The Status Game (2021) explains how social status impacts us all. Will Storr, the author, says that we are all hardwired to play the status game: we want status and work for it, we’re happy and healthier when we have it and depressed when we don’t, and we are bound to play the game, even when it changes us for the worst (as if often happens). So we better learn how it works.
- Exec Summary
- FULL SUMMARY
- Status Is About Power & Influence
- We’re Driven to Acquire Status
- Status Is Key To Succeed, Connection Is Not
- Status Makes Us Feel Good (Or Bad)
- Status Is Intrinsically Relative & “Others-Driven” (ie.: how we stack up with others)
- People Are Great At Assessing Status
- Status Is A Random Game Pursuing Random Markers of Status
- 3 Ways to Acquire Status
- Dominance VS Prestige: Taking Status, Or Being Granted Status
- Humiliation and Shame Are The Opposite of Status
- Warning: Avoid Ego-Projections On “Ambassadors of Status”
- Manipulative Stories Keep Low-Status People From Rebeling
- Warning: The System Replaces Your Value With The Group’s Values
- Warning: The Game Changes Behaviors & Personality
- Warning: Wars Increase When The Status Game Rewards Warriors
- Conspiracy Theorists & Cancel Culture Are Toxic Games of Status
- But Status Games Also Built Advanced Civilizations
- The Prince Charles Paradox: High Official Status, Little Respect
- Status Games Turn Toxic When It’s Between-Groups
- Cults Are The Most Toxic Games
- Successful Groups Are Status-Generating Machines
- How to Acquire Status
- Escape & Transcend The Game
- MORE WISDOM
- Humans are hardwired to play a status game, as soon as we engage with others, we’re naturally pulled into the game
- There are a multitude of status games, each with different rules
- Having high status in the games makes us successful and happy, having low status makes us unhappy and “losers”
- The status game can turn toxic, both for the group, the collective, and for you
- It’s best for you if you learn to both do well in the game, and also to transcend it -or, at least, to be less dependent on it for your personal success and happiness
About the Author:
Will Storr is a writer, journalist, storytelling trainer, and ghostwriter.
Status Is About Power & Influence
Storr explains the status as:
When people defer to us, offer respect, admiration or praise, or allow us to influence them in some way, that’s status.
Influence Is The Bigger Indicator of Status
Status games run on powerlines of influence and deference that crackle up and down their hierarchy.
This is why, of all the countless status symbols that exist in human life, influence is probably the most reliable.
Wherever you track trails of influence – of people deferring, altering their beliefs or behaviour to match those of the people above them – you’ll find status games being played and won.
And Storr also adds that we track our own status by our capacity to influence.
We’re Driven to Acquire Status
Humans are driven to “fit in and rise within it”.
Fitting is important, but only the first step.
Then, humans also want to rise -and they must rise, if they want to be successful-.
We’re driven to rise within it. When we succeed, and receive approval and acclaim from our community, we experience happiness. We feel as if our lives have meaning and purpose and that we’re thriving.
Status Is Key To Succeed, Connection Is Not
Brene Brown has become popular talking about the human need for connection.
However, that’s only ONE part of human’s social needs and drive.
Status isn’t about being liked or accepted: these are separate needs, associated with connection.
And connection is just the “bare minimum entry-level”:
The minimum requirement for play is connection. Before we can be rewarded with status, we must first be accepted into the group as a player.
However, the author correctly says, connection in itself doesn’t make for a successful life. And people are neither successful nor happy to simply be part of a group if they reside in the lower rung of that group.
Storr calls that “connected but low status” state “likable but useless”.
Instead humans, or at least successful humans, are driven to “get along and get ahead”.
Status Makes Us Feel Good (Or Bad)
Science shows it clearly:
Status is a fundamental human motive that profoundly affects our well-being.
One review of the empirical literature found people’s well-being ‘consistently depended on the degree to which people felt respected by others. Attainment of status or its loss was ‘the strongest predictor of long-term positive and negative feelings.
And a study of 7372 British civil servants tells us that the lower the rank of the employee, the higher the age-adjusted mortality risk. Storr summarizes by saying that the lower you dropped, the worse your health and the earlier your death.
