How much do I want to read more? 7/10
In a sense, it's normal that inequalities trigger all sort of problems like jealousy, more violence, imprisonment, and lack of trust.
Our world is moving toward more connectivity and wholeness. Our consciousness understands that we are not fragmented: we need each other to succeed. Humanity cannot thrive and leave people behind.
At the same time, inequalities always existed and it seems it always will. Inequality is the tension and the force we need to move forward. Without it, we would just stagnate. (I didn't see the author taking this option into account)
Isn't it paradoxical that we all experience social fear of being stupid in front of others, whereas we should understand and support each other to feel more comfortable?
"We treat our shyness, self-doubt and frequent inability to feel at ease with others as if they were purely personal psychological weaknesses, as if they were flaws built into our emotional make-up that we must cope with on our own as best we can.
Because we tend to hide these insecurities from each other, we fail to see them in others."
A lots of reports and statistics are illustrated throughout the book.
Prologue - The story so far …
The Spirit Level, published in 2009, showed that people in societies with bigger income gaps between rich and poor are much more likely to suffer from a wide range of health and social problems than those living in more equal societies.
the populations of societies with larger income differences tend to have worse health: lower life expectancy and higher rates of infant mortality, mental illness, illicit drug use and obesity. Greater inequality also damages social relationships: more unequal societies experience more violence (as measured by homicide rates) and higher rates of imprisonment; people trust each other less and community life is weaker. Inequality also damages children’s life chances; more unequal societies have lower levels of child well-being and educational attainment, more teenage births and less social mobility.
One of our more surprising findings was that inequality affects the vast majority of the population, not only a poor minority.
1 - This is Not a Self-help Book
[quote, Charles Cooley]
‘Many people of balanced mind and congenial activity scarcely know that they care what others think of them, and will deny, perhaps with indignation, that such care is an important factor in what they are and do. But this is an illusion. If failure or disgrace arrives, if one suddenly finds that the faces of men show coldness or contempt instead of the kindliness and deference that he is used to, he will perceive from the shock, the fear, the sense of being outcast and helpless, that he was living in the minds of others without knowing it, just as we daily walk the solid ground without thinking how it bears us up.’
When exposed to other people, she says the ‘real enemies are shame, fear, and cruel judgment’. Beck says she is ‘one of the millions of party-impaired people … social-phobes [who] dread party talk’, who are ‘petrified of saying something stupid, something that will reveal us as the jackasses we are, rather than the social maestros we wish we were’.
We treat our shyness, self-doubt and frequent inability to feel at ease with others as if they were purely personal psychological weaknesses, as if they were flaws built into our emotional make-up that we must cope with on our own as best we can.
Because we tend to hide these insecurities from each other, we fail to see them in others.
‘To be human means to feel inferior.’
shyness, low self-esteem and sometimes social phobia
or, alternatively, by hiding their insecurity under a show of self-importance, pomposity, narcissism and snobbery.
He interpreted people’s attitudes of superiority as a defence against underlying feelings of inferiority.
‘Behind everyone who behaves as if he were superior to others, we can suspect a feeling of inferiority which calls for very special efforts of concealment.’
‘The greater the feeling of inferiority … the more powerful is the urge to conquest and the more violent the emotional agitation.’
Though we are all used to the idea that there are pollutants and carcinogens in the environment that have to be reduced in order to diminish the burden of physical disease, we are less used to the idea of tackling harmful emotional or psychological environments.
We are a social species, and our sensitivity to each other and our ability to avoid behaviour which might offend others are necessary skills.
Feelings of insecurity are often so great that people react defensively to even minor criticism; others are seemingly so nervous of social interaction that they isolate themselves.
imagine people running a hurdles race. If you wanted to know why some runners knock down more hurdles than others, you would look at individual differences between the runners – their ages, fitness, height, etc.
But if you wanted to know why more hurdles were knocked down in some athletics meetings than others, you’d start by looking at whether the hurdles were higher in some than others.
Similarly, if you wanted to know why some people could or couldn’t do a bit of mental arithmetic, you would look at individual differences in their capacity and familiarity with arithmetic, but if you wanted to know why more people could solve one problem than another, you’d look at differences in how hard the problems were.
Today we live in societies in which worries about how we are seen and judged by others – what psychologists call ‘the social evaluative threat’ – are one of the most serious burdens on the quality and experience of life in rich developed countries.
