- The purpose of the status game is to get more status than the other players.
- Status is one of the primary things we seek in life. We can’t live without it.
- A status game begins when you connect with a group of people.
- People naturally copy high-status individuals as they assume that’s how they can gain more of it.
- The higher your status is, the better your life is.
- The lower your status is, the worse your life is.
- Loss of status is a traumatic psychological wound that changes people’s psychology, pushing some to suicide, others to murder.
- You raise your status when you gain approval and acknowledgment from other players.
- You do so by being competent, virtuous, or simply dominant.
Table of Contents
Click to expand/collapse
- Summary of The Status Game Written by Will Storr
- 1. The Life and Afterlife of Ben Gunn
- 2. Getting Along, Getting Ahead
- 3. An Imagined World of Symbols
- 4. An Imagined World of Rules
- 5. The Three Games
- 6. Prestige Games
- 7. Dominance Games
- 8. Male, Grandiose, Humiliated: The Game’s Most Lethal
- 9. Change the Rules, Change the Player
- 10. The Slot Machine for Status
- 11. The Flaw
- 12. The Universal Prejudice
- 13. Living the Dream
- 14. Subjugation, Revolution, Civilisation
- 15. Making a Player
- 16. Believing the Dream
- 17. Goldrush!
- 18. War Games
- 19. The Tyranny of the Cousins
- 20. Victims, Warriors, Witches
- 21. Lost in a Dream
- 22. Status Generating Machines
- 23. Annihilation Part Two
- 24. The Road Out of Hell
- 25. The Neoliberal Self
- 26. Fairness, Unfairness
- 27. When Dreams Collide
- 28. The Parable of the Communists
- 29. Seven Rules of the Status Game
What The Status Game Talks About
The Status Game is a book written by the science journalist Will Storr. It explains that what motivates people in life is gaining status as it is the best way to increase chances of survival and reproduction. Status is acquired by joining a group of people and by playing by the rules of the status game specific to this group. People gain status when they receive approval from others out of being competent, virtuous, or dominant.
This book was great to read after Wanting and I’d go as far as saying that one cannot go without the other.
The Status Game verbalizes everything you have ever known subconsciously about status.
It’s so obvious that once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
The information given in this book is worth a 10, but the book is not well written. Most sentences are too long or too complicated.
The author revisits history with his status theory but falls into the simplification trap, extrapolating too much and falling into the zone of mimetic desire without realizing it.
Then he goes on an anti-w0k€ rant at the end that, while pleasurable, isn’t something you really needed.
He also talks about Hitler’s Germany, differences between men and women, and a bunch of other stuff that while relevant, is obvious once you understood the principle.
Short Summary of The Status Game
The purpose of life is to reproduce and survive. We do so by gaining status. The more status we have, the more resources and potential partners we have.
Status games are universal and begin as soon as we connect with a group of people.
These connections to other human beings are necessary for physical and psychological health, but they’re not benign. Anyone we connect with becomes one of our competitors for status.
We look for people with high status as soon as we enter a game and we copy them based on:
- Similarity: they must be like us (gender, age, race, etc).
Our relationship with high-status people is contradictory: we seek their attention on the one hand, and hate them on the other.
There are three types of status games:
- Dominance game: status is imposed onto others by force. Prehistoric way of gaining status (alpha male = the strongest one).
- Virtue game: status is given to those who are best at respecting the established rules. Eg: religions, North Korea, etc.
- Success game: status is given to the most competent. Eg: the funniest, the smartest, the most knowledgeable, the best at doing X, etc.
Knowing how much status someone has is a subconscious process, but there are some signs.
- Speak more often and more loudly.
- Are more facially expressive.
- Achieve more successful interruptions in conversation.
- Receive more eye contact.
- Set the inaudible “tone” that people voice in a conversation.
Status is relative and local -> how much you have of it depends on how much other players have. One can have a high status in one game and a lower status in another one.
Your status impacts your entire life.
- Low-status people are in worse health and die earlier than high-status people.
- Low-status people are more likely to have psychological issues.
- When you lose status you become sad and depressed. The reverse is true too.
-> High-status people are happier.
Status games exist to get us to cooperate with each other. When we cooperate, we are rewarded with more status. When we don’t, we lose status -> this is humiliation (the annihilation of the self.)
Humiliation is the only thing worse than being low-status.
- People commit suicide as a result of humiliation.
- Humiliation can cause PTSD
- Kids shamed in their childhood often grow up to become murderers or criminals -> using violence as a way to obtain status.
- Revolutions start when a class of people is afraid to lose its status, or wants to gain more status as a result of humiliation.
People use humiliation in virtue-based status games to elevate their own status -> the fall of others = their rise.
Men are more likely to shame other men for their physique and women are more likely to shame other women for their physique or promiscuity.
Status games are antifragile. The relationships between the members of a game become stronger when they go to war with another game (aka another group).
We judge our “enemies” not based on their own game rules, but ours -> no clear-cut answers to moral questions, everyone is ” right” in their own right.
More status = more motivation -> groups that generate lots of status thrive.
