Social status, trade, and trust are the first three things I’m riffing on from The Rational Optimist. Humans are so very fascinating.

social status, trade, and trust

There’s just so much to talk about in this book! It’s riveting and not a slog to read at all. It’s fun and light and changes your perspective. I am happy that I decided to re-read it.

At first, I thought, “I’ll summarize each chapter so everyone can get the info in here!” Nah, that’s boring. Then I thought maybe I’d just take a line or two from each chapter. Too many posts. A line or two from two chapters? Still too much. Screw it. How about a line that made me say, “Yeah, dammit!” That sounds doable.

Here’s something to chew on.

“Why, asks Geoffrey Miller, ‘would the world’s most intelligent primate buy a Hummer H1 Alpha sport-utility vehicle’, which seats four, gets ten miles to the gallon, takes 13.5 seconds to reach 60mph, and sells for $139,771? Because, he answers, human beings evolved to strive to signal social status and sexual worth.”

This book was written in 2010, so the signals have changed dramatically, in some circles, but there are still signals and there always will be. One generation, subculture, and such, won’t understand another’s and call them crazy, selfish, obnoxious, and/or old school evil. Humans are so strange.

“Trade is often unequal, but still benefits both sides.”

I always find it odd that someone outside an exchange believes they can tell whether the exchange is beneficial. If it weren’t, they wouldn’t have completed the exchange. Are you saying one side is too feeble minded? They can’t understand their own wants and needs and need to be taken care of by their betters?

If I come to you with something that is easy for me to get or make and say, “I’ll give you four of these if you give me two of those awesome things that I can’t make for myself.” You’re laughing inside thinking, “What a goof! These things are everywhere or are easy to make.” I’m thinking the same about you. We both walk away thinking we won.

The same goes for labor. My son, when he was young, was asked by a neighbor to come clean his yard each week and do a few chores. He’d give him $50 each week to do this. My son jumped at the opportunity. As a parent, I realized that he’d be working there all day, probably nearly ten hours in the heat. That’s $5 an hour, not worth it to me. But to a twelve-year-old? That’s some serious cash. I didn’t interfere. He’s free to exchange his time and labor for whatever he thinks is fair.

A few weeks into the job, he realized how much time he was spending there and asked for a raise. The neighbor thought his work was worth the money and started giving him $100 a week. He knows the value of his own time and effort and was willing to exchange it for that price.

Should someone step in and stop this exchange? Apparently, most of us say yes.

About a year later, my son found other things that were worth more to him than that $100 a week. And when he turned 16, he found “legal” (insert eyeroll) work that paid him more. That job lasted until he decided he had enough, his time was worth more, so he went in search of someone that felt the same way.

If he hadn’t found anyone that believed his work was worth more, he would have had to change his work, build new skills, or lower his expectations. Forcing someone by law (violence) to exchange at a pre-fixed rate is wrong and creates more problems.

Ok, enough of that. Moving on.

“Famously, no other species of ape can encounter strangers without trying to kill them, and the instinct still lurks in the human breast.”

Ha ha! No shit, right? Humans do this really weird thing called trust. We invented it. All other animals only build trust within a family. Trust is what lets us trade things with other people. And when we don’t trust, that’s when things start to get ugly.

I think we’re in a pretty low state of trust at the moment and the government, with the help of our media, is taking advantage of that. THOSE people are out to get you. THEY get more. THEY want to hurt you. And it’s coming from both Democrats and Republicans in the US. Why? I’m not sure, but I bet I has something to do with staying in control since that’s the only commodity a government has.

In my town this past year, I’ve seen more and more “Go Back to LA” stickers and they make me sick. I’ve been told that it is in response to the wave of people from the city moving out into rural areas and “taking over.” How dare they? This is OUR turf. They don’t belong here. The crazy part is that I’m hearing it directly from people who also moved out here to escape city life a bit, like me.

I live near a National Park and a Marine base. Everyone here is from out of town. The area relies on it and wouldn’t exist if not for those attractions. This “Go Back to LA” slogan is only another wall between me and my neighbors, and the tourists that come here to visit and vacation. And what about those few souls that feel drawn to this place and come here to build a life for themselves? How do they feel when they see those? I’ve talked to a few. They’re afraid of their neighbors.

If trust is that low in a neighborhood, between friends, at businesses, and online, can you imagine what it is up the chain? How about banks, investors, and government officials; those people that keep this giant machine we’ve created going, the ones with the money and guns and the law to back them? This is how trade slows. This is how people starve. This is how wars start and are supported. This is how people die.

How can we help? I think it starts with turning off the news and maybe even dropping social media for a while. It’s a lot easier to relax when you’re not bombarded with bad news messages at every moment of every day.

Everyone on this planet has the power to start being nicer, assuming positive intent, and trusting the people around us. We can do our best to take care of ourselves, our families, and one other person, maybe even two. Your neighbor isn’t a monster. That person at the grocery store you haven’t seen before isn’t trying to horn in on your game. He’s just a guy trying to get through this world just like you.

Maybe we can create some new “social status” cues, like being kind and generous in person instead of putting a special frame on our social media profile.

Want to read more posts about this book? Pop back to my first post, The Rational Optimist: New Read. You’ll find my first thoughts about the book and links to any follow-up posts there.