Finally, one review found out that social status is also linked to depression.
In brief, Storr concludes that status is essential for healthy living:
Status is an essential nutrient found not in meat or fruit or sunlight but in the successful playing of our lives.
Storr says that these emotions are no coincidence.
We are happy because status provides a huge evolutionary advantage to survive and reproduce.
Evolutionary psychologist David Buss says men of higher status ‘invariably had greater wealth and more wives and provided better nourishment for their children.
Status Is Intrinsically Relative & “Others-Driven” (ie.: how we stack up with others)
Have you ever heard those arguments of how ungrateful we are because even a poor man today lives better than a king a thousand years ago?
Well, those people don’t understand human nature.
Status instead is comparative.
Researchers find our reward systems are activated most when we achieve relative rather than absolute rewards; we’re designed to feel best not when we get more, but when we get more than those around us.
Even when we’re “objectively doing well” on a global scale, studies show that it’s respect and admiration within one’s local group, not socioeconomic status, that predicts subjective well-being.
Tip: Switch Off Social Media
Says the author:
Status is relative: the higher others rise, the lower we sit in comparison. It’s a resource and their highly visible thriving steals it from us.
This means to you that:
You need to switch off social media because social media are show-off machine and you’re designed to feel bad or inferior looking at someone else doing comparatively better.
People Are Great At Assessing Status
When researchers took candid photos of ninety-six pairs of co-workers interacting, cut them out and stuck them against a white background to remove contextual information, people were ‘exceedingly accurate’ in their estimates of who had higher status. Merely by glancing at a still image of them talking, they could tell who was on top.
The status detection system even reads symbolic information in sounds we can’t consciously hear. When speaking, we emit a low-frequency hum at around 500 hertz. When people meet and talk, their hums shift. The highest-status person in the group sets its level and the rest adjust to match. This hum is thought to be an ‘unconscious social instrument’ that helps sort us into status hierarchies
For example, analyses of The Larry King Show interviews found that Larry deferentially changed his hum to match Elizabeth Taylor but that Dan Quayle adjusted to him.
Status Is A Random Game Pursuing Random Markers of Status
Says the author:
Groups of people gather together, agree what symbols they’re going to use to mean ‘status’, then strive to achieve it.
The truth of human life is that it’s a set of hallucinatory games organised around symbols. These games are an act of shared imagination.
Different cultures and times have different rules for the game
East Asian games tend to be more collective. In countries such as Japan and China, status-pursuit is more commonly seen as the responsibility of the group.
3 Ways to Acquire Status
The author says there are 3 main approaches to gaining status:
- Dominance, where status is coerced by force or fear (mafia organizations or armies)
- Virtue, where status goes to conspicuously dutiful, obedient, and moralistic (religions, royal institutions, or virtue signaling and cancel cultures)
- Success, where status goes either to the winner of a specific game with specific rules and outcomes, or to the player who displays skill, talent, or knowledge (corporations and sporting contexts)
Of course life and games tend to be mixed and overlapping however, says the author, one mode of playing often becomes prominent and defines the type of game.
Humans tend to engage in whatever can afford them the most status points, and are often an uncomfortable, contradictory mixture of all the three.
Dominance VS Prestige: Taking Status, Or Being Granted Status
Somewhat confusingly, after having introduced the “3 ways to acquire status”, the author then differentiates between dominance and prestige.
The difference is that dominant players tend to take power and status, while prestigious leaders are awarded status and power.
Both work, he says:
Dominant and prestigious players alike have more influence over co-players. Dominant men, like prestigious men, have greater reproductive success. One meta-analysis of over thirty studies found dominance to be one of the ‘most robust predictors of leader emergence, outperforming myriad others including conscientiousness and intelligence’.
However, albeit the author doesn’t directly state so, it seems that dominant leaders tend to gain leadership roles more often than prestigious ones -and especially so in turbulent times-.
Dominant Leaders Lead More, But Are Less Effective Than Prestigious Leaders
Dominant men are more likely to acquire positions of leadership.
Unluckily, they’re also less effective than prestigious leaders.