When a status war gets out of control, the people whose identity is wrapped in the game become extremists, while the others realize the madness, but often go along for fear of reprisals.
As we evolved, the dominance game faded to make space for a virtue game.
Since winning that game depended on what other people thought of us, we invented language and gossip to get information about that.
Traditionally, people stay in their games and don’t look for other games.
But after a series of reforms by the Catholic Church, Westerners did get out of their games, and began to look outward for new knowledge and ideas -> that’s how and why modernity was invented in the West.
Summary of The Status Game Written by Will Storr
Life is a game that everyone plays. The purpose of the game is survival and reproduction. We strive for these by bonding with others and trying to rise to the top of the group hierarchy.
The greater our status relative to the people around us, the better able we’d be to maximise our potential for survival and reproduction.
Status games are universal. People compete within their groups for status and groups compete with other groups too.
While we need to achieve some status to be happy, being status-obsessed makes us unfulfilled.
Gaining status helps us get sex, wealth, and power.
Status is the golden key that unlocks our dreams.
We all (…) try to raise our own standing by impressing peers, and (…) evaluate others in terms of their standing’.
Part of the reason social tensions are so high at the moment is that we compare ourselves to a wide array of people who, we tell ourselves, are better than us.
The brain feeds us distorted, simplistic and self-serving tales about why they are above us and why they are beneath us.
Status stories are delusional and the cause of much of the hate we have toward other people.
1. The Life and Afterlife of Ben Gunn
Ben Gunn killed an 11-year-old boy when he was 14 and was sentenced to prison. He could have gotten out after 10 years but he didn’t want to.
He had status inside the prison, and wouldn’t have any in the outside world.
He eventually got out at 47 years old and struggled. He didn’t know who he was or what he wanted.
When freedom means expulsion from the meaning you’ve spent your life making, then freedom is hell.
The more we’re looking for status, the less of it we receive.
2. Getting Along, Getting Ahead
We need two things to be socially happy:
- Connection with other people.
- Not being at the bottom of the hierarchy.
We’re often told that if we work enough, we can become anything we want, but it’s not true. Life isn’t a straight path, but a game with rules, shortcuts, and traps.
Humans are tribal. We seek connection with others. To succeed, we need to get status (approval and acclaim) from others.
The more status you have, the more food, territory, access to potential partners, and good opportunities for children and healthcare you have.
The higher we rise, the more likely we are to live, love and procreate. It’s the essence of human thriving. It’s the status game.
The status game starts once you connect with somebody.
Connection is the sign you have been accepted into the group. A feeling of connection has a positive impact on your brain and body. The reverse is also true.
Depressed people often have no meaningful connections with anyone.
And isolation can damage people so hard that it can change who they are. When we are isolated, we look at people from a competitive and critical point of view. We become bitter, hence more isolated.
- Are more likely to punish others
- Less likely to donate money or help strangers.
- Compensate by engaging in negative dopamine-inducing activities (Eg: eating sugar, drinking, etc).
When our lives begin to fail, then, our minds and bodies fail too: we can become sick, angry, antisocial and increasingly isolated.
Our brain feels safe with other people and in danger alone.
Connecting alone isn’t enough, we also don’t want to be at the bottom of the hierarchy. Those who are greatly suffer.
- Civil servants’ deaths can be predicted based on how high they got into the hierarchy.
- And people at the bottom of the hierarchy are more likely to suicide than people at the bottom.
Status is an essential ingredient in our lives.
When we feel chronically deprived of it, or disconnected from the game, our minds and bodies can turn against us.
3. An Imagined World of Symbols
We don’t feel like players of games. We feel like heroes in stories.
Your brain creates meaning by assembling your life as a story, and we’re all obsessed with our own story.
But that story is a lie. The brain only grasps a very simplistic version of reality because it doesn’t look out, it looks in. We build the story based on our understanding of the world which comes from our senses and our senses don’t show us everything.
Our senses can only detect the tiniest fraction of what’s out there. Our eyes, for instance, are able to pick up less than one ten-trillionth of the available light spectrum.
The brain creates our perception of the world and puts itself in the center. It creates a narrative by providing explanations for everything that happens, creating order from chaos.
That narrative is often wrong. For example, psychologically healthy people believe that in the end, they are better than most people.
The brain looks at the world as a reward space. We’re looking for valuable things and how to get them to increase our status. Likewise, we judge someone’s status based on the value we ascribe to their belongings, positions, or experiences.
Eg: Hermès bag > Zara bag.
This status-estimating activity is mostly done by the subconscious.
Eg: people automatically assume that those well-dressed are more competent and of higher status even when they were told not to use clothing as a judging indicator.
Here are other signs of status. High-status people:
- Speak more often and more loudly.
- Are more facially expressive.
- Achieve more successful interruptions in conversation.
- Stand closer.
- Touch themselves less.
- Use more relaxed postures.
- Receive more eye contact.
- Set the inaudible “tone” that people voice in a conversation.
We can detect status simply by watching how people stand and carry themselves.
Another reliable indicator of status is possession.
