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Envy Up, Scorn Down

Envy Up, Scorn Down: How Status Divides Us

Susan T. Fiske
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 256
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    Envy Up, Scorn Down
    Book Description:

    The United States was founded on the principle of equal opportunity for all, and this ethos continues to inform the nation’s collective identity. In reality, however, absolute equality is elusive. The gap between rich and poor has widened in recent decades, and the United States has the highest level of economic inequality of any developed country. Social class and other differences in status reverberate throughout American life, and prejudice based on another’s perceived status persists among individuals and groups. In Envy Up, Scorn Down, noted social psychologist Susan Fiske examines the psychological underpinnings of interpersonal and intergroup comparisons, exploring why we compare ourselves to those both above and below us and analyzing the social consequences of such comparisons in day-to-day life. What motivates individuals, groups, and cultures to envy the status of some and scorn the status of others? Who experiences envy and scorn most? Envy Up, Scorn Down marshals a wealth of recent psychological studies as well as findings based on years of Fiske’s own research to address such questions. She shows that both envy and scorn have distinctive biological, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral characteristics. And though we are all “wired” for comparison, some individuals are more vulnerable to these motives than others. Dominant personalities, for example, express envy toward high-status groups such as the wealthy and well-educated, and insecurity can lead others to scorn those perceived to have lower status, such as women, minorities, or the disabled. Fiske shows that one’s race or ethnicity, gender, and education all correlate with perceived status. Regardless of whether one is accorded higher or lower status, however, all groups rank their members, and all societies rank the various groups within them. We rate each group as either friend or foe, able or unable, and accordingly assign them the traits of warmth or competence. The majority of groups in the United States are ranked either warm or competent but not both, with extreme exceptions: the homeless or the very poor are considered neither warm nor competent. Societies across the globe view older people as warm but incompetent. Conversely, the very rich are generally considered cold but highly competent. Envy Up, Scorn Down explores the nuances of status hierarchies and their consequences and shows that such prejudice in its most virulent form dehumanizes and can lead to devastating outcomes—from the scornful neglect of the homeless to the envious anger historically directed at Tutsis in Rwanda or Jews in Europe. Individuals, groups, and even cultures will always make comparisons between and among themselves. Envy Up, Scorn Down is an accessible and insightful examination of drives we all share and the prejudice that can accompany comparison. The book deftly shows that understanding envy and scorn—and seeking to mitigate their effects—can prove invaluable to our lives, our relationships, and our society.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-709-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Psychology, Economics

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. About the Author
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Chapter 1 Comparing Ourselves to Others: Envy and Scorn Divide Us
    (pp. 1-27)

    We are constantly comparing ourselves with others, and comparison is only natural. Even dogs and chimps do it, as we will see. At the same time, comparisons divide and depress us by making us envy those above us and discount those below us. So why do we persist in making comparisons? Could we harness this tendency so that some good comes of it?

    Chrissie and Steve own a coffeehouse in a small town in rural western New England. When they took over from the previous owners, the business needed paint, ran at unreliable hours, and carried unpredictable offerings. Fresh out...

  6. Chapter 2 Signatures of Envy and Scorn: We Know Them When We See Them
    (pp. 28-55)

    The signs of envy and scorn are everywhere because the vertical dimension is everywhere. The vertical dimension, ″ambition′s ladder,″ is a necessary part of any human system. Group-living animals all have hierarchies. Even chickens have pecking orders. Coordination demands it. Stability demands it. Adjustment demands it. Despite the corrosive side effects of envy and scorn, our social systems require status differences. So we know them when we see them.

    Yet envy and scorn embarrass us. We hesitate to admit feeling them ourselves, whether privately or publicly. When I tell people at parties about this book project, they are intrigued, but...

  7. Chapter 3 Who Cares About Comparisons?
    (pp. 56-78)

    Considering that scorn is just as socially imprudent to reveal as envy is, evidence of our inner drama indeed is uncommon. Yet as the last chapter argued, we know these emotions when we see them, and they are everywhere. Unpleasant as they may be, we all share the experiences of comparison that give rise to them. We cannot help experiencing these comparisons—they are automatic. So we should not assume that we are somehow immune to them, and we should not believe people who say that they are immune.

    Even if no one is beyond making comparisons, some people do...

  8. Chapter 4 Why Do We Compare? Comparison Informs Us
    (pp. 79-93)

    We all need to know where we stand, especially in those ″moments when what we thought we knew, about our lives, about our careers, [our relationships, our appearance, our health] comes into contact with a threatening sort of reality.″ Life requires that our self-view at least approximately fit our reality, not to mention our hopes. Psychologists know a lot about this. One major reason we compare ourselves with others is to gain information in order to evaluate and improve ourselves, functions that serve the twin motives of prediction and control. Comparison informs us.

    Our need to understand (and perhaps control)...

  9. Chapter 5 Why Do We Compare? Comparison Protects Us
    (pp. 94-113)

    Sometimes we want to know where we stand, but sometimes we just want to feel ″bright by comparison.″ Besides evaluating and perhaps improving ourselves, we would like to feel good.¹ Self-esteem is a less lofty goal than being informed, but we all need to feel good enough to get out of bed in the morning.

    We are so oriented to the subjective that we often prefer it to the objective—but only if it makes us look good.² In Bill Klein′s study showing this, undergraduates were asked to judge the quality of artworks. They learned that they had scored absolutely...

  10. Chapter 6 Why Do We Compare? Comparison Helps Us Fit into Our Groups
    (pp. 114-137)

    Aristotle was among the first to tell us that we are profoundly collective beings. We prefer to be included: ″We′d love you to join us″ may be one of the most compelling human appeals. As chapter 3 noted, we have good adaptive reasons to be with others: we survive and thrive better if we are social than if we are isolates. Exclusion literally pains us, so to avoid being shunned, we aim to fit in with our own ingroups.¹ Comparison facilitates our belonging because it shows us where we stand both within our groups and where our groups stand relative...

  11. Chapter 7 Beyond Comparison: Transforming Envy and Scorn
    (pp. 138-164)

    Faculty meetings are famous for fights over the finer points of petty procedures. Academics like to quote an aphorism attributed to Henry Kissinger: University politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small. But not just the professoriate jockeys for position when placed in groups. Toddlers do it, dogs do it, chimps do it. All of us rank ourselves relative to others; we all make our well-being contingent on someone bigger, up the hierarchy. Faculty compare themselves to see how they rank relative to those above and below not only because the stakes are small but also because the...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 165-190)
  13. References
    (pp. 191-230)
  14. Index
    (pp. 231-246)