Status as a fetish

Fetish can be defined as “a part standing for the whole” or “one thing being made bigger than it is by having become a psychological fixation.”

A good example of what I mean is pornography. Insofar as a mere image can stand for or replace instinctual sexual objectives, it is a fetish.

A sign (pornographic image) is as strong or stronger than the animal instinct. Or a sign can direct or redirect the animal instinct. That is a fetish.

Secondary sex characteristics do the same thing. You could call them nature’s fetishes but that would be stretching the concept. Human utilizations of makeup, clothing, and grooming could be said to stand “halfway” between the basic sexual instinct and the fetishized porno image.

Let’s apply that reasoning to status.

Two social psychologist I respect—Jordan Peterson and Kevin MacDonald—have both claimed many times that status is a fundamental human instinct and that it drives human behavior in many ways.

In posts on this site, I have disagreed with these ideas several times. I just don’t see it that way. Here are two of those posts: Status and hierarchy are as fundamental to human life as murder and Jordan Peterson on the gender pay gap, campus protests and the patriarchy.

In the second link just above, I said:

…I do not believe that social status is any more fundamental to human nature than murder is. Humans also possess reason and spiritual inclinations both of which can guide us away from status competition if we decide to do that and/or our conditions allow.

I still think that but over the past day or two a new understanding of the importance of status and human hierarchy has dawned on me. In essence, I think I have come to see that status really is a huge deal for many people; a much bigger deal than I had ever realized.

My explanation for that is people like me (and there are many of us) during childhood and adolescence see the “status game” as a choice. And we decide not to play it.

My SO made that choice. When we talked about this subject this morning, she said people like us are more open to art (in a broad sense) and less concerned with social hierarchies. I think that’s true. One good friend years ago used to call me a “now person,” meaning I am always living in the here and now and not doing a lot of planning for the future. I think she also meant or implied that I am not doing any thinking about my social status or the human hierarchies that surround me.

A Buddhist nun who is a close friend has often described mundane human behaviors as being motivated by jealousy. I have often disagreed with her, believing that her emphasis on jealousy was influenced too much by her culture (Chinese) or by the innocence of her monastic lifestyle.

Today, I think she was influenced by the status-conscious world she had grown up in and as a young adult renounced for Buddhism. But I also think she was able to see something I have been almost completely blind to. For me status has always been a very small cloud on the edge of the sky, not a major thunderstorm in human motivation. For her it is, or was, a storm in the human mind.

Status is a fetish. And fetishization does explain a lot about it. But if lots of people have that fetish or have that strong understanding of status, that’s how it is. As a social construct the status fetish can be even bigger and more imposing than the basic instinct it rests upon.

I hope this post helps people who see status as important understand people like me and my SO, and vice versa.

From a Buddhist point of view, I think it is important to fully understand the entire status spectrum—from instinct to fetishized sign—and to understand where you are on that spectrum and where the people you deal with are on that spectrum.

My guess is that most people reading this blog do not think of status as being very important. People like us need to appreciate that status is probably largely what motivates good people like Jordan Peterson as well as bad people like Bernie Madoff.

Might also be good if status-conscious people would understand that people like us are not all slackers or losers, nor are we seething with envy over your status. We simply do not even see the game you are playing. We do other stuff like become monastics or perform ordinary tasks cheerfully and without complaint.

Is there a universal morality or basis for morality?

Anthropologists from the University of Oxford believe there are seven components or rules of human morality that can be found in all societies.

…help you family, help your group, return favours, be brave, defer to superiors, divide resources fairly, and respect others’ property, were found in a survey of 60 cultures from all around the world.

An article about this study can be found here: Seven moral rules found all around the world.

The study itself can be found here: Is It Good to Cooperate? Testing the Theory of Morality-as-Cooperation in 60 Societies.

The study concludes that the universal basis of human morality is cooperation.

Among the seven rules, bravery is defined as a moral virtue in defense of one’s group, an ultimate form of cooperation that may result in death.

Deference to superiors seems to be a virtue that supports group hierarchy.

Both bravery and deference to superiors indicate that fighting within and between groups is common.

In today’s world, obviously, many people and most Americans do not live in tribes or stable neighborhoods, so our groups have become nebulous, abstract, bound more by belief and imagination than tribal and clan and familial bonds.

In this respect, the study shows why politics—and other subjects touching on group identity—can become so polarized and so difficult to discuss rationally.

Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory & The Scapegoat

Rene Girard, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, began developing his theories over 40 years ago, while researching the great stories in literature. He wanted to know what made these stories great and he discovered that they had some similarities. He further began to research the rituals and mythologies of primitive people. He noted the same common structural properties in those stories. These similarities in the world’s mythologies and rituals led to the development of his theories of mimesis and the scapegoat mechanism.

