The Insatiable Search for Status

The Insatiable Search for Status January 25, 2022

In this series, we’ve looked at how we play status games (Part 1) and the communal nature of these games (Part 2). So now, we explore in more detail this question: “How do status games practically affect our lives?” In The Status Game, Will Storr offers an array of answers. This post will highlight only a few.

For whatever we want in life that involves other people, whether money, advancement, friendship, etc., status is a factor in achieving that goal or desire. This is true for Christian believers and non-believers. No one can ignore conventional social customs that signal one’s place in the group and the values that the community espouses.

It’s no wonder that people think (says Storr) that status is “the golden key that unlocks our dreams” (3).

Status is integral. It shouldn’t be an idol.

Notice a flawed leap in human thinking—we confuse what can contribute to human flourishing (status of some sort) with what is paramount. Status is critical, just as food is basic. Yet, neither status nor food is the reason for living.

Storr explains that status can’t be perfected. “Furthermore, unlike status, the desire for power is quenchable” (26). Researchers suggest that

one reason the desire for status is “never really satiated” is because “it can never really be possessed by the individual once and for all. Since it is esteem given by others, it can always, at least theoretically, be taken away.” So we keep wanting more. And more and more and more. (89)

Because connection and status are crucial for flourishing as social beings, our “status detection system never switches off. The game never ends” (29).

From this, someone will be tempted to conclude (mistakenly) that status-seeking is bad. If you think this way, you don’t understand the nature of status; you likely are merely thinking of a single, distorted, idolatrous view of status that becomes covetous. Storr (and I) speak of “status” more descriptively as something that just is. Keep in mind that Jesus changes our status—making us God’s adopted children!

With that said, fallen sinners perpetually misunderstand and abuse status games. Therefore, Storr’s book (which is not written from a Christian perspective) is valuable because it exposes and clarifies the rules of the game that we’ve all been playing by, even when we don’t realize it. By understanding the status game, one can apply wisely the Bible’s teaching.

Status is Addictive

Sεx is essential for human existence, but it can also be addictive. So, when I speak of status being addictive, I once again do not regard it as inherently “sinful.” However, it’s worth explaining how it becomes addictive so that we can avoid falling into potential traps.

Ask anyone who has attained acclaim or prominence in society or even within a community. That person eventually gets used to their status and the perks that come with it. It becomes so normal that one begins to think of status as a right. So, such people (including us at different times in life) become more attuned to threats to their status and/or begin looking for other ways to scratch that itch for attention.

Storr explains, “Statius drunkenness is extraordinary and ordinary and testament to how the game can intoxicate human cognition” (90). Furthermore, “No matter who we are or how high on the scoreboard we climb, life is a game that never ends” (95).

“Status Wars”

As part 2 emphasized, we not only compare ourselves individually with other individuals; we also contrast our status games (played within our community) with the status games played by other groups. This observation cannot be overemphasized.

Storr says,

Our status games are embedded into our perception. We experience reality through them. So when we encounter someone playing a rival game, it can be disturbing. If they’re living by a conflicting set of rules and symbols, they’re implying our rules and symbols— our criteria for claiming status— are invalid, and our dream of reality is false… They insult us simply by being who they are. (158)

His chapter “War Games” (ch. 18) is sheer gold. The above quote only scratches the surface of what could be said. He cites an African proverb that memorably captures one of his key ideas:

“the child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.” (67)

In his previous book, The Heretics, Storr connects status and our sense of identity with one’s tendency to hold irrational beliefs. He summarizes,

We’re especially vulnerable to irrationality when the “facts” in question serve to boost or threaten the heroic story we tell of ourselves. (5-6)

By now, I assume the relevance of Storr’s discussion is obvious to you.

Toward a Conclusion

I’ll conclude this series in the next post. While readers might think status is wholly evil and that Christians can live without regard for status, they delude themselves. You can no more stop playing status games than you can walk around without skin and muscles.

The problem with the status game centers on the basis for, the sphere of, and search for our status. When these are reoriented, we can play status games in more constructive, healthy ways. I’ll introduce that conversation in the next post.

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