Eg: 75% to 90% of toddlers’ disputes are about possessions (but really they’re about status).
We often assume that money and power are what motivate people in life, but both of these are quenchable. Status isn’t, the pursuit of money and power is most of the time the pursuit of status.
Eg: When offered status or money, most people choose status, which makes sense:
- Someone’s status is a better life satisfaction predictor than income, which has no effect on life satisfaction (Aure’s Note: I don’t believe that income has no impact on life satisfaction).
- People’s happiness drops when those around them earn more money than they do, no matter how much they are earning.
-> our status is always judged relative to everyone else’s.
We feel good not when we get more, but when we get more than everyone else.
We connect with other people by playing the same status game and become kin.
People build a reality made out of their connections to other people who recognize the same status symbols.
Our status game is a place. It’s our neural territory, our world.
4. An Imagined World of Rules
The world we perceive is built on objective reality, but it is largely imagined. People gather, decide what is worthy to pursue, then go pursue it.
These games feel very real but they’re the result of shared imagination.
These games have rules which the brain is good at learning and remembering.
These rules come from our ancestors and from our culture.
We know how to live successful lives today because we’ve inherited instructions from humans who’ve lived before us.
Tribes had developed rules to keep the group functioning well together. Members earned status when they respect these rules:
- Help your family.
- Help your group.
- Return favors.
- Be brave.
- Defer to superiors.
- Divide resources fairly.
- Respect others’ property.
These rules are universal across every society, unlike cultural rules.
In the West, for example, status is attained by the individual.
In the East, status is obtained through the group.
Eg: in Asia, if someone is praised for their work, their group may shame them so they decrease their contribution and pride in order to restore harmony within the group.
The brain begins to learn these rules very early on. They are hammered in us through praise and punishment. When we’re good, we’re happy. When we’re bad, we’re shameful.
The only way to not play the status game is to do like the Japanese is to be alone. As soon as you are with other people, there’s a status game to play.
5. The Three Games
There are three status games:
- Dominance: status is coerced by force or fear. Eg: Mafia, armies.
- Virtue: status is obtained out of virtue or obedience. Eg: religious institutions, w****ness.
- Success: achieving specific outcomes. Eg: Businesses, sports competitions, etc
Notice how dominance is a game that depends on how you behave while virtue and success are games that depend on what other people think of you.
-> when you fail to get status through virtue or success, you resort to violence.
No game is categorical, each of these blends together.
These games developed as we evolved as a species. Two and a half million years ago, we were playing dominance games.
A million years ago, we left living in trees to live on the ground. Males began to give females resources in exchange for sex. Violence decreased as the males who were too violent were excluded from the group.
150 000 years ago, these games became symbol games. What mattered was not how violent we were but what others thought of us.
That’s how people sought to become successful (by manufacturing tools or hunting) or being virtuous (courageous, generous, etc) rather than violent.
Since status depended on how other people perceived us, we needed to know what they thought of us and developed speech to do so.
Natural selection shaped our psychology to make us docile, ashamed at norm violations, and adept at acquiring and internalising social norms.
While other species are much more violent than we are, we use prestige much more than they do.
Prestige is our most marvellous craving.
The need to be positively seen by others is what compels us to work together and do good things.
Problems with prestige arise when we don’t have any – or when we lose what we have. Lots of people committed suicide as a consequence of lost prestige.
6. Prestige Games
People naturally flock around those who are positively successful or virtuous.
Eg: singers, actors, etc.
Subconsciously, they’ll see this person’s winning behavior as a chance to win themselves.
They want to be around them, give them attention, and copy every aspect of their lives. They eat, dress, and speak like them.
Animals of lower rankings also copy the alphas – but they don’t copy to the extent that we do.
Babies as young as one year old know who’s the most competent adult around and will focus their attention on them.
We use four cues to find someone to copy:
- Self-similarity: we look for people looking like us (age, race, and gender).
- Skill: we begin to mimic the most competent people around as young as 14 months old.
- Success: the success symbols are expensive cars, nice clothes, etc.
- Prestige: prestige is acquired with status. Infants look at who others defer to to know who’s got the most prestige. Most people pay attention to certain people simply because everybody else pays attention to them.
Influence is a major sign of status. Who is the most copied got the highest status.
Copying also works the other way around. If people we don’t like begin to copy one of our behaviors, we quickly drop it.
Researchers find African Americans tend to abandon clothing and slang that’s adopted by whites.
7. Dominance Games
When our status and position are challenged, we often get the reflex to fight back with dominance and force rather than success and virtue.
Dominance for status uses a different neural pathway than virtue and success, but both work.
Dominant men, like prestigious men, have greater reproductive success.
Dominance is by far the most robust predictor of leader emergence (it’s a better indicator than conscientiousness or intelligence.)
Men and women prefer tall, bulky-looking people with thin eyes and lips and a strong jawline as leaders in times of war, for example.
Unlike virtuous or successful people, dominant people rarely receive status from others – they take it.
Men are much more likely to use dominance to increase their status than women are.
