Social Status: Down the Rabbit Hole

“The beginning of wisdom about social status is learning to distinguish its two (and only two) primary forms: dominance and prestige. These are, as one research paper puts it, the “two ways to the top.”

If dominance is the kind of status we get from intimidating others, prestige is the kind of status we get from doing impressive things or having impressive traits or skills.

A schoolyard bully is an example of pure dominance. He’s not impressive, only aggressive. Stephen Hawking and Malala Yousafzai (winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize), on the other hand, are examples of pure prestige. You’re likely to treat them with deference and respect, though neither is threatening to stuff you in a locker. Both forms of status can, of course, exist simultaneously in the same person — e.g., Steve Jobs, who was brilliant, charismatic, and a notorious tyrant to his employees. The point is that dominance and prestige can be separated, and that they’re analytically distinct. They’re the two Platonic forms of social status.”