From John Ray's shorter notes

May 14, 2015

Leftism and the causal arrow: Poverty and status-striving misunderstood

A group of psychologists have recently done some new research on an old topic -- status striving.  They see the desire to be thought well of by others as a basic and important human motive.  I don't argue with that as I have long argued that such a motive is what drives a lot of Leftism.  I have argued that such a need is so strong among Leftists that it borders on clinical narcissism.

So I was disappointed to see that they had correlated that need with all sorts of things EXCEPT politics.  I can't help wondering if that was deliberate -- but asking people their politics can be tricky so maybe not.

Their research rediscovered along the way something that pops up  in the medical literature almost every time it is examined: Being of lower socio-economic status goes with poorer health.  I will follow the journal abstract below with some comments about that:
Is the desire for status a fundamental human motive? A review of the empirical literature.

By Anderson, Cameron et al.


The current review evaluates the status hypothesis, which states that that the desire for status is a fundamental motive. Status is defined as the respect, admiration, and voluntary deference individuals are afforded by others. It is distinct from related constructs such as power, financial success, and social belongingness. A review of diverse literatures lent support to the status hypothesis: People’s subjective well-being, self-esteem, and mental and physical health appear to depend on the level of status they are accorded by others.

People engage in a wide range of goal-directed activities to manage their status, aided by myriad cognitive, behavioral, and affective processes; for example, they vigilantly monitor the status dynamics in their social environment, strive to appear socially valuable, prefer and select social environments that offer them higher status, and react strongly when their status is threatened.

The desire for status also does not appear to be a mere derivative of the need to belong, as some theorists have speculated.

Finally, the importance of status was observed across individuals who differed in culture, gender, age, and personality, supporting the universality of the status motive. Therefore, taken as a whole, the relevant evidence suggests that the desire for status is indeed fundamental.

Psychological Bulletin.  2015  Volume 141, Issue 3 (May). Pages 574-601
Something I have difficulty with are the following statements from the body of their article:
Perhaps the strongest test of the status hypothesis is whether the possession of low status impacts health. If so, this would suggest that failing to satisfy the desire for status produces consequences that extend beyond decreased levels of happiness and dampened feelings of self-worth. It would suggest that status motive is powerful enough that when it is thwarted, individuals begin to suffer from psychological and physical pathology......

Evidence from multiple research literatures suggests that low status contributes to poor health. People with low status in their community exhibit higher rates of psychological disturbances, such as depression and anxiety, and experience physical health problems, such as higher blood pressure and a greater susceptibility to infectious disease. Proxies of low status, such as lower organizational rank and the tendency to behave in deferential ways, were also linked to mental and physical illness. Taken together, the reviewed evidence suggests that being accorded low status by others not only damages subjective well-being and self-esteem, it also promotes psychological and physical pathology.
I think they have got it ass-backwards. I think the causal arrow is pointing the other way.  They propose that low status --> poor health, while I would argue that poor health --> low status (where the arrow is read as "causes").  I think it is poor health that holds you back in life and thus leads to a realistic perception in others that you are not a person of high status.  And being perceived as a person of low status will usually lead to the person concerned recognizing that he is perceived in that way.

There is no doubt that poor health DOES hold you back in various ways so Occams Razor would tell us that that is a sufficient explanation for the observed correlations.  The onus is on the researchers to show that there is some effect in the other direction.  I cannot see where they have shown that. And since they see the correlation with health as the key test of their theory we are entitled to give the old Scottish verdict of "not proven" to their overall claims.  They are probably right but have not shown it well.  They should be more careful about jumping to conclusions.  Assuming the direction of the causal  arrow is however a besetting sin in the research literature. They are far from alone in seeing only what they expect to see.

So in any future research into status striving, it would be unwise to use state of health as an index of it.

Their conclusion about health is of course classic Leftist crocodile tears: It is a variation on "Poverty hurts the poor", or, "being poor is bad for you".  Their variation is "being of low status is bad for you".  I think I have shown that such a conclusion is not warranted by their findings


Another stupid Leftist assumption about the causal arrow

The crocodile tears never stop.  Once again we are being told that being poor is bad for you.  I will follow the article below with some comments

Stress can leave damaging and lasting imprints on the genes of the urban poor.  This is according to a new study that claims poor people's DNA is declining in quality as a result of difficult upbringings.

The results are based on the finding that people in disadvantaged environments have shorter telomeres — DNA sequences that generally shrink with age — than their advantaged peers.

Previous research has found telomere length can reliably predict life expectancy in humans.

The study found that low-income residents of Detroit, no matter their race, have shorter telomeres than the national average.

'There are effects of living in high-poverty, racially segregated neighbourhoods,' Dr Arline Geronimus, a visiting scholar at the Stanford Center for Advanced Study said in an interview with The Huffington Post.

Within this group, how race-ethnicity and income were associated with telomere length varied dramatically.


There are reasons for being poor -- being dumb, being lazy, having poor social skills, being in bad health etc.  So assuming that being poor makes you dumb or unhealthy (etc.) gets it ass-backwards.  The researchers above mistake the direction of the causal arrow.  They claim poverty --> poor health, while I would argue that poor health --> poverty.

The researchers simply failed to ask WHY people are poor. They failed to look at the circumstances antecedent to their research -- a politically incorrect enquiry, I guess. Had they done that they would have seen that their conclusion is the unlikely one.

Their data show only that in poor people there is a lot of ill health -- which is in fact probably the most reliable finding in medical research.  Whatever ailment medical researchers look at, it is generally found to be most frequent among people of low socio-economic status.  But correlation is not causation so that repeated finding permits NO causal conclusions whatever.  Only looking at the big picture behind the findings can suggest causal explanations.  And that poor health is in general a considerable barrier to getting rich can hardly be disputed

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