Eg: Violence happens in prison as a result of feeling “disrespected” and most violent men use violence as a last resort for getting respect.
While men and women are as aggressive, women use reputational damage rather than physical damage.
Furthermore, it’s women who most often shame other women on their appearance or promiscuity, and men who attack other men on their physique.
Dominance is the likeliest way to assert status when who’s got the most of it is unclear.
8. Male, Grandiose, Humiliated: The Game’s Most Lethal
The opposite of status is humiliation and humiliated men often resort to extreme violence (murder) as a result.
Humiliation (…) has been shown to cause major depressions, suicidal states, psychosis, extreme rage and severe anxiety, including ones characteristic of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Humiliation is the “annihilation of the self”.
The most violent adult men had all in common:
- Extreme humiliation in their childhood and subsequent rejection (low status).
- Loss of high status.
Eg: they thought of themselves very highly, they were really smart, etc.
So it wasn’t so much the fact that they were low in the hierarchy, but that they had come from far higher.
They did not have the status they thought they deserved and used violence as a way to get some.
Eg: The spy Robert Hanssen was deeply humiliated by his father for a long time and could not access status positions at the FBI when he joined. So he began to sell secrets to Russia instead.
There are four pre-conditions to humiliation:
- We believe we have status.
- The humiliating incident is public.
- The person who humiliates must have some status.
- Ban from the status game.
When humiliation is too high, we get expelled from the status game. We’re exiled or canceled.
The only way to recover is to move on and start a new life.
9. Change the Rules, Change the Player
The point of a game (or competition) is to create a new, imaginary hierarchy of status. The reasons why we’re not all going crazy are that:
- We don’t all play the same game.
- We all have a minimum status in at least one game.
If we all competed for the same game, we’d quickly go crazy due to lack of status.
Studies suggest that happiness doesn’t depend as much on economic status as it does on the status we have within other games, like the local community.
For example, what motivates the men during a war isn’t fighting for a general or a nation, but fighting with their unit (brothers).
The more emotions two people feel while going through an experience together, the stronger the bond will be. This explains why soldiers at war have this very strong connection.
10. The Slot Machine for Status
When we earn connection and status, we thrive; when we lose it we can become sick, sad, suicidal and murderous.
High-status people mesmerize us.
But we aren’t influenced by people with status as much as we are by the rules of the status game.
Social media is a giant status game tweaked to become competitive and addictive.
They act as social slot machines: sometimes we get reactions based on the content we put out, sometimes we don’t.
Seeing others receiving status makes us want to get some too.
11. The Flaw
We’re never satisfied with status as we can always have more of it and we get used to our current status pretty quickly.
The former president of Turkmenistan, for example, had renamed some days of the week after himself.
The problem with these excesses is that people of lower ranking often agree with high-status people in order to get status themselves.
-> no one is there to stop this doom machined.
Status is a drug, and the more you have, the more you want some. This can lead to substance abuse or extreme paranoia.
12. The Universal Prejudice
Our relationship with high-status people is contradictory. On one hand, we want to be close to them, learn from them, and get attention.
On the other, we hate them.
People feel perfectly comfortable being perfectly cruel about celebrities, CEOs, politicians and royalty, as if their elevated rank makes them immune to pain.
The exception we make is for the ” ambassador of our group”, such as national football team players.
In tribes, there were mechanisms that ridiculed the people who tried to get too much status in order to prevent violence and keep everyone on an equal footing, more or less.
The game began to change with the creation of villages, then cities. Some people got richer and dominated, which they justified with self-serving stories (“God chose us to rule and…”).
The development of imaginary hierarchies (the office, politics, etc) created other status games that were double.
In the past, everyone agreed that the chief had the highest status because everyone sensed it.
Today, someone may be a CEO in theory but not have the most charisma or authority in practice -> Prince Charles Paradox. Charles has a lot of formal status but no true status.
Part of the craziness we see nowadays is that we didn’t evolve to play status games in terrain as big as cities, countries, or the Internet. But we did evolve to be resentful.
In the past, resentment kept hierarchies shallow. The idea was to lower the status of people who’d try to get too much for themselves.
Today, we’re constantly living with these super high-status people present in our lives.
13. Living the Dream
The inhabitants of the Kingdom of Katsina used to be of royal blood but were chased away by Jihadists in the 19th century and took refuge in a city in Niger.
Contrary to expectations, none of them were really angry at Islam.
An anthropologist interviewed two descendants of the royal family. One had become deeply religious and didn’t suffer any pain due to the loss of status.
Another one wasn’t religious at all, and did feel lots of pain.
The religious one had acquired status through religion which he believed was the highest-status activity to do.
Anyone who didn’t study Islam was beneath him.
This highlights how we police each other when we play the same game, but we don’t when we play different games because we believe our game is simply better.
The national mood in Britain peaked in 1880 when the empire was at its biggest despite that Britain was dirt poor.
A quick look at the world map showed that the British had “the biggest empire in the world” which was a source of pride and happiness.
