A human society (= community) is a group of people involved in persistent interpersonal relationships.

Society also refers to animals ones, which have similar social structures.

A civilization is a society characterized by urban development, social stratification, symbolic systems of communication, and domination over the natural environment.


1   History

1.1   Social status

Social status is the position of a person in a society. [3] Different societies have traditionally awarded status to different groups: fighters, priests, ancient families. Since modern times in the West, status has been awarded in relation to financial achievement. [3]

High status is pleasant. It means resources, freedom, space, comfort, time, and a sense of being cared for and thought valuable conveyed through invitations, flattery, laughter (even at bad jokes), deference, and attention. [3]

1.1.1   Dominance hierarchy

Norwegian zoologist and comparative psychologist Thorlief Schjelderup-Ebbe observed in 1921 that common barnyard chickens established a "pecking order". The determination of social status in the chicken world has implication for each bird's survival, particularly in times of scarcity. [2]

Chickens live communally. Songbirds, such as wrens, do not, but they still inhabit a dominance hierarchy. It's just spread out over more territory. The strongest birds occupy prime territory, and defend it. Territory matters, and there is little difference between territorial rights and social status. It is often a matter of life and death. [2]

If a virus sweeps through a neighborhood stratified songbirds, it is the least dominant and most stressed birds who are are most likely to sicken and die. This is equally true of human neighborhoods. The poor and stressed always die first, and in greater numbers. "When the aristocracy catches a cold, the working class dies of pneumonia." [2]

Because territory matters and because territory is scarce, territory produces conflict. Conflict producers another problem: how to win or lose without the disagreeing parties incurring too great a cost to either (else a third party could swoop in). [2]

Animals signal their fitness to prevent conflict in different ways. Sometimes, animals have multiple round of signaling. Finally, if signaling has not worked, the animals will fight until there is a clear winner and loser. [2]


  • Lobsters for example will first show their claws, and if that does not, then they will spray streams of chemicals from their eyes that tell the other about its size, sex, health, and mood.

    In the aftermath of a losing battle, regardless of how aggressively a lobster has behaved, it becomes unwilling to fight further, even against another previously defeated opponent. If a dominant lobster is badly defeated, its brain basically dissolves. Then it grows a new, subordinate brain - one more appropriate to its new, lowly position. Its original brain isn't sophisticated to manage the transformation without complete dissolution and regrowth. [2]

    The brain chemistry of lobster is reflected in their postures. Whether a lobster is confident or not depends on the ratio of two chemicals that modulate communication between lobster neurons: serotonin and octopamine. Winning increases serotonin. Serotonin regulates postural flexion. Serotonin and octopamine also regulate the tail-flick reflex, which propels a lobster backwards when it needs to escape. Less provocation is necessary to trigger that reflex in a defeated lobster.

    When a defeated lobster regains its courage and dares to fight again, it is more likely to lose again that you would predict, statistically, from a tally of its previous fights.

    After animals have tested each other, the resultant hierarchy is stable.

In some species including lobsters and humans, the females identify the most dominant males and become attracted to them. They will try to change the behavior of these males from fighting to mating. [2]

Lobsters, which have been around in one form for another for more than 350 million years, are evidence that dominance hierarchies have been an essentially permanent feature of the environment to which all complex life has adapted. [2]


The part of our brain that keeps track of our position in the dominance hierarchy is therefore exceptionally ancient and fundamental. It is a master control system, modulating our perceptions, values, emotions, thoughts and actions.

Consider serotonin, the chemical that governs posture and escape in the lobster. Low-ranking lobsters produce comparatively low levels of serotonin. This is also true of low-ranking human beings (and those low levels decrease with each defeat). Low serotonin means decreased confidence, and more response to stress and costlier physical preparedness for emergency (as anything whatsoever may happen, at any time, at the bottom of the dominance hierarchy, and rarely something good). Low serotonin means less happiness, more pain and anxiety, more illness, and a shorter lifespan.

The ancient part of your brain specialized for assessing dominance watches how you are treated by other people. On that evidence, it renders a determination of your value and assigns you a status. If you are judged by your peers as of little worth, the counter restricts serotonin availability. That makes you much more physically and psychologically reactive to any circumstance or event that might produce emotion, particularly if its negative. You need that reactivity. Emergencies are common at the bottom, and you must be ready to survive.

Unfortunately, that physical hyper-response, that constant alertness, burns up a lot of precious energy and physical resources. This response is really what everyone calls stress, and it is by no means only or even primarily psychological. It is a reflection of the genuine constraints of bad circumstances. When operating at the bottom, the ancient brain counter assumes that even the smallest unexpected impediment might produce an uncontrollable chain of negative events, which will have to be handled alone, as useful friends are rare indeed, on society's fringes... The ancient counter will even shut down your immune system, expending the energy and resources required for future health now, during the crises of the present. It will render you impulsive, so that you will jump, for example, at any short-term mating opportunities, or any possibility of lpeasure no matter how sub-par, disgraceful, or illegal.

The counter can go wrong if we break routine, e.g. erratic sleeping or eating.

