I’ve been thinking about our social needs and have begun to test a hypothesis that we have two basic social needs –
a) Fit in to a tribe where we want to belong
b) Stand out – first by seeking ways to improve the tribe’s status and then by seeking ways to improve our status within the tribe by signaling our comparative virtue
So, Jane might be a disgruntled worker in finance who doesn’t really feel a part of the tribe. She might either seek opportunities to go work in a different tribe or may be contacted by a member of said tribe. Let’s say she now has the opportunity to become an analyst at a venture capital firm.
After a year in her new job, Jane’s first need would be met. Since venture capitalists are a relatively “high status” tribe, she may only seek to improve the status of her firm within the tribe. Or, more likely, she might be focused on improving her brand within the community by signaling comparative virtue on Twitter (for example).
Of course, this doesn’t just apply to jobs. We’ve created various kinds of tribes with nations, states, faiths, religions, and so on. We’ve even created tribes around sports teams. Most of these tribes ladder up to bigger tribes.
So, for example, we have different levels of tribes when we consider politics. When things are going well for them, the people of a nation may unite under the larger national umbrella and revel in their collective high status. When things aren’t, they’ll focus instead on improving the status of their local tribe and stop caring about the larger tribes they’re part of.
Once we’re part of a tribe, the goal is always achieving higher status. So, if we feel secure about our status within a tribe and also feel secure about our tribe’s status, we can now get to work on improving our status within the tribe.
Since the goal is achieving higher status, we’re always playing status games – whether we choose to outwardly signal status or not. Choosing to not play status games is just a variant of playing the game.