"Whoever gets to tell someone else what to do is dominating, and affirming their own status. But we are also clearly built to not notice most of our status moves, and so we attribute them to other motives. And as long as we are making up motives, we might as well make up the most admired of motives, altruism."

In three sentences you brilliantly summarized my problem with those who vehemently advance the idea of "purely positive" dog training. They deny that dominance exists and then, in the name of altruism, demand that everyone adopt their chosen ideas and methods.

Expand full comment

Wait, I don't get this. Economics tells us that if we want to discourage some behavior (like being fat), make it more expensive; taxing non-nutritive but high calorie foodstuffs seems like a great way to do that. But now Robin is telling us that actually it's just a contorted dominance ploy?

I wonder at what point social signaling becomes as useful as psychoanalysis or Marxism in explaining things...

Expand full comment

John will. John-prime will drop out after getting fired from three jobs. I speak from personal experience, as a Harvard grad who's watched legacies and non-legacies fare post-Harvard.

The Harvard degree gets you in the door. But after Harvard, there are jobs to do. The legacies eventually wind up living off their trustfund money. The rest, no matter what their other problems, all do turn out to be good at something. It may take them a while to find it, but eventually they do.

You get more from an education than a credential.

Personally I am also convinced that if by some mechanism you made the poor and the rich swap places, within ten years a lot of both would be right back where they were before the switch. Not all, by any means, but a lot.

Expand full comment

John will have a better career. John prime will have an easier time getting that first job, but he won't do so well after that. He doesn't have good reading or writing skills, doesn't have connections with people who are going places, doesn't have work habits associated with success such as self-discipline, doesn't have the experience of spending a lot of time around very smart people, thinking hard, responding to difficult questions.

Education matters. Diplomas have some value, but much less than education.

Expand full comment

I recently lost 50 lbs-and-counting, at the age of 64-65, after trying for maybe 40 years not to be fat, so I do see at least one version of both sides of this. Two points:

In social transactions, it certainly seemed that when you're fat, you've pretty much used up the margin available for concessions. If you contradict received wisdom or are unattractive in any other way, you're pretty firmly marginalized. It is also clear that you're not a high-status person to associate with, the last kid chosen for the team (though people will gladly put you to work on a solitary basis with little reward). "Making your own fun" is imperative, and some of that may involve food.

Secondly, apart from the dominance issue (and on the receiving end, it registers in large part as "I know what you should do; why the heck don't you do it and stop bothering me with looking at all that flesh"): None of these provisions make a bit of difference for most well-motivated fat people, and may be counterproductive. I didn't have dessert more than once a month for decades. I didn't have sugared sodas. Meals out were grilled fish. I cut back the fat to almost zero for years.


What worked was (no drugs, no tormenting starvation)-- a serious relationship with a kind gastroenterologist who knew what he was talking about, and combined Western medical knowledge with [more significant impact] other traditions;-- a gradual, gentle mental shift to minuscule portions -- smaller than most normal eaters -- and a self-education as to what worked experientially;-- using every trick I could find to postpone hunger and stretch food, including many from Seth Roberts' ShangriLa diet;-- a gradual shift, via small portions, to enjoying and anticipating nourishing, flavorful, well-seasoned food, quite high in non-processed fat, tracking very approximately the Paleolithic diet. This is usually available in good restaurants. Fast food I found impossible, but planning ahead and carrying good food is not difficult.

Condescending programmatic attitudes from anyone who has his own, non-fat, excesses or failings; and irrelevant coercive measures involving soda, vending machines, fatty foods, forcing questionable information, etc., simply alienate the struggling, which I have to think is part of the us/them purpose, partly to alleviate the fear.

I suspect that some of the "medical statistics about obesity" are overblown, conflated with other factors, or otherwise misleading for this same reason. Fat seems to serve as a disgusting archetypal horror for many people, especially in this culture, and that confuses the issue of the real health and social needs of those who would like to be more normal in this way. On the other hand, if you're dealing with those who lack the necessary interest in salvaging their own well-being, well, there's where identifying one's own biases is an indispensable first step in knowing what, if anything, to do about it.

Expand full comment

The value of diplomas is obvious. The value of education is less so.

