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Status, Elitism, and 
Making a Difference 

I used to drive a jet-black BMW convertible. When I floored it, tearing around corners and up hills, finally rolling to a stop in my garage, I could smell the hot oil of the finely tuned engine. It was a pleasure to drive that car.

Cars like that are often considered a status symbol. There’s a memetic backlash against status symbols these days. People say such things “shouldn’t” be important. When there’s a heavy “shouldn’t” around some behavior, it usually means there’s a real Level-1 drive to do that very behavior. A Level-2 worldview sets up the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” to keep the Level-1 drives in check. This results in civilized society, but the loss of the feelings of fulfillment and happiness that meeting the Level-1 drive brings.

In Level 3, I recognize my own driving needs and find constructive ways to meet them rather than trying to suppress them. Suppressing them leads to stress and ineffectiveness because so much of my unconscious mind is taken up trying to meet these suppressed needs. In the best case, that dissonance will produce something useful like humor or creative expression, but more often the conscious suppression of driving Level-1 needs will lead to the unconscious mind finding destructive ways to meet those needs.

People derive fulfillment from rising in a perceived status hierarchy. Tests have actually been done showing that serotonin levels in the brain rise dramatically after a status-enhancing event such as being elected president of a fraternity. Serotonin is linked with feelings of self-esteem.

It does no good to pretend that an experience is not important to me when it really is. Desiring the experience of being high in a status hierarchy is often thought of as elitism. “Elitism” is a peer-pressure meme that has the effect of keeping people from having fulfillment in their lives if they buy into it. If I acknowledge that I enjoy rising in status, then I have control over how I get that experience.

I’ve met my need for rising status in some very constructive ways. When I was a boy, I was driven to achieve all the Cub Scout merit badges very quickly, which resulted in my learning some useful things as well as rising in status among my peers. I’m driven to make my books best sellers, which results in getting my message out to more people and making more money as well as seeing my ranking in rise. Intellectually, getting my message out and making money are more important than the ranking number. But because I understand and accept that rising in rank is an emotional drive for me, I have the power to hook that drive up to activities I decide are useful.

I also meet my need for rising status in some destructive ways, almost like a drug addiction. For instance, I play spades on the Internet at from time to time. Mplayer assigns a rank icon next to your name based on how much you win or lose. You start out as a blank, then become a heart. Better than a heart is a spade, and above that is a jack. Jacks are considered very good players. It’s very difficult to get to the next rank, queen, then above that is king, and ace is the top. When I go unconscious, I feel driven to improve my rank and can spend hours playing spades rather than doing what I say is most important to me. But rather than whipping myself, telling myself I “shouldn’t” want to play spades, it works better for me to identify the need being met and consciously hook it up to a more useful activity such as writing my next book, imagining the status that comes with rising from the rank of “published author” to that of “well-known author.”

Sometimes we decide that our own personal fulfillment should take a back seat to the difference we can make in the world. This is always a trap. I am nourished and motivated by meeting my Level-1 needs. Denying them is counterproductive. What works is to identify them and find a way to meet them en route to making that difference.

Richard Brodie
October 1999

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Last Edited: May 03, 2000
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