Class, Flatus, Parties

by Henry on October 25, 2006

Will Wilkinson claims that we can avoid positional conflicts in a world of infinitely proliferating status dimensions.

While capitalism does in fact produce absolutely egalitarian results—enabling the poor to own high-quality mobile phones, microwaves, and cars functionally equivalent to those of the wealthy—it cannot, critics say, manufacture more and better ‘positional goods’, to use economist Fred Hirsch’s term, because, basically, it is impossible to fit more than ten percent in the top ten percent.[2] No matter how trusty, safe, comfortable, and efficient your new Hyundai Accent may be, the fact that is within the grasp of so many will keep it from signaling that you inhabit the commanding heights of society. And that’s what you really want, isn’t it? To be king of the mountain? … Competition for higher position is a paradigmatic zero-sum game. … It is true that status is not ideological fancy … But not so fast! … Real and profound differences are also glossed over by failing to acknowledge what is peculiar to humans. For one thing, we are uniquely cultural creatures, and this fundamentally transforms the zero-sum logic of the primate dominance hierarchy. … Crucially, there is no limit to the possible forms of excellence. So, while the number of positions on any single dimension of status may be fixed, there is no reason why dimensions of status cannot be multiplied indefinitely. … New dimensions of excellence and status often open up due to technological innovation. It was impossible to be a chart-topping pop star or a champion triathalete before there were radios and bikes. Liberal market societies not only create new technologies, they create proliferating forms of association, affiliation, expression, and identity at a sometimes alarming rate.[21] Each musical genre, each hobby, each committee, each church, each club, each ideology, each lifestyle provides a new dimension—a new frame of reference—for positional competition. Environmental purists can compete with one another to conspicuously consume eco-friendly products (or conspicuously refuse to consume much at all), while punk rockers duke it out on grounds of anti-establishment authenticity, and economics professors knock themselves dead trying to get articles into esoteric journals no one else cares about. The cultural fragmentation some critics lament is precisely what liberates us from unavoidable zero-sum positional conflict. … We are not destined to want fancier cars, bigger houses, and more upscale outfits, nor are we helpless to feel diminished by those who out-consume us. We can opt out by opting in to competing narratives about the composition of a good life. And we do it all the time.

Colour me unconvinced. Wilkinson’s claim implies, unless I misunderstand him badly, that it doesn’t matter very much to me if I’m a despised cubicle rat who can’t afford a nice car and gets sneered at by pretty girls, because when I go home and turn on my PC, I suddenly become a level 75 Night Elf Rogue who Kicks Serious Ass! Now this example is loaded – but it’s loaded to demonstrate a serious sociological point that Wilkinson doesn’t even begin to address. These indefinitely proliferating dimensions of status competition are connected to each other in their own implicit meta-ranking, which is quite well understood by all involved. Being a world-class scrabble-player isn’t likely to win you much respect among people who aren’t themselves competitive scrabble-players; the best you can expect is that someone will write a book that pokes fun at your gastro-intestinal problems . It’s a very different matter if you’re a world class soccer player; you’re liable to be invited to all sorts of fun parties, hit upon by beautiful people, stalked by the paparazzi and the whole shebang. Being a world class blogger is somewhere between the two, albeit certainly much closer to the scrabble-player than the soccer star. Even if you’re king of your own mountain, you’re likely to be quite well aware of the other mountains around you that make yours look in comparison like a low-grade class of a gently sloping foothill, or perhaps even a slightly upraised knob in the middle of a steep declination. You’re similarly aware of those less well-advantaged foothills or knoblets whose owners you can look down upon.

In short, people are highly aware of the relative rankings of their obsessions. For circumstantial evidence supporting this claim, see the Geek Hierarchy, which is funny only because it quite accurately reflects the status hierarchies that people in the SF community have in their heads. This isn’t to say that these communities and sub-communities don’t play a valuable role; they do. But it isn’t so much because they allow people to become kings of their own particular mountainiscules as because they provide, as the term suggests, a sense of community – that there are other people out there who share their particular interests. Status competition happens in these communities, as in all others, but at best it provides a highly imperfect substitute for status in other games that are more widely recognized, for whatever arbitrary or semi-arbitrary reason, as being more prestigious. Then, that isn’t what it’s supposed to do.

[via Political Theory Daily Review ]

{ 1 trackback }

Tim Worstall
11.02.06 at 3:27 am

{ 87 comments }

1

abb1 10.25.06 at 1:06 pm

Liberal market societies not only create new technologies, they create proliferating forms of association, affiliation, expression, and identity at a sometimes alarming rate.

Liberal market societies? Same is true for totalitarian societies and any other kind of society. You’ll start collecting stamps or become a history buff or something – as a way to channel your status-frustration. This has nothing to do with liberal market societies.

2

lemuel pitkin 10.25.06 at 1:18 pm

Abb1, I think you mean any modern, urban society. There are plenty of times/places with just one or a few hierarchies.

3

Doctor Slack 10.25.06 at 1:18 pm

He lost me with this: While capitalism does in fact produce absolutely egalitarian results. . .

4

BrendanH 10.25.06 at 1:22 pm

This is just a rehash of the “death of class”/”we all make our own identities now” postmodernist nonsense from the late 1980s/early 1990s. It was a-empirical rubbish then and it’s a-empirical rubbish now.

PS I have to say I was pleased to see an article in this summer’s Sociology, “Whatever happened to Postmodernism”, starting “Many things did not make it into the 21st century. PM is one of them.”

5

Joel Turnipseed 10.25.06 at 1:25 pm

Henry,

I think you’re spot on about this. It’s not referenced in the Wilkinson article (though some of his other work is), but my grandfather (an economist) and I used to debate whether “Choosing the Right Pond,” was an important book because it contained genuine wisdom about how to go about making certain life decisions–or whether it was because it so clearly marked itself as a trainer in “How to take control of the manner in which you’ll get screwed by the status hierarchy”–or a kind of Iron Mountain-like parody produced by a bored DuPont or Rockefeller.

What’s interesting about our current society (though I have no idea how new this is) is the ubiquity of advertising for such relatively inaccessible goods: Lexus’ and vacations to the Bahamas advertised during, say, Packers-Vikings games. You think, “How many guys watching this game between trips out to the yard and garage can afford a $50,000 car and a $5,000 vacation?” But then: there are some 10 million or so Americans who make more than $100K a year and just under a million or so who earn $500K a year. That’s enough that even if the guy on the couch doesn’t himself earn enough to (truly) afford the Lexus–he knows someone who does: and thus, might stretch himself (and strain his savings) to buy a Lexus himself.

6

abb1 10.25.06 at 1:36 pm

Lemuel, why can’t I be the best accordion player in the village or grow the biggest friggin tomatoes? Or be village’s domino champion? The possibilities are endless.

