October 21, 2006

It's status Jim, but not as we know it

There is evidence to show that jealousy of other's social status has a negative impact on well being. This is not just true of Humans but also other social animals like our primate relatives. The big problem is what to do about it.

There are those that think that this is all to do with inequalities of wealth, and through crippling tax rates a more equal society can be created. This has been tried and failed, when not expressed in purely financial terms differences of status became manifest in other ways as Chris Dillow points out:
Remember the 1970s? It's no coincidence that high taxes were accompanied by absurd distinctions in status, like "executive toilets". Much the same was true of the old Soviet Union, as Trotsky pointed out.
Taxes, than, aren't the solution.

Others think that we should retreat to some pastoral idil where everybody is the same. Working from dawn till dusk scraping a living off the land only to die at what is currently middle age, and if your very very lucky marrying somebody that isn't your cousin.

Some may even cling to the belief that it is possible for Humans to reach Marx's Communist Utopia, despite the 110 million dead telling them that we can't. However in other primates, where the social structure is capable of getting much closer (in human terms) to the Communist ideal (but still with purges during leadership changes) than Humans can, there is still very definite social hierarchies, and the members at the bottom are still effected negatively.

Then there is the idea that if some people getting prizes when others don't causes problems then everybody must have prizes. Except when everybody gets the same prize that prize is devalued so much that there is no point getting it at all. People are all obviously different and have differing strengths. To try and abolish difference by bureaucratic fiat simply pushes everything down to the lowest common denominator without doing anything about the fact that some people really are better at some things than others.

The opposite of all must have prizes is to use the fact that everybody is different and let them all choose how they define their own status, without a system being imposed on them from the outside. Let everybody definite there own personal tree that they can be at the top of with everybody else below. As described by David Friedman. Which would be great if we all lived in the world of Star Trek (but hopefully without the lycra jumpsuits) and could ask the replicators to provide unlimited resources to pursue these varied goals. However we cannot, and so must rely on the markets distribute the limited resources we have to where they will be of best use. This means that people with the most idiosyncratic paths will naturally not have the same resources to follow them as people that wish to do things that many others find useful to have done. So until we get that message from Vulcan on how to build a replicator there is always going to be some kind of external social hierarchy that will distort any attempt to let everybody create their own personal hierarchies.

Or you could just tell the jealous bastards to go and fuck themselves if they cannot deal with the success of others, the misanthropic cunts. (Well this is a swearblog after all).


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