2009 November 02 Monday
Conservative Or Liberals Smarter And Elite Signaling

Steve Sailer points to a Jason Richwine piece Are Liberals Smarter Than Conservatives?. In response Razib makes some interesting comments about status signaling.

But I was struck by a general implication from Richwine's model. Two premises:

1) Elites, cognitive or otherwise, tend to deviate from the "default" norms of society for various reasons (it could be signalling costly behavior to show that they are "above" conventional considerations and such).

2) Eventually, the masses often emulate in the elites in subsequent generations.

The inference would be that cultural cycles should exhibit a pattern where the masses serve as lagging indicators of elite sensibilities. Once the masses start attempting to "catch up," of course the elites have moved on. Empirically implausible? I'll let readers dissect it.

What I wonder: How much societal change made by elites is caused by moral poses they make to signal higher status from other members of the elites versus moral poses to distinguish themselves from much lower status people? Are they reworking society mainly to rise above the masses or mainly to rise above each other?

Or is most of their reworking of norms driven more by hedonistic desires which are blocked by existing norms? For example, people who want a larger variety of sex partners have an incentive to redefine what's morally acceptable as sexual behavior.

I think Razib's comment about masses catching up and elites moving on to new differentiators sounds right. Some of that is done via patterns of consumption. A cell phone used to be a differentiator. Now even many lower class people have an expensive model. But some status signaling is done via products that do not require a fortune to buy. The best example today is the Prius. Some affluent people signal concern for the environment with the car while still burning large amounts of fossil fuels in airplane trips.

What new signaling trends do you see in the elites? Anything interesting?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2009 November 02 06:46 AM  Elites Behavior

Robert Hume said at November 2, 2009 8:00 AM:

I think it helps explain why white elites are forced to favor immigration. They denigrate lower class whites in order to signal status and hence, are forced to concede that immigrants are probably better. That's especially because they are not on the inside of the immigrant cultures, they usually can't speak the language, for example and hence cannot see the less-than-desirable characteristics that they may have.

I have seen this in my own family.

JGP said at November 2, 2009 3:14 PM:

I think it's more about competition with each other. Also, the transmission from elites to masses works in a two stage process. Intellectuals, who are not listened to by the masses, create ideas that are then transmitted to celebrities who do have the ear of the masses. Political elites also listen to intellectuals but cannot implement the new mores via legislation until a certain critical mass has been achieved in the electorate.

JP Sarte -> Mick Jagger -> the masses. The Ted Kennedy ties it up in a bow.

Anthropic Asian said at November 2, 2009 9:54 PM:

There was a brief section about the pattern of popular names in Freakonomics - upper class parents set the trend in novel names. The children of these parents grow up to be rich and successful, and thus these names are associated with success. Middle/lower class parents choose these names for their kids, but by the time these kids have grown up, the upper class has moved on, and these former upper class names have become the new standard.

averros said at November 3, 2009 3:16 AM:

Who are smarter - cabbages or potatoes?

That's what the average mental abilities of either "liberals" or "conservatives" in the modern American politics are.

Both breeds are manifestly incapable of using reason and critical thinking.

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