14. Subjugation, Revolution, Civilisation
The hidden truth of religions is that they’re status games: Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Christians agree on a set of rules and symbols by which to play, then form a hierarchy along which they rise and fall.
The believer is promised a massive status increase in the afterlife if they behave well -> all status games are about control.
They force or bribe us into cooperation with one another.
We said above that gossip developed as a way to enquire about one’s status while keeping everyone in check.
When these villages grew bigger, gossip wasn’t sufficient anymore as people became anonymous, so religion came along.
Moralizing gods always appeared when a city went over 1 million inhabitants, for example.
One of the reasons why many status games remain fixed is that:
- Most people don’t want to get to the top of the game.
- People at the bottom genuinely believe they deserve to be there due to some story (Eg: In India, the Untouchables believe they committed sins in the past life and so they deserve their place).
What creates revolutions isn’t inequality itself but the perspective of lower status:
(…) people feel they are losing their proper place in society for reasons that are not inevitable and not their fault.
-> Revolutions are likelier to happen in middle-income countries than in poorer countries.
A loss of individual status is as traumatic as a loss of group status.
And in most revolutions, the people are enticed by the elite anyway. This is why you don’t want to create too many elites, as those who don’t get elite jobs will conspire against those who did to overthrow them.
When a nation conquers another, it establishes itself as the elite and the conquered people quickly begin to play their status game, thereby adopting their custom, hoping to be recognized too.
Eg: Britain in India. When the British refused the Indians equal rights despite the Indians’ absorption of Western culture and ideals, they got angry.
Yet India remains invariably Western. Modern India rests today on the foundations that the British had created.
Most humans alive today are playing by the rules and symbols of their long-vanquished overlords.
15. Making a Player
In modern western societies, we live inside a story that says, if we want it badly enough, we can do anything.
Three forces influence the course of our lives:
- Education and upbringing
Upbringing plays a lot in our sensitivity to status according to how much of it we were given as children.
Spoiled children have a hard time growing up as they become status-obsessed and addicted. Humiliated children eventually become violent.
And children that understand their lower position but still receive enough status grow fine.
In most cultures, children aged 12-14 are initiated into adulthood through a ceremony.
They learn that there are hierarchies within games, and that games themselves are ranked on hierarchies.
Status also leaks. From the moment a loser enters a high-status game, the game loses its aura because of the loser. But the opposite is also true. A loser can gain status by accessing a high-status game.
When young adults enter the adult world, they begin to compete (within their companies, neighborhoods, etc) to get more money, more status, etc.
When they can’t get what they want honestly, they do it dishonestly. Life isn’t about what’s right or wrong anymore but what’s profitable and what isn’t.
That game takes enormous power over who we are and shapes us, transforming us into who we need to become the best in the game.
Our individuality merges with the game and becomes blurred, our moral behaviour and perception of reality deranging itself in its service.
We become the sum of the games we play.
16. Believing the Dream
The progression of science has enabled people to be more rational, yet billions of people still believe in superstitions, because these superstitions are status games.
We think of ourselves as the heroes of our story but the truth is that we’re players of a game. To win it, we have to find high-status people and copy them to get high status too.
-> the nature of the game does not matter.
-> it’s not the truth that is incentivized but faith.
This is how things like the anti-vaxx movement, or veganism, work. People learn about them and realize that “no one knows about these things” and go out in the world to evangelize (aka get status) other people.
I know about these things and I care, and you don’t, so I have more status than you.
When we enter a new game, the more we believe in it, the more the other players will reward us with status.
That’s how intelligent people can endorse crazy ideas.
The smarter a player is, the greater the likelihood they’ll reject scientific consensus.
We treat moral beliefs as universal truths, but they’re far from it.
Some cultures consider sex with children normal, others refuse to sleep in a certain way (on their left side) as it carries bad luck. Others would rather die than get blood transfer, and others believe hair can never be cut.
And everyone raised with these beliefs is happy to believe them.
Moral ‘truths’ are acts of imagination. They’re ideas we play games with.
The author tells the story of how looking for child abuse proof became a status game in the 1980s in the US.
If a child said he was abused, then he was. If he said he wasn’t, then he was scared to say it.
The more someone felt concerned about child abuse, the more status one gained.
It was a national hysteric crisis, and many innocents went to prison for decades.
Conclusion: be suspicious of any idea that rewards people with status when they believe in them.
18. War Games
When we encounter people whose beliefs contradict our own, we can find it acutely uncomfortable.
If someone is using different rules and symbols, they are implying that our reality is wrong. The mere fact that they exist is uncomfortable and meeting these people can feel like an attack.
When this happens, we naturally flock to people that think like us or we try to dismantle their discourse in order to invalidate it. The more wrong they are, the more right we are.
We don’t judge people objectively but according to the rules of the game we are playing.
Eg: If protesters protest against military recruiting, they’re right and useful. If they protest against an abortion clinic, they are dangerous domestic terrorists.
We have a spiteful and snobbish habit of judging all people by our rules, whether they’re playing with us or not.
We believe our moral rules to be absolutely good but they merely stem out of the status game we decided to play.
