Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why Status Sucks.

Having a bunch of nice shit may convey status.  But it also can get in the way sometimes.

We just returned from a trip to West Virginia.  It was interesting as we stayed at a campground where people form all walks of life were staying.   And it is interesting when people of different socioeconomic backgrounds mix and meet - from the very poor and uneducated, to the very rich and highly educated.  If you can get past the status barrier, people can interact with one another.  But it ain't easy.  Alcohol helps.

Status prevents you from engaging with other people.  It creates a barrier between people, that would otherwise not exist.  People of high status may refuse to engage with people they perceive to be of lower status.  People who perceive you to be of higher status may refuse to engage with you, as they may think you are "stuck up" or because your perceived higher status makes them uncomfortable and feel inferior.

And the key word here is perceived status.   Status is often an illusory thing.  people who try to project status, through purchases of consumer goods, are often viewed as low-status by people who understand than buying things on time is not real status, but a sign of poor values and an impoverished background.  Only fools are impressed by flashy clothes, cars, and motorized accessories.

Others perceive status based on vocabulary, accent, and manner of speaking.  In the South and in West Virginia, we notice this a lot.   If you talk with a typical mid-western or Northeastern accent, you stand out among a group of people with a Southern drawl.   And to "fit in" you find yourself adopting the mannerisms, sayings, and accents of the host group you are with - this is normal human behavior.

I mentioned before about a friend of mine who grew up in a trailer park in West Virginia.   She wanted more out of life than to get pregnant at age 16 and live with an abusive husband.  She changed her hair color, her name, and especially her accent, and re-invented herself as a high-end interior designer in the big city.   And it worked to.   If you walk like a duck, talk like a duck, you are a duck.   But without that status, well, no one is going to ask Lurleen from West-by-God-Virginia on how to decorate their million-dollar townhouse in D.C., right?

Status probably has some deep-seated purpose in our society.   In the military, status is enforced by the Military Code of Justice (or whatever they call it).  One big offense an Officer can commit is "Fraternizing with Enlisted Men."   Simply stated, as an Officer, you can't be friendly or friends with, any enlisted personnel.  Why?  The reason is simple.  You can't order a man to march into machine-gun fire after sharing a beer with him the day before.  He will view you as a friend, not a superior, and not obey orders.

We see this in the working world as well.  I mentioned before how at the law firm, the "partner's row" of offices was separate from the rest of use plebe associates, and how that row had a hushed tone of a funeral home.   We did not associate with the partners, as they were viewed as demi-Gods.

Some partners tried to be friendly with the associates, and I think it backfired.  Once you realize that the partner that you idolized as a legal genius was in reality a schmuck like yourself, well, a lot of the aura wore off.  And you start asking yourself why you are working so hard to make him rich, and not yourself.  Status can be a way of obfuscating reality.

And we see this all the time in employment relationships.   You can't have a secretary or other clerical worker in a firm or company thinking anything but that you are a bloody genius and a demi-God.   If they get the idea that they can do YOUR job, it is all over for you.   And in industry and the military, they have a term for this, "insubordination" - the lack of respect or subordination an employee has for the employer.   And it is all based on status, or perceived status.

Perceived status is why some folks make a million dollars a year and others make less than a hundred thousand.   Granted, there are some talented few who deserve such large paychecks.  But there are also others who are just making the dough based on a job title alone, and are utter frauds otherwise.  Again, status, or perceived status gets in the way - in this case, of the marketplace effectively evaluating the value of one employee over another.

In the recent recession, however, we saw many folks lose these "status" based jobs, once it became apparent that their high salaries were based on status alone (or perceived status) on not on their real worth to the company.   Middle-managers who flail about trying to show their worth to the company (typically by doing stupid things like hiring consultants or motivational speakers or getting ISO certified) end up being shown the door.

Speaking of which, I saw a rest stop in Pennsylvania the other day that was "ISO 14000 Certified".   They are up to 14,000 already?   And why is a urinal that is ISO certified better to pee in than a non-certified one?   Moreover, hasn't the world seen through the scam of ISO certification yet (meat for another blog posting, I guess).   But in particular, isn't there someone at PENNDOT that needs to be fired for wasting money on this sort of nonsense?   I mean, that is taxpayer dollars there, right?  But once again, I digress...

It is easy to acquire status or at least perceived status.  Buy a lot of expensive shit (or expensive-looking shit) and people will assume you have money.  Talk without an impoverished accent and use an extensive vocabulary, and people will assume you are well-educated (unless you use those vocabulary words improperly, like Herman Cain, and it backfires).

Shedding status, on the other hand, is much harder to do.  You may come across as "talking down" if you try to simplify your speech or try to adopt the speech mannerisms of others.   It is a tricky deal.   In fact, it is probably best to try to avoid this, as it can backfire even worse than Herman Cain's attempts at vocabulary building.   Just be yourself, I guess, and if they don't like you, fuck 'em.