Continue reading…

Imaginary communication

Normal socially-defined communication—business, school, professional, etc.—operates within known limits and terminologies. Skill is largely defined as understanding how to use the system without exceeding its limits, how to play the game.

Many other forms of communication must be imagined. That is, I have to imagine what you mean and you have to imagine what I mean. This is so because many general rules of  communication are not sufficient to encompass broad psychological realities or account for individual idiosyncrasies.

In many cases of this type I will imagine that you are normal to the extent that I am able to imagine what normal is. And I will imagine that you imagine me to be normal. As I imagine you I will probably assume that your sense of what is normal is more or less the same as mine. This is probably what the central part of the bell curve of imagined communication looks like. People in this group are capable of imagining and cleaving to normal communication standards. If you reciprocate, we will probably get along fine.

If my imagination is better than normal, I will be able to imagine more than the normal person or given to imagining more. If this is the case, I will tend to want to find a way to communicate more than the norm to you. If you reciprocate, we might do well communicating. If you don’t, I might appear eccentric to you or distracted.

If my imagination is worse than normal, I will have trouble imagining or understanding normal communication. I won’t have a good sense of the cartoons we are required to make of each other and will probably appear awkward or scatterbrained to most people. If you reciprocate, we might do well communicating and find comfort in each other.

Normal communication, even when imagined, is based on something like cartoons. I see myself as a cartoon acting in relation to the cartoon I imagine for you. If my cartoon fits you well enough that you like it and if your cartoon of me fits well enough that I like it, we have a good chance of becoming friends.

A great deal of normal imagined communication is cartoon-like, and being normal, will take the bulk of its cartoons from mass media—movies, TV, radio, and, to a lesser extent today, books and other art forms.

People still read and learn from books and art, but normal communication has come to rely heavily on the powerful cartoons of mass media.

The big problem with our systems of imagined communication is they are highly idiosyncratic, messy, and ambiguous. We have to spend a lot of time fixing problems and explaining what we really mean.

It’s good to have idiosyncratic communication, but we have to find ways to understand each other on those terms.

_______________________

First posted May 25, 2014; slightly edited

American Pravda: The ADL in American Society

In our modern era, there are surely few organizations that so terrify powerful Americans as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B’nai B’rith, a central organ of the organized Jewish community.

Mel Gibson had long been one of the most popular stars in Hollywood and his 2004 film The Passion of the Christ became among the most profitable in world history, yet the ADL and its allies destroyed his career, and he eventually donated millions of dollars to Jewish groups in desperate hopes of regaining some of his public standing. When the ADL criticized a cartoon that had appeared in one of his newspapers, media titan Rupert Murdoch provided his personal apology to that organization, and the editors of The Economist quickly retracted a different cartoon once it came under ADL fire. Billionaire Tom Perkins, a famed Silicon Valley venture capitalist, was forced to issue a heartfelt apology after coming under ADL criticism for his choice of words in a Wall Street Journal column. These were all proud, powerful individuals, and they must have deeply resented being forced to seek such abject public forgiveness, but they did so nonetheless. The total list of ADL supplicants over the years is a very long one. (Source)

Ron Unz’s American Pravda series is essential reading. His choice of subjects is fascinating, his tone measured and personable, and his arguments devastating. Buddhist readers in particular will benefit from Ron’s work because he clearly shows that public “reality” has many faces and that the most prominent one is often false.

A Reply to Jordan Peterson

…I conclude that Peterson’s analysis is inadequate to account for important aspects of Jewish achievement and involvement in the cultures of the West. I have often said that it would not matter that Jews are an elite if they had the same interests as the traditional peoples and cultures of the societies they live in. Given their high IQ and other traits and proclivities (including ethnic networking), they are bound to be successful in Western-type societies. The problem is that the Jewish elite have not adopted positions that are in the interest of the traditional European-derived peoples of the West and their cultures, particularly with respect to immigration and multiculturalism — an effort that continues into the present and characterizes the entire organized Jewish community. Peterson’s analysis is inadequate fundamentally because it ignores Jewish perceptions of their identity and how these perceptions intersect with Jewish involvement with the left in diaspora societies. (Source)

Peterson surely know that MacDonald is right. But he also knows he will lose fame and fortune and probably his job if he tells the full truth. He’s a half-way speaker of truth likely justifying himself by reasoning that if he tells the whole truth, he will immediately begin telling it to a vastly smaller audience, proving through his life that MacDonald is right. ABN

Recommended further reading: The Throne and the Altar and almost anything else by Israel Shamir.