Status and Recognition

There’s something very real about the forces that drive us to seek status and recognition. I think it’s often something that’s discarded as a superficial human tendency that sometimes gets played upon for political or consumer gain. But there’s really much more going on.

Humans are social animals. Even minimally social animals have a pecking order. Chickens peck the lowest of their group featherless, hence the origin of the term. Having low status within a social group has, throughout the millions of years of human evolution, led to materially poor outcomes. It’s probably fair to think of status seeking in the same way we think of social attachment, bonding or even love. It’s a non optional, consistent and material force.

Gwyneth McClendon has a book coming out on Envy. It’s called Envy in Politics. (LINK) 

One of the findings as highlighted in Laura Seay’s WAPO profile of the book (LINK), is that people don’t support policies that lower their status within a social group even if they improve one’s own outcomes and raise the overall outcomes of the social group.  What matters is how policies impact relative status.

Example: I work for a great company. I pay a share of and get great healthcare because of my great company and people know it.  I am against free healthcare for everyone, even if it cuts my cost, because now everyone has what I had. I will then get to work on why free healthcare is a bad idea. Presumably because it won’t be as good as what I had, though there’s no evidence to support that claim.

I cover this in a chapter in Sixteen (LINK). The envy phenomenon is a key element in Trump appeal to working class America and the shifting demographic of the GOP. It’s also a key aspect of why identity politics is not as neat and tidy as it seems.

It’s possible that showing someone the rational argument against one’s motivation when it’s envy is likely closer to showing someone why caring for their children is, economically, a bad investment. It’s wired into us.

Categories: Politics

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