Before the invention of the supermarket, food had to be hunted down or found. The equivalent of a comfortable 3 bedroom flat was the drafty (yet sturdy!) cave (to be shared with the entire clan; body heat does wonders to warm up a few cubic meters of bare stone…). And while buses and obesity claim lives in modern society, they aren’t half as bad as those pesky sabre tooth tigers used to be.
Now, if this doesn’t say: “I have too many pieces of metal”, then I don’t know what does!
Life was tough. Though for some it was tougher than for others.
Because it’s a rotten job, but someone’s gotta be the chief, the big kahuna, the man (m/f of course). And because it’s hard work being responsible for the well-being of the entire group, there were some perks: The juiciest bit of mammoth, first pick among the eligible young virgins (m/f), the least stony bit of cave to sleep on. You get the picture.
Of course a good chief needs a trusted right hand. And perhaps a left hand too. Both of whom need their own lieutenants (or captains. I’m not that well-versed in stone-age military jargon). And though the juiciest bit of mammoth might be spoken for, there certainly is a second-most succulent piece that will go to the second in command.
In short, your 10.000 BC bunch of humans has a hierarchy. And being at the top of it makes a difference. Because mammoths might be plenty, killing one isn’t easy and hunger is a patient hunter. Having had the best piece of meat might just be enough to keep it at bay while someone a bit further down dies an empty-bellied death.
Sometimes I think life was so much easier when a gentleman’s club had nothing to do with scarcely clad women and everything with a sturdy piece of wood. But then I remember sabre tooth tigers…
So, having a higher status means a higher chance of survival. Let that simmer for a few generations and evolution will create a very strong drive for people to strive for as much status as they can possibly get their (grimy) hands on.
Now fast forward a few millennia, to a time when supermarkets have been invented and people generally don’t die prematurely (as long as they look left and right before crossing the street).
Status is no longer a life-and-death matter. Unfortunately, a few thousand years of evolution isn’t undone just because circumstances change (doubly so since people don’t actually die that much before having children). It might no longer be useful, but we’re stuck with this status thing.
And back in the day when we thought that fire was the epitome of civilization, status was easy. You knew everybody in the tribe, so you knew who the boss was and who the doormat (metaphorically of course. Caves don’t have doors, let alone doormats.).
In modern times it’s a whole lot harder. We live in a city surrounded by a thousandfold more strangers than acquaintances. And even with our friends we only have a passing familiarity. We might spend an evening together drinking, but we certainly won’t live, work and sleep together 24/7. So, how do you figure out who is on top and who is on the bottom?
Luckily we found a way around that.
Because the invention of the supermarket was a great thing, but it quickly became clear that it took really a lot of bartering, which wasn’t particularly efficient. Instead of direct trade, some smart soul convinced everybody else that you could instead trade everything for pieces of shiny metal, which could then be traded on when the time was ripe for it.
As an aside, those pieces of metal could be used quite well to keep score in the status game. The person with the most wins! Walking around with lots of pieces of shiny metal however is heavy and it invites thieves to take away some of your hard-earned status.
The next best thing is to imply that you have lots of these pieces. This is done by giving away lots of them in trade for things that you don’t really need: “Look! I have so many pieces of metal that I can waste really a lot of them to get this completely impractical gas-guzzling sports-car! I wouldn’t do that unless I had even more, now would I?”
So, next time you find yourself eyeing that latest smart-phone or your 47th-pair-of-shoes-to-be, realize it’s not particularly the piece of metal-and-plastic or dead cow that you’re longing for. It is evolutionary-assumed bit of security the implied status of your purchase brings.
I’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.
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