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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Status seeking behavior, an economic metaphor

When I was young, I read a book called the Celestine Prophesy. It's mostly mystical new-age pseudo-philosophy in a fiction-wrapper, but it does offer an interesting perspective on how people use tactics to manipulate their social status with regard to others. In the story, this was visualized by unconsciously stealing "energy" from people by being aloof, argumentative, needy, and a few other behaviors.

Mysticism aside, I think those behaviors can be recast in terms of tactics for stealing "status" from others. There's no "aura-energy" involved, just the regard of others towards ourselves and our perception of their regard. These unconscious practices are (rightly) derided in the book as negative-sum games, downward spirals where everyone ends up poorer. This is true of status-seeking behavior also: if the only source of social status one has is leeching it from others, eventually all the "energy" (or status) gets gets burned up.

The Celestine Prophecy's solution, naturally for an Age of Aquarius type book, is love. Just love people for what they are. Instead of leeching energy, people will exchange energy positively with each other and the total energy will grow rather than shrink. Very cozy imagery.

But in all seriousness, I'd like to make an analogy to economic processes. When people support themselves through predation, they can last only as long as there are productive non-predators in the population. These "doves" create value, and without them the "hawks" will end up consuming each other and finally themselves. When predation is suppressed, peaceful producers can multiply the value they produce through specialization and voluntary exchange.

I think a similar set of rules applies to individual-level interpersonal dynamics as well. People whose only source of status comes from robbing others of it can only last as high-status individuals as long as there are productive individuals around. What are "productive" individuals in terms of status? People who attain status through accomplishment, by improving themselves relative to their own former selves or creating new value for others to use.

An irony: a high-status predator may be able survive merely because of their high-status, since humans seek to affiliate themselves with other high-status individuals and rarely question the source of their status. Thus, a person could continuously roll through their attract and burn up new people in order to maintain themselves. I suspect this is what gossip is all about, though totally unconsciously.

But returning to the positive side of the economic metaphor: positive-sum status relationships can be built where each productive member supports the others by vouching for the validity of what the other members say. The support of legitimately high-status individuals for an idea gives it a much greater likelihood of consideration and acceptance, and thereby increasing the status of all involved. Think of this as voluntary association and trade, the result of which in the economic world is more wealth for all.

2 comments:

Paul Murphy said...

If you break down the expression of love to its practical components, you would find that love, true love is the unconditional acceptance of what is, starting with yourself and including the person you are with predator or not. In my opinion if the person you are with causes you to feel threatened by robbing your energy, you may consider there is not true love.

In relationships, whether man and women or simple friend, when someone puts material requirements on the relationship their love is not genuine and therefore they are stealing your energy...how ironic. You can love everyone or anyone, but you do not have to be at the effect of their negative energy. Simply love them and let them go. If they come back with a positive energy, change their outward views on life, then you are both blessed.

On and grander scale and your economic theory what if those that have simply unconditionally gave to those that don’t have...directly? In reality there are those who are more capable than others and therefore have. The reality could be that the less fortunate are compelled to take because there is a reluctance to give. What if the fortunate simple looked the less-fortunate in the eye and unconditionally gave? Would the less-fortunate bite the hand that feeds him? Or would that less-fortunate person nurture the relationship to the best of his abilities? Taking out the word love, would that be an unconditional acceptance of what is?

That said I have yet to see an economic model since the days of aristocracy of Lords, Barons, and Dukes with all its flaws where that happens. In today’s world we have non-profits, churches, and the government as intermediaries of the giving process and the receivers who do not really know where the giving is coming from so they are oblivious of who to nurture. If you somehow put love into the equation would that make a difference.

Anonymous said...

I have experienced very good examples of both types of environments 1) the energy stealing "predatory" type and 2) the energy sharing/giving "acknowledging" type... the established cultures of two very different companies.

The company with the "predatory" culture was miserable to work with (being a non-predatory individual) and has not survived. It was characterized by gossip, back-stabbing, theft and negative attitudes in general.

The company with the "acknowledging" culture was/is a pleasure to work with and has flourished over time, albeit did have it's struggles through the economic downturn (after-all it is, in part, an automotive supplier). It's culture, at a very basic level, is characterized by gaining respect when acknowledging the contributions of others, not gossiping, and mentoring/supporting others. (The company is expected to see $31 Billion in sales for 2010)