Says the author:
(…) dominant-style leaders are usually less effective than the prestigious, being more likely to put their own interests before the group, less likely to seek advice and tending to respond to criticism with ‘ego defensive aggression’. They’re also overbearing, like to publicly credit themselves with the success of the group, tease and humiliate subordinates and are manipulative
Instead, prestigious leaders are more self-deprecating, and publicly attribute success to the team.
Humiliation and Shame Are The Opposite of Status
Humiliation, shame, and rejection are the opposite of status.
The author links to several high-profile cases of murder, mass murder, or social aggression, all of which are very interesting and sound at the very least plausible.
Bin Laden as well was largely motivated by the humiliation he perceived.
Humiliation at the hands of more powerful and different Western cultures.
Similarly, researchers find that the prime driver of suicide bombers is also humiliation at the hands of the occupying troops (Why We Fight and Shame, Guilt, And Violence).
Humiliation is even a bigger motivator in cultures of honors, and for narcissistic individuals -especially the ones with fragile self-esteem-.
Warning: Avoid Ego-Projections On “Ambassadors of Status”
Some people project their ego into someone else to “hitchhike on their success”.
ambassadors for our groups: artists, thinkers, athletes and leaders with whom we strongly identify. They seem to symbolise us, somehow. They carry with them a piece of our own identity, a pound of our flesh – so their success becomes our success and we cheer it wildly. To our subconscious these idols are fantastically accomplished versions of us: our copy, flatter, conform cognition overrides our resentment.
That may sound good, BUT… If you live vicariously through other people’s successes, you’ll never succeed yourself.
That’s also why here on TPM we always discourage from projecting your ego onto any other individual, or any other group -a common and toxic example we warned against here is the tendency in the male self-development circles is to project one’s ego into “male superiority over women”.
You must be careful of the ego-projection dynamic because it comes naturally to humans.
And so does the unfair, time-wasting status boosterism.
For example, one study shows that 5-years old wearing a colored T-shirt thought more positively of children wearing the same colours, assessing them as more generous and kind. And in a subsequent game, they unfairly rewarded them with more coins.
This is also risky for you because you may end up feeling closer to someone who poses as more similar or as in-group, just to manipulate you and take advantage of you.
Sports fans & jingoism
Two good examples are sports fans and nationalists.
Both project their egos onto bigger groups and fanatically support their team or country so that they can feel good when the team or country does well.
Says author Laurie Lee describing a good example of this dynamic:
we were very poor in those days, poor but uncomplaining, we lived on boiled and baked cabbage, the poorest of the poor. And we used to sit there, looking at these maps and thinking, we are the greatest in the world. We own all those pieces of red on that map, on that world map.
Manipulative Stories Keep Low-Status People From Rebeling
Storr asks a very poignant question:
If we’re all so ambitious, why have the poorest, lowest-status persons stayed in the game?
Some reasons include:
- Manipulative stories, religions, and promises of next-life bliss
Some ad-hoc religions can provide the manipulative stories that keep them stuck.
For example, by making a generational sin they need to atone in their current life. Or with the promise of a future better life after death for all of those who submit in this life.
- Trickle-down games work: we play local games and focus on those immediately around us
People focus on their immediate lives.
So if there’s a king living lavishly while those around us eat bugs, many humans are happy to compete on who can afford the most bugs if the king is just enough far removed.
This is especially true if the local game feels “fair enough”.
As long as those games functioned properly, and our group received the rewards it expected, the status quo would likely be maintained.
A robust society is one in which the general populace is protected from outside threat and status trickles down in ways that are expected. Even if elite groups – the religious, legal, military, bureaucratic, aristocratic games – get nearly all the rewards, and bottom castes virtually none at all, stability won’t usually be threatened.
- Many humans have limited ambition, not boundless ambition
Most people don’t seek complete supremacy or alpha male status.
Instead, they’re content to have just enough to live.
So if the king is just enough removed, they don’t even think of deposing a kind.
What Creates Revolutions
So what does create revolutions, then?
Storr says that it’s a game that stopped working:
What creates revolutionary conditions isn’t the steepness of the inequality but the perception the game has stopped paying out as it should.
