Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Robin Hanson on Dominance vs. Prestige

Robin Hanson has a go at explaining much about human society via a dichotomy between dominance and prestige. We, under this theory, mostly dislike being dominated, but admire prestige and are often willing to be led by prestigious people. So:

Bosses: It might seem odd to ask what bosses are for, as they have so many plausible functions to perform in orgs. Yet to explain many details, such as the kinds of people we pick for management, and the ways they spend their time, we must still ask which of these functions are the most important. And my guess is that one of the most important is to give workers excuses to obey them.

Here’s the simple story: we often have a choice about whether to frame an interaction as due to dominance or prestige. Humans are supposed to hate dominance, but to love prestige. So if we can frame our boss as prestigious, not dominant, we can tell ourselves and others that we are following their lead out of admiration and wanting to learn from them, not from fear of being fired. If so, firms will want to spend extra on hiring prestigious bosses, who are handsome, articulate, tall, well-educated, pro-social, smooth, etc., even if those features don’t that much improve management decisions. Which does in fact seem to be the case.


Governance: we are even more sensitive to dominance in our political leaders than in our workplace bosses. Which was why all though history, each place tended to think they had a noble king, while neighbors had despicable tyrants. And why prestige was so important for kings. In the last few centuries we upped the ante via democracy, a supposedly prestigious mechanism wherein we pretend that all of us are really “ultimately” in control of the government, allowing us to claim that we are not being dominated by our leaders.

The main emotional drive toward socialism, regulation of business, and redistribution from the rich seems to me to be resentment of domination, which is how most people frame the fact that some have more money than others. Our ability to use democracy to frame government as prestige not domination lets us not see government agencies who regulate and redistribute as domination.
Obviously this is very schematic, but I suppose one could explain many features of recent US politics by noting that people bitterly resent rule by people by whom they have not, in their view, consented to be governed; hence, "not my president."


David said...

A problem, probably in all politics but certainly in US politics, is that all human society is internally divided, and frequently one segment of society is mainly prepared, even eager, to grant prestige preeminently to that authority that imposes "dominance" on other segments of society. Hence the right-wing satisfaction with a president whose main activity is to "own the libs." Liberals are more reticent about this, but as a whole they want a liberal consensus that will put the rude right back in its place, with their ball caps down over their eyes in the back of the class. I certainly do.

Shadow said...

Many refuse the vaccine to "own the Libs." Some of them die. Who owns whom?