The Motor Of The World

That human beings are powered by the drive to obtain social status is old news. My impression, however, is that most thinkers have concentrated on objective status, one’s actual place in a hierarchy, and done so on the assumption that the sole point of achieving this is acquiring objective goods such as access to resources, reproductive opportunities and so forth. Pleasure taken in one’s status is then treated as concomitant.

The utility to be obtained from real social status is undeniable, but I am more interested in something slightly different: the subjective experience of status, which I would argue is the motor of all human affairs. Of even greater interest, and possibly quite underestimated as a general motivating factor, is the subjective experience of an entirely fictitious status. This may be observed, and demonstrated in the laboratory, in connection with such things as fantasy role-playing and indeed all computer games (which often culminate in something called a “reward screen” as if we were white rats).

Sadly under-observed, however, is the way in which fictitious or self-conferred status powers some very major social phenomena such as religion. That religion is a non-functional technology to obtain real utility is obvious to anyone who has watched old ladies lighting candles to get themselves grandchildren, or fundis praying over someone who ought really be in hospital; this may be seen as an economic exchange with the man in the sky, whereby one gives up time or resources in order to purchase healing, fertility, exam results or whatever. But another kind of tax deal with the man in the sky is possible, whereby one gives something up of value, and in return is told whom may can legitimately hate; in this way one gains the right to ascend an imaginary hierarchy, with appurtenant rights to despise those who have not ascended as high, or at all. Back when the stakes were greater, slaves could look forward to sitting on golden thrones and watching their masters burn in the fiery lake; in these latter days, religion may be merely about giving up certain forms of sex (or not getting caught) in return for the right to sniff and pass cutting remarks.

Posted on January 25, 2010 at 20:36 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE LONGEST CON, Religion As Social-Status Tech

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