People do great wrong, not because they are unaware of what they are doing but because they consider it to be right.
We rarely fight with violence and engage in a battle of belief instead.
Ideology is territory.
Humans really are aggressive, constantly battling on an ideological territory.
We’re desperate to convince others of our opinions. And we care more about winning than not battling even if winning means fewer benefits.
Never believe groups who claim they just want ‘equality’ with rivals. No matter what they say, no matter what they believe, they don’t.
19. The Tyranny of the Cousins
Status games have a will of their own, and no individual within the game can control that will (eg: mobs).
When the game is threatened (eg: the establishment of the all-meat diet game threatened the vegan diet game), the bonds between players strengthen. The more emotionally intense the game is, the deeper the bond.
This cohesive war-mode also starts when there are status or materialistic possessions to gain.
When the game thickens, players merge to become one whole.
The individuals lose their free will and increasingly seek to serve the group’s purpose. Everyone is coercing everyone into doing so.
-> status games have no leaders.
Prehistoric tribes may have had one powerful man at the top, but that man had to be benevolent not to be thrown out.
When he was tyrannical, the group would kill and replace him. These decisions were always group-based, not individual-based.
But you didn’t have to be a tyrant to be killed, you could also break status rules shared by everybody else.
(Aure’s Note: the author is wrong, or at least incomplete about this. People weren’t killed because they were breaking status rules, they were killed as part of a sacrifice redeeming the sins of the sacrificers. See Wanting by Luke Burgis).
This means that people never lived in fear of a tyrant, but in fear of the people around them responsible for making killing decisions.
-> no clear distinction between tyrants and players, as anyone can quickly become one or the other.
We have lots of pleasure in enforcing a game’s rules onto other people.
Eg: Children start enforcing rules from age 3 and reject those that are a threat to their status or their group’s status.
Brain scans show the mere anticipation of a transgressor being punished for rule-breaks is experienced as pleasurable.
This effect is outlined today with social-media mobs policing people on their speech and accusing them of racism for whatever reasons.
Understand: there is not much more difference between prehistoric tribes murdering others for symbol degradation and us canceling others for the same reason.
20. Victims, Warriors, Witches
When a certain group goes to war, its members morph into it, their deeds seem more heroic, the enemies seem more evil, and the mission more righteous.
And when it’s not even the case, the players fake their own heroism.
- Feminist blogger Meg Lanker-Simons wrote insults about herself to fake “attacks” against her.
- Jussie Smollett faked a racist attack on his person.
- Anti-trans slogans at Vassar College were painted by trans people.
- Kerri Dunn, an anti-hate activist, trashed her own car with hate symbols to make it seem like she was hated.
The most vocal people in favor of a war against another group are the ones that need status more than others. The more status is offered for a clash, the more violent the clash will be.
Status-hungry people also strongly identify with their group. When the group’s status is threatened, they will defend it.
These people find followers in angry, low-status members of the group.
When a conflict between two games becomes extreme, people react in two manners:
- Those who believe in the cause of the game no matter what.
- Those who see its madness but still comply due to fear.
Because tight groups tend towards irrationality and aggressive conformity, they’re frequently populated by both true and false believers.
Virtue games (games where people compete to be “the purest player”) quickly become extreme and dangerous.
21. Lost in a Dream
Nations that went through tragedies (civil wars, natural disasters, famine) have tighter cultures with less tolerance than other nations.
They need to create more order because faced with more chaos.
People in these cultures:
- dress the same way
- buy more similar things
- possess superior self-control
- have lower rates of crime, alcohol abuse, and obesity
- are more punctual
- respect hierarchy
- are more interested in moral purity
- more likely to have the death penalty
- are less welcoming to outsiders
- are more likely to be religious believers
When we find a status game that suits us, we become vulnerable to its rules as we don’t want to get rejected.
The brain thinks “who do I have to be to gain status and connection”, then becomes that person.
22. Status Generating Machines
Groups thrive when they create status for themselves and for their members -> leaders remain leaders as long as their subordinates gain status.
When you make people believe that their only source of status is you, they will never leave you. That’s how corporations keep their best employees.
These corporations use the following narrative: we all deserve more status, and with me as a leader, we will get it.
These stories are even more motivating when the status reward is threatened by another group (aka going to war).
-> antifragility notion: external threat bolsters support and effort for the group.
Eg: Hitler was the most beloved leader in the 20th century because he brought back Germany’s status after its WWI humiliation.
23. Annihilation Part Two
When a group feels threatened, it invents a simplistic victimization story of why they’re the good guys and why they deserve more status. The story becomes a source of status and resentment.
The narrative becomes more extreme and so does the behavior toward the “enemy” in the story.
That’s how normal people get around doing abominable things to other people.
The most potent weapon of mass destruction’ is the humiliated mind.Evelin Lindner
The Hutu felt humiliated by the Tutsi in Rwanda, and the Nazis felt humiliated by the Jews.
24. The Road Out of Hell
There aren’t only virtue and dominance games to gain status. With success games, people earn status by becoming smarter and wealthier.
