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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?

By Randall Parker    2009 November 02 06:46 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
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