These insecurities are a cancer in the midst of our social life.
Shyness is a very common sign of our feelings of vulnerability to how others see us.
Feeling shy means feeling increased self-consciousness, a sense of awkwardness and anxiety in relation to others, a lack of confidence in your social competence, which produce levels of stress which interfere with and interrupt thought processes.
It makes it harder to interact with other people and enjoy their company, and harder to think and express yourself clearly – often to the detriment of careers and social life.
Those who suffer high levels of shyness may be classified as suffering from social phobia, social anxiety or social anxiety disorder
A small minority of people find their lack of confidence so inhibiting, and social life such an ordeal, that they avoid contact with other people as much as possible. Many are so racked by social anxieties that the pleasure of meeting others is far outweighed by the stress.
I am extremely shy around both people I know and don’t know. It hinders my everyday life so much that people think I am making it up. I have no friends. It is hard for me to go anywhere. I always make sure I go shopping in the day – that way I can wear sunglasses or a hat. It is my security blanket from Social Anxiety Disorder. I get tongue-tied and sweaty, then I feel like they’re looking at me like I am some sort of freak! It is a living hell I struggle with on a daily basis.
In the USA the number of those suffering from social anxiety disorder has increased over the last three decades from 2 per cent to 12 per cent of the population.
RISING MENTAL ILLNESS AND STRESS
It would be hard to devise anything as psychologically damaging as circumstances that simultaneously undermine how we get on with other people and how we feel about ourselves.
Given that economic growth has brought us unprecedented luxury and comfort, it seems paradoxical that levels of anxiety have tended to increase rather than decrease over time.
any mental disorder was 55% in the USA, 49% in New Zealand, 33% in Germany, 43% in the Netherlands, but only 20% in Nigeria and 18% in China.
If anxiety has increased despite rising living standards, then that should shift the focus of any attempt to identify causes from material difficulties to social life.
we now worry much more about maintaining standards in relation to others – where we are in relation to the norms of our society and position within it.
When people are expecting visitors to their home, most do extra vacuuming, cleaning and tidying before guests arrive. We prefer to hide how we really live – even from friends.
We don’t tell our guests that we only just managed to finish clearing up as they arrived at the door, even though most people admit that this is true of them too.
In their hurry to clear up, people say they hide things away in the washing machine, tumble dryer or laundry basket. Fifteen per cent admit to hiding dirty dishes in the oven.
Signs of our concern for social appearance are everywhere. It is as if most of us fear being seen for what we are, as if acceptance depended on hiding some awful truth about ourselves: what we really look like, our ignorance, signs of ageing, unemployment, low pay, incipient alcohol dependence, humourlessness, inability to make small talk – in fact anything which might make others view us less positively.
FRIENDSHIP AND HEALTH
The report concluded that having lots of friends, enjoying good relationships and being involved with others is not just an attractive idea: it is at least as important to health and longevity as not smoking. Although the long-term sick may lose friends, the studies found that having fewer friends led to poorer health.
One involved making blister wounds on the arms of volunteers. It found that they healed more slowly among people who had more hostile relationships.
Another, in which volunteers were given nasal drops containing cold viruses, found that after the same measured exposure to infection, people with fewer friends were four times as likely to develop colds
It is an odd paradox that in our modern, densely populated urban societies, there is a shortage of friendship and good relationships; people are together, but separate.
Having friends who value you makes you feel better about yourself and increases confidence, just as feeling excluded and unwanted has the opposite effect.
It is, after all, almost impossible to remain self-confident if you feel excluded by others.
Human beings are more fundamentally social animals than is often recognized, and our enjoyment of relaxed social contact is a pleasure that is too often overlooked.
If you had to choose between more money and more contact with other people, the data suggest that becoming more involved with other people brings as much additional happiness as an increase in income of £85,000 a year.
Societies with smaller income gaps have repeatedly been shown to be more cohesive. People in more equal societies are more likely to be involved in local groups, voluntary organizations and civic associations.
They are more likely to feel they can trust each other, are more willing to help one another, and rates of violence are consistently lower.
People get along with each other better in more equal societies.
Most people do, after all, tend to choose their friends from among their near equals.
the more hierarchical a society is, the stronger the idea that people are ranked according to inherent differences in worth or value, and the greater their insecurities about self-worth.