Instead, sociologist Jack Goldstone writes that people tend to rebel when they feel they are losing their proper place in society for reasons that are not inevitable and not their fault.
Warning: The System Replaces Your Value With The Group’s Values
The longer you stay in a group, the more you become part of it.
And the more you become part of it, the more you absorb its rules, and start obeying and acting accordingly to those rules.
Storr lays out the example of a lawyer who may not care too much about money.
But once everyone around him does, he eventually will start seeking money as a way of gaining more status and respect within his environment -and the system will profit as a result-.
Companies profit by replacing your values for rank
Companies and organizations profit a great deal when the employees start caring about rank, promotion, and salaries.
The more employees care, the more they will seek to do good work in order to advance.
And the company profits.
Warning: The Game Changes Behaviors & Personality
The game literally changes people.
Sometimes, for the worse.
Storr shares a few stories of people who started acting contrary to their usual selves when they fell into games that rewarded them for conformity and for certain behaviors that the game rewarded for.
The examples are:
- The false “day-care sex abuse cases” and the “Satan hunters” who started hunting for status points
- Woman who became anti-vaxer when she joined anti-vax Facebook groups and was cheered on for her beliefs
- Witch hunts
Warning: Wars Increase When The Status Game Rewards Warriors
Says the author:
An analysis of warriorship in premodern societies discovered a positive relationship between conflict intensity and the status on offer for fighters. ‘Warriors are motivated to participate in warfare because of the possibility of rewards,’ it found. These included ‘increased status, honorific names or titles, or special insignia’.
Wars can refer both to real war with guns and bombs, and to social or online aggression.
Conspiracy Theorists & Cancel Culture Are Toxic Games of Status
Conspiracy theorists and virtue signalers both play a game of status.
Conspiracy Theorists Are Low-Status Status Seekers
One investigation found those most likely to circulate ‘hostile political rumours’ including conspiracy theories and ‘fake news’ on social media were often ‘status-obsessed, yet socially marginalised’, their behaviour fuelled by a ‘thwarted desire for high status’, their aim, to ‘mobilise the audience against disliked elites’.
Some people in these games are “true believers”, and many others just pile in searching for status.
Once a whole group has been taken over by a strong culture, the dynamics can get more and more toxic. The true believers want to sniff out the posers and ensure obedience to the “truth”.
And non-believers who don’t have the personal power to speak up or walk out will start to “fake their belief” just to be accepted and gain status.
The Cancel Culture Has Already Turned Toxic
Once the game has started there is no leader in control of everything.
Once it starts, it’s mob dynamics.
Individuals start policing and attacking any target that can offer a good opportunity for status points -even if it was former colleagues in the same cancel culture game-.
Says the author:
Online mobs play virtue-dominance games: status is awarded to players who enforce their rules to those both inside and outside their groups.
Unluckily, it can be effective as studies of mobbing events on Twitter find shamers increase their follower counts faster than non-shamers.
Purity Spirals & Hunting Deviants
Toxic status games can turn into what Manning and Campbell call “purity spiral” in which players ‘strive to outdo one another in displays of zealotry, condemning and expelling members of their own movement for smaller and smaller deviations from its core virtues’.
That was the case during the terror of Robespierre, the communist movement and party in Russia, and is also taking place within the cancel culture.
But Status Games Also Built Advanced Civilizations
So far we mostly talk badly about status games.
However, like most games, the status games can also be used to reward positive and win-win behavior.
And our current ever-advancing society is based on a status game that rewards entrepreneurship and truth.
Storr says that civilizations took a major leap forward when we started to award status to entrepreneurs who went after value-adding production, and scientists who went after truth.
It started in Italy, in Venice and Florence.
And went international with the “Republic of Letters“, (one of) the first international network of intellectuals and scholars.
And when the old elites there re-established their dominion Englad took over the mantel.
From there, the advance spread over to the whole West.
The Prince Charles Paradox: High Official Status, Little Respect
The author explains that as societies got larger, the game also grew too large, and split into two:
- Formal game: announced at the higher levels of cultures, economies, royal descendants and political appointees
- Informal true game: that continues to occur in the minds of the players
This means that one player could acquire status and power informally, but without having much skills for the game -or much respect from the people-.
