Subjective Status or Fooling Our Genes
While waking up this morning, I was thinking about the current version of the same system. I am at least tangentially a part of a lot of different sub-societies. In some I am myself a VIP. In others I am a moderately important person (MIP?), either directly or through my connections with someone else who is a VIP. In others, I am an entirely unimportant person--but, of course, I don't spend much time thinking about those.
I knew there was some deep significance to all of this but was at first too sleepy to realize what it was. But it then occurred to me that, just like sex, it was an example of the brain defeating the genes.
We are designed, like all products of Darwinian evolution, for reproductive success--but, while that is the objective of our genes, it is not our objective. Sex is pleasurable, pregnancy sometimes inconvenient, so we have invented birth control and various other sorts of non-procreative sex as ways of getting what we want instead of what we are designed for.
Similarly for status. The reason humans want status is that, in the environment in which our species evolved, status--especially but not exclusively for males--led to reproductive success. Important men were more likely to get a mate, more likely to get more than one mate, more able to get the resources to keep their children alive, more likely to get their children into a position where they too would have status and its advantages.
The fact that my brother in law is one of the world's top bridge players is of no use at all for my reproductive success--but it gives me a little extra status, and the pleasure thereof, if I happen to be associating with bridge players. The fact that a major figure in the Open Source movement was familiar with my work gives me no advantage in reproductive success, but it gave me a jolt of status-pleasure when I came up to him after he gave a talk, introduced myself as "David Friedman," had him ask me if I was "David Director Friedman," and suddenly became one of the Important People in the room. It also got me invited out to a Chinese restaurant after the talk with the people who had organized it.
If, among the multitude of status markers that each of us has in each of a multitude of contexts, we chose at random, it would be merely, from the genetic standpoint, random error, a failure of our genes to properly manipulate us. But we don't. We choose to focus on those contexts where we have relatively high status, to think of them as important, remember them, judge ourselves by them. Which makes it, not random error, but a triumph of the human mind over its genetic puppet masters.