Because the counter can go wrong, Peterson asks his clients:

  1. Do they wake up at approximately the time typical people wake up? And at the same time every day? If no, fixing that is the first thing he recommends.

  2. Breakfast. Counsels his clients to eat a fat and protein-heavy breakfast (no simple carbohydrates). (What? Why in this book?)

    Anxious people hyper-secrete insulin, so if they wake up and eat carbohydrates, the excess insulin will mop up all their blood sugar. Then they become hypoglcemic and psychophysiologically unstable. All Day.

A positive feedback loop requires an input detector, an amplifiers, and some form of output. For example, feedback from a sounder speaker. The same happens when a medication causes a disease, such as without alcoholism. Depressed people can start feeling useless and burdensome; this makes them withdraw from contact with friends and family, which makes more lonesome and isolated, and in turns more likely to feel useless and burdensome.

If someone is traumatized at some point in life, the dominance counter can transform in a manner that makes additional hurt more rather than less likely. This often happens in the case of adults who were viciously bullied during childhood. This means the damage caused by the bullying can continue even after the bullying has ended.

Petersen spent three hours a day for 14 years (some 15,000 hours) working on his other book, Maps of Meaning.

1.1.2   Language

An upward inflection is when your voice goes "up" as if you're asking a question. It can be used in non-questions, for example, many people do this when introducing themselves. "Hi, I'm Amy? I'm from Switzerland? I like chocolate?"

An upward inflection can convey friendliness, safety, and deference. But it can also cause people to become a predator toward you.

A downward inflection can convey confidence, credibility, and seriousness.

2   Study

Social science is an academic discipline concerned with society and the relationships among individuals within a society, which primarily relies on empirical approaches.

Social science includes anthropology, economics, political science, and sociology and sometimes psychology.

Politics is the practice and theory of influencing other people on a civic or individual level. It studies what is good for society.

The study of politics is political science, a branch of social science.

2.1   Critical Theory

Critical theory is a school of thought that stresses reflective assessment and critique of society and culture by applying knowledge from the social sciences and the humanities.

It follows from Horkheimer's definition that a critical theory is adequate only if it meets three criteria: it must be explanatory, practical, and normative, all at the same time. That is, it must explain what is wrong with current social reality, identify the actors to change it, and provide both clear norms for criticism and achievable practical goals for social transformation.

3   Impact

Carrie and I got into a discussion of whether or not I should become vegetarian. I argued no, because my impact was negligible. Even in the best case, where I convince all of my friends to become vegetarian, it's still too few to have a meaningful affect.

I argued that problems like these were the problems of Great Men. Carrie argued that that theory is no longer widely accepted, and that now average people have a higher possible impact, and nobody can have a massive impact. It wasn't clear to me if this was an argument for or against individual impact.

Second I question, even if it's she right, how does impact from the rational action of individuals compare to random chance. In other words, how much of history is decided by humanity and how much is decided accidentally.

"History" has no relation to "his".

Kyle mentioned that the sum of meat production (from the cows and grain required to feed them) summed to roughly half the cause of global warming.

4   Properties

4.1   Size

Beyond a certain point, as a community grows the probability that any individual within a community will interact with another person they have interact with before decreases. This cause people to not trust each other and put little effort into interaction, since there is no way to hold people accountable. This extends equally in communities where people are anonymous.

5   Engagement

6   Status

Social status (= coolness) is the relative rank of a person within society. Social status can be determined in two ways:

  1. Achieved status, which is earned through achievement
  2. Ascribed status, which is inherited

where does this idea come from?

Social status can be determined through social proof: have no friends would suggest you're undesirable.

Would assume physical looks play a part... Also some notion of certain hobbies conferring status.

Whether or not a person has high social status can be the difference between whether something is considered attractive or repulsive. For example, an attractive man who uses a cheesy pickup line may have success with a woman, where a low status man will be labeled as a "creep". Many men mistake the causality.

Social status can be inferred through diet. For example, Romans considered milk the food of barbarians and peasants, and its status remained low until the Dutch empire brought respect to the Netherlands, which consumed large amounts of dairy. Similarly, lobsters were once considered peasant food.

Being tan was considered low status before the industrial revolution, and light skin was prized. This then flipped during the Industrial revolution as labor moved indoors.

7   Power

Power is the ability to influence the behavior of others to get the outcomes one wants. [4] There are several ways to affect the behavior of others. You can coerce them with threats; you can induce them with payments; or you can attract and co-opt them to want what you want. [4]

When we measure power in terms of the changed behavior of others, we have first to know their preference. Otherwise we may be as mistaken about our power as a rooster who thinks his crowing makes the sun rise. And the power may evaporate when the context changes... Power always depends on the context in which the relationship exist. [4]

Sometimes we can get the outcomes we want by affecting behavior without commanding it. If you believe that my objectives are legitimate, I may be able to persuade you to do that for me without using threats or inducements. For example, some loyal Catholics may follow the pope's teaching on capital punishment, not because of a threat of excommunication but out of respect for his moral authority. Or some radical Muslim fundamentalist may be attract to support Osama bin Laden's actions not because of payments or threat, but because they believe in the legitimacy of his objectives. [4]