The modern world is heavily flavoured by the success games of scientists, technologists, researchers, corporations and creatives.
Let’s now see how status games made the West invent Modernity.
Individualism was invented in Ancient Greece because the absence of flat terrain prevented the Greeks from living in big agrarian communities so everyone had to hustle their own way by becoming entrepreneurs.
Differences in individual ability quickly arose and the idea of the self emerged. That’s how the success game overthrew the virtue and dominance game – success was simply more important.
Normally, games are self-replicating. People want to know what game they have to play to gain status and play it -> people remain in their games, they don’t go look for another one.
Modernity developed in the West because we started looking for new games to play because of…the Catholic Church.
In 305, the Church banned:
- polygamous marriage
- marriage to blood relatives including up to sixth cousins
- marriage to in-laws
- forced marriages
They also encouraged new couples to settle far from their family and promoted inheritance by will.
That’s how tribes and kindreds were broken in Europe. As a result, people were thrown into playing status games with strangers rather than doing so within their tribes.
They built games for themselves where they had to attract friends, become competent, wealthy, etc.
Christianism and Islam were also monotheist religions. They weren’t about gods, but about The God, the Only One.
His moral rules were universal and applied to everyone.
God could not be worshipped with sacrifice, but with proper beliefs.
- Those who did not believe (aka play the status game) would pay a price in real life (punished by the Church) and would also “rot in hell forever” in death.
- Those who did believe enjoyed social privileges and access to heaven.
-> massive status rewards and punishments -> everyone played the game -> people developed a need for salvation they didn’t even know they had.
By the late medieval time, Christians had developed salvation anxiety, not knowing if they had done enough good to go to heaven, so the Church began to sell letters of Indulgence.
Time passed. Universities developed and people could learn different skills and jobs.
They began to create guilds (another success game) with each their own rules and symbols.
Then they started to compete to make the highest quality goods. Work ethic developed, creating the work-focused society.
- more independent
- more self-focussed
- more outward-looking
- more interested in personal excellence
- less conformist
- less respectful of tradition, ancestry, duty, and authority
As a result, they no longer wanted to get bullied by the Church which was playing with their salvation anxiety as a means to get money.
In 1517, the Pope sold new letters to finance the construction of St Peter’s Church. This angered a professor of theology called Martin Luther.
He wrote his critique in a document called the Ninety-Five Theses which sparked a revolution across the continent and created the Protestant Church.
Luther changed the narrative: people no longer had to worry about whether they were going to go to heaven or not – God had already decided.
Instead, they should focus on discovering the special gifts God had granted them and work to become the best at what they were good at.
-> playing for personal success became a religious act.
While the Church mediated the relationship between the believers and God, Luther took it out so the believers had their own relationship with Him.
People were encouraged to read and understand the Bible for themselves rather than receiving the interpretation from the Church. Literacy rates jumped in Protestant territories.
The religious status game changed. People who were neither religious nor noble could gain status by becoming rich. Merchants began trading goods worldwide and became fabulously wealthy (success game).
This independence of mind meant people were more likely to be open to different status games as well.
The success game spread to knowing stuff, and people started acquiring knowledge to raise their status.
European intellectuals began to communicate with the postal system and established the Republic of Letters.
This group was a revolution because:
- It was opened to new knowledge (which had never been the case before) which led to innovation.
- People were playing a success-based status game rather than virtue or dominance.
And so came an accumulation of knowledge never before seen in history.
25. The Neoliberal Self
The contemporary Western self is a strange, anxious, hungry thing. It emerges out of a market economy that’s heavily focussed on success.
We’re self-obsessed because this is the status game we’re playing.
The deregulation engaged by Reagan and Thatcher led the community-based games of the 1960s (Eg: the whole hippie movement) to self-obsession games.
Eg: high-school children in the 1970s were half as likely as those in the 1990s to believe that having lots of money was “very important.”
And so a new idea of success made its way.
Young, agreeable, visibly fit, self-starting, productive, popular, globally-minded, stylish, self-confident, extrovert, busy. Who is it, this person we feel so pressured to punch ourselves into becoming? It’s the player best equipped to win status in the game we’re in.
When we don’t succeed, we feel like a failure.
People more sensitive to signals of failure are called perfectionists. The social perfectionist is a type of perfectionist who thinks they need to be perfect to win the approval (aka status) of other people.
Social perfectionism soared by 32% between 1989 and 2016.
This is linked to depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders.
To live in the neoliberal dreamworld is to suffer some form of status anxiety. It’s standard. It’s who we are and how we play.
26. Fairness, Unfairness
We used to belong to a tribe. Today, we belong to ourselves. The status we gain depends only on what we do, not what our family or tribe does for us.
The individual became more and more important. The idea that people could belong to groups ceded to the idea that people really belonged to themselves.
Sacrifice, slavery, and torture stopped.
The individual was thrown into the world. Some succeeded, others failed.
Those who succeeded due to their privilege are now pushed down.
Such resentments have helped power some of the most lethal events in human history. The Nazis and the Communists aimed their hatred at groups they perceived as having status that was unearned.
