The Evolution of Status and its Implications for Happiness and Well-being

Originally status would have developed from some kind of of stimulus-response setup:

    Beating Competitor
            |
            V
      Higher Status
            |
            V            
Better Access to 'Resources'
  (e.g. Food and Partners)
            |
            V            
  Higher Survival Rate /
    More Progeny etc
            |
            V            
  Development of Reward System(s)
   for these outcomes (Food etc)   
            |
            |  (short-circuiting
            |   as with e.g. sex)
            |
            V         
Development of Reward Systems
 for Success in Competition 
     (Higher Status)

So status now has two components:

  1. Increase in status improves access to ‘basic’ goods we derive direct ‘utility’ from (food etc)
  2. Increase in status provides direct ‘utility’ independent of any impact upon access ‘basic’ goods.

What about respect? It could be argued that respect is a ‘basic’ good directly equivalent to type (ii) status. However I’m not really convinced of this for two reasons. First, ‘respect’ is fundamentally different from ‘normal’ goods in that one can select what you respect (and whose respect you care about). Second, and more importantly, as just outlined above, the desire for ‘respect’ or ‘status’ seems to me a ‘secondary’ desire, which has come about via a short-circuiting of our basic reward systems for ‘primary/basic’ goods.

Leaving this aside, the crucial point is that type (ii) status results in a pure zero-sum game. Thus, reducing competition for it (perhaps by increasing compassion) might move us to a (more) positive sum situation. Furthermore, the clear distinction between type (i) and type (ii) allow us to separate out ‘competing to survive’ (which might be essential) and ‘competing (just) to win’. This seems an important distinction to make. After all, we can all accept that, in a whole set of situations, successfully competing may be crucial to obtaining the basic resources needed to survive. However as we get wealthier it would seem that this first aspect diminishes in importance and the second (less healthy) aspect of status looms ever larger.

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