Ordinary people simply define power as the possession of capabilities or resources that can influence outcomes... When people define power as synonymous with the resources that produce it, they sometimes encounter the paradox that those best endowed with power do not always get the outcomes they want... For example, in terms of resources the United States was far more powerful than Vietnam, yet we lost the Vietnam War. [4]

Converting resources into realized power requires well-designed strategies and skillful leadership. [4]

Power resources are not as fungible as money. What wins in one game may not help at all in another. Holding a winning poker hand does not help if the game is bridge. Even if the game is poker, if you play your high hand poorly, you can still lose. Having power resources does not guarantee that you will always get what you want. As a first approximation in any game, it always helps to start by figuring out who is holding the high cards. But it is equally important to understand what game you are playing. Which resources provide the best basis for power behavior in a particular context? Oil was not an impressive power resource before the industrial age, nor was uranium significant before the nuclear age. Before you judge who is holding the high cards, you need to understand what game you are playing and how the value of the cards may be changing. [4]

For example, the distribution of power resources in the contemporary information age varies greatly on different issues. The agenda of world politics has become like a three-dimensional chess game in which one can win only by playing vertically as well as horizontally. On the top board of classic interstate military issues, the United States is indeed the only superpower with global military reach. However, on the middle board of interstate economic issues, the distribution of power is multipolar. The United States cannot obtain the outcomes it wants on trade, antitrust, or financial regulation issues without the agreement of the European Union, Japan, China, and others. An on the bottom board of transnational issues like terrorism, international crime, climate changes, and the spread of infectious diseases, power is widely distributed. [4]

Hard power can rest on inducements ("carrots") or threats ("sticks"). [4]

Soft power is getting others to want the outcomes that you want. [4] Soft power rests on the ability to shape the preferences of others. [4]

In a relationship or marriage, power does not necessarily reside with the largest partner, but in the mysterious chemistry of attraction. And in the business world, smart executives know that leadership is not just a matter of issuing commands, but also involves leading by example and attracting others to do what you want. [4]

It is difficult to run a large organization by commands alone. You also need to get others to buy into your values. [4]

Soft power is a staple of daily democratic politics. Whereas leaders in authoritarian countries can use coercion and issue commands, politicians in democracies have to rely more on a combination of inducement and attraction. [4]

Soft power is not merely the same as influence. Influence can rest on the hard power of threats or payments. [4]

Soft power is more than just persuasion or the ability to move people by argument, though that is an important part. [4]

Soft power is also the ability to attract, and attraction often leads to acquiescence. [4]

In behavioral terms, soft power is attractive power. In terms of resources, soft power are the assets that produce such attraction. [4]

Whether a particular asset is a soft power resource that produces attraction can be measured by asking people through polls or focus groups. [4]

Command power - the ability to change what others do - can rest on coercion or inducement.

Co-optive power - the ability to shape what others want - can rest on the attractiveness of one's culture and values or the ability to manipulate the agenda of political choices in a manner that makes others fail to express some preferences because they seem to be too unrealistic.

The relationship here is imperfect. Some countries may be attracted to others with command power by myths of invincibility. Both Hitler and Stalin tried to develop such myths. A strong economy not only provides resources for sanction and payments, but can also be a source of attractiveness.

The great British realist E. H. Carr, writing in 1939, described international power in three categories: military, economic, and power over opinion.

President Kennedy was properly concerned that although polls showed the United States to be more popular, they also showed a Soviet lead in perceptions of its space program and the strength of its nuclear arsenal.

Soft power does not depend on hard power. The Vatican has soft power despite Stalin's mocking question, "How many divisions does the Pope have?'

Institutions can enhance a county's soft power. For example, Britain in the nineteenth century and the United States in the second half of the twentieth century advanced their values by creatinga structure of international rules and institutions that were

7.1   Soft power

Soft power is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country's culture, political ideals, and policies. When our policies are seen as legitimate in the eyes of others, our soft power is enhanced... When you can get others to admire your ideals and to want what you want, you do not have to spend as much on sticks and carrots to move them in your direction. [4]

8   Further reading

9   References

[1](1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) Hunter Horsely. 2014. Tips for Group Admins.
[2](1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) Jordan B. Peterson. Jan 16, 2018. 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.
[3](1, 2, 3) Alain de Boton. 2004. Status Anxiety.
[4](1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21)

Joseph S. Nye, Jr. Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics.

Book form of the article.

"Readers who are familiar with my earlier work may properly ask what's new here. The answer is 'a lot'"... Here I have honed the definition, expanded the examples, used new polling data and historical research, and explored the implication and limits of soft power. Michael O Church writes:

If you have actually lived in the society that actually exists, rather than the one entirely in your own head that you wish to believe in, you'll recognize that there is a positive correlation between social position and being unethical. (1) Power corrupts, (2) power attracts bad people, (3) bad people are more willing to make moral compromises to get power, (4) good people in power (it does happen) are usually not cynical enough to tell when they're being lied to by their lieutenants.