September 25, 2009

An interesting question

This guy is very status conscious.

Off and on lately, this blog has been looking at how social status and related factors affect health and longevity. (Short version: they do in a big way.)

But this kind of musing leads to an interesting question:

*Given that there are status hierarchies in primate populations and many other animal groups as well; and

*Given that humans are primates; and

*Given that all human societies have some kind of hierarchy (even if it is mostly a guy thing)....does this not imply that this is a fact of nature and that there's nothing we can do about it?

Epidemiologist Michael Marmot examines this question in his book The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity. Here's one possible answer.

Striving for status is probably a legacy of our evolutionary heritage (again, chiefly amongst the dudes). BUT for most of human history, we were foragers or hunter-gatherers. Such groups in general don't accumulate a lot in the way of property and don't have class systems that institutionalize inequality. Also, one can gain status in such a group in lots of ways, including by showing generosity and concern for others. Also, if you know anything about hunting or fishing, you know that sometimes you're hot and sometimes you're not, which would tend to make status differences fairly fluid.

We really see the status affect in humans at it strongest in class societies quite unlike that of our ancestors. These have all kinds of built-in structural inequalities. But even within these, the affects of status vary widely, with the degree of inequality having a major effect. In other words, a lot of the status syndrome and related social determinants of health are socially constructed and vary widely from society to society.

To quote Shakespeare, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings"--at least to a large extent.

SIGNS OF THE TIMES. Unemployment claims have nearly doubled since last year in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia. Meanwhile, over 300,000 state residents got SNAP or what used to be called food stamps. That number was up over 60,000 from the previous year.

ON THE OTHER HAND, there are some signs that job losses are slowing at the national level.

AND BY THE WAY, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is playing a big role in making things less bad. As part of ARRA, food stamp payments went up and there were also mechanisms to extend, expand and modernize unemployment, aside from all the other effects of the boost in spending.

THE NEXT BIG HISSY FIT after health care reform will be climate change legislation.


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