7

asg 10.25.06 at 1:50 pm

Henry’s example with the Geek Hierarchy is perhaps a little self-undermining — note the large number of double-headed arrows.

8

Joel Turnipseed 10.25.06 at 1:57 pm

Also… intuitively, shouldn’t there be some population-based limit, even if we accept Wilkinson’s premise? E.g., wouldn’t you need a community of shared identitarians (?!) who recognized your uniqueness relative to the perfection identity that it granted you status within the hierarchy? And wouldn’t it have to be a bigger number than, say… five?

I play, for instance, Go–pretty obscure within the U.S.–and there are about 10,000 (or so) active Go players in the U.S. among which to measure my status, and yet: a familiar complaint among Go players (and the USGA hierarchy) is that there aren’t enough Go players to establish the game. (NB for non-Go players: Go has a finely-graded handicap system with, among amateur ranks, 44 levels and a maximum single-game handicap of 9 stones. So: if only 5 players show up at a local Go club meeting, it’s quite possible for nothing but absurd pairings to take place & almost certainly so if beginners show up–which is what we want).

9

Rob St. Amant 10.25.06 at 2:04 pm

Crucially, there is no limit to the possible forms of excellence.

I would not be happy to be the most excellent piece of meat in my cell block.

10

tom s. 10.25.06 at 2:31 pm

doctor slack said it all.

(not that the other comments aren’t interesting too)

11

radek 10.25.06 at 2:43 pm

Well I’m unconvinced by Henry’s (making sure there’s an ‘n’ in there…..yup, got it) unconvincedness but I think he makes some good points.

Thinking about it it looks like Will is just echoing the Austrian claim that preferences (in this instances over hierarchies) are subjective (though they may be objective within the hierarchies) and hence one person’s view point is not comperable to anothers. So in the end just because hierarchies exist and folks care about status is not enough to conclude that this is a bad thing since we all get to choose which hierarchy to be part of us based on our own, subjective preferences.

Henry on the other hand is arguing that wait, no, there’s an objective ranking of hierarchies out there, constructed by society or whatever and hence the existance of hierarchy of hierarchies still means it’s a zero sum game.

Sort of reminds me of the saying about economists and sociologist not being able to communicate. Economics is supposedly a study of choice, but sociology says that there is no choice.

Anyway, I’ll take the standard neoclassical view that it’s some of both (though I haven’t worked out precisely how they interact). There is a very large number of hierarchies I do not care about, and even some of which I flip (i.e. being at the bottom of a certain hierarchy gets you a lot more status with me than being at the top). And I really have met people in my life (unfortunetly I guess though it’s their deal) who think that being a 27th Elven Archmage Who Kicks Ass is way more important than having a decent paying job, having many friends or having sucess with the particular gender they’re interested in. And in a way it makes me happy that these people have their own hierarchy to play with. So there’s definetly a very large subjective, non-zero sum component to all this.

On the other hand certain hierarchies do seem to be fixed whether due to culture or nature. Having a more attractive partner in 99.9% of cases gets you more status (whether through envy or empathy). Having more income does so in I’d guess 75% cases. ….hmmm, I really can’t think of any more “universal hierarchies”. Maybe education/intelligence but that’s probably even a smaller % than income.

Anyway I’m probably miscontruing both arguments. Oh and weirdly I agree with abb1 that this is more a basic feature of human nature than a function of a particular economic system… to a certain extent. Human nature creates the demand for hierarchies, while the economic system creates the supply of them? Got to think more about this…

12

Z 10.25.06 at 2:49 pm

Funnily, I have been giving this very idea a lot of thoughts this last weeks, and I believe I disagree with you Henry (though I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I agree with Wilkinson). Even considering your extreme example:
it doesn’t matter very much to me if I’m a despised cubicle rat who can’t afford a nice car and gets sneered at by pretty girls, because when I go home and turn on my PC, I suddenly become a level 75 Night Elf Rogue who Kicks Serious Ass!

Well, it is true that some individuals devote an extraordinary amount of of their time and energy climbing the ladder in an online gaming; time and energy that they could devote to climb other ladders. Individuals sometimes deliberately choose strategies that are directly detrimental to their rankings in generally favoured hierarchies (financial, matrimonial…)

people are highly aware of the relative rankings of their obsessions.

But does that diminish the value they ascribe to it? I can speak with some confidence because people of my trade are (generally speaking) very well aware that people regard them as half crazy while they consider themselves as the cream of the cream (I am a mathematician).

13

Henry 10.25.06 at 2:53 pm

I should say that if I was pushed on this, I don’t really mean to say that there is an objectively accessible hierarchy that every knows about (I know, I sound as if I was saying that but hey, it’s a blog post, and cheery generalizations are part of the game). Obviously there are gaps, fissures, disagreements, and lots of contestation over which dimension counts more. But the fundamental point that I’m trying to make stands, I think. To the extent that we are the status obsessed creatures that Wilkinson says we are (and I partly disagree with him on this), infinitely proliferating dimensions of competition only serve to make everyone happy if they are unconnected to each other. And they clearly are connected, even if people disagree sometimes about their connection. As ever, Bourdieu’s discussion of this dynamic is great, even if I find his own overall theoretical architecture a bit fishy (it’s a bit of a perpetual motion machine imo).

asg – but note that the only double pointed arrows that are vertical involve furries.

14

Chris Bertram 10.25.06 at 2:58 pm

A rather obvious point, but Wilkinson culpably conflates positional goods with status. IIRC, many of the goods in Hirsch’s original book were things like houses in places of great natural beauty, i.e. valable objects of which the supply is naturally limited. People don’t just want such goods because they signal status but because they’re, well, good things to have, and the fact that I get outbid for them by the super-rich is bad news for me, status independently.

15

Chris Williams 10.25.06 at 3:03 pm

I’ve done no research into this, but for a long time I’ve subscribed to a weak version of Will’s interpretation rather than Henry’s refutation.

Surely, there are disincentives of being at the top of the meta-heirarchy as well, as the fate of Russian bankers and mafia godfathers would imply? Perhaps the guy who takes over the pigeon club has decided that he can’t be bothered to make all the complex decisions about the colour of the curtains which he’d be faced with if he moved to the posh end of town.

What about the bohemian/bourgeois split identified in the half-decent book “The Rebel Sell: why the culture can’t be jammed” by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter? There are certainly different registers of social preference out there.

None of this is to say that massive inequalities of power and security also exist, of course. It’s a capitalism thing.

