Scott Young ponders how honest to be about status: People tend to ignore the status benefits of wealth. Most obviously because seeking status is a low-status behavior. Anyone seen grubbing for fame or new toys to impress their friends becomes less impressive. As a result, I believe many people delude themselves that they want material possessions for intrinsic reasons. This is an unconscious effort to seek material wealth for purely status-related motives, and at the same time, not appear interested in grubbing for status. …
Having spent time with people making in the neighborhood of a dollar a day, even someone as insensitive as myself can find plenty of motivations for effective charity that are much stronger than status-seeking.
In fact, I see the status-seeking aspects of charity as mostly negative. When I'm in poor countries, I hate it when people suck up to me because I'm a potential meal ticket. This has the feel of being chatted up by someone of the wrong sexual orientation; you can tell the other person is very interested in the conversation, but personally it's hard not to be bored. In rich countries, most of my friends haven't traveled much to poor countries and don't share my perspective. While I'd like to be able to influence their donations, I don't want to come across as arrogant, and don't want to belittle their charities, even if I find them ineffectual. e.g. if someone's parent has died of cancer, I'd rather not explain to them why I prefer MSF to the American Cancer Society. Or if someone has credit card debt and doesn't donate much, I don't want to embarrass them about this.
Ok, so my donations fit my self-image as a partially moral person, but c'mon: my jogging helps fit my self-image as a healthy person. My givewell-style charitable donations are one of the least status-seeking things I do.
For those who continue to bash status seeking/mating seeking behavior, I have a cautionary tale. See http://eunuchinfo.com/results.html
"After castration, probably due at least in part to the self-image thing, I have had and still sometime have, big problems with my drive and motivation. There are so many things that no longer matter to me - things that created the "appearance" of who I was - nice clothes, new car, you know, all the toys. Today I don't feel the need for these things, because I simply don't care what anyone else thinks when they see me. So why waste the effort and money to "show off" ??? And if you don't need the extra money, then you don't need to make as much money, which of course takes less effort. The problem was that I just could not find a REASON to have a drive. What was I working for? It took years for me to establish a new "life plan" ... something to "chase". And even now that I have one, I have to really fight with myself, to force myself to do what I need to do."
I think so much of it comes back to that thing about 'teach a man to fish...' or hand up not hand out. It's outrageous to think that millions upon millions of people around the world aren't realizing even basic life potential, let alone at least a lot more of them becoming great musicians and the like, because of genetics. And it's to easy to blame their corrupt governments... trying to address this anonymously or otherwise is no mystery to me... so what about status? my status could hardly be lower in the eyes of many people.
If I give charitably to an organization anonymously, what is my motivation if not status-seeking?
Am I merely trying to fulfill a specific, desired conception of myself? While that may be true sometimes, a functionalist answer seems much too simplistic to be valid all the time.
The rational component in conformity was not ignored on this blog. See here for example.
Robin's evo-psych thought is: human beings live in groups; the individual's status within the group is important to his (reproductive) success; therefore natural selection supplies him with motivations to behave in ways that in fact will secure his group-status. Even if higher status is not his own conscious intent, we can rightly describe his behavior as "status-seeking."
This is like saying: the motivations implanted in the individual by natural selection ultimately subserve his reproductive success; therefore, whatever we do is *really* aimed at reproducing ourselves. (Not a very illuminating comment.)
but among none-idiots
I am almost certainly an idiot by your reckoning... I think some of the blame lies with the state, without it I wouldn't have either perished early or maybe turned out a real prick. I'm not sure what's best.
Case in point:
If I became a philosopher, if I have so keenly sought this fame for which I'm still waiting, it's all been to seduce women basically. - Sartre
Just be Great, then you can say anything.
“I give via GiveWell to show I’m caring, but not like those gullible ignoramus airhead losers.”
Ye that's me. Easy to admit. You can make revealing your signalling intentions a countersignal you use if you really want to be both honest and high status.
Michael, I think our desire to show we care is pretty constant, so the issue is where we show that care. We might like to do it on big global issues as that makes us big and grandiose, but if those donations seem ineffective that takes away from the attraction, and makes those who donate anyway to that seem gullible or status grubbing.
WTF!?!It seems MUCH more credible that people are trying to not give because they don't want to spend money and that they are looking for a way to do so without loosing status. They try to avoid loosing status by offering the best excuse that they can think of for why giving is uncool, namely that giving is crass status-grubbing and not actually effective. Holden removes that excuse by listing effective ways to give that meet high standards of scrutiny. They then need to find some different excuse. Saying that effective giving is still status-seeking isn't going to effectively prevent them from loosing status by not giving, so maybe they can say that universal altruism is for suckers, a misfiring of adaptations aimed at helping near (and presumably related or capable of reciprocity) people due to modern communication causing distant people to be visible. This excuse would be more costly to give than "charity doesn't work" however, because it would imply a kindness drive which could be overcome when it was misfiring and which is thus probably weak in general. A person with such a weak drive might be a poor ally regardless of their status. In fact, if they have high status they might be a danger to those near them.
Status isn't the only, or even the most important kind of signaling, though it's up there. If you make it hard to give out all the right signals without engaging in the desired behavior you make the desired behavior more likely. Holden is doing this. Hopefully this will prove to be an adaptive example, rather than a misfiring, of his necessarily evolved psychology and he will find it rewarding, continue, and cause people to be better off.
I'm suggesting the excuse you refer to is not honest about its motivations, that the real issue is avoiding the appearance of status-grubbing.
The "excuse" I was referring to is not "I won't give because I don't want to be status-grubbing," but rather "I won't give because the nonprofit sector is broken and thus charities can't be expected to be accomplishing good."
Yes you claimed your charities are much more effective, and I'm not necessarily disagreeing with that. (Would take some time to review your evidence.) But you said that this implied that this meant folks no longer had an excuse not to give. However, I'm suggesting the main reason anyone needs such an excuse is because they are avoiding giving in order not to appear status grubbing. So if observers can see that giving your way is also status grubbing, the rationale of your excuse fades. The issue is how many people actually care about how effective are their charities, besides folks who fear their status seeking will be naked and visible without such effectiveness.
Perhaps much of what you say about the “organic” label is true. I don’t find the comparison with GiveWell apt. Have you actually looked at their analysis? This was not a label made by non-profits to put on things and help them advertise.On second thought, and after looking at the GiveWell website a bit longer, I do see the dissimilarity. I suppose that their level of success can actually be measured. I guess a more apt comparison would be an improved nutrition labeling program with an associated research program. It reminds me of quality reporting for medical practices - long-term effectiveness of treatment decisions are measured and successful institutions qualify for tax benefits.
If you get to choose the game in which you compete for status then you can have some control. Don't choose a zero sum game like a sporting contest - do something productive that adds value to the economy.