I would rater say: The value of diplomas is obvious. The value of schooling is less so.

IMO education is very valuable but schools test/grade humans/signaling far more than they educatate. IMO If schools focuased on delivering useful knowledge and skills, they would be very different than they are.

Expand full comment

Yet it is completely crazy to imagine that fat folks have not yet heard that fat might be unhealthy or unattractive. Believe me, they’ve heard!

NAAFA would disagree.

ps tormenting fatties isn't necessarily about signaling dominance. some of us are environmental activists.

Expand full comment

PS: then after that we can all invent our various pretenses to explain our behaviors.

Expand full comment

And remember your orwell. It's not just enough to tell you what to do. Because if they tell you to do something that you would have done on you own, how would they do they had power? How would they know you were listening to them and not your own conscience? How would they know they had power and that you were displaying the proper amount of loyalty and compliance and obedience? No, just telling you what to do is not enough to establish dominance. They have to make you suffer. They have to make you behave in ways that are adverse to your own best interests. They have to cause you pain and discomfort and have you go along with it to validate their position at the top of the heap.

Expand full comment

In response to the first comment, I said "education" but you might as well replace it with "diploma." That is, I consider the value of the diploma to be self evident, and suggest those who fail to obtain a diploma largely due so for not so simple reasons as "laziness" or "misplaced priorities."

In response to the second post, I agree I was being overly simplistic. I was attempting to draw a critical eye toward the notion that whether or not one achieves academics success has to do with one's priorities and work ethic. Of course, people who achieve academic success work hard for it. And surely many people who don't are lazy or have misplaced priorities. But I suspect we overemphasize these aspects of the situation, so as to elevate the status of the academically successful. I did not mean to pigeon-hole all the reasons why one might not succeed academically. I meant only to suggest that it often has more to do with other things than laziness or poor values.

Expand full comment

The perceived value of diplomas is linked to the perceived value of education. In a world where these John/John-prime switches happened routinely, the value would diplomas would drop.

Which isn't to say there isn't plenty of other status-nonsense going on with the credentialing process.

Expand full comment

The issue isn't complete understanding, but getting the overall magnitude roughly right. It is fine to offer fat folks "prevention" opportunities, but repeated preaching for or taxing those who don't take them is another matter.

Expand full comment

"I suspect those individuals who drop out or do not work hard at their education do so because they learned long ago that this strategy isn’t working for them (because they were simply born with inferior brains, though they might tell themselves a very different story)."

This is an oddly simplistic and... bizarrely comforting way of looking at the world. I am not the least bit surprised that this sentence starts with, "I suspect" and not, "From what I've observed." This is doubtlessly true of some people; if I don't get algebra, and I don't want to get algebra, and I don't think there's a point to getting algebra, then not taking math class seriously makes a certain amount of sense. But, in the real world, people drop out of school or cease pursuing an education for many different reasons. Of the people I've known who have dropped out of school or failed to pursue further education, there are many cases where capability has not been a significant factor. This is doubly true considering that once you actually get in to a lot of schools, as long as you can breathe, you can get a diploma.

Indeed, I'd think most people who are limited by their own abilities simply stop school at a convenient stopping point, i.e. once they get a diploma. People who actually drop out mid-stream likely do so because something unexpected happens. In some cases, that "unexpected" is "I can't handle this any more," but I'd doubt that's a majority. Of course, this whole paragraph is purely speculative, and I cheerfully admit such.

Expand full comment

"warned about becoming junkies or homeless or a host of other ills that are completely status linked."

I am fairly sure that being homeless or a junkie comes with a very large heap of negative consequences that are almost completely divorced from status. Beds are comfortable, food is tasty, it's nice to have a shower and a TV and so forth, and it would be virtually irrespective of the status value of these goods.

Expand full comment

As I've heard it, soda taxes are aimed at caloric sodas. Diet sodas are not affected. Sweetening isn't the issue, it's calories, at least in theory.

Expand full comment

The major point I think you're missing is that fat people endure the social costs of their fatness much more than smokers do. Smoking is sexy and cool. It is frowned upon, but smokers are not the constant butt of jokes like fat people. People have contempt for fat people, and see them as lazy, stupid, and gluttonous.

Expand full comment