This was a great intuition by Storr and something we had already described on this website (and also did an infographic for it):
Status Games Turn Toxic When It’s Between-Groups
Storr explains how in hunter-gather societies individuals police each to make sure nobody socially climbs on others.
And, generally, interpersonal exchanges with attacks and defenses and intra-group dynamics ensure that the game remains relatively fair.
However, no such checks exist among groups:
(…) no such policing happens in status competitions between games. On the contrary, our co-players award us even more status when we behave in ways that boost our game’s rank and diminish that of our rivals
This is indeed a dangerous dynamic where individuals can fan the flames of hatred and turn the game into one that affords the most status to the members who mostly attack and demonize the outgroups.
Cults Are The Most Toxic Games
At the extreme of toxicity are cults.
Cults become the only source of status for their members.
Storr makes a good argument that “brainwashing” isn’t really the only -or best- explanation for cults.
Instead, brains in a cult are doing what brains are designed to do: seek belonging and status in the only meaningful group they are part of.
Successful Groups Are Status-Generating Machines
Leaders need to develop organizations that award status to their best players.
Machiavelli said it first, says the author, and he was right.
The author says the successful leader must make status available to everyone who adheres to the rules and, as Machiavelli said, ideally make people believe that those prizes are only available from him.
The status can be in the form of money, titles, medals, belonging to an elite, or a “ladder to heaven”.
But even simple appreciation from the leader can work -a judge power move-.
Successful politicians offer more status
Good Machiavellian politicians also tell the story of a special group that needs more status -and that they can get under his leadership, of course-.
Says the author:
The forty-fifth President of the United States, Donald Trump, told this story, by promising to ‘Make America Great Again’; so did his predecessor Barack Obama by seeking to embody ‘Hope’.
Same did Hitler.
And so did ISIS, leveraging a generation that felt low status in the world order, and promising to give back pride, honor… And status in the idealistic caliphate.
How to Acquire Status
Storr highlights 7 rules for winning in the status game.
- Practice warmth, sincerity, and competence: besides “high-power and high-warmth” that we also embrace here, the author adds “sincerity”. “Professor Jennifer Ray, reviewing some available research, says that morality is ‘not only a critical and separable dimension … it may even be the primary dimension’. Elsewhere, ‘perceived sincerity’ has been found to be essential to successful ‘impression management’.”
- Make small moments of prestige, dominant power moves add up to make people dislike you. Swap for the “prestige power moves”. Avoid ordering others around, use power protecting techniques. In the West, highlighting their freedom to decide is far more persuasive
- Play a hierarchy of games, the best way to defend yourself against tyranny and toxic groups and to win freedom and personal power is to play many games. Brainwashed people have simply invested too much into a single game. They become overly reliant on that game or that guru, and they risk catastrophic collapses if the game -their very self can disintegrate-.
So play many games, instead. “Psychologists find those with ‘complex,’ multiple self-identities tend to be happier, healthier and have more stable emotional lives“.
Storr also recommends that you prioritize some game/group that are most important to you, without letting it become your sole group.
- Reduce your moral sphere: stop judging and social climbing others, cast that eye inward and concern yourself with your own behavior instead
- Foster a trade-off mindset: view the world not in terms of “right or wrong” and groups in terms of “moral heroes and villains”, but as groups negotiating trade-offs. It also means empathizing more.
Often each side tells part of the truth.
- Be different: life in the status game can be tough. You can win the game with minor acts of non-conformity that do not violate the group’s basic standards for behavior but attract attention (Status, Cecilia L. Ridgeway)
- Never forget you’re dreaming: “A status game is a conspiracy we join to make ourselves feel important“. Even if you can’t fully separate from the game, you can gain freedom, power, and even happiness by realizing the nature of the game
High-Status People Behavior
Before those 7 rules, he also says that high-status people:
- Have longer eye contact
- Speak more often
- Speak more loudly
- Are more facially expressive
- Have more successful interruptions during conversations
- Stand closer to us
- Touch themselves less
- Use more relaxed, open postures
- Use more ‘filled pauses’ such as ‘um’ and ‘ah’ (note: I found some studies that say the opposite though, and better advice is to cut out your filler words)
- Have a steadier vocal tone (although some of these symbols may vary culturally)
- Set the tone -literal tone as in frequency- of speaking and others adapt
For more on social power and dominant behavior see:
Cues People Look For
Storr says the brain seeks 4 main cues for status:
- Skills (who is good at playing the status game)
- Success cues (status symbols)
- Prestige cues (who are people deferring or giving respect to?)
