Think and Grow Rich: Autosuggestion and Faith

Do you worry about your position in society? Why shouldn’t you care about what others think of you?

In The Status Game, Will Storr writes that a status game is successful when it generates status for its members and for the group as a whole. Though there are plenty of reasons to play status games, they have a dark side.

Find out why you shouldn’t care what others think of your status in society.

1. Status Games Induce Feelings of Grandiosity—and Humiliation

One reason why you shouldn’t care what others think is because you’ll be at risk of experiencing a dangerous mix of emotions. Storr explains that a natural consequence of status games is that the competition induces a sense of grandiosity, or exaggerated self-regard, in the game’s players. However, if the game fails to reward us in the way we expected, or we gain status and then lose it, our sense of grandiosity turns into humiliation, or a loss of pride or self-respect.

On an individual level, humiliation can result in poor mental health outcomes like depression, anxiety, and even suicidal ideation. When the humiliation is damaging enough, it can prompt us to react with rage and violence. The consequences can be dangerous: Storr writes that in extreme cases, a history of repeated humiliation is linked to violent crimes. For example, as a student at Harvard, Ted Kaczynski joined a psychological experiment where every week for three years an experimenter verbally abused and humiliated him. Kaczynski later carried out terror attacks with homemade bombs and became known as the “Unabomber.”

Storr writes that sometimes, it’s not just an individual but a group of people who lose status or don’t receive the status they feel that they’ve earned. When this happens, they may band together to overthrow the people at the top of the hierarchy

2. Status Games Can Make People Believe Almost Anything

A second consequence of our drive to gain status is that a game can make us believe almost anything, even something irrational. In games where people earn status by believing in an idea, then the belief itself becomes a status symbol. The people who have adopted the idea come to view it as a core part of their identity. An example is the theory that childhood vaccinations cause autism: Storr describes how, when well-intentioned parents believe misinformation about vaccines and reject immunizations for their children, some become so invested in groups that spread anti-vaccination messages that these groups become core to their identity. 

(Shortform note: Experts explain that group identity can profoundly shape our beliefs and make us dismiss any challenges to them. Researchers have found that the more strongly a person identifies with an anti-vaccine group, the harder it is to get them to change their mind about vaccines. If a person’s vaccine hesitancy gives them positive self-esteem and personal meaning, then their membership in the group becomes part of their identity. For example, people who describe themselves as “anti-vaxxers” are more likely to identify as a group than people who describe themselves as “vaccine-hesitant,” and this group identity has a powerful ability to shape their beliefs and actions.)

Storr explains that when a game becomes too conformist, it becomes something like a cult, a group that requires people to show complete obedience with their behaviors and their beliefs. In games that require conformity, players gain status by proving their dedication to the group’s belief. As people see others attaining status within the group, they join and adopt the belief, which becomes part of their identity. In this way, even extreme ideas grow in popularity.

(Shortform note: How can you tell when a group is operating like a cult? Experts say that cults are defined by their dedication to an ideology (usually an extreme belief), and they’re often headed by charismatic leaders. But cults can be difficult to tell apart from other belief-based organizations, whether those organizations have formed around a religious belief or a belief in a political ideology or a corporate mission. We tend to think that joining a cult requires people to be particularly credulous, or to believe an outlandish claim that we’d never fall for. But experts note that we all believe things for which we have little evidence, and we can all adopt illogical beliefs, especially when we’re in a group of people who have also gotten on board with an idea.) 

3. Status Games Produce Hostility and Enmity

A third way that status games go wrong is when the natural rivalry between groups becomes too extreme and prejudices us against members of a rival group. We naturally find it uncomfortable to encounter someone whose beliefs contradict ours. But this becomes dangerous when we decide that people who believe differently than we do aren’t just wrong, but morally wrong and therefore evil. 

When hostility between groups occurs, we often cease to see members of other groups as unique individuals. Storr explains that instead, we see them as a homogenous group, one that threatens our values and beliefs just by existing and by following different rules than we do. We may even feel justified in attacking others whose beliefs are different from others. This hostility between groups unites people within each group, reinforcing the narrative that group members are heroes fighting for a noble cause and that people outside the group are villains. 

4. Status Games Incentivize Conformity and Prime People to Engage in Tyranny

A fourth danger occurs when the game becomes tyranny: when it becomes oppressive in its control, coercing people to follow its rules and refusing to tolerate those who don’t comply. Storr characterizes tyranny as one of the greatest dangers of status games because it distorts our perception of reality. This particular form of tyranny isn’t one enacted by a single leader: Instead, it’s a “tyranny of cousins,” where the members of the group enforce conformity, sometimes brutally. He says we all have the capacity for tyranny (like when we “cancel” people online for acting in a way that contradicts our beliefs). But by incentivizing us to participate in its cruelty, a tyrannical game clouds our judgment and can lead us to make unethical decisions. 

However, Storr warns, conforming with the group doesn’t always keep us safe. When a game gets more strict and more focused on its rules, even ingroup members come under suspicion. Some people become more strict as the game does. Others lose their faith in the game, but enforce its rules to perform a loyalty that they no longer feel. As people’s doubts about the group grow, they become suspicious of others. The game can then turn into a “witch hunt,” where members hunt down players who are insufficiently loyal to the game. 

5. Status Games Make Evil Seem Virtuous

A fifth way in which status games go wrong happens when a game metes out brutal consequences for a rival group that it considers its enemy. When a group playing a virtue-dominance game feels it’s under threat by another group, it feels justified in demonizing its enemies and destroying lives to protect its status. Because the group maintains a steadfast belief in its own morality, its members become so invested in the narrative of their own heroism that they experience what Storr calls “toxic morality.” These groups are then primed to commit acts of violence, such as colonialism and genocide, and to perceive these acts as virtuous.

For example, Storr writes, after the First World War, Germany lost its status as one of Europe’s great powers. Many Germans accepted the narrative that Jews were responsible for Germany’s loss and humiliation, but they focused less on Adolf Hitler’s message of antisemitism and more on his promises that the Nazi party could restore Germany’s status. Once the majority of Germans became invested in the Nazi party by virtue of the rewards (the status) they gained by participating, then its rules and beliefs could become more extreme, leading to the Holocaust.

6. Status Games Perpetuate Injustice

Finally, a sixth consequence of status games gone wrong is the inequality they create or perpetuate. Some people have a lot of status, some have very little, and everyone wants more than what they have. Storr explains that while we think that we want equality, status games all but guarantee that what we really want is to gain more status and a higher place in the hierarchy. Status games also create the problem of an elite class, which always exists even if the game’s structure undergoes monumental change, like when a political system changes. 

According to Storr, people have long been attracted to the idea of a system that does away with inequality by eradicating the idea of personal property and wealth: a society where everything is shared and people live and work together. The problem is that the human desire to be more and have more than our neighbors is deeper, and older, than our systems of private property and wealth. (This, he says, is why Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin’s Communist Party didn’t create an equal society without hierarchy, but instead produced new classes and privileges.) Storr notes that it’s impossible to eradicate our desire to have more status than our neighbors. It’s part of us, and we have to find productive rather than destructive ways to channel it. 

The 6 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Care What Others Think

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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