n. The Acquisition of Status

The Acquisition of Status

Those who rise to the top of an organisation are not necessarily those whose skills are associated with its intended function. Rather, they can be those whose skill is the acquisition of status. People who achieve high social status often show some or all of the following characteristics.

Ambition. As well as carrying out a community function, organisations also satisfy the needs of their members. For example, normal employment provides a salary, social interaction, etc. In a voluntary organisation, it provides for more social and psychological needs. To be ambitious one must have a pressing need to satisfy. The more pressing the need, the more vigorously we will pursue its satisfaction, and thus, the more likely we are to succeed.

Negotiating skills. To acquire status, one must trade support for it. Some are more skilled in this than others. We may, for example, have learned these skills during our upbringing or from a role model. Imbalances in trading skills will eventually lead to a situation in which those with greater skills have greater status than others.

Skill in Selecting an Existing Hierarchy to Climb. A point worth noting is that it is far easier to climb an existing hierarchy than to create a new one with oneself at the pinnacle. The latter requires genuine leadership skills and much effort. This is not a universal rule, of course. There are, for example, politicians, press magnates, businessmen, and celebrities who have achieved high status with the help of a silver spoon from their parents.

Displays of Status. Clearly, those who aspire to higher social status must be seen to have something to trade with potential supporters. They must, therefore, overtly display the attributes of leadership and/or power. Irrespective of the role that they fill, the more successful they are in this, the more support they will receive. Conversely, those of lower status must display a willingness and ability to provide support.

Status is displayed through symbols, e.g., material goods such as clothing, cars, houses, etc. They are also displayed through communication, e.g., “name dropping”. A common strategy for acquiring social status, leadership and power is therefore the false display of such symbols and communications. People will create an impression of status by creating an impression of power or influence. Potential supporters will respond accordingly, and thus, status comes to those who appear to have it.

Within a very large hierarchy such as a nation, the various strata may be so large that they form their own distinct culture, for example the social classes in the UK. Displaying the values, norms, symbols, and beliefs of a higher status culture are often necessary to enhance one’s social status. Again, this can be learnt through upbringing or the emulation of a role model. However, it is more difficult to do so if one has been raised in a lower stratum of society. This reinforces the strata in a hierarchy, making movement between them more difficult.

Displays of Competence. Leadership skills will attract followers, thus enhancing social status. However, such skills also need to be overtly displayed.

Displays of Altruism. People who aspire to climb a hierarchy can be altruistic only to the extent necessary for others to support them. A common strategy among those who would lead is to give the impression that it is the needs of the group which are valued most highly whilst, in reality, it may be personal needs. However, the individual will take care that this is not recognised by the group until his or her status is established, or convincingly faked.

Emulation of Role Models. To attract followers, members of the higher strata will display the trappings of their status to those in the lower ones. In many cases they will become a role model to those in the lower strata. Note that people learn both leadership skills and the use of power from role models. There are formal leadership courses but none for managing power.

Cultural Adaptation. If a higher status individual is seen to be behaving in a way contrary to the conscience or self-concept of a lower status one, then the latter may conclude that there is something wrong with their conscience or self-concept and modify it. Even if the behaviour of the higher status individual is believed to be wrong, the lower status one may value membership of the group to such an extent that, rather than risk rejection, they will adopt a strategy for dealing with internal conflicts, such as rationalisation, repression, or denial. Often a rationale will be provided by the organisation, which the lower status individual accepts and adopts.

Expansionism.  The larger a group, the greater the power of those in the highest stratum. Thus, there is a natural tendency for the latter to seek to expand their organisation or part of it. This applies whether the group is a department, business organisation, religion, or nation. Such expansion is not necessarily in the interest of the group as a whole, however, and may be solely in the interest of the highest stratum.

Chance, luck, or fortune. Finally, Imbalances in chance, luck, or fortune will inevitably lead to some individuals achieving greater social status than others.

n. Maintaining Independence of Mind

Maintaining Independence of Mind

To maintain our independence of mind it is necessary to avoid unconscious beliefs and attitudes that we would prefer not to have. Suggestions as to how we might do so are listed below.