16

SamChevre 10.25.06 at 3:14 pm

It seems to me that I’m with the “sort-of” crowd. There are certainly hierarchies that very few people care about (video games, Go players), hierarchies that a fair number of people care about (jazz musicians, rugby players, the US Army), and hierarchies that LOTS of people care about (football players, academics, politicians, businessmen)–but it does seem to me that there are many hierarchies that lots of people care about, that interact only slightly, and that this does considerably increase the opportunities for being near the top of an “important” hierarchy.

In other words, how do you rank the relative status of:
Philip Fulmer
Jack Welch
Bill Clinton
Toby Keith
The Pope
David Beckham
Sir Peter Mansfield

17

T. Neil Sroka 10.25.06 at 3:18 pm

While I see your point, Henry, I think what can’t be denied is the fundamental contestation of the “good life” in America when viewed in political terms. While the Scrabble Champion may know where he sits within the social order of “mountain kings,” more sociopolitically derived notions of success often seemed blind to or lack understanding of their counterparts. Imagine a conservative resident of small southern town and liberal urbanite, both belonging to the same economic class. While economics might suggest that both would drive the most expensive car the can purchase or live in the largest home they can afford, their values are such that the purchases they make and the way they consider those reflect success may differ dramatically, possibly to the point of one being incomprehensible to the other.

The greatest example might be found in cars (as others have already mentioned). As a city dweller when I walk down the street and see someone driving a Hummer or some other large SUV, I have a really hard time understanding what prompted someone to purchase such an enormous car (do they really need a backseat the size of a football field to cart around their briefcase) and show off their reckless disregard for the environment. But I also imagine its equally incomprehensible for someone from a different sociopolitical background who lives outside of a city to understand why someone would buy into that “the poles are melting” mumbo-jumbo and deprive themselves of the safety and comfort of a larger car.

The idea here and perhaps it could be more clearly expressed is that modern politics (that whole left-right divide) has eliminated the American consensus on success. While we may judge what others consider successful (and I think its clear we do), there appear to be many politically driven visions of success in the U.S. that, using your hill metaphor, would be relatively equal. Assuming we make the same amount of money, I may consider myself successful because I can spend my income on expensive organic, vegan cuisine, the latest hybrid car technology, and eco-tourist vacations, while you may fancy yourself well-off because you can regularly consume the best fois-gras, stuffed veal money can buy, drive a hummer, and take that cruise around the world. While sharply different values sit behind each of these choices, I think its hard to say which lifestyle is more “successful” than the other.

18

Henry 10.25.06 at 3:25 pm

But does that diminish the value they ascribe to it?

Not necessarily at all – but in actuality, the value of being in these communities isn’t typically imo a hierarchy or positional thing. But to say that they are arbitrary doesn’t mean that they don’t have consequences, or that people aren’t aware of them. The hypothetical level 75 Night Elf Rogue guy is probably pretty happy that he’s level 75, but he’d be much happier still if MMORPG success was a high prestige status dimension (as it is to some extent in S. Korea I believe) so that other non-MMORPGers were impressed when he told them about his prowess at bars.

Note, by the way something that maybe isn’t clear in the original post. I’m not looking to laugh at the Night Elf Rogue or to say that there is something ipso facto ridiculous about his particular obsession. Many of our prestige-rankings of various forms of success are pretty arbitrary as I mentioned above. There isn’t any very obvious reason why, say, our culture should accord relatively high prestige to chess, and relatively low prestige to Scrabble, or even more particularly to Go. One of my favourite obscure novels, David Prill’s “The Unnatural” is a riff on this – a version of Malamud’s Natural in which the sports obsession of the US is competitive undertaking and corpse arrangement. It sounds weird – but there isn’t anything necessarily weirder about it than adulating guys who can hit a spherical object with a cylindrical one, or run through the opposition with an inflated pigskin.

19

Tracy W 10.25.06 at 3:26 pm

These indefinitely proliferating dimensions of status competition are connected to each other in their own implicit meta-ranking, which is quite well understood by all involved.

Who understands? How do you know this ranking is quite well-understood by all involved?

To a Taranaki dairy farmer a soccer player, world-class or not, is the lowest of the low, well below a raving homeless man.

Or there is that interesting generational change in relative meta-rankings by which my grandparents’ generation inspected family trees to find links to British nobility, or other European ones if the first failed, while my parents’ generation inspects family trees to find links to escaped convicts and the like.

The Geek Hierarchry disproves your argument here. It is not a zero-sum hierarchy except below the layer of “Published SF/F Authors and Artists”. If “People Who Read Books Based on SF Shows” knew they were of lower status, then why don’t they just stop reading Books Based on SF Shows and start reading Heinlein? Why don’t the “Comic Book Fans Who Only Read X-Men Spinoffs” take an hour out and read some of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman? Okay, there are some categories such as 13-Year-Old-Gamers who can’t do much about things, but otherwise people could rocket themselves up the hierarchy if they cared about it. Given that my local bookshop is selling “Expensive ‘Replicas’ of Fictional Fantasy Swords” evidently they don’t.

20

Henry 10.25.06 at 3:28 pm

samchevre – but Wilkinson’s claim is far more radical than the one you’re making here. Not that the problem of status hierarchy is mitigated by the existence of several equivalent forms – but that it disappears completely, because new definitions of status can be indefinitely extended.

21

radek 10.25.06 at 3:28 pm

People don’t just want such goods because they signal status but because they’re, well, good things to have, and the fact that I get outbid for them by the super-rich is bad news for me, status independently.

Wasn’t that what Mencken said to Veblen?

22

Tracy W 10.25.06 at 3:29 pm

Darn, “Not a zero-sum hierarchy except at the layer of “Published SF/F Authors and Artists” “

23

Chris Bertram 10.25.06 at 3:31 pm

This sentence in Will’s essay made me laugh:

_We can, like Gauguin, quit law and family to paint naked natives in Tahiti._

Indeed. “We can” like David Beckham, travel to Madrid to play football, or, if we choose “we can” like Quentin Tarantino travel to Hollywood to make movies … Ah, such a rich menu of possibilities!

24

Richard 10.25.06 at 3:42 pm

As a 75th level night elf I feel honour bound to point out that a very nice model of social status hierarchies is offered by Steve Jackson Games’ GURPS, which take into account both relative status within closed groups and the size, influence or cultural spread of the group as a whole.

Roleplaying games in general can be said to be naive forms of sociological theory, expressed as models of society. They are broad, crude, frequently poorly thought out and fashioned for showy effect rather than accurate prediction of real-world conditions. Nonetheless, the sophistication of the discussion of status in this source, and the overtly comic refinement of it in GURPS Goblins (in which the effects of locally high status decline sharply with cultural distance, a process openly termed ‘chauvinism’) I find matches or exceeds the consideration class and status get in many more respectable journals.

