Active Thinking Topic 32 -  Status Games - What's the Big Attraction?

Tuesday 24 May 2022, 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

Any replies to the organizer -

Venue: ZOOM online

Focus Questions

1. Australians make a big play of being an 'informal culture'. What does this actually mean? Informality certainly doesn't rule out status markers. What a some markers of status in various Australian social & professional groups?

2. Social media sites like Facebook etc are thickly populated with cultivated personas. Each electronic "friend" seems to declare "this is who I am". Is it really? Poses proliferate, from virtue signalling, to bad-boy or cool-girl fronts ... and so on. Why do people play these electronic status games?

3. How are people affected psychologically when they work for big, flashy corporations or big, rich countries, as opposed to small, unimportant enterprises or small never-in-the-news countries? How important is the status that comes with 'big stuff', or how delusional?

4. The most common currency of status is money. What kind of people have traditionally put aside the lure of money driven status? What (if anything) do they substitute for money-driven status?

5. It is often said that power is an aphrodisiac (love potion) to the opposite sex. What is your opinion about this? What is the evidence? If it is true, how important is the sexual allure of power in driving power seeking ambition?

6. How do status markers differ amongst various cultural and national groups? What are some examples of these differences?

7. What are some way in which people preserve self-respect when they are assigned low or no status by the surrounding culture?

8. Can a clash of status values between different cultures or countries lead to conflict or actual war? [e.g. Before the present Ukrainian war, policy makers in Washington were known to sneer at Moscow as "Burkina Faso on the Volga". This would infuriate Putin. (Burkina Faso is one of Africa's poorest and most corrupt countries. Moscow is actually situated on a tributary of the Volga River) ]

9. What is the best way of organizing status for large numbers of people or whole cultures? Is it possible NOT to organize in this way? ... Religions and ideologies often declare certain kinds of status to be God-given, or morally fixed levels of every society. Thus India has castes. "Pure" communism has fixed social classes. Confucianism had/has strict paternal family and national hierarchies. Many societies assign women to a fixed lower status and say this is a moral value. ... and so on. In these systems you might achieve status within the boundaries of your fixed class, but will be punished for going beyond it.

10. What do you perceive your own status to be within your own social and professional circles, and in the wider culture? How satisfied are you with this situation?


Extra Reading

Wikipedia (2022) "Social Status" @ 

handoflixue3 (Dec 2012) "What if "status" IS a terminal value for most people?" LessWrong forum @  [Quote: "I don't have this trait. I don't value status in and of itself. It's useful, because it lets me do other things. It opens doors. So I invest in still having status, but status is not a goal; Status is to me, as a fork is to hunger - merely a means to an end. So I have never, not once in my life, been able to comprehend the simple truth: 90% of the people I meet, quite possibly more, value status, as an intrinsic thing. Indeed, they are meant to use their intelligence as a tool to obtain this status. It is how we rose to where we are in the world".] [Thor, comment : I'm with the author on this. I don't give a damn about status as an end goal (a lucky thing, since I've never had much status). Like the writer though, I've also noticed that a huge part of humanity will kill for status itself. (btw, the LessWrong forum is a fascinationg place to poke around in]

Will Storr (29 Aug 2021) "We all play the status game, but who are the real winners?" The Guardian @  [Quote: "Life is a game. To understand this is to understand why the human world can be so maddening, angry and irrational. The behaviour of racists, transphobes, conspiracy theorists, cult members, religious fundamentalists and online mobbers becomes much more explicable when you realise that humans are programmed by evolution to be obsessively interested in status, and that this obsession is powerful enough to overcome the will to achieve equality, truth or the sense of generous compassion for our rivals. We play games for status incessantly and automatically. We do so because it’s a solution our species has come upon to secure our own survival and reproduction".]

Elle Hunt (22 April 2022) "Is ‘manifesting’ dangerous magical thinking or a formula for success? ... ‘Some people probably think manifesting is sending a wish into the universe … For me, it’s really about having discipline and plans....The practice’s popularity picked up when it went viral on TikTok in 2020 – but indulged without action, it could untether us from our sense of agency." The Guardian @ 

Thor May (2011) "Snow Flower and The Secret Fan". UnwiseIdeas @  [Quote: "When Wendi Deng (邓文迪 ), from China magically fell into the pan-national world of international business and married the media billionaire Rupert Murdoch, (who had abandoned Australia for the same stateless realm of five star hotels), at once we recognized that age old story of the gold digger and the sugar daddy. Perhaps though our belief in a simple storyline was, if not wrong, at least incomplete. Origins matter after all. As a teacher to young women in Zhengzhou, central China for three years recently, I could sense the conflicting currents of duty, ambition and the hope for love that tossed them about in relationships. The mix for each modern girl was individual, and Deng herself is a product of those choices".]

