NYT: Rising anxiety over declining social status tells us a lot about how we got here and where we’re going

Why is status important? After survival, it is probably the most powerful human impulse because it has so much sway over one’s long-term survival and likelihood of successful reproduction. The opposite of status is humiliation. Constant humiliation results in loneliness because nobody sane wants to hang out with those whose life is ongoing humiliation. Nobody wants to have sex or dinner with people who are low status. Loneliness leads to death. Pain experienced while lonely is twice the pain and joy experienced while lonely is half the joy. Most people find a two mile walk a bit of an effort without an audio distraction, but a four mile walk with friends is a joy.

Most conflicts are not resolved by negotiation or fighting (these modes are tiring and usually inefficient). They are resolved instead according to who is dominant. If I want to meet up with somebody who has more status than me, I need to fit in with what is convenient to him. He’s not going to bend to me.

The longer you have to wait for your phone calls to be returned, the less status you have.

With a modicum of self-awareness, you should know whether you are dominant or subordinate in all of your important relationships. One way to tell is by the relative length and speed of your emails. Lower status people write longer emails to people above them who in return write back briefly if at all. Lower status people usually have to wait longer for a reply than higher status people. If you consistently reply quicker than your correspondence, you are likely of lower status. If you consistently write back fewer words than your correspondent, you are likely of higher status than him.

Thomas B. Edsall writes in the New York Times:

More and more, politics determine which groups are favored and which are denigrated.

Roughly speaking, Trump and the Republican Party have fought to enhance the status of white Christians and white people without college degrees: the white working and middle class. Biden and the Democrats have fought to elevate the standing of previously marginalized groups: women, minorities, the L.G.B.T.Q. community and others.

The ferocity of this politicized status competition can be seen in the anger of white non-college voters over their disparagement by liberal elites, the attempt to flip traditional hierarchies and the emergence of identity politics on both sides of the chasm.

Just over a decade ago, in their paper “Hypotheses on Status Competition,” William C. Wohlforth and David C. Kang, professors of government at Dartmouth and the University of Southern California, wrote that “social status is one of the most important motivators of human behavior” and yet “over the past 35 years, no more than half dozen articles have appeared in top U.S. political science journals building on the proposition that the quest for status will affect patterns of interstate behavior.”

Scholars are now rectifying that omission, with the recognition that in politics, status competition has become increasingly salient, prompting a collection of emotions including envy, jealousy and resentment that have spurred ever more intractable conflicts between left and right, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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