An important question here especially since he’s arguing that we dig up the foundations of our society to rebuild it as he insists:
Experiments have shown that it is threats to self-esteem or social status, where other people can judge us negatively, that most reliably raise our stress hormones. These feelings are so potent, causing anything from fury to stomach-clenching shame. Even simple experiments have shown they have serious consequences, including slower wound healing and weaker resistance to infection.
Yes, OK, social status matters. Monkey hierarchies – although apes would be a better example for us – and the not different at all Whitehall studies of civil servants etc. OK, fair enough.
We all want to be valued and appreciated: being looked down on, shamed or rejected is agonising. The experiences of low social status and racism are deeply stigmatising. To be treated as inferior, to be devalued and thought less of – whether on grounds of class, ethnicity, sexuality, or gender – is intolerable.
Agonising might be a bit strong but yes, OK, point taken.
So what can be done to ensure our health and resilience? The key is that class and status, prejudice and discrimination are strengthened by larger income differences. As George Bernard Shaw said: “Inequality of income takes the broad, safe, and fertile plane of human society and stands it on its edge,” with the result that some people are valued very much more than others. The rich are made to seem more superior and the poor more inferior, inequalities in health and in young people’s life chances increase, while social mobility slows.
The picture could hardly be simpler: almost all the problems that we know are related to social status within our society get worse when status differences are increased. If we want a less dysfunctional society and a healthier population, building back better means addressing the scourge of income inequality.
And how mad do you have to be to look at Britain and claim that social status is defined by income? A country where a decent plumber outearns the Prime Minister?
Entirely and wholly quite mad.