Thursday, December 18, 2008

Theory of leisure class 2

Now, where was I? ... Oh yes

So according to modern evolutionary psychology, the fight for status between men, is driven by the women's (or women's father's) choice, to make them believe that he is able to support his children, therefor make them choose him to have offspring. "Status" is the common belief that the person in question is powerful. Note that it is not equal with being powerful.

Thorstein Veblen, a genius from the XIX century, without having even a chance to know these, found out that people are driven very strongly by fight for status, and it seriously affect their economical behavior.

In the first ages of humans, being strong hunter, being strong warrior was the skill wanted by women (and their fathers) from men. A strong hunter was capable of getting meat, the strong warrior was capable of protecting her and the offspring from predators and barbarians. The meat and the safety however could not be provided constantly, since you can only defeat the barbarians when they show up. On the other hand trophies, both of dangerous animals and enemies, were unquestionable and permanent proof that the man was - therefor is - strong.

As the history progressed, the first societies were formed. Life became much more peaceful than it was in the barbarian age. It was no longer possible to simply kill the other person for his stuff. There were wars, and there was hunting, but most of the wealth came not from them, but from farming and crafting (deja vu anyone?)

Yet farming and crafting were incapable of creating trophies, since everyone was capable of doing them. Since any man could farm food for his family, strike that any women could do it, it could not be sign of strength. Strong men, who, on the top of providing food, were capable of providing safety were still better choice, so they were still wanted. Therefor men, in order to have offspring wanted to look like strong.

Since hunts became rare, and wars became "team effort" from individual hero-effort, the "strength" was beginning to mean "financial strength". While everyone could feed their babies, the rich could offer the safety to be able to provide food in bad years. The rich could provide healthier, safer enviroment to grow these babies up.

The main problem with "richness" is that it's hard to define who is "rich". While possessing items could be an obvious proof, but don't forget, items cannot be eaten, and their value can change quickly. In order to approximate their value, one must know the economy. Even worse, since the woman wants safety for her future kids, she must know the future economy, in order to properly approximate the man's wealth.

However there are two unquestionable proof of richness, therefor women and their fathers started seeking them. These proofs are conspicuous consumption and leisure.

Conspicuous leisure means "showing the world that I'm not doing anything useful". It is unquestionable proof of richness, since food, clothing, homes and every other item comes from working. If you can afford to not work, you must be rich.

Conspicuous consumption means "showing the world that I have so many stuff that I can afford consuming a lot". Of course to consume lot, you must have lot, so it's another unquestionable proof.

With these, the woman did not have to think about the worth of the man's investments or items. If he could afford to not work and consume a lot, he was wealthy. People of that age (and partially our age too), were not driven by reason. No one was capable of thinking: "If I choose this man, my children will have better chances of survival, so my genes will survive". They (and still us) were driven by unconscious mental schemes. Those who considered conspicuous consumption and leisure "beautiful" and "noble" survived, while those who did not, died out with their genes and ideas.

So soon, everyone alive considered such behavior "noble", while the opposite: working and not spending a lot became "unworthy", "filthy" and "peon/slave style".

I have to emphasize "conspicuous" in the "conspicuous leisure". The point is not to avoid working, the point is showing that you are not working. However there is a problem here. Your life obviously not under the inspection of others. While you can just sit front of your home, doing nothing (and welfare leeches of today tend to do so), one can think that when he does not see you, you may put your hands to "filthy" work. You must provide some unquestionable proof that you are not working when unseen.

Since simply doing nothing creates no proof, you actually must do something non-useful, and create some non-useful product to prove that you did not spend your time with filthy work. Such "products" are artwork, prizes and insignias of unproductive activities like games, sports. WoW is a game, producing no useful item, so it can be a form of conspicuous leisure. You feel from inside that farming badge for an epic item is somehow better than going shopping food, or cleaning your room.