25

engels 10.25.06 at 4:46 pm

many of the goods in Hirsch’s original book were things like houses in places of great natural beauty, i.e. valable objects of which the supply is naturally limited. People don’t just want such goods because they signal status but because they’re, well, good things to have

But then why are these positional goods? Aren’t they just ordinary scarce goods?

26

leederick 10.25.06 at 4:56 pm

How can you even have a positional good if people decide they don’t care about it and don’t want it, like Wilkinson proposes we treat fancier cars and bigger houses? If they do that, then don’t they just cease to be positional goods?

27

dearieme 10.25.06 at 5:13 pm

“Philip Fulmer
Jack Welch
Bill Clinton
Toby Keith
The Pope
David Beckham
Sir Peter Mansfield”
One’s a post not a person; Beckham and Clinton are notorious right wingers, and I haven’t a clue who the others are.

28

Chris Bertram 10.25.06 at 5:40 pm

But then why are these positional goods? Aren’t they just ordinary scarce goods?

Well I think that Hirsch ought to have some authority in the matter, since he coined the term. And the examples he gives in _The Social Limits to Growth_ are of goods that are inherently scarce — such as old master paintings, antiques, holiday cottages with a particular view. These aren’t _ordinary scarce goods_ because their scarcity isn’t merely a contingent but possibly remediable fact, but is rather essential to their nature.

29

joe o 10.25.06 at 5:44 pm

In the US, a house in good school district is a positional good. “Good school district” meaning one with few poor people.

30

Chris Bertram 10.25.06 at 5:56 pm

Hmm, should have done a better job on that last comment. The point for Hirsch is that the dream of providing access to lots of nice things in life through economic growth is just that, a dream, because though some things can be provided to us all once we are all prosperous enough, other things are both desirable and inherently scarce. They can’t be provided to everyone however rich we all get. Access to those goods — old master paintings — will always depend on relative _position_ in the income distribution, since the better-off can always outbid the rest. Hence the term “positional good”.

I realise that people since SLTG have used the term in other and derivative senses. But that’s the phenomenon he was referring to.

31

jayann 10.25.06 at 6:09 pm

their scarcity isn’t merely a contingent but possibly remediable fact, but is rather essential to their nature.

while I think this is right, it’s also the case, surely, that their value depends on their in-some-sense-objective desirability. (Otherwise, I think, you begin conceding a point to Wilkinson. That is, paintings by me are scarce but to be the best known collector of my paintings is hardly a positional good in the mind of anyone sane.)

32

John Emerson 10.25.06 at 6:12 pm

What he says about “the poor” is mostly not true. They may have certain things like color TVs that no one had 50 years ago, but a lot of the things that they don’t have are more than merely positional goods. Stuff like job security, medical care, a retirement plan, a car that runs well, etc. What I think he means by “poor” is what I call “the successful working class” — about the second quartile of the population.

Another thing that positional goods often do is mark real status — power, security, etc. Take two guys driving Porsches — in one case the guy is just barely able to afford the car and is living beyond his means, and in the other, having a Porsche is just what his family does, because they can afford it.

33

Sebastian Holsclaw 10.25.06 at 6:16 pm

“The point for Hirsch is that the dream of providing access to lots of nice things in life through economic growth is just that, a dream, because though some things can be provided to us all once we are all prosperous enough, other things are both desirable and inherently scarce. They can’t be provided to everyone however rich we all get. Access to those goods—old master paintings—will always depend on relative position in the income distribution, since the better-off can always outbid the rest.”

I wonder about the “desirable” portion. My initial reaction to the idea that not everyone can personally own a particular positional good is “so what”? There is no ‘solution’ to the fact that you can’t make more of something that you can’t make more of. Yes, it is inherently impossible for growing prosperity to create duplicates of things which cannot be duplicated.

That is a tautology. Economic growth doesn’t let me buy a Van Gogh because other people are richer than me. But it does let me get this iPod, good eye surgery and helps my mom with her previously inoperable spinal problem. Not everyone can be President of the United States, but economic prosperity and vastly expanding technology can allow someone who would probably just be a run-of-the-mill lawyer (Glenn Greenwald) to become famous in a dimension of people that didn’t even exist as a class ten years ago.

So while Wilkinson’s claim may be too strong, your claim about meta-hierarchy seems way too strong as well.

34

Martin James 10.25.06 at 6:38 pm

The fact that everybody posting here thinks he is right proves Henry’s point. Nonetheless, my 2 cents worth is that if you are knowledgeable about status, then you ain’t got enough of it.

35

Martin James 10.25.06 at 6:50 pm

The ultimate in status reversal, instead of status being the related to the number of direct offspring as one would predict from evolution, now celebrities are competing on who can adopt a baby from the poorest country.

This topic needs its Sam Harris who can say “There’s no such thing as status, its all in your deluded little irrational minds!”

36

Thomas 10.25.06 at 8:05 pm

Chris, I think Will is reacting more to a Frank’s understanding of positional goods than anything that Hirsch might have written. Frank clearly believes that positional goods are about rank and not inherent quality. As I recall, Frank is adamant that there aren’t inherent qualities, only positional (he can’t concede this point, or his policy argument gets much more difficult). If you were to say you bought your Porsche because going from 0-60 in 4.2 seconds is inherently better than going from 0-60 in 6 seconds, he’d respond by saying you’ve misunderstood your motivation, and that you prefer going from 0-60 more quickly only because others can’t.

37

idlemind 10.25.06 at 8:31 pm

Looking at the Geek Hierarchy, I have to note that the penultimate group — “Erotic Furries” — may be the only group with an active sex life. So, by at least one measure there is a curious inversion of status here.

38

Walt 10.25.06 at 8:50 pm

What’s interesting is that everyone neglects the really important positional good, the one that Dick Cheney and Rupert Murdock and Bill Gates have, but we don’t: power. You’d have to be at least a level 150 Elf to make up for that.

39

John Emerson 10.25.06 at 9:11 pm

Economic growth doesn’t let me buy a Van Gogh because other people are richer than me. But it does let me get this iPod, good eye surgery and helps my mom with her previously inoperable spinal problem.

Let’s don’t drag your mom into this, Sebastian. “Economic growth” doesn’t do any of those things. Your paycheck does. Other people don’t have your paycheck, and economic growth doesn’y help them the way it does you.

Economic prosperity and vastly expanding technology can allow someone who would probably just be a run-of-the-mill lawyer (Glenn Greenwald) to become famous in a dimension of people that didn’t even exist as a class ten years ago.

Meow-meow. There are people whom I respect who think I’m wrong to hold you in such contempt, Sebastian, but every once in awhile you reaffirm my faith.

40

Tom T. 10.25.06 at 9:23 pm

Re: #23, no one paid Gauguin millions of francs to go to the South Pacific and paint the natives. I even suspect that Gauguin may not have gone to Tahiti with the expectation of later selling those paintings for millions of francs.

