I wanted to explore a comment on an earlier post, written by my friend Storme Jaynes. Storme posits that status is about money and the more you have the more status you have. First, I want to say that there appears to be a good deal of individual and cultural relativity in what constitutes status. While there might not be an individually correct answer as to what constitutes status there does appear to be social norms and psychological universals. I don’t believe that Storme’s proposition is a social truth. Sorry Storme, but I do not believe you are wrong either—you gave me a relative response—now I am going to elaborate on why I don’t think it’s a social truth.
For one, there is a history of recognizable upper classes clashing. The early industrialist were often snubbed by traditional elite whose wealth derived from land holdings, agriculture, and banking and whose families had been prominent since colonial times. The tendency is to call this snobbishness but it really derives from some complex mechanics that I will not be able to fully elaborate in a short blog post—but will strive to demonstrate the essence.
Any decent sized community has individuals who are considered prominent—prominence is not just a matter of wealth but of supporting community endeavors, culture, and charity. What essentially happens is that prominence develops its own culture. There are degrees of prominence and prominence-cultures and these probably appear more distinct in communities that possess a greater number of affluent families and where such wealth is markedly higher than what the average family posseses.
In essence, social expectations, norms, and manners develop from the expectations of being prominent. In later generations, it is not matter of difference but a matter of how things are—the old elite and newly wealthy simply cannot understand each other because of culture. The newly wealthy believe they are in the club because of money but the old elite have mostly forgotten about money and give priority to culture. Suddenly it becomes poor taste to talk about money—taboo and stigma become the tools of protecting class.
It is worth pointing out that in a recent survey by the U.S. Department of Labor, Americans ranked the most prestigious jobs as
- Fire Fighter
- Military Officer
And the least prestigious as
- Professional Athlete
- Business Executive
- Union Leader
- Stock Broker
It is interesting that they put some of the highest paying occupations at the bottom of the prestige ladder. Although I suspect that experimental enquiry would demonstrate that the majority would give some privilege to the later.