Other great proof of leisure are skills in useless activities. Skills in arts, skills in games, skills in fashion, knowing social facts like "who is Paris Hilton's boyfriend" are completely useless skills, however they need serious effort, therefor great proofs that you spent your time learning these things instead of working. "Good manners" are another great skill, not only because completely useless and time-consuming, but also because it can be presented anytime. Someone who don't know manners, is a "primitive, lowly peon": someone who was forced to work instead of learning which fork goes to the fish and which one for the cake.

There is one problem with conspicuous leisure: you can't waste more than 24 hours a day. Well, there is a solution for that: hire people to waste time for you! While useful servants create items, so save you from filthy work, you can reach much higher "nobility", if you hire useless servants!

The simplest of the useless servants is the housewife. She is a person, who does really few useful work, her task is to prove the world that you can afford supporting a useless person. Of course in order to make it happen, this wife must show the world that she is not doing anything useful, by creating proofs of wasting time. Cleaning the house from every piece of dust, ironing the curtain, creating hard-to make cakes, wearing always beautiful cloths, having perfect body (=lot of time in the gym) , make-up and involving in social activities makes sure that no one assumes that she is fixing your car or crafting cloths for you. The "best" women, who get into magazines are the super-thin, super-dumb, super-blond hotties. Why? Because they are obviously completely unable to do any kind of useful work. So having one or more of these show that you can afford supporting a completely useless person.

There are other kinds of useless servants, like the waiter in the restaurant. As his name tells, his job is to wait! You could easily get your food directly from the cook, the job of the waiter is useless. His job is to waste his time, and by doing so, make you feel and look noble. And you tip him well for his service. Notice that the waiter must be very polite, proving that he practiced politeness instead of useful work. So he is not just wasting his current time for you, he wasted his practicing time for you too!

The guy standing front of the hotel, and the soldiers standing in attention front of the president's office are another great examples of hired nothingdoers. In previous times, the nobles had servants dressed in uniforms standing at the doors, at the back of his wagon and did such nonsense to elevate the "nobility" of their master.

In religious and national celebrations we dress up and gather to listen to boring speeches and do nothing useful, but inside we feel it it's right. Why? Because we are currently useless servants of God or the Nation, wasting our time for his glory. And since we believe that their "greatness" deserves this glory, we gladly sign up for the "service". Notice that the celebration meant to be boring and annoying, just like the waiter's job, otherwise someone might assume that they are here for fun, and not for the master's service.

WoW is a perfect place for conspicuous leisure. Playing WoW is definitely not productive work. The game is designed around "the grind", aka spending lot of time doing nothing useful. How do you get Mirror of Truth? By running 10 heroics (7 if daily). So Mirror of Truth is an insignia of spending 10x1.5-2 hours with nothing productive. What is "gear progress"? Why do you want gear? Not for killing bosses, that's for sure, any bosses can be bashed in quest blues or lvl 70 stuff. You feel better if you have better gear, even if the increase in stats is marginal and not needed. You feel better if you "complete" your reputations, although you don't need rep rewards. You feel better if you have more achievement points, although they are completely useless. You feel better, if you have more ore "more rare" mount, although they provide no stats over your old one. You feel better if you do the same again with an alt, although you already reached these stuff once. Why? Because your brain was programmed in thousands of years to find conspicuous leisure "good", "beautiful" and "noble".

The perfect example for vicarious leisure (nothingdoer servant) is boosting. The boosted one is not only wasting his time, he is wasting the booster's time too. That's why they want boost, though many people ignore and insult them. Being boosted is like being a nobleman with servants.

So much for today! Soon the conspicious consumption will be presented here.


Cuthbert said...

Good stuff. But you are going to get killed for this. :)

I think it is important when we look at conspicuous consumption to mention that it matters what kind of consuming is going on. We are talking about eating fish eggs and having playstations in the back of your Hummer. Having a home theater bigger than the one at the mall.

Tobold said...

The theory is very interesting, but if you add it all up you are saying that people gear up in WoW to attract women. I'm pretty certain that attracting women with your shiny epics doesn't work at all. In fact you're more likely to scare off potential girlfriends if you tell them how much time you spend in WoW. So somewhere in your theory there must be a gaping hole.

