Social Status: Understanding Dominance and Prestige


Hatched by Glasp

Aug 29, 2023

4 min read


Social Status: Understanding Dominance and Prestige


Social status plays a significant role in our lives, dictating how we interact with others and shaping our behaviors. However, social status is not a one-size-fits-all concept. It can be divided into two primary forms: dominance and prestige. Dominance is achieved through intimidation, while prestige is earned through impressive accomplishments or traits. Understanding the differences between these two forms of social status can provide valuable insights into human behavior and societal dynamics.

The Logic of Dominance

The logic of dominance is fairly straightforward. Stronger individuals secure more resources for themselves by bullying weaker individuals. This dominance-submission dynamic is evident in various aspects of our society. However, dominance alone cannot explain the full range of human status-related behaviors. There is another side to social status that goes beyond dominance.

Distinguishing Dominance and Prestige

Dominance and prestige are analytically distinct forms of social status. Dominance is characterized by fear and avoidance, while prestige inspires admiration and approach. Dominant individuals take what they want by force, while prestigious individuals are freely given perks by admirers. Dominance is associated with entitlement, while prestige is accompanied by humility. These two forms of social status share the commonality of offering benefits to those who possess high status.

The Role of Admiration

Admiration is the lynchpin of the prestige system. Unlike prestige-seeking, which strives to impress others, admiration is the act of celebrating and showing respect to prestigious individuals. Admiration acts as a bribe, attracting low-status individuals to their prestigious superiors. While learning may play a role in admiration, it is not the sole motivator. Admiration exists beyond the desire to acquire knowledge and encompasses a deeper appreciation for impressive traits and skills.

Alternative Perspectives on Admiration

Alternative perspectives shed light on the roots of admiration. One perspective suggests that admiration is a means of learning from prestigious individuals. However, admiration extends beyond the desire to acquire skills. We respect and admire people even when we have little desire to learn from them or when they possess traits that are not learnable skills. This suggests that admiration has its roots in something other than learning.

The Babbler Connection

The behavior of babblers, a type of bird, offers insights into the connection between prestige and admiration. Babblers engage in intense competition to be more helpful than others within their group. Higher-ranked babblers win the competition for the privilege of helping others. Prestige among babblers reflects the amount of good an individual has done for others. Similar to humans, prestige means nothing without admiration. Other babblers defer to prestigious individuals because of the benefits they provide to the group.

Teaming Instincts: Prestige and Admiration

Prestige-seeking and admiration are complementary teaming instincts. Admiration acts as a means of currying favor among actual or potential allies. It reflects an individual's value as a teammate and their potential to help others. By cultivating access to prestigious individuals, we enhance our own chances of receiving benefits from cooperative efforts. This teaming instinct is essential for the success and survival of social groups.

Prestige in Leadership and Society

Prestige is at the core of various forms of leadership. Leaders inspire admiration and respect, and followers voluntarily defer to them because good things tend to happen when they do. Prestige is a reflection of an individual's value as a teammate, making them desirable allies. In our society, money can be seen as a form of prestige status. It is earned by doing valuable things for others, similar to how prestige is acquired.

The Evolution of Prestige in Humans

The evolution of prestige status in humans can be attributed to ecological factors and the need for collective cooperation. Our ancestors had a strong incentive to team up and work together due to the semi-permanent "home base" they lived in. This collective cooperation required the evolution of prestige status. Additionally, the collapse of the dominance system among our ancestors played a role in the emergence of prestige. Prestigious individuals offset their dominance with acts of kindness, creating friendships and alliances.

Conclusion: Actionable Advice

  • 1. Recognize and differentiate between dominance and prestige in social interactions. Understanding the underlying motivations and dynamics can help navigate various social situations effectively.
  • 2. Cultivate admiration for individuals who possess valuable traits or skills, even if you have no immediate desire to learn from them. Admiration fosters positive connections and potential alliances.
  • 3. Embrace the concept of prestige in leadership roles. Inspire admiration and respect through your actions and demonstrate the value you bring as a teammate.

By understanding the complexities of social status, we can navigate our relationships and interactions more effectively. Recognizing the importance of both dominance and prestige allows us to appreciate the different dynamics at play in society. By cultivating admiration and embracing prestige, we can foster positive connections and enhance our own status within our social groups.

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