Reality Blind - Vol. 1

increasingly prefer to buy as their price gets higher because the greater cost signals greater status. (A Rolex does fewer things than a $20 Timex, is less comfortable, weighs more, and will get you mugged — but gets you respect!) Status-induced envy is a strong motivator . Increasing evidence in the fields of psychology and economics shows that above a minimum threshold of income/wealth, it’s primarily one’s relative wealth or income that we care about, not the absolute amount. In an analysis with more than 80,000 people, the relative rank of an individual’s income predicted that person’ s general life satisfaction, whereas the absolute income and reference income had little to no effect 33 . In another study, when asked if they would prefer living in a 4,000-square-foot house where all the neighboring houses were 6,000 square feet or a 3,000-square-foot house where the surrounding houses were 2,000 square feet, the majority of respondents chose the latter 34 — smaller in absolute terms, but bigger in relative size . In other words, having higher abstract “house status” than your neighbors is wor th giving up a third of your floor space! If you visit Madagascar, the eleventh poorest nation on earth, you might see villagers huddled around the one TV in the village watching the nation’s most popular TV show, Melrose Place , giving them a window into Hollywood glitz and glamour, and a beacon to dream about and strive for. Relative status signals cross oceans. From an evolutionary perspective, we swim daily in a sea of social status. Our modern culture has equated money and the things it buys as a primary scorecard for social status, which as we’ll see, on a finite planet, is a problem. If you think you are immune to this phenomenon, imagine yourself voluntarily doing something that would reduce your status among friends and peers and the public. It’s no t easy to do. TaaL: Sometimes you kid yourselves about what I’d call “crypto - status” signals. Insulating an attic provides far greater energy benefits than adding solar panels to the roof…but the neighbors can’t SEE your attic insulation, so solar panels sprout like dandelions after spring rains while your attics leak heat. Deciding to carpool using your existing car would provide more societal and environmental benefits than buying a hybrid vehicle, but that comes across to others as “lower class”— a Prius or Tesla raises your status (and waste stream) considerably. Earth’s nations that many Americans describe as “third world” are all expecting to rise from a position of “relatively less wealth” to parity with the conspicuously consuming “first world”. Yet as Gandhi said, if his nation and China decided to pursue the western model of consumption “ it


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