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Do We Really Have The Choice Not To Play The Status Game?

Wherever we are, whatever our age, we are subject to the status game. Most of the time, this game is unconscious; we play it without realizing it. The rules change according to the environment in which we find ourselves. In short, we play several status games, depending on whether we’re with our family, at school, in the workplace or whatever.

Status: Central To Our SurvivalThere Are Different Ways Of Acquiring Status: Dominance, Prestige And Virtue

Humankind has only been sedentary for 500 generations at most. This is in contrast to our nomadic period, which has lasted over a hundred thousand generations. Status is an important element because it has enabled man to survive by belonging to a group. A person banished from a Paleolithic group would have had very little chance of surviving, and almost no chance of passing on his genes to the next generation. That’s why it’s so important to be socially accepted even today – it’s something that has left its mark on our DNA.

There Are Different Ways Of Acquiring Status: Dominance, Prestige And Virtue

There have been many degrees of status throughout the ages. In time immemorial, brute force prevailed among the first groups of humans, as it enabled them to defend themselves against predators and other human bands. As time went by, human bands became increasingly complex. The emergence of tools led to a segmentation of roles within the group. It was no longer just the element of brute strength that was valued, but also the contribution the individual made to the group. Prestige began to become a much more important aspect of status. A shaman, an outstanding fisherman, a storyteller or a cutlass maker could rival the fiercest warriors of the clan in status.


Prestige is linked to social utility within the group. Dominance is also useful (notably to protect the group), but in general, it’s mostly used to serve the interests of the person who holds the power. Dominance is our most archaic way of governing. It shows up from time to time (when children fight, for example), but more often than not it’s kept quiet because we prefer to use prestige to avoid being disqualified in some way. Indeed, the more complex a society becomes, the more elements of pure brutality will be repressed, and individuals who resort to them may suffer some form of ostracism. We all seek prestige. Professions are a good illustration of this quest. When we think of the professions of doctor, politician or business leader, there’s a particular correlation with their social utility that makes them extremely prestigious.


Virtue is an even higher level of status possibility. Virtuous people are at the forefront of society’s narrative. They are the shamans, priests, brahmins, sheikhs or philosophers in secular societies. They are the guarantors (and representatives) of a nation’s moral authority, and enjoy the highest degree of respectability in their respective societies. You don’t have to have a profession related to a nation’s cardinal virtue(s) to enjoy certain benefits. You simply have to act in accordance with the ethical codes of your society (being charitable in a Christian society, courageous in a tribal and warlike society, or humble in a Confucian society).

The Highest Person On The Social Pyramid Will Be Able To Combine The Three Dimensions Of Status

Given that these three status values are intrinsically linked to who we are from an anthropological point of view, it’s a good idea to play with these 3 levers to acquire maximum status capital.

Increase Dominance:

To increase your dominance, you need to increase your willpower. To do this, you need to come up against some form of resistance to train yourself to go beyond your limits. Essentially, adversity will help you become stronger and more incisive. You can join a martial arts club, take on a challenging project (starting a business, for example) to test your willpower while developing it.

Increase Your Prestige:

To increase your prestige, simply turn to talents that increase your usefulness or wealth (the two are usually correlated). If you’re wealthy, you have the opportunity to help more people, and if you have a rare and sought-after skill, you also have the opportunity to improve your usefulness to people or companies. Your prestige can be increased by your influence: the more people who know and appreciate you, the more leverage you have to influence society (social capital). Essentially, prestige could be the sum of different forms of capital: social capital / financial capital / symbolic capital / cultural capital / competence capital, etc.

Increase Your Virtue:

Virtue could be associated with what is commonly known as reputation. It’s moral or spiritual capital. You can increase it, and it will have a multiplier effect on the other forms of capital you already possess.

Refusing To Play The Status Game

Some people refuse to leave their homes (cf. the hikikomoris in Japan) because the social environment is too difficult, too competitive, too homogeneous, so to speak. They feel the weight of other people’s judgment on their shoulders, they can’t lose face all the time, so they prefer to recluse themselves at home to avoid showing that face. So is there really a way out in such circumstances? Can we escape the pressure of others and end the status game?

Escaping Or At Least Dodging Status Logics

If you live in different countries over the course of the year, or frequent different social-cultural or religious milieus, the contours of your quest for status would be difficult to draw. So there’s a chance you won’t feel the pressure of status as strongly if the social environment in which you live is constantly changing. Your mobility and agility are your strength. The more shells and capes you accumulate, the more you’ll be able to put yourself in anyone’s shoes and travel without trying too hard to maintain your ego, the more likely you’ll be to be “above the fray”. Of course, you may also be perceived as an outsider in any society you come across (e.g. travellers), but in reality today’s world is different. When you travel, you have the opportunity to belong to another group that doesn’t really socialize, but recognizes itself all the same. You can belong to the group of travelers (digital nomads, wealthy retirees etc.), and it’s up to you to choose the sub-group that best corresponds to who you want to be.

To Sum Up :

– You don’t really have the choice of avoiding the status game; you’re unknowingly playing one of the existing games (dominance, prestige or virtue), whether you want to or not. – You can avoid playing only by cutting yourself off from the world and living in isolation. – There are many ways to increase your status. All you have to do is acquire one of its forms.

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