Thor May (2001) "Individualism or the Group". UnwiseIdeas @  [Quote: "Out of personal interest in 1998 I surveyed about one hundred and twenty mainland Chinese post-graduates about what they respected -- that is, about their social values. The survey carefully distinguished between what respect had to be SHOWN for, and what respect was personally FELT for. About thirty triggers were chosen, from age, to power, to gender, to honesty etc. with a scale of 0 to 5. ... The really surprising feature was that there was almost NO AGREEMENT about values at all. Those educated young people, mostly in their early twenties, had every kind of expressed value in every permutation across the spectrum of thirty items. One could only conclude that the huge agglomeration of human beings we call China is in transition when it comes to values. We have some idea of where they came from. Where they are going is anybody’s guess.]

Tiago Forte (7 March 2016) "The Introvert’s Guide to Status Games." Fit Yourself Club@  [Quote: "Introverts tend to be rigid in their social roles, but very fluid in their ideas. They’re comfortable trying on and switching between multiple mental models as a way of understanding problems. They may be sensitive and even insecure about many things, but their intellect is not one of them. Therefore, ignorance in any particular area is not threatening, but an opportunity to learn. Non-introverts, on the other hand, tend to be rigid in their ideas, but fluid in their social roles. They’re comfortable switching rapidly between roles, which makes them good at things like flirting, joking, persuading, and empathizing, all of which require emotive (not intellectual) performances. They’re open to discussing ideas, but the actual information content is secondary to the emotional, relational content".] [Thor, comment: This is a really insightful article]

mr-stingy (April 30, 2019) "The Status Games We Play". mr-stingy blog @  [1. The Money Status Game / 2. The Materialistic Status Game / 3. The Intellectual Status Game / 4. The Social Status Game / 5. The Social Media Status Game / 6. The “Religious” Status Game / ]

Ed West (September 2021) "Life is one big status game - The battle to be virtuous inspires endless political cruelty". Unheard website @  [Quote: "Status is extremely important to wellbeing, so much so that it can have a profound effect on our health. People more successful in their careers tend to live longer, even taking into account confounders like smoking. The demoralising feeling of lower social status can send our bodies into a sort of crisis mode which in the long term puts us at higher risk of neurodegenerative disease, heart disease and cancer. .... Such is the beneficial effect of high status that most workers would choose a fancier title over a pay rise; in comparison having more power does not equal a happier life, heavy being the head that wears the crown. Our lust for status, in contrast, is insatiable ... When a high-status individual does something, Storr writes, “our subconscious copy-flatter-conformprogramming is triggered and we allow them to alter our beliefs and behaviour… The better we believe, the higher we rise. And so faith, not truth, is incentivised. People will believe almost anything if high-status people – whether priests, generals, actors, musicians, TikTokkers – suggest them.” Indeed they will profess to believe quite obviously untrue things."].

Thor May (Brisbane, 2014) "Are we too wealthy?" The Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "Large numbers of educated, reflective people worldwide have become aware over the last generation that the globalization of extreme material wealth in its present form cannot be sustained. In this awareness people differ from several preceding human generations where the prevailing belief was that economic growth (a.k.a. “progress”) was a good thing. In previous generations the political passions focused on how wealth was to be divided up – hence the broad labels of agrarian landlordism, market capitalism, crony capitalism, socialism, national socialism … and so on. Segments of present populations have decided that most prior ideologies were variations on a global Ponzi scheme which is approaching its moment of collapse."]

Thor May (23 July 2013) "Ethical Behaviour is Harder for the Rich". The Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "The drive to preserve advantage may be where the rich show most commonality. Having the advantage of great wealth is somewhat different from the advantage of having great beauty, great popularity, sporting talent, musical genius, creativity, and so on. This is because money is a universal medium of exchange and much lusted after. Those with wealth can buy (or appear to buy) many of the advantages enjoyed more inflexibly by those narrowly focused on other areas of life. The rich can usually buy social power, hire talent, buy expensive material goods, buy the best education for their children, and even buy a reputation"].


Status Games - What's the Big Attraction?   (c) Thor May 2022

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