A great deal of human behavior can be explained by people trying to convince themselves that they are not losers.
Often on this blog, I write about the contest for status as if it’s something that people consciously think about. As in someone considering buying a BMW thinks “if I buy this car, my status will increase.” But actually, very few people think that way. (People who read my blog are more likely to think that way because I’ve opened their minds to a new way of understanding the world). More likely than not, the person buying the BMW thinks “no one will think I’m a loser if I drive a BMW.” Or maybe he thinks “this car will help me score with women.” In either case, he’s internalized the idea that men he wants to be like, either men who he perceives to have higher status, or men who are successful with women, drive BMWs. Of course, BMW’s marketing department wants people to think in that manner. (I have no idea why women buy BMWs. Their way of thinking is so alien.)
A person’s social class in large part determines what he considers a loser to be like. For example, people from the true upper class don’t think that driving a BMW makes them not a loser. In fact, they generally think the opposite, that being too proud of one’s car is a lower class behavior.
The concept about people trying to convince themselves that they are not losers goes beyond social class. It came to me when I told a friend that we would be better off if there wasn’t a taboo about discussing salaries, and he said “do you really want to know everyone’s salary?” implying that you might suffer a vicious blow to self esteem discovering that everyone else is being paid more than you. And it occurred to me that one of the reasons why the taboo persists is because people fear that they might discover how big of a loser they are. But the reality is that knowing you are paid less than your coworkers actually gives you bargaining power to get a raise, so in trying to avoid learning about coworkers’ salaries, you harm your objective interests in favor of your self-esteem.
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Also, and this is something that Scott Adams the creator of Dilbert pointed out once in a cartoon, a lot of people pretend to enjoy their jobs as a strategy to convince themselves they are not losers. It’s easier to believe they work in a low-paying job because they like the job than to believe they work in a low-paying job because they are too much of a loser to find a better job.