Shalkis said...

Never underestimate the power of the pecking order, Tobold. ;-) While the position of the alpha male is generally useful in attracting women, getting to the top can be a goal in itself.

Gevlon said...

@tobold: the mental schemes are unconscious. The men are "programmed" to try to reach the top, they don't know why. It's just feel good.

Just compare: men want more sex. Usually it's safe sex, so cannot produce babies. But the instinct to multiply is obvious in this case.

Yzy said...

Some ideas just plain wrong. I agree that the desire for security, reproduction and status are present in most ppl in some way... but to describe polite manners as useless? It's useless in a polite (mostly) non-violent society where all are equal (in theory). If you go to places where violence is an appropriate response you'll see social rules beeing followed much much more closely...

Grzegorz said...

Just joined yesterday the blog and must say I did enjoy the reading. Can't wait for the next part of this theory.

@Cuthbert: Let's bring torches! ;)

@Yzy: Polite/good manners are totaly useless! Well that is in business view. I't not like the knowledge to distinguish fork from spoon will get you any money. You have to spend lot of time and effort to learn it, yet never will you get any cash from it. Unless someone is willing to pay you to show how you can eat different types of food with all those forks and spoons.

Artorin said...

Grez~ On the contrary in the real life business world Polite manners are essential for represntation of a corporation. Getting another companies business often comes down to kissing the most ass. Though this does fit into this theory a bit, realize though that the business man is making money by making some shmuck feel better. The business oriented person can make a lot of money off of people who believe themselves to be rich.

Grzegorz said...

Can't disagree with you there Art. But still we could raise there a question if those business mans are really making money, rather then just do some top business deals, while hundereds of othere people are actually getting their hands dirty. It's usually not like they make deal with real cash, often they just make some deal to have others do their work for them.

Larísa said...

I don't like men-are-like-this-women-are-like-that-theories if they're used to put people down and try to force them into preset roles since it's "natural". It's been misused so many times, forgetting that we after all have a free will. Even though we're sometimes very predictable we're, like you so many times have pointed out, not sheep. We can and SHOULD think for ourselves.

However I find those articles interesting. I haven't made up my mind what I think, but I await next part with great interest. By the way: grat's to get a comment and even a blogpost with link from my idol Tobold. That's something! You've really managed to establish your blog very well in a short time. It's well deserved.

Cuthbert said...

Remember when you look at this post, that Veblen was a critic of this behavior. He was appalled by the "conspicuous waste" that this behavior created. Remember he was a co-founder of institutional economics, which is a pretty left wing school of economic thought.

Veblen also wrote "The Barbarian Status of Women," where he talked about how women were treated as chattel.

One of Veblen's intellectual successors, John Kenneth Galbraith, was one of the architects of FDR's New Deal.

The point is that Veblen isn't saying these things are right, just that they ARE.

Gevlon said...

@Larísa: Cuthbert mostly answered your post. Neither Veblen, nor I think that male and female "roles" are right. However they exist and "natural", just like the body smell. I think we should fight these "roles" by thinking just like we fight body smell by showering.

Artorin said...

Grz~ As far as making money the answer is yes and no. They don't produce a product yet the money that they get paid is far more then that of a laborer who does. Salesman and marketing people make money by convincing people that they need the companies product. Though they themselves do not make it they are responsible for selling it. Are you going to buy a car from someone who is a complete jerk or the very helpfull, kind and polite salesman?

In the business world though I would say that politeness is a tool used to make other people feel superior, when the opposite is usually the case.

Kinzlayer said...

Atr - There are instances where being a jerk does sale a product... take for instant pressure sales. The people who does it best aren't the polite callers who ask you how your day is going but act in a manner in which push you emotionally down then bring you back up with what they are selling.

Bristal said...

