Monday, June 13, 2022

Real Power vs. Status Symbols

"Why are affluent people more susceptible to luxury beliefs? They can afford it. And they care the most about status."--Rob Henderson's Newsletter

Stages of Power
A friend sent me a stimulating article this morning titled "Luxury Beliefs Are Status Symbols." I say stimulating because it served as a catalyst to ignite other thoughts I've had in the past and their connections to books and articles I've read. 

The premise of this article is that the things that used to confer status on elites has changed over time. It used to be goods that conferred status. The biggest yacht, the biggest house (or most houses), having servants--all of these things were designed to let people know, "We're not like other people. We're in a different class. We're more important." 

Today, however, demonstrating status has taken a new form. Henderson calls it "Luxury Beliefs." Luxury beliefs, he says, "are ideas and opinions that confer status on the upper class while often inflicting costs on the lower classes."

The article notes that the biggest proponents of defunding the police are not the middle and lower classes, but rather the elites who can afford their own private security and who live in gated communities.

In Pennsylvania, if you have a rust spot hole in the body of your car that is bigger than a quarter, you can't pass the mandatory state car inspection. Elites drive new cars every year, so the rule never hurts members of their class. What it does, however, is keep cars more expensive, not necessarily safer. That small hole is not going to kill or maim anyone. It limits the quantity of used cars available, thereby driving prices up.

The notion of Status Symbolism brought to mind a really insightful book by Janet O. Hagberg titled Real Power. Hagberg's experience as a consultant to numerous Fortune 500 companies in the 1980s gave her an insider's perspective on the nature of power within organizations. Her book details the six stages of personal power.

Hagberg details the characteristics of each stage, identifying what holds people back in that stage, and the ways to move forward out of that trap. Here are the stages she outlines.

Stage One: Powerlessness

Stage Two: Power by Association

Stage Three: Power by Symbols

Stage Four: Power by Reflection

Stage Five: Power by Purpose

Stage Six: Power by Gestalt

The reason this came to mind is because of what she said in the third chapter about symbols of power. 

Essentially most people who rise above the sense of personal powerlessness do so by associations or symbols. Unions, caucuses, church groups, VFW--there are manifold ways in which people feel more powerful by associating with a bigger group or team. 

Others gain a sense of power by means of symbols of success such as driving the right cars, living in the right neighborhood, capturing the corner office. In Hagberg's view these levels are traps that hold us back from attaining real power. Stages two and three derive their power from others rather than from within.

So returning to the original story, according to Rob Henderson Luxury Beliefs Are Status Symbols. To me, this is probably the most striking statement from the article: "Luxury beliefs are ideas and opinions that confer status on the upper class while inflicting costs on the lower classes." It's an interesting concept, and you can read the article by clicking on the bold, light blue text above.

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There was another story that came to mind when I thought of what was called "the leisure class" a hundred years ago. During World War One, one of the reasons so many young soldiers--men and boys--were slaughtered at the Somme and elsewhere in the early part of war is that nearly all but one of the British generals were from the leisure class. They had no clue what war was. They were generals in name, but preferred fox hunting and drinking fine wine or whatever diversion du jour occupied their attention. These generals were to be implicitly obeyed even as they ordered their troops to run headlong into German machine gun fire. 

Read: The British Generals at the Dawn of World War One

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Meantime life goes on.  

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