Envy Up, Scorn Down
How Status Divides Us
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
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In the United States today we are divided by envy and scorn, brought on by the status concerns that pervade our society. Income inequality, now at historically high levels, aggravates these status divides. Many of us envy those above us in status and scorn those below us, but whether we are the object of these comparisons or the person making them, feelings...
1. Comparing Ourselves to Others: Envy and Scorn Divide Us
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We are constantly comparing ourselves with others, and comparison is only natural. Even dogs and chimps do it, as we will see. At the same time, comparisons divide and depress us by making us envy those above us and discount those below us. So why do we persist in making comparisons? Could we harness this tendency so that...
2. Signatures of Envy and Scorn: We Know Them When We See Them
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The signs of envy and scorn are everywhere because the vertical dimension is everywhere. The vertical dimension, “ambition’s ladder,” is a necessary part of any human system. Group-living animals all have hierarchies. Even chickens have pecking orders. Coordination demands it. Stability demands it. Adjustment demands it. Despite the...
3. Who Cares About Comparisons?
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Considering that scorn is just as socially imprudent to reveal as envy is, evidence of our inner drama indeed is uncommon. Yet as the last chapter argued, we know these emotions when we see them, and they are everywhere. Unpleasant as they may be, we all share the experiences of comparison that give rise to them. We cannot help...
4. Why Do We Compare? Comparison Informs Us
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We all need to know where we stand, especially in those “moments when what we thought we knew, about our lives, about our careers, [our relationships, our appearance, our health] comes into contact with a threatening sort of reality.” Life requires that our self-view at least approximately fit our reality, not to mention our...
5. Why Do We Compare? Comparison Protects Us
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Sometimes we want to know where we stand, but sometimes we just want to feel “bright by comparison.” Besides evaluating and perhaps improving ourselves, we would like to feel good.1 Self-esteem is a less lofty goal than being informed, but we all need to feel good enough to get out of bed in the morning...
6. Why Do We Compare? Comparison Helps Us Fit into Our Groups
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Aristotle was among the first to tell us that we are profoundly collective beings. We prefer to be included: “We’d love you to join us” may be one of the most compelling human appeals. As chapter 3 noted, we have good adaptive reasons to be with others: we survive and thrive better if we are social than if we are isolates. Exclusion literally...
7. Beyond Comparison: Transforming Envy and Scorm
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Faculty meetings are famous for fights over the finer points of petty procedures. Academics like to quote an aphorism attributed to Henry Kissinger: University politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small. But not just the professoriate jockeys for position when placed in groups. Toddlers do it, dogs do it, chimps do it. All of us rank ourselves relative...
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Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2011