of reality, despite a dominant ideology of equality and individualism. The problem of conceptualizing and rationalizing distinction and collectivity in an egalitarian individualistic society is what we might call a fundamental existential dilemma both in Swat and in the USA, and in all other societies with similar worldviews. The first to consider the way in which this dilemma has an effect on the actual workings of a specific social formation was Dumont (1970), who began his analysis at the opposite extreme from egalitarian individualism, with the caste system of Hindu India. Dumont assumed that collectivist and hierarchical social orders must have within them impulses toward individualism and equality that could appear only covertly. In India this impulse was expressed by the highly individualistic caste-renouncing saints who present themselves at right angles to the predominant ideology of distinction and subordination. He then hypothesized that in egalitarian societies distinction, subordination, and collective identity could similarly be revealed only in a masked manner. According to Dumont, this can occur when invidious distinctions are disguised and validated as the “natural” consequence of the inferiority of groups who, because of their color, are designated subhuman and outside the umbrella of equality. Dumont therefore made the extraordinary claim that this impulse is the source of American racism against blacks, which results in a covert two-caste system in the purportedly egalitarian United States. In other words, a racist ideology is a likely correlate of a value system that stresses equality and autonomy above all. If this is so in one egalitarian individualist society, then it ought to be true in others. And in fact Dumont’s thesis gains plausibility when we discover that a similar “naturalization” of inferior roles exists in Swat where the same premises of egalitarian individualism prevail. Among the Pukhtun, subordinate categories of person are also attributed with “innate” characteristics that condemn them to permanent servitude to their Pukhtun betters. For instance, barbers are thought to be naturally “effeminate,” while leatherworkers are “too passionate” and so on. All inferior groups are believed to lack the intrinsic bravery and honor of the true Pukhtun, and

the Pukhtun believe such people are therefore bound to be ruled, just as cattle are made for the service of humanity. Similarly, women are also thought to be naturally incapable of reason or honor, and therefore require the firm command of men. We would expect to find similar attributions of a collective essence to inferiors in other egalitarian individualist societies. The major example is the Middle East where, as Marshal Hodgson has written, “equality was the basic principle… Every free Muslim should be accorded that personal liberty and dignity which was expected by the Arabian tribesman” (Hodgson 1974: 344, 253). And indeed, when we consider the historical record of this radically egalitarian and individualistic cultural universe, we find that dominant Arabs have traditionally patronized non-Arabs as intrinsically inferior, enslaved blacks have been relegated to subhuman status, subordinated women have been viewed as incapable of equality, and so on. Egalitarian individualism, it seems, has an almost inescapable impulse to essentialize inferiority. But in focusing on the way the elites in egalitarian individualist societies justify subordination through the attribution of a collective essence to inferiors leaves aside an even more interesting problem which I wish to make the subject of this chapter, i.e. the conceptualization and legitimization of superiority in an egalitarian society. In other words, how do those members of the society who are actually inferior and yet who are not collectively stigmatized by “natural” attributions of inferiority make sense of their subordination in a value system based on the premise that all men are equal and independent. In the next few pages, I will explore how this problem of the acceptance of authority among supposed coequals has been symbolized and enacted in Swat, occasionally utilizing examples from the United States and the Middle East for comparison and illustration.6