Keeping up with the Joneses

February 16, 2009


What is it about a fully grown life form that makes self-aggrandizement a rewarding pursuit?

False bravado and credible signals are both part of the mechanism where a jackal gets to mark its territory. It’s understandable to see it as hardwired into survival. Overt display of (attractive) physical characteristic- peacocks, is de rigueur in the mating game. Aquatic creatures, birds, animals, and human beings are all equated into this common denominator.

But which other animal gets turned on by flattery? Desperately looks for social acceptance?  Finds it far easier to claim false credit than accept the possibility of randomness in a purported achievement?

What is it about this collection of atoms that generates a collective high on receipt of any signal that another similar collection of similar atoms is ‘inferior’ – in one loose definition of ‘inferior’ or the other? What survival advantage does it entail? It surely brings about jealousy, rage, and other sub-optimal conditions in extending any lease on the blue planet.

If all of us have it (in some degree or the other), it must be a genetic legacy. As it turns out, all of us do have it – from Atticus Finch to Attila the Hun – some of us ‘succeed’ in curbing a basal emotion for  ‘better’ alternatives, and some don’t. A big chunk of major literature (over thousands of years, no less) is built up on it. Iago fed on it, Indiana Jones battled against it.

So why did it develop in the first place?  Is it something to do with the fact that our social groups evolved beyond basic needs towards a sophisticated marking of peer perspective as a utility measure? That’s the best I can come up with. 


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