In other words, I think that specific sentence from Wilkinson was meant primarily to show simply that one can opt out from a conventional life, and less that the world might later deem you a genius and a star for having done so.

41

engels 10.25.06 at 10:15 pm

Chris – Thanks for explaining Hirsch’s view. I had thought of “positional goods” as being goods whose value to you is dependent on what other people have, but I now see that Hirsch’s definition is broader. A quick google uncovers this quote from Samuel Brittan which supports your account.

Positional goods [according to Hirsch] are of at least two kinds. One kind arises where there is a physical limitation to achievement. For instance not everyone can have a house with a good view. If they tried, the congestion on hilltops, as well as the induced ugliness, would be self-defeating. Another is where technology could provide us all with more, but where satisfaction depends on where one is in relation to other people. As Karl Marx wrote: “A house may be large or small; as long as the surrounding houses are equally small, it satisfies all social demands for a dwelling. But if a palace arises beside the little house, the house shrinks into a hut.”

Wilkinson seems to have only the second type in mind. Since he mentions Hirsch, I think you are right to suggest that he ought to have made it clear that the view he is discussing is not Hirsch’s.

42

Michael Sullivan 10.25.06 at 10:17 pm

Henry (comment 20). I’m not sure Wilkinson is really espousing that, however. I got this initially from David Friedman who blogged about this very thing a few days ago. The comparison was between wealth and status. Wealth is not zero-sum, because it can be created.

Traditionally, we think of status as zero-sum, because we imagine it encapsulated in a one dimensional meta-ranking. And in practice, many of us have these meta-rankings, but they differ from person to person. Within communities, our meta-rankings may be similar, or share similar qualities. And some weightings may be shared nearly universally within a large culture.

Even if we all have a sense of some meta-ranking that represents “market opinion” or “average opinion”, almost everyone disagrees with at least some portion of it when deciding where to accord their *own* prestige strokes.

It is furthermore *possible* to invent new dimensions, and if one convinces enough people that the new dimension matters enough to accord the outliers “status”, then “status” has been created in much the same sense that wealth is created when someone invents a new product that people will pay for.

The fact that we can rank people’s wealth does not mean that it is impossible to create wealth and that wealth is a zero-sum game.

Position on some particular status meta-ranking will be zero-sum by definition, just as your ranking by net worth is zero-sum, but the point is that in today’s rich world cultures, there is no *one* particular status meta-ranking accepted and used by all.

In some cultures, there might be, and status might be close to zero sum. I think it would be as unpleasant to live in such a culture as it would be to live under a pure marxist economic regime, and for very similar reasons.

Overvaluing conformity in a culture is what gets you close to your one status meta-rank. At the extreme, you end up living in Stepford worrying that your robot wife has been commanded to bring you in for re-education because you started playing {cough} Go, or heaven forbid some ridiculous MMPORG.

43

Delicious Pundit 10.26.06 at 1:25 am

This allows me to go on one of my favorite tangents; which is that the supply-side Holy of Holies, the top marginal tax rate, can’t possibly be the silver-bullet incentive they seem to think it is. As long as one of these captain-of-industry jobs gives you the perks of status (for example, access to mistresses), you’ll probably still be interested in that job, even if some of your income is taxed at 39.6% as opposed to 35%.

44

abb1 10.26.06 at 2:16 am

Nah, to me it’s 35% or I’m off to the Star Trek convention.

…but the point is that in today’s rich world cultures, there is no one particular status meta-ranking accepted and used by all.

Of course there is. In every culture there is one clear social hierarchy and a bunch of ersatz-hierarchies for the losers. Simple as that.

45

bad Jim 10.26.06 at 2:42 am

The favelas in Rio de Janeiro have what would be a spectacular ocean view were it not for an oil drilling platform just offshore. They don’t have the spectacular sunsets that similarly situated citizens in Tijuana get, because they’re on an east rather than a west coast.

As any hippie knows, freedom, in many of its dimensions a positional good, is within the easy grasp of many if not most of us, but need, dread and fear send the majority into the dubious embrace of anything promising security.

Fortunately, most adult only aspire to be heroes to their children.

46

Matt Kuzma 10.26.06 at 3:13 am

I agree with the spirit of your disagreement. I think it’s impossible to say that true equality of status can be achieved by having an infinite array of status dimensions because each of those, in turn, has a status associated with it.

But I think he does touch upon a significant point and you’re disputing it by talking about broad-base popularity, which isn’t quite right. Sure the soccer champion will have more fans, but that’s not always what’s most important.

Here’s a thought exercise: Pick a celebrity. Pick your favorite superstar, the epitome of fame-for-fame’s sake, glamorous, sexy, tabloid star. Now pick the leader in a field of emotional and intellectual weight for you. Who would you rather meet?

I would, by far, prefer meeting Jean Nouvel over Keira Knightley. A few years ago I shook Al Gore’s hand. I’m confident I would be less impressed with meeting any given pop icon.

So while there are measures for relative status among dimensions of status, they aren’t linear or objective. You can use objective measures, but they’ll never be absolute. The most widely popular person in the world isn’t, therefore, the most significant figure in everyone’s lives. They merely have some small significance to the widest set of people.

47

nnyhav 10.26.06 at 6:51 am

48

Nicholas Gruen 10.26.06 at 8:17 am

Nope, Like you said, WW doesn’t begin to address the problems that jump out at one.

49

SamChevre 10.26.06 at 8:25 am

Joe O,

Your point in #29–In the US, a house in good school district is a positional good. “Good school district” meaning one with few poor people–is accurate and a critical point.

50

butwhatif 10.26.06 at 9:14 am

Both views are possibly right. Everything depends, surely, on the background values/philosophy we ultimately suscribe to. Isaiah Berlin’s incommensurability thesis is something worth thinking about here.

In a pluralistic world, where the incommensurability thesis is accepted to its philosophical core, the status scarcity problem disappears. Owning a Porsche or getting the highest scrabble score simply cannot be compared. Where it’s thought ridiculous to try doing so. There is no ultimate hierarchy of values.

I guess the real upshot, though, is that status, as we all know it, disappears. A scrabble-player suscribilng to the incommensurability thesis is never going to bow down to the Porsche driver. Nor vice-versa.

Maybe, though, it could work better beween groups; which was, I guess, Berlin’s ultimate concern. Taming nationalistic arrogance, getting us to accept (a la Vico and a somewhat sanitised Herder) that “They have their ways. We have ours. None is better than the other. Their worth simply cannot be compared. There is no central sun, only a pluriverse, of incommensurably different planets.”

