Acceptable and unacceptable status in America

See this fascinating and largely accurate list of what kinds of inequality are acceptable and what kinds aren’t, by David Brooks; note especially:

Status inequality is acceptable for college teachers. Universities exist within a finely gradated status structure, with certain schools like Brown clearly more elite than other schools. University departments are carefully ranked and compete for superiority.

Status inequality is unacceptable for high school teachers. Teachers at this level strongly resist being ranked. It would be loathsome to have one’s department competing with other departments in nearby schools.

And people involved in each system probably believe in both without questioning why they do or how they came to believe what they believe.

Many English and humanities grad students and professors seem to find differences in income inequality abhorrent and believe they are probably the result of unequal access to resources or education but also believe differences in status and work quality in their own fields largely the result of merit, hard work, tenacity, and determination. When they get lousy papers from students, relatively few seem to attribute lousy papers to various kinds of inequality of opportunity and many attribute them to laziness, poor time management, and so forth.

In addition, academics, at least of the humanities varieties, don’t like flashy cards but do like flashy CVs. So the status of certain activities are different. Teachers appear to dislike both and seem to like markers of perceived equality, even though anyone who’s been through school is doubtlessly aware that not all teachers are equally skilled or passionate.

Also, on a personal note, I am a propagating this kind of inequality:

Cupcake inequality is on the way up. People will stand for hours outside of gourmet cupcake stores even though there are other adequate cupcakes on offer with no waiting at nearby Safeways.

The cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery in NYC and LA or Cupcake Royale in Seattle are so much better than most cupcakes that the difference astonishes. Yet part of my perception might be because they’re very hard for me, in Tucson, to find and acquire. (There is a place called Red Velvet that also sells expensive cupcakes, but they’re too dense and have the wrong mouthfeel.) PinkBerry used to be feel special, but now there’s going to be one a few miles from me, which means I’m much less likely to go out of my way to get one when I’m in LA. So maybe I’m actually consuming status as much as I’m consuming sugary confections. Now PinkBerry is opening at the University of Arizona, which means it won’t be a treat but something I walk past routinely.

I would be interested in seeing other lists of this kind and for other countries.

Brooks ends: “Dear visitor, we are a democratic, egalitarian people who spend our days desperately trying to climb over each other. Have a nice stay.” We may also believe that equality of opportunity doesn’t imply equality of results, although that itself might be acceptable to believe while it might not be acceptable to believe in many circles that we have equality of opportunity.

It is acceptable to believe that many kinds of inequality affect women and few or none do men, which Roy Baumeister writes about extensively in Is There Anything Good About Men?: How Cultures Flourish by Exploiting Men. For most people, it is also acceptable to have a very high number of sex partners as long as you don’t brag too publicly about it; rare, brash exceptions generate hilarity, as in Tucker Max or Chelsea Handler.

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