You Have No Idea What Social Status Really Is

I like Reddit. Yes, it’s a hotbed of agoraphobic losers and cat photos, but it’s a good mind expander. You come across stuff you otherwise wouldn’t.

I don’t often post comments, but when I do it’s controversial (at least to the agoraphobic cat lovers). Last time I posted a comment, I ended up in an argument about evolutionary psychology with a female Australian medical student. Or a naked fat dude, who really knows right?

What I absolutely couldn’t get into her head, no matter how hard I tried, was that social status does not equal socioeconomic status. She just couldn’t accept that some rich people have low social status, and some poor people have high social status.

It’s lesson time then. Social status. What is it?

Well, that’s a difficult question to answer. What’s a car? I mean, I know one when I see it. Four wheels, an engine, a steering wheel. Or, sometimes three wheels. But definitely a chassis, or else it would be a motorcycle. At least, usually. But shit, this is just going in circles.

The fact is, I know a car when I see one, as do most people. Many theories of intelligence even suggest that such pattern recognition could be ultimately mediated by single neurons.

Similarly, people know social status when they see it, even if we’ve evolved to not always be conscious of that fact, often because it’s not socially convenient to conscious hold certain knowledge or beliefs.

So what is social status? Is Tom Cruise an alpha male? Hell no (and neither is Neil Strauss, if he’s really so impressed by Cruise. In old interviews Tom looks like a shy drama student, probably because he was). Cruise may be a celebrity, but he’s a particularly insecure and attention-seeking celebrity. He makes people’s skin crawl. Yes, his position gives him status, but he’s got socioeconomic status, not social status. He’s not an alpha male.

How about Will Smith? Honestly, I’d say kind of a loser. He got suckered into Scientology just like Tom Cruise. He does the grinning idiot thing way too often in interviews. He clearly loves the attention. I wouldn’t exactly follow him to hell and back.

How about Mark Wahlberg? Pretty good, but he’s still a bit nervous in the linked interview, scratches his face, talks fast occasionally. He’s good, much better than your average actor, but most very successful people need a certain edge of insecurity to keep working hard.

Examples of alpha male behaviour are actually very hard to find. Unfortunately, most people who appear in YouTube videos are insecure little bitches who love the attention. Take Mad Men: Don Draper is more alpha than anybody you’ll come across (except for his early years when they portray him as a sneaky fucker. Jon Hamm? Yeah, not so much.

So getting to the point. Alpha male behaviour is an extremely complex pattern. It takes depth. Guys like Tom Cruise can do the surface level of alpha, but without that complexity and depth is comes across as shallow and creepy. Guys who have that deep seated confidence and social ability generally don’t have the drive to become famous, so it’s hard to point out specific examples.

As for women, social status is largely determined by a combination of social ability and attractiveness. The most popular girl in high school is invariably the prettiest one, largely because attractiveness gives women social power. This effect does exist to some extent in men, but it’s much less pronounced. But it’s easy to intimidate another girl when you can credibly threaten to steal her boyfriend.

But male social status is by far the most interesting subject, as it’s by far the most complicated. The short answer is that social status is determined by a complex signalling process by which men decide who is best able to form powerful social coalitions, a la books like The Dictator’s Handbook. Men don’t actually think, consciously, “wow, that guy would make a good leader, I’d better suck up to him”, but their unconscious determinations of who is cool and who isn’t follow this pattern.

And even then, leadership is a poor metaphor. Our instincts are calibrated to maximize fitness in the game-theory environment of a small group society. In other words, small groups follow different rules from large groups. Alpha males aren’t as willing to fuck other people over, because that strategy doesn’t work in small groups. Large groups, however, encourage bad behaviour, and so many political leaders aren’t alpha at all. They’re dweeby with a chip on their shoulder, dorks who got where they are by backstabbing the real alpha males. Females may not have traditional alpha-male leadership skills, but they still make decent politicians for these reasons: today, cattiness wins over magnetism.

So why study instincitive social status as opposed to modern socioeconomic status? Two reasons. The first is that high social status people are happier, live longer and are generally healthier. (I wish I had a reference, but there was a great article last year about how truly alpha bonobos often let beta strivers appear to be the leader, while they hang back and sleep with all the women. Not so different from people…) It pays to be high status, even if it won’t necessarily lead to fame and fortune in the modern world.

The other reason, as I’m sure you’re all aware by now, is that women don’t fuck looks, or money, or your height or your job. They fuck social status. I have a friend who is a short, funny looking alpha male and he strikes out with girls all the time. He just gets painfully awkward on his own, probably because he’s insecure about his height. But get him in a group, where the other guys are sucking up to him, and he needs a bigger stick to beat off the women. He’s not rich. He’s not famous. He’s not even that successful. But he’s got status coming out his ears when he’s around the boys, and status trumps everything else.

Status, then, is at once the most important thing and the most difficult thing. By design, you are not supposed to be consciously aware of your internalized perception of your own social status. You’re not supposed to be consciously aware of how you project that internalized social status to other people. Nor are you designed to be consciously aware of their projection. Only by paying careful attention to subtle social cues can you consciously pick up on the real game theory of social dynamics, instead of instinctively relying on “he’s cool” or “that guy’s a douche”.

It’s difficult at first, but easy in the long run. And especially for guys, very much worth it.

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5 thoughts on “You Have No Idea What Social Status Really Is

  1. This is a fantastic post – I knew a guy in school who was about 5’5″ (at 17), ginger, weedy and buck-toothed but fucked most of the good-looking girls in our year because of his charisma and the fact that everyone thought he was a really cool and friendly guy. I’ve even noticed this difference too – if I’m in a group and I’m leading everything the girls in it will be more into me than if I’m not leading it. By the way if you know of any famous men who show off high social status cues, don’t hesitate to post them.

    • Thanks for your reply. Your anecdote is exactly what I’m talking about. And it highlights another important point: people who are striving towards alphadom are assholes. People who’ve made it are actually really nice. Their incentives shift from beating down competitors to keeping the group together, and their behavior shifts accordingly.

      I’ll see what I can dig up for high status guys who actually look like leaders. My favorite fictional example remains the weedy/nerdy Lt from Generation Kill. He’s such an unlikely alpha, and yet he handles himself and other people like such a pro. Good watching.

  2. How would you regain your alpha status? Im in a point of my life where Im trying to resolve the dysfunctional thoughts beaten into me by my parents. When I was young I never had beta thoughts – I always had alpha thoughts. Then my parents were dysfunctional, this split personality? appeared. I had thoughts like I AM the ALPHA, I AM A GOOD GUY, I A STRONG, I AM and I was, why am I being attacked, why am I a bad person, am I a bad person, I feel bad. People don’t like me. Your article clarified social status and alpha males a lot more to me. Thanks!

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