It’s useless to try to seek equity by taking down privilege as privilege is infinite. From the family you grew up in to genetics, there are too many variables to take into account and ” equilibrate”.
The problem with elites is they’re an unsolvable problem; an inevitability of the game we’re programmed to play. They’ll always be there and they’ll never not make us feel small.
27. When Dreams Collide
The modern western world is characterized by the new left (radical progressists) on one hand, and the new right (alt-right) on the other.
The former thinks there are too many straight white males, and the other thinks there are too many highly educated elites.
Both of them play a virtue-based status game, even though facts tend to back their discontentment.
The average millennial and Gen Z today are much poorer than their parents were. And the non-college-educated white workers have suffered from globalization much more than others.
In the UK, the highly educated New Left have been found to be less proud of being British than any other demographic and strongly believe immigration has a positive impact on the UK, with 85% agreeing compared to 43% nationally.
New Left activists threaten hell by radically rewriting the terms by which accusations of bigotry can be made, lowering the bar such that mere whiteness or masculinity are signs of guilt.
Tight virtue games weave hostile dreams. They live inside imagined territories that are blasted by the winds of toxic morality. Their players believe themselves to be heroes battling grotesque forces of injustice. These cartoons of reality become dangerous by casting their enemies into the role of one-dimensional baddie.
28. The Parable of the Communists
Imagine a world without status, without inequalities.
That’s what the communists tried to do. They identified private property as the root cause of inequalities and designed a system where nothing would belong to anyone.
Yet communists didn’t care as much about elevating those who had nothing as they did about taking down those at the top.
An overwhelming majority of them had suffered status humiliation as children.
Lenin, for example, had his family shamed and ejected from any social gatherings after his brother tried to assassinate the Emperor.
One of Lenin’s collaborators would later write his principal characteristic was not concern for the poor, but hatred.
Lenin subsequently stole and destroyed everything the Russian people had been building.
Then he established a new hierarchical order: Red Army first, workers second, everyone else after.
The new status game was dictated by the party, so everyone joined it.
Lenin, then Stalin, ruled the party with hatred. They murdered, stole, and tortured millions. Food came to lack, so people started killing and eating each other.
Six million peasants, who had been forced into collective farms, starved to death.
Then when harvests failed, it couldn’t be the communists’ fault, so they looked for someone else to blame and the Great Terror began.
In the same period, an average of one and a half thousand people were executed daily.
The police were issued quotas of people to kill.
After he killed the entire middle class, Stalin promoted those at the bottom to build cities and factories.
He created three new social classes: workers, farmers, and intelligentsia.
Since it became necessary to encourage people to work, status rewards came back. The people that worked most earned more money.
Why did the communists kill so many people in the name of utopia?
Because they didn’t understand where inequalities came from.
It is not possession but the desires of mankind which require to be equalized.Aristotle
Humans will always be driven to get ahead.
And so canceling any type of hierarchy simply isn’t possible.
For humans, equality will always be the impossible dream.
29. Seven Rules of the Status Game
Nature has to bribe us to endure the acts necessary for our survival and reproduction, in all their horror-show weirdness.
Whatever you should do to survive and reproduce (sex, eating, etc) is rewarded by nature.
As we play for ever-greater status, for ourselves and our games, we weave a self-serving and highly motivating dream that writhes with saints and demons and irrational beliefs. This dream is presented to us as reality.
Here are seven rules that will help you play the right status game.
1. Practice Warmth, Sincerity, and Competence
That’s how you will be recognized by others as being a person worth giving status to.
2. Make Small Moments of Prestige
Don’t use dominance when you feel your rank is being taken away. Use praise and give status instead.
Allowing others to feel statusful makes it more likely they’ll accept our influence.
3. Play a Hierarchy of Game
The most dangerous games are the tyrannical ones, and they’re not easy to see. The Nazis promised the grandeur of Germany, the Communists promised everyone would be equal, etc.
Tyrannical games rest on virtue and dominance.
Much of their daily play and conversation will focus on matters of obedience, belief, and enemies.
One of the best ways to avoid it is to play many games. People who don’t see how tyrannical a game is have invested too much of their identity into it.
Life, then, should be organised as a hierarchy of games, with that at the top drawing the most effort and generating maximal meaning.
4. Reduce Your Moral Sphere
Virtue is the easiest status game to play because gaining status comes down to criticizing others. But it makes people miserable.
5. Foster a Trade-Off Mindset
Morals aren’t facts, and people who think differently aren’t evil. No moral question has a wrong or right answer.
Most of the time, moral dilemmas (nuclear, abortion, immigration, etc) are trade-offs. You gain things, and lose others.
6. Be Different
When you do your own thing, you create status for yourself because it takes courage and creativity to do so.
7. Never Forget You’re Dreaming
A status game is a conspiracy we join to make ourselves feel important.
Don’t forget that ultimately, these games aren’t real.
Nobody wins the status game. They’re not supposed to. The meaning of life is not to win, it’s to play.
For more summaries, head to auresnotes.com.
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