Elsewhere, Goldstone finds a predictable precursor to societal collapse to be ‘elite overproduction’ — when too many elite players are produced and have to fight over too few high-status positions. A moderate level of overproduction is beneficial, as it creates healthy competition and increases the quality of the elites that do end up occupying the most prestigious positions, in government, media, the legal world, and so on. But too much overproduction leads to resentful cadres of failed elites forming their own status games in opposition to the successful. They begin warring for status, attacking the establishment, which contributes to its destabilization. Goldstone finds these dynamics in the years leading up to the English Civil War, the French Revolution and crises in China and Turkey. Once again, we find chaos and history being made in the aftermath of the game’s expected rewards failing to pay out.
Storr, Will. The Status Game. William Collins Books; London; 2021. p. 115
One of the main points in my PhD dissertation on climate change and activism is that, in order for them to improve outcomes, policies to control climate change and abolish fossil fuels need to be sustained for decade after decade (§5.7, p. 201).
Only when there is confidence about the future direction of policy can individuals and firms make sufficient investments in post-fossil fuel infrastructure.
Likewise, if people think that policies to get off fossil fuels are changeable, they will exert their efforts to lobby the government to make those changes, instead of working to decarbonize.
Right now, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is demonstrating the dangers of policy instability: Rishi Sunak announces U-turn on key green targets. Also:
The backtracking on electric vehicles was most surprising. Just two months ago, the government promised a £500m ($643m) subsidy to Tata, an Indian conglomerate, for a new battery plant in Somerset. (And in July Michael Gove, a cabinet minister, had agreed the 2030 deadline was immovable.) Other carmakers immediately reacted angrily. Ford said the industry needed “ambition, commitment and consistency” from government, all of which had been undermined. Sir Simon Clarke, a former Conservative cabinet minister, asked how businesses should plan “if we respond to one by-election…by tearing up key planks of government policy.”
As always, it is vexatious and painful to see that our leaders don’t have a serious plan to avoid climate change catastrophe. The fact that they don’t shows how they see it as someone else’s problem: just a legacy of ruin that other people will need to endure.
I feel like I have been seeing increasing journalistic coverage about young people not wanting to bring new children into this world. Often the focus of these stories is economic, but I feel like there must be deeper climate-related motives too. The message older generations have sent is that they are quite happy to ruin the Earth for future generations if doing so will protect their personal interests. When their elders have made that choice — and keep voting consistently with it — perhaps the young deserve praise for not wanting to keep this species going.
Our ill feeling toward high-status players has been captured in the lab. When neuroscientists had participants read about someone popular, rich and smart, they saw brain regions involved in the perception of pain become activated. When they read of this invented person suffering a demotion, their pleasure systems flared up. Psychologists see this effect cross-culturally, with one study in Japan and Australia finding participants took pleasure in the felling of a ‘tall poppy’: the higher their status, the greater the enjoyment of their de-grading. The most venomous levels of envy were reported when the poppy’s success was ‘in a domain that was important to the participant, such as academic achievement among students’ – when they were rivals in their games.
An yet, as we’ve learned, we’re also drawn to high-status people: we crave contact with the famous, the successful and the brilliant. So our relationship with elite players is thunderously ambivalent. On one hand, we gather close to them, offering them status in order to learn from them and, in the process, become statusful ourselves. On the other, we experience grinding resentments towards them. This, perhaps, is the result of the mismatch between our neural game-playing equipment and the massively outsized structure of modern games. Our brains may be specialized for small tribal groups but today – especially at work and online – we play colossal games in which poppies loom over us like redwoods. 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. The exceptions we make tend to be for ambassadors from our own groups: artists, thinkers, athletes and leaders with whom we strongly identify. They seem to symbolize 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.
Storr, Will. The Status Game. William Collins Books; London; 2021. p. 97-8