  • Question the motives of charismatic leaders and role models.
  • Avoid following authoritarian leaders or being managed by authoritarian managers. They will insist that we adopt their point of view if we wish to remain in the group that they lead. Inclusive leaders and managers, on the other hand, respect, and value independence of mind.
  • Avoid following populist leaders. They will often place the blame for any difficult circumstances we find ourselves in on an “outgroup” rather than address the true reasons.
  • Avoid ideologies. If we need to join a group to socialize, then we should join one whose members have a wide range of views rather than a particular ideology. This can be checked by adding “ism” to words in a group’s name.
  • Practice awareness of our own emotions and those of others with whom we interact. Emotional contagion and emotional carry-over from previous decisions can both affect our current decisions. Furthermore, our emotions can be deliberately manipulated by others to achieve their desired ends.
  • Our conscious skills can be strengthened by practicing highly focused mental and, possibly, physical activities, e.g., a personal project or Sudoku puzzles.
  • Develop a clear personal ethic and set of values. It may need to evolve over time as circumstances alter it, but that is normal.
  • Consciously rehearsing our ethics and values can strengthen them. A strongly held ethic makes it more difficult for contradictory unconscious beliefs and attitudes to gain a foothold.
  • Acquaint ourselves with the verifiable facts around an issue before making decisions associated with it.
  • Consciously criticise our decisions, especially apparently spontaneous ones. Judge them against our personal ethic and values. If necessary, veto them and think again.
  • Avoid watching unsolicited advertising. For example, watch advertisement free channels or mute the TV when they are on. Cover the advertisements on the back of seats of buses and aircraft. If we need something we can search for it on the internet or consult a shopkeeper.
  • It is particularly important to avoid watching the same advert repetitively. In the UK it is illegal for an ad. to repeat the same message more than three times as this subliminally reinforces it. So how do advertisers get around this? By frequently repeating their ad.
  • Lobby government for greater controls over advertising. It should be factual, unintrusive, not personally targeted, not excessively repetitive, and not imply that the product has false benefits.
d. The Acquisition of Knowledge

The Acquisition of Knowledge

The French philosopher Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592) remarked on our inability to find a satisfactory criterion for knowledge. I will, therefore, define it as information held in peoples’ minds, which may be considered true or false, and which includes our beliefs and attitudes. “Knowledge”, “beliefs” and “attitudes” are essentially different words used to describe mental information in different contexts. This information, in combination with our reasoning processes and our needs, determines our behaviour.


The knowledge of an individual is acquired in two main ways: from observation of the world around us and by receipt from others. All children are born with inherited predispositions but no knowledge. If a child had to work out for itself how to survive in its environment, then it would frequently make mistakes and might come to an unhappy end. Parents and other members of a child’s community will therefore provide an initial education which gives the child a working understanding of its environment.

Our early schemata are established in this way. However, as explained in the previous blog, information provided by others may have been distorted by their “effort after meaning”, contain errors of reasoning, and may even be lies. We accept as true any information which does not contradict our existing schemata. Failing that, we would acquire no new knowledge. Much of the information that young children receive from others falls into that category. Once established, the early schemata of the child will be resistant to change. As Aristotle famously said, “Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man”. Change can occur, however, if sufficient contradictions accumulate. Thus, our schemata alter in fits and starts. There is a period of rapid change followed by a period of quiescence in which the schema is resistant to change. In cases involving a significant change of worldview, this can be accompanied by an emotional crisis similar to grief at the loss of a loved one. Such crises can last for several years while the young adult goes through the stages of denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. The importance of providing children with reliable knowledge cannot be understated, therefore.

Socialisation or Social Learning

Social rules are necessary if society is to co-operate successfully for the benefit of its members. If we follow them then we will function successfully in our society, contribute to its success and, thus, prosper personally. Again, it is difficult for the child to work out these social rules for itself and, thus, parents and other teachers will provide an initial working education based on the culture of the society, i.e., its norms, values, beliefs and symbols.

During the 1950s psychologists developed the theory that we now know as Social Learning Theory. In summary, this theory states that some beliefs and strategies are formed in the following way:

  1. Identification with role models. Role models are usually parents, teachers, peers or people like oneself, and people seen as having advantages such as popularity, wealth, or fame.
  2. This identification leads to imitation behaviour and/or learning through observation. In the latter, behaviours may not necessarily be imitated immediately but may simply be remembered as strategies which can be used in later life. Seeing that a strategy adopted by another person successfully satisfies their needs will provide what is known as vicarious reinforcement and will condition a strategy even when it is not being performed by the person learning it. For example, if a colleague at the office always works through their lunch break and ultimately receives a promotion, then you may unconsciously adopt the same strategy in your next job.
  3. Imitation behaviour is either positively or negatively reinforced by other members of society depending on their beliefs about what is acceptable or unacceptable. These beliefs about social behaviour are referred to as norms. It may, for example, be the norm in your office to work through the lunch break. Through conditioning, norms become internalised or accepted as one’s own, and can be held unconsciously. Thus, the strategies underlying behaviour become conditioned or extinguished through social reinforcement. Highly conditioned beliefs about social behaviour form the conscience, a set of beliefs governing behaviour which cause psychological distress when our behaviour is contrary to them. For example, a socialised person will feel guilty if he steals.

In my next post, I will return to schemata, paradigms, and memes and describe the features that they have in common.