Yet maybe Wilkinson and Berlin are both naive, believing that we humans will be quite content with such a world of incommensurability; or alternatively of diverse sources of status. Just how long before someone or some group rejects the pluralism, setting out to reestablish social/international hierarchies of esteem. Ones that ensure they come out on top?

51

butwhatif 10.26.06 at 9:26 am

And maybe it’s good that we don’t all suscribe to the incommensurability thesis. SUVs are increasingly taking on negative-prestige type qualities in some areas of the UK. If these drivers were cocooned in their solipsitic world of incommensurability, they’d would never begin to feel the shame that is increasingly accorded to driving such vehicles. So I guess if we lose these society-wide, agreed upon sources of status, we might also lose some of the best tools available for progress. (The fact that it may have been status-hunger that got everyone driving SUVs in the first place, aside.)

52

Doug T 10.26.06 at 10:14 am

I don’t think Berlin’s view necessarilly matches up with Will’s. Berlin’s argument is merely that there exist some incommensurable value systems, and he then explores some political consequences of that. But Berlin’s argument doesn’t mean there are infinite incommensurate systems, or even a very large number, while Will’s argument relies on that point.

I think taken to it’s ultimate conclusion, Will’s argument ends up at stoicism–I am free to decide what I care about, and so if I make myself not care about anything outside my control, I can be happy. Unfortunately, this argument proves entirely too much, since it shows that, no matter the political or economic system, we are all free to be as happy as we please.

Full socialism or pure laissez-faire capitalism, pure liberty or totalitarianism, all should be irrelevant to the individual since he’s free to choose a value system that makes him happy within whatever constraints the system imposes.

53

Martin James 10.26.06 at 10:21 am

It all depends on whether the opium of the masses works.

Its always seemed a little odd to me that the otherwise egalitarian get frustrated with people who find status in the absurd such as religion. Isn’t that the best thing about religion that its at least an alternative meritocracy if not altogether anti-meritocratic at the personal level. (Really, how is someone going to humiliate an ascetic – wine and dine them?)

There is no doubt that the cultic put more weight in unique status features than in the more general money and looks although they possibly put more weight on personal charisma.

On the other hand alternative lifestylists now seem to want to be part of the general status ranking rather than a strictly counter-cultural one.

Whatever happened to the good old days of “Tune in, turn on, and drop out”?

54

"Q" the Enchanter 10.26.06 at 10:47 am

“Right now, I want to be the all-being master of space, time and dimension.

“Then…I wanna go to Europe.”

–Steve Martin (quoting from memory)

55

Bill Gardner 10.26.06 at 11:06 am

“It all depends on whether the opium of the masses works.”

Religion could work in at least two ways:

a) There is a status hierarchy in heaven. Don’t worry about not having X, you are on a more important list.

b) Positional goods enslave you. Liberate yourself from concern with them.

Option a) is opium, b) is not. You can pursue option b) without being religious, although I don’t see that often.

56

Slocum 10.26.06 at 11:51 am

Colour me unconvinced.

And color me unsurprised.

Wilkinson’s claim implies, unless I misunderstand him badly, that it doesn’t matter very much to me if I’m a despised cubicle rat who can’t afford a nice car and gets sneered at by pretty girls, because when I go home and turn on my PC, I suddenly become a level 75 Night Elf Rogue who Kicks Serious Ass!

Of course there are domains which even devoted experts recognize as trivial. But the idea that therefore means that all niches collapse onto a single status dimension where worth is determined by the cost of your car and the hotness of your babe is just wrong.

And it seems a very strange argument for an academic to make, since I know rather a lot of academics who 1) think academics are inherently superior to, say, wealthy businessmen, and also 2) think their own discipline (medicine, physics, economics, poetry, philosophy, whatever) is the one of the few that *really* matter and many others are generally a waste of time. And it happens that some of those academics are pretty women who are not interested in men whose main attraction is an expensive car.

It’s also the case that many times those who invest themselves in niches know very well that this does not translate into ‘mainstream’ status, but don’t care. In fact, that is rather often a feature instead of a bug — the value of the niche depends on the fact that the millions of unenlightened proles don’t understand or appreciate it. So there are domains (indie music, for example) where financial success and broader recognition results in a loss of status.

SUVs are increasingly taking on negative-prestige type qualities in some areas of the UK.

Yes, well, SUVs have had negative prestige value in many areas of the US for years. And SUV owners realize, but just don’t care, that Ann Arbor liberals think their Suburbans (and the jet skis and 4-wheelers they tow around behind them on trailers) are stupid. That’s because the opinion of Ann Arbor liberals doesn’t factor at all into their sense of what’s cool.

57

Martin James 10.26.06 at 1:21 pm

Bill Gardner,

I’m curious as to whether you have any theories as to why strategy b is uncommon among the non-religious.

I recently read a book about a man’s friendship with Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Probably as good an example of status attained through non-status as a person could find.

58

Walt 10.26.06 at 1:23 pm

Jesus, Slocum, can you try to hide your hatred for liberals a little better? It’s indecent.

59

Martin James 10.26.06 at 1:36 pm

Give Slocum a break, Walt, he did admit there exist pretty female academics with good taste in men.

That is something a true liberal hater would never concede.

60

Ralph Hitchens 10.26.06 at 1:37 pm

I think Wilkinson is onto something, in spite of the useful criticism. Back in the day, one was a certified High School Hero in one or more of only six sports (one fall, three winter, and two spring). Now the # of sports has proliferated, along with the # of High School Heroes, lauded thrice yearly in this neck of the woods by the Washington Post’s “All-Met” sports sections.

61

abb1 10.26.06 at 2:14 pm

Is there a recent example of a rich and famous person giving up their wealth and status to pursue their happiness in an alternative, non-traditional manner? I’ve seen it in movies, but does it happen in real life?

OK, other than Bobby Fischer, he’s nuts.

62

Slocum 10.26.06 at 2:56 pm

Jesus, Slocum, can you try to hide your hatred for liberals a little better? It’s indecent.

Hmmm — what part of my message struck you as liberal hating? For what it’s worth, I live in Ann Arbor and think jetskis and SUVs are stupid. Did you assume I was one of those SUV driver who don’t give a damn?

63

Bill Gardner 10.26.06 at 3:45 pm

Martin @#56 asks:

“I’m curious as to whether you have any theories as to why strategy b is uncommon among the non-religious.”

Assuming that the premise is really true — it’s just my impression — I think it is because social comparison is deeply wired into us. Renouncing positional goods is, therefore, really, really hard. Religions provide communities that can support difficult changes in behavior and thought. I don’t see a reason why a secular community couldn’t support such behavior, but for whatever reasons such communities have never evolved.

64

Bill Gardner 10.26.06 at 3:46 pm

Question for those who know the relevant histories: Were the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the Cambodian year zero secular (and catastrophic) attempts to destroy positional goods?