Before the development of agriculture, humans lived as hunter-gatherers in remarkably egalitarian communities.
But early human societies avoided the hierarchical structures seen in many animal species, in which the strongest eat first and the dominant males monopolize access to females.
for more than 90 per cent of the time we have been ‘anatomically modern’, equality was the norm in human societies.
people who behaved in domineering ways were put in their place fairly systematically by being ignored, teased or ostracized, as others tried to maintain their autonomy.
being embedded in a community of equals did not mean that people failed to recognize or value differences in individual skills, knowledge and abilities. More talented individuals would be respected and valued, but that did not give them power over others. There was no sense of a social system in which people became richer or poorer, living in comfort or hardship, according to some hierarchy of status and personal worth.
In almost any hierarchical society, the way we see and relate to each other is pervaded not simply by the idea that people vary in their personal worth, but by the assumption that they are ranked from the best at the top to the least valuable at the bottom, from most able to least able, from the most admired to the least admired.
And the lower you are in the hierarchy, the more stigmatized you are likely to feel. It’s hard to think of anything better calculated to exacerbate all your insecurities about whether you appear as successful or as a failure, interesting or dull, clever or stupid, well-educated or ignorant, than being ranked by class.
What other people think of us is filtered through our expectations, fears and tensions about where we come in the scale of personal worth.
LOSS OF SETTLED COMMUNITIES
the way we were defined in each other’s eyes was once formed over a lifetime and hard to change, there is now a sense that who we are, and how others see us, is always more fluid and subject to constant reassessment. In a society of strangers, outward appearances and first impressions become more important.
The modern high rates of geographical mobility mean that, whether we like it or not, our identity is no longer settled, maintained and confirmed by other people’s lifelong knowledge of us.
How others see us does not become less important, only less stably embedded in others’ minds. Secure only in the minds of a few close friends and family members, it is endlessly open to question. As a result, our sense of ourselves becomes less well anchored, more prone to ups and downs, and more at the mercy of passing moods. Without the stabilizing effect of an identity held in the minds of a community of people, it is as if each encounter demands that we try to implant a positive version of ourselves in others’ minds. To them we are simply unknown, and whether we create a good or bad impression is up to us.
in societies where people are regarded as moving up or down the social ladder according to individual merit and effort, status appears much more as a reflection of personal ability or virtue, so making low social status appear as a mark of individual failure.
The belief that social status reflects personal worth is cemented and heightened at school by our experience of exams and assessments designed to rate us by ability in comparison to others, a process which leaves permanent psychological scars in some, and feelings of superiority in others.
And beyond school, whether you went to university, how prestigious it was and what class of degree you got, are all sometimes seen as indications of personal worth.
The scale of income and wealth differences in a society is not just an additional element in status and class differentiation; it now provides the main framework or scaffolding on which markers of social status are assembled.
not only through cars, clothing and housing, but also through things which demonstrate ‘taste’, like the books, restaurants and music we choose.
With that goes the tendency for people who are richer to be regarded as superior and to think they are better than other people.
Greater inequality makes money more important as a key to status and a way of expressing your ‘worth’.
Material differences are a crucial key to status in almost all societies. Ranking systems are fundamentally about gaining access to resources, and that is true whether we are talking about the importance of money in modern life, of land holdings in feudal societies, or even the way dominant animals gain first access to food. Power matters because it ensures privileged access to all the necessities, pleasures and comforts of life.
So, as people become better off, they spend more on what can be seen in public: up-market mobile phones, pedigree dogs, watches, jewellery and cars rather than home furnishings.
it is hard to imagine a more powerful way of telling a large swathe of the population that they are almost worthless than to pay them a quarter of 1 per cent of what someone else in the same company is paid.
The only two examples to show no age rise in blood pressure were the Xingu and the Yanomami foraging tribes in the Amazon rain forest.
That members of these tribes live together almost naked, without private areas in their huts, indicates levels of exposure to, and familiarity with, each other which would feel very uncomfortable to modern populations.
Not only does a larger area of privacy increase the potential for anxieties about what others would think if they knew what was hidden, but, as honesty has always been associated with what is done ‘above board’, ‘out in the open’ and ‘for all to see’, it also gives more scope for mistrust and paranoia.
2 - Self-doubt
[quote, internet chat]
‘Do other people feel like this? Or is there something really wrong with me? … I do feel I hide the real me from people.’