Our brain developed to play the game in small tribes, and can easily be short-circuited with people we don’t even know, as long as they become famous.
Says the author:
Today it’s not uncommon for millions to pay attention to one person simply because millions of others are paying attention to them and for this to become a feedback loop, sending a relatively unremarkable individual into the distant upper reaches of planetary status. Academics call this ‘The Paris Hilton Effect’.
Escape & Transcend The Game
The strategies by which we earn connection and status shape who we are. To a significant extent, we become the puppets of the games we play.
And there is no winning that game.
It never makes us satisfied, and… The status game makes us dependent on the group and game -even if you win and especially if you win-.
That has been the case with social media, but any group can turn us into a puppet player.
- Big fish small pond syndrome, and they’re all small ponds
And our analyses of some popular self-help status games:
This whole website and Power University help you turn into a man who can play the status game, but also transcend it.
- Proximity rule of status: your friends matters
So if you’re close to someone of lower rank, you may lose some status.
And the opposite is true: those of lower rank gain by engaging with higher-rank individuals.
For example, says the author on gossiping:
We could also gain status from gossiping. Who we gossip with can itself be a status symbol: swapping tattle with high-ranked others implies we’re of high rank too.
- Busyness has become a proxy for status
In our world that measures status by income and success, research suggests being busy has become a proxy for ambition and high status -as well as being scarcer and more in demand-.
- Dominance and aggression are more likely when the status hierarchy is unclear
If the hierarchy doesn’t clearly show who’s in charge, there’s a greater temptation to use aggression to secure supremacy.
- The best leaders have the least compliant followers
Which says a lot about what type of leaders make the best leaders -ie.: those who don’t impose and listen-.
A description of status:
A status game is a conspiracy we join to make ourselves feel important.
On the importance of status to achieve common human goals:
If you want to rule the world, save the world, buy the world or fuck the world, the best thing to pursue is status.
On alpha males dominance strategy becoming outdated as humans evolved:
In this communal, nested world, brute ferocity by alpha males was unwelcome and unuseful. Getting along and getting ahead meant winning the cooperation of others. Hyper-violent males who attempted to dominate the tribe would increasingly find themselves ostracized or executed. More peaceable and socially intelligent men began to gain status.
On the inevitability of the game of status:
The parable of the Communists reveals the impossibility of ridding human existence of the game. The drive to get ahead will always assert itself. It’s in us. It’s who we are.
For humans equality will always be the impossible dream.
On the importance of setting up the right rules of the game of status:
History is not made by individuals, but by individuals connected into groups. Those groups are status games. The data, and our history, are clear. If we truly want to help others and make the world a better place, we must play games of success.
Amen to that.
As usual, let me add this note:
We are VERY nitpicking here and this is a fantastic book.
That said, some nitpicks are:
Well sourced, just couple sources didn’t add up to me
The author wrote:
Wherever psychologists look, they find a remarkably powerful link between status and wellbeing.
One study of more than sixty thousand people across 123 countries found (…) Elsewhere, an extensive review of the scientific literature concluded that
It sounds like there are two different sources, but when I went to check it, the study was the same.
Storr did a great job with the research, but he may want to be careful with these minor slippages as it’s easy to lose trust in the work’s thoroughness.
In another instance, Storry says that “one review of the scientific literature found that “perceiving oneself as having low rank compared to others is consistently linked to higher depressive symptoms”.
However, when I checked that review, the abstract said that “multivariate analyses indicated that social rank may act as a psychosocial mechanism to explain the relationship between social factors (in particular socio-economic status) and depressive symptoms.”
The study’s abstract said may act as…
However, Storr may have well quoted some parts in the full study that I did not access.