65

Ssezi 10.26.06 at 3:58 pm

I’m just curious about Wilkinson’s obsession with automobiles as status symbols. This popped up earlier in a thread at janegalt.net (http://www.janegalt.net/archives/005861.html) on whether travel or big screen televisions had more utility. Cars became involved because it was suggested one should buy a cheap car and pay for driving school rather than buying a sports car.

While in one sense a society in which everyone drives a Ferrari is nonsensical, a large part of a Ferrari’s value deriving from its scarcity, a Hyundai and a Ferrari are emphatically not functionally equivalent. Anyone with an unhealthy love of John Hughes’ films knows this, because Ferris told them so. Any theory based on asserting that fallacy is doomed to be sillier than its already wobbly foundations.

The glory of the manufacturing prowess of modern society is not that Hyundais are available for those without the means to purchase a Ferrari. It’s that a large number of the hoi polloi have the discretionary income to walk into Best Buy and purchase A/V equipment that is superior to set ups which cost $50,000 or more 15 years ago. Furthermore, with the possible exception of speakers, objectively there is little difference between what one can get for $5,000 at Circuit City and the equivalent set of six figure audiophile equipment. In short, at least with respect to electronics, it’s as if next years model of Hyundai was superior to this years Ferrari, jokes about reliability aside. And both manufacturers had reached such a high level of refinement there was no conceivable way Ferrari could build an automobile justified of a price an order of magnitude greater than the Hyundai’s.

66

soru 10.26.06 at 4:17 pm

Is a reasonably objective measure of social status the number of people who, within a given context, know of you, and regard you as higher status than them?

So several billion for a Beckham, down to a few thousand for a successful academic, minority sports champion, priest, or whatever.

It seems to me that if you get the numbers equal, then unless the person despises the community that they are a member of, then surely the psychology should work about the same way?

To put it another way, you are counting the wrong way round. Being #1 means 0 people are better. But, if that ranking is in a category noone else even knows exists, that means nothing.
But if you have say 40 people looking up to you, that matters about equally if they are the other people in your MMORPG guild, or sunday football club.

67

MattXIV 10.26.06 at 6:48 pm

I think a lot of people have been missing Wilkinson’s point – it’s not that status doesn’t matter because there are infinite possible hierarchies, but that the creation of new hierarchies means it isn’t zero sum, so policies based on the premise of a single zero sum hierarchy aren’t going to work properly.

To use the hills analogy, you can expend effort to get to a higher place by trying to raise your given position on a hill, but you can also raise your position by 1) expending effort to heighten a hill, 2) construct an alternate peak, or 3) build a whole new one.

An example of case 1 would be the rise of the idea of the graphic novel. In this case, comic book fans and authors increased their prestige by expending effort to convince others of the literary merits of the medium, increasing the prestige of those same authors and fans based on their literary talents and tastes. This type of activity may explain why some people feel compelled to argue the virtues of their favorite operating system, game console, etc.

2) Creating new subspecialities also allows a person to elevate their status. Having the best car splits into having the best luxury car vs having the best sports car, which splits into having the best historic sports car vs having the best current sports car, etc, but the prestige increases as more people care about the difference.

3) People will pay for access to new forums of competition. Before online gaming, the gaming skills of that lv 75 night elf were theoretical and resulted in no prestige gain. By expending their time playing and their money on software, the gamers create a new competitive forum that provides status as well as entertainment.

Thus, taxing the goods that lead to status can be harmful to status equality because it decreases the amount of resources going into creating alternate status hierarchies as well as taxing competition within existing hierarchies.

68

Javier 10.26.06 at 8:55 pm

Mattxiv, thank you. Perhaps I’m also interpreting it wrongly, but I thought Will’s point was pretty simple: status is not zero-sum. Consider the (partial) analogy with wealth. The fact that wealth is not zero-sum does not mean that some people don’t have alot more wealth than others. But it would still be foolish to consider wealth to be zero-sum.

69

radek 10.26.06 at 10:41 pm

Strange, my posts don’t show up but when I try to repost it says that I already posted that. Am I banned or something?

70

Steve Sailer 10.27.06 at 2:24 am

Men can invent all the status hierarchies they want, like World of Warcraft, but women don’t have to be impressed by them.

Ultimately, the highest status male hierarchies in America are whichever ones attractive women are most impressed by.

71

abb1 10.27.06 at 8:49 am

They are most impressed by prolific blog commenters, of course.

72

Ssezi 10.27.06 at 9:27 am

mattxiv wrote:

Before online gaming, the gaming skills of that lv 75 night elf were theoretical and resulted in no prestige gain.

Actually no, before online games, level 75 night elves existed, they lurked in those obscure bookshops catering to RPG gamers usually found in run down out of the way strip malls. Their skills were known and recognized by the staffs of Dragon magazine to whom they wrote obsessively and attendees of GenCon where they demonstrated those skills in marathon game sessions. Any gain in prestige for level 75 night elves is a side effect of the ubiquity of the internet, and the relative prestige of a level 75 night elf to the new corporate titans who actually created the various technologies behind the internet is roughly the same as that of the old offline level 75 night elves and the enterprising publishers who created their games. The set of level 75 night elves is not however disjoint from the sets of enteprising publishers or internet technology corporate titans.

There is nothing unique to Western society about branching of activities: those cavemen who couldn’t become great hunters became shamans and the Soviet Union developed a thriving industry of dialectical materialists similar to the pundit class represented by the Coulters, Buchanans and on a slightly more erudite level Wills of the world. The relative importance of shamans and hunters shifted as agriculture raised the importance of control of a fixed portion of land and the shamans became useful to the new warlords as a means of crowd control. This process has nothing to do with Western liberal society or capitalism.

Furthermore, some peaks are always more important that others. To return to the plight of the underappreciated level 75 night elf, eventually in all such games it becomes possible to simply purchase a level 75 night elf character that the owner did not create on their own. This both reduces the prestige of a level 75 night elf and makes it quite clear that the hill that matters is the one with the largest wallet size. Oddly enough this fact was obscured in the old days when level 75 night elves could not hide behind the anonymity of an IP address.

73

MQ 10.27.06 at 4:40 pm

Comment #72 is the best one so far.

We all know that Will is sort of right, and Henry is sort of right, and the debate is a function of the need of intellectuals to take absolute stands when writing. Yeah, dynamic societies are inventing new hobbies all the time, but there’s only a certain amount of the real status mojo to get distributed between them. I do think that a combination of higher population, more wealth, and more leisure time can create more mojo, so status is not a fixed commodity, but what is the production function? If the wealth elasticity of the supply of status mojo is small, while the elasticity of demand is high, then it is still possible for getting richer to make us feel poorer. If the reverse is the case, then we are back in pro-capitalist heaven. As always, the truth lies somewhere in between, and in this case is also pretty subjective, as different people find different forms of status satisfying.

