Sunday, May 18, 2008

Aligning status realms with public goods

I was just thinking about how you could probably attract a lot of interest in a website that created a status competition out of reducing your carbon footprint, and sure enough, it already exists: carbonrally.com.
Some might find such status competitions distasteful, but to the extent that humans tend to be status seekers in one realm or another, we should aim to align high status with activities that also serve the public good. This competition is probably a more socially beneficial form of status seeking than, say, commissioning the construction of a super yacht--not that most carbon rally-ers face such a decision. Ideally, the super wealthy would seek high status and the world's adoration by trying to solve problems, like finding a cure for malaria, and luckily we see a lot of that kind of behavior, too.
Along these same lines, it can be vulgar to boast of your academic pedigree, but as a society it's probably better to bestow high status on high educational attainment than other forms of association, such as one's clan or militia, or class or ethnicity.