The trouble that social status has got us into

What is the first thing we do when we meet a new person for the first time? We assess them. It’s a double assessment — firstly, a genetic assessment carried out unconsciously within micro-seconds, secondly, a pecking order assessment carried out consciously immediately thereafter.

How long the second phase lasts depends on many factors but mainly where you and your new friend are on the social scale, particularly if within a common speciality group. And the higher you and your new friends are on the social scale the longer the assessment might take.

The basic question is: “Is he higher or lower than me?” The future might depend a great deal on both of you getting your respective assessments right. Pretty well everything bar the kitchen sink is thrown into the second assessment — the way you friend bears himself, his eye gaze, his tone of voice, the clothes he wears and how expensive and fashionable they are. If clothes turn out to be on a par with yours, then what other personal ornamentation do you both wear?

If equality still reigns then matters move on to the cars you drive around in, the grandeur of the homes you live in, and the size of your woodlands or moors. Right at the top of the billionaire tree then it might have to be the size of your luxury yachts — within inches sometimes!

It is all this which makes the professional and business world go round — the social level you acquire from your particular level of earnings. Without status goods — on which we spend the bulk of our earnings — the industrial revolution would have petered out sometime about 1840.

It is only in the social world that status originally reared its head millions of years ago in order to choose leadership positions in the group, yet, paradoxically, business took status over for its own purposes. Today, doubly paradoxically,  it is only in playtime in the social world itself — fully half of one’s wakeful hours, or ought to be — that status levels don’t count for very much any longer.

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