74

abb1 10.28.06 at 4:11 am

In capitalism there’s a universal scale to evaluate this ‘status mojo’; it’s measured in dollars just like everything else.

Suppose you’re the best Go player in the world. Then, I’m sure you can go to the Go world competition, become a Go world champion and they’ll give you some dollars. And maybe you’ll manage to get hired as a spokesperson for a kimono company. And maybe you’ll get some free stuff out of it, and (not very likely) better sexual partners – all this can be estimated in dollars. And the total of what you can get – in dollars – is the exact value of this particular status.

It may turn out to be equal to the value of being the third best used-car salesman in town.

75

cm 10.28.06 at 12:08 pm

“Status” games, and the resulting psy-ops (court/celebrity/lifestyle reporting, and creating incentive systems around categories of supposed “status carrots”), are in practice little more than crowd control. The crowd being mostly those who whether sitting in offices, cubicles, or a driver/operator cabin, or standing behind a counter or workbench, will have it set by others how much (genuine) discretion they can exercise over the content and schedule of their work efforts, and the amount of quality leisure time (and to a degree how to spend it).

76

Michael Sullivan 10.28.06 at 12:20 pm

abb1 (74). That’s too simplistic. Suppose a djinn were to appear and offer me a choice. The first choice is that she would clap her hands, and I would become the third best used car salesman in town, and this would increase my income by 50k/year over what I make today. Alternately, this hand clap would make me the best Go player in the world — after adjusting for the expenses involved in traveling around for the circuit etc. I would make no more money than I do today.

I would take option 2 in a heartbeat. Because I value the ability to play Go that well, more than I value an increase in my standard of living.

Your ranking says I would have less status. But I don’t care about your ranking. I care primarily about *my* ranking, and I care somewhat less about the rankings of people who are close to me, or for whom I have great respect.

So no, dollars are not universal, at least when it comes to valuing different lifestyles. I’m sure there are many criminals with a *far* higher net worth than any of the people I interact with every day. I consider all of those regular people higher status than any of the criminals, even the guy who works at mcdonalds part time and can’t keep his bills paid without begging friends every so often. Money isn’t everything, even to a running-dog capitalist like me.

77

Daniel Schaeffer 10.28.06 at 12:26 pm

Common on, doesn’t anyone on this thread actually play WoW? Don’t you have any kids who play Wow? Don’t you pay any attention to what your kids are up to?

In reality the maximum level is currently 60. The upcoming expansion pack will raise it to 70.

By the way Rouges don’t generally “kick ass”. They are typically ripped apart by both Warriors and Hunters, and can be killed easily by even the most minimally skilled players of any class.

78

Daniel Schaeffer 10.28.06 at 12:49 pm

ssezi,

As I mentioned above, you can’t buy a “75 night elf character”. However, even if you do buy a Level 60 Tauren Warrior in the Dreadnaught armor set (Tier 3), wielding Might of Menethil you will still not have the same game skills as one who earned his/her place in the game.

You won’t be able to perform as efficiently or effectively in a raid or PVP battle.

In most cases, you won’t be allowed to participate in end game material once your limited skills are discovered.

-[)@|\|13|_ $(|-|43|=|=3|2

79

abb1 10.28.06 at 1:19 pm

Michael, being a Go champion may be worth more than $50K to you – to you personally – that’s fine, I don’t doubt it for a second.

That’s similar to what’s often called ‘sentimental value’. But what your grandfather’s watch is worth to you doesn’t tell us much about the watch itself; its market value does.

80

Martin James 10.28.06 at 11:16 pm

abb1,

The whole point is that value is sentimental all the way down.

81

cm 10.29.06 at 12:53 am

abb1 (#79): It mostly comes down to what purpose one assigns to one’s existence. Which may be pretty much the same as what #80 says.

82

abb1 10.29.06 at 4:23 am

Fair enough, I guess.

To clarify, I was only trying to argue that since:

1. Purpose of one’s existence – here, in this discussion – is defined as achieving the maximum status, or more precise: achieving the maximum value of mq’s (#73) ‘status mojo’ –
and
2. In a strictly capitalist society it’s generally accepted that market – monetary market – determines value of everything, often even the value of human life (insurance, court claims and so on) –

therefore the value of our status has to be determined by the market as well.

Which I thought was rather trivial.

83

SusanC 10.29.06 at 7:42 am

Steve Sailer wrote:

Ultimately, the highest status male hierarchies in America are whichever ones attractive women are most impressed by.

I can see the Darwinian point that’s being made here, but even this kind of status doesn’t have to be a single hierarchy – because there can be asortative mating. So we could imagine a male striving for a form of status that isn’t generally attractive to women, but is attractive to women who have particular genes.

84

Noumenon 10.30.06 at 5:03 am

I was disappointed that I had to read till post #77 for someone to set the record straight about the level 75 night elf — but I’m very happy I read till post #83. Now I don’t have to feel bad about not getting the ultimate hottest chick out there, because I can think of myself as pursuing a different local maximum that matches my phenotype. That probably sounds stupid but the statement did help me realize that I was equating my culture’s values with true evolutionary necessity.

85

David Nieporent 10.30.06 at 5:57 am

2. In a strictly capitalist society it’s generally accepted that market – monetary market – determines value of everything, often even the value of human life (insurance, court claims and so on)—
therefore the value of our status has to be determined by the market as well.

But you’re still missing the point, abb1: that only tells you the value that other people place on your status. If you don’t care about that, then market value is simply irrelevant.

86

abb1 10.30.06 at 6:41 am

…he value that other people place on your status. If you don’t care about that, then market value is simply irrelevant.

But then it shouldn’t be called ‘status’. It only makes sense in respect to other people. Sure, one could as well navel-gaze and be happy, but what does it have to do with this discussion?

87

Seth Edenbaum 10.30.06 at 10:21 am

Color me amazed.
The ideology of markets denies all other measures of value, so all that is left outside its purview are “hobbies.’
The ideology of instrumental reason denies all other measures of value so all that is left outside its purview is “entertainment.”
And now someone tries to argue the value of diversity.
The colossal acts of denial here are truly grotesque.

There is never one market, one language, one culture or form of obligation. To argue otherwise is akin to pretending that the logic of a biology lab is the logic of biology itself, uninflected by social status, taboo and mating ritual in homo academicus circa Anglo/America 2006. A novelist or anthropologist would say such secondary interests predominate, and that the study of biology, or finance, is no more than the McGuffin in the plot.

One should live life so as to maximize the odds that on looking back, another observer might be able say you did more than conform to a type.
No chance of that here kids.
So fucking stupid

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