Fascinating, and an excellent read. The assumption you make which I disagree with however, is that humans are now or even in the past few millenia under the constraints of Darwinian natural selection. Rich/powerful people do not have significantly more offspring as they likely did in pre-historic eras. As a matter of fact, there is evidence that low socio-economic classes and those with certain sociopathic disorders (ie sexual disinhibition) have MORE offspring and we may actually be DE-evolving in a Darwinian sense (getting less fitter as an organism genetically).

Societal evolution occurs by learning. We are RAPIDLY evolving technologically which is due to PAST genetic evolution which occured over hundreds of thousands of years which produced our amazing brains, but is clearly not functioning now. Society has almost outlawed "survival of the fittest" via insurance, entitlements, welfare programs, socialism, etc. And conscious birth control allows for males to have lots of sex partners without procreating indiscriminantly.

I can't think of a single advanced society in which a single male is encouraged (or would want to), produce significantly more offspring than other males (Wilt Chamberlin notwithstanding).

Natural selection may be an elegant process that we romanticize as natural and organic, but it's actually cruel, unfair, often random and quite horrific in application. Further, most evolutionists consider gradual evolution to be a myth, and that "punctuated equilibrium" in which nearly all members of a species are wiped out at once and an isolated group repopulates is responsible for most significant evolutionary changes.

Fish said...

This explains why I got more women in college, I sat around and did NOTHING for days at a time, now that I actually have a profession, the illusion of wasteful leisure is gone. . .

Speartip said...

Gevlon, this is a bit off topic and my first comment on your blog, love it by the way, very cool. Anyways I was wondering if you were going to be trying to get in the market on the crafted pvp gear for the new season?

Gevlon said...

@speartip: I don't see much market there. Since people can easily farm Naxxramas, vault of Archavon and Obsidian sanctum, they will rather start PvP in PvE epics than crafted PvE blues, which are weaker than savage set and much weaker than hateful accessories.

psychonia said...

i think your underestimating the arena we're talking about. sure shiny epics aren't going to attract RL women but they are a status symbol in game that have the ability to attract women who play. every women wants a man who is capable and excels at whatever he does showing that he is smart, resourceful, and can take care of her as far removed from reality as that may be. i still think what gevlon is saying stands true. phat epics will snag you what may appear to be gamer chicks (or just fat old dudes taking advantage of your desperateness) ;)

Tesh said...

As interesting as this particular theory is, I can't quite agree that art in and of itself is useless. Of course I'm biased, since I am an artist, but I could also have been a physicist or engineer if I so chose. I find art to be something that can help uplift the spirit and educate the mind, even if we're still mucking around in the dirt with "dirty" jobs.

It's creative, and as much as humans have some basic needs, we also have a core impulse to be creative. It may serve no obvious function, but creating art does serve as an exercise for abstract thinking (which leads to practical innovation) and communication (some things aren't communicated as well vocally or with the written word).

Consuming art is a different thing, and it may indeed be extraordinarily wasteful. Still, creating art isn't useless.

Likewise, games aren't useless, as they are often teaching tools. Some games, notably the grindfests that MMOs have become, are fairly useless, but "games" as a whole aren't nearly as useless as something like fashion or other facets of conspicuous consumption.

Ixobelle said...

wow.. that... uhhh

that whole paragraph on housewives being useless servants 'that you show everyone you can afford to keep around' is pretty... uhh...



i have no response to that!

Homeaux said...

I've been reading your blog all of today and I appreciate the time and effort you put in. As a philosophical point, however, I would like to point out that you compare real world economic theory to this game, but there is one huge weak spot. What is your motivation to earn as much gold as possible? You could spend it on epeen stuff like mounts, but it doesn't seem like you are into that, akin to buying cars. Or, you could be doing it for leisure, but in wow, leisure time is equivalent to standing in SW. So I guess you do it to tell everyone how much gold you made.

Bravo for your insights, though. Keep them coming, but never forget that you are in a rat race of your own making and earning gold that is just pixels.

I'm going to improve the way I make gold using my mind, as you suggest, and I have yet to discover my compulsion to do so.

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