41 Comments

Good article, an example of why I have a paid subscription.

1. You cited and provided links to many sources.

2. Interesting that you actually did some of the same “expert” shaping you described. For example some of the quotes were just by name ‘X X’, others were by title‘psychologist X X’, and the best by ‘esteemed psychologist X X’. And this always preceded their statement rather than followed it.

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Social media has massively increased the playing field for inane, status-affirming debates and virtual status jockeying. I’ve always hypothesized that it is the most highly educated who also troll the most online in a vane attempt to jockey for status among strangers when status has been stripped or poorly acknowledged in their IRL social networks...

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I have puzzled over the need of some Catholics to identify as "leftwing" and adopt the ideological positions of people who are largely anti-Catholic in general. As the article suggest, & as I have long assumed, such behavior is rooted in class envy, and the resulting fear of being associated with anything too ethnic or working-class or culturally quaint.

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I wonder if this means the common concept of so-called ideological consistency should be more scrutimized. Someone who is loyal to a party or ideological clique’s platform is usually admired (at least by their own) for their honesty and purity, but those platforms often contain linked ideas that either are merely tangentially related or even outright contradict each other. So such purity is a sign that its holder is seeking in-group status more than anything else since if he or she were evaluating each issue on its own, there’d be a lot more heterodox views on slates of issues.

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Having grown up in the 50s - 70's in Indiana in a blue collar family, I somehow learned early on how to differentiate the voices that actually made sense because I was so infrequently exposed to high status people at all. Among my family and friends there were many who were virtually uneducated beyond grade school but who were natively very intelligent. Even now, my role models are people like Edison, the Wright brothers, Andrew Carnegie and others who were brilliant iconoclasts and firey self sufficient warriors who cared not a rat's behind what "the experts" at the time thought they could or could not accomplish. Where are the native born Horatio Algers of today? (Note that I'm excluding Musk and other noteworthies who have clearly benefited America; but where is the local crop?)

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Regarding greater self-censorship among those with more education, might it be that having contentious political views is actually more risky in the relevant jobs? So in your average white collar job there is more time for political discussion, and more weight is placed on it in deciding status. By comparison, political discussions are rarer in blue collar jobs and people care less about the views of their co-workers. Might be related to the notion that the richer you are the more you can self-segregate socially: poorer people have to put up with more views they disagree with, and so learn to tolerate more.

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“We implicitly ask ourselves, “What are the social consequences of holding (or not holding) this belief?”” In DC in 2020 I observed multiple people, most likely all college graduates, wearing masks outside with no one else within 50 feet. There was zero chance of infection. I saw several actually running alone with bandannas over their noses and mouths. I was genuinely amazed, but now I see there was a social cost, especially given a situation where compliance was nearly 100%. I’m glad I could afford to pay it, but I did get out of there. Nazi Germany is no longer a mystery to me.

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This might be the best insight I've gotten through your newsletter since the original "luxury beliefs." Thanks for this, Rob.

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"You don’t need to argue that something is true. You just need to show that it’s associated with high status. And when low status people express the truth, it sometimes becomes high status to lie."

This is a dark view of social epistemology. The Western world has in fact set up systems that correlate prestige with truth-seeking. Jonathan Rauch calls this the Constitution of Knowledge. But it seems that in the 21st century this system has been gamed and corrupted.

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I would be careful about the distinction between "central" methods of persuasion and "peripheral" methods. I almost never have direct access to the information I would need to be certain about what someone is telling me. Instead, I have to judge based on "peripheral" factors, including my sense of the person's integrity, qualifications, and how their claims relate to other beliefs that I hold.

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This explains why so many of these people are obsessed with renaming, altering, or outright destroying but fail so hard at creating or building new things. By destroying one form of oppression, you created another form of it. It's a snake eating its own tail.

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Just to throw it out there, I'm pretty sure that peripheral learning can backfire, if abused too thoroughly. People start assuming an expert is automatically wrong, instead of assuming they're automatically right.

On a different note, I think the finding that high status folks hold less positive views of other people is indicative of something bigger. There's an argument to be made that high status not only validates your opinion with others, but marks your opinion as a target for manipulation, by opportunists. Sort of like how banks attract more thieves. It's entirely possible that the upper class interacts with manipulative, untrustworthy people more frequently than the broader populace, likely souring their view of humanity.

Which, if true, is a bit worrying. Never a good trend, to see the most influential people in the world become progressively more antagonistic towards humanity as a whole.

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Very interesting. We watch this as it plays out, but I never would have guessed why it's happening.

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In order to evaluate your post, it's necessary to define "affluent." I suspect there's a difference between someone in the top 10% vs. someone in the top 1% or 0.1% in terms of their views on status, power, and the willingness to speak unpopular ideas.

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It is the same old story. We are social beings using economic heuristics, and there are good hacks and bad hacks of that dynamic. So status can be hacked, coherence can be hacked, compassion can be hacked, etc.

The question is always how to communally chose the good hacks. The solution is always the same: bringing the hacks into the light of consciousness via language. This actually opens up choice. Good hacks increase our degrees of freedom, bad hacks decrease them.

This is why I see the constant energy spent of discussing free will vs determinism, now resurfacing again, as a huge waste of time (and as a philosophical dead end). Just as it is in our nature to be hackable, we are also able to increase our degrees of freedom by articulated insights.

Thanks for helping us keep the eyes on that ball.

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Relating this to myself, because I feel safe to hold déclassé beliefs only now that I'm out of corporate life and no longer care what my longtime social connections think.

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