Sometimes constructs are confused in my opinion (Ie.: Status VS Power)
The author says that, as a journalist researcher, he has vast knowledge, but not deep, and so he also recruited several scientists to help him out.
However, there aren’t that many experts on power dynamics, and sometimes I felt there was some confusion.
For example, the author says that, unlike status, the desire for power is not fundamental in humans, that it doesn’t strongly predict well-being and that, unlike status, is quenchable.
However, I strongly disagree here because status IS power.
At least it is if we look at power as the most general and higher-level construct and measure for your ability to achieve goals and get what you want.
Geoffrey Pfeffer also takes a larger view of power that includes status. We take that same large view not only because we believe it’s correct, but also because it’s more useful for learning and self-development.
Mixes Achievement With Status
In another instance, Storr says that we’re only happy when we achieve and get more compared to others.
However, that’s not so much about status as about personal achievement and victory because, as he also explains, status IS intrinsically a comparative measure.
Mixes Influence With Dominance
Says the author:
a person’s status is commonly expressed in their capacity to influence: they ‘tend to be more prominent in group discussions, to make their opinions known and their suggestions clear, and to articulate the consensus once it is determined’. The outsized influence that high-status players exert can also be measured in how much they talk.
This is not necessarily influence.
This is social dominance.
The status game is not as random as implied
The author says:
Groups of people gather together, agree what symbols they’re going to use to mean ‘status’, then strive to achieve it.
I agree that there is much randomness in what awards status.
However, there are also intercultural traits and signals of status that work almost anytime, anywhere.
For example, social skills, physical fitness, intelligence, high social power… These are all traits and behaviors that assign status almost universally.
The evolution of status to make us less violent didn’t add up to me
The author says that we evolved from pure dominance to also seeking and respecting the other two (“reputation games”), which made humans less violent compared to our primate relatives.
It sounds like a captivating explanation at first blush, but I don’t full agree.
For example, there are primates who are also non-violent.
Bonobos for example are not known to kill each other, which makes them less violent than humans.
Gets a bit “woke” in one chapter
The book as a whole is NOT woke or virtue signaling and instead very balanced and rational.
However, the chapter called “fairness, unfairness” does get a bit woke in my opinion.
- “the global oppression of women was not an inevitable pattern of nature but an epic historical injustice”
- “many respondents noted higher male presence in engineering, say, and higher female presence in childcare, and concluded one gender was better at these occupations. This is proving a frustratingly stubborn lesson to learn: underestimating a player on the basis of their gender is not only ignorant (..)”
That was a bit of a bait and switch to maintain the woke frame.
It IS a stretch to assume that an individual is better than another at anything simply based on gender. But it is NOT a stretch to assume that a gender as a role is tendentially better at something than the other.
The Status Game is a fantastic analysis of social status explained as a “game people play”, with its own rules and points awarded for whatever behavior the group ends up promoting.
That game can turn toxic, nonsensical, and even self-harming if the values are either poor or go extreme. Then, the behavior being rewarded also turns toxic, aggressive, or self-harming.
But unless you realize it’s a game, you’re stuck in it and bound to play because playing and seeking status is in human nature
This book is a great complement to TPM, and confirmed a few things that TPM embraced and advised in several articles, including the:
- Big fish syndrome, or how status in a group can make you feel good at first, but also make you dependent
- Alpha male status as a status game (albeit some values and behavior of alpha male game are actually good and universal)
- Cancel culture / virtue signaling culture as a status game that turned toxic and disempowering
- Develop the self, avoid being overly dependent on any group/game (it’s also one of TPM’s values to develop the self first and foremost and “learning to walk alone”)
- Avoid projecting your ego onto another group/individual as a way to “vicariously gain status” (something we also wrote in the red pill articles and a central theme of our “enlightened self-interest” article)
But Will Storr also adds plenty of more wisdom.
I learned a lot from it, and even took notes for this website’s articles and products (the biggest compliment I can ever pay to any author).
If you know how to look, it also offers many opportunities to turn wisdom into life strategies that will make you happier and more successful -and even more of an eagle-.
So, yes, we loved The Status Game and very much recommend it (and even added it to our list of best psychology books).