I was gobble gobble gobbling over my Turkey Day, and as always, there was an argument. Or we might call it a spirited debate. Let me take you through it.
Imagine a man. He is a stereotypical resident of a stereotypical neighborhood we’ll call the Upper Rest Side. The man is a professor at You Pork University, one of the best “State Schools” in the country, despite being inexplicably private. He wears square glasses and a tweed coat, is balding, and he collects African masks. He is a very wealthy nouveau riche, but his family is from the shtetl. Every year on Thanksgiving, he gives a lecture on an obscure African tribe and their sociology and praises Hashem for His grace.
Is this man high status?
Everyone agreed he was.
Now imagine another man from another place. This man is from Snark Pope, a neighborhood across town. He’s rich, but he’s not as rich, and at any rate, the money is vulgar. Not only is he shtetl people, he’s first-generation rich, having made a few million as a marketing executive. Nevertheless, he is also thankful, for he does also live a blessed life. His hair is starting to go salt-and-pepper and he has a body that, while not as chiseled as a Grek bodybuilder’s, is well-maintained from regular aerobic exercise and clean living. His business affairs prosper and his dinner is well-attended by both friends and family. He gives his own speech, and this one is about Black Lives Matters. It is cribbed from MSNBC and consists of platitudes and cheap slogans.
My interlocutor asserts this man, the Snark Poper, is higher status than our first subject. He’s more socially dominant, which I am forced to agree to. When the two meet, the Snark Poper owns the Upper Rest Sider. And not only that, he’s more evolved! What? How can he be more evolved, man? This guy is just worse than the Upper Rest Sider. Well, exactly! I object to this. Of course I object.
If you don’t believe the Snark Poper would own the Upper Rest Sider, I will provide an illustrative example:
Upper Rest Sider: So you see, the tribesmen of the Ombombo eat the tree fly as part of their coming-of-age ritual because the tree fly has a particular life cycle in which the larva embed into the fruit and emerge fully grown – accordingly, the youth is told to eat the fly to gain its nous, so that he may also taste the sweetness of life.
Snark Papist: Are you saying that Africans eat flies because they have no food? That seems really inappropriate.
Upper Rest Sider: No, you misunderstand. This is an example of their rich culture, they have different moral standards from Weste-
Snark Papist: Oh, so they don’t have morals and that’s why they eat bugs? That’s racist. You’re racist!
The Upper Rest Sider sags in defeat. Later that night, he will return home, log onto his anonymous Bird.com account, and write an esoteric racist shitpost.
Well, think about it, continues my interlocuter. His status-seeking features are more refined. The Snark Poper is doing prog-to-mog. If you’re optimizing yourself to be a mogging machine, then objectively the actual knowledge, money, etc is dead weight. It’s much better and more effective to become a bigger asshole. In fact, we can go further.
Imagine a third man, from a neighborhood adjoining Snark Pope: Billionswurg. He has no money. He has no taste, at least not any taste an art critic would grasp. His favorite painters are Bart Simpson and the guy who draws graffiti dicks on the brick walls of alleyways. He knows nothing about Africa, instead cribbing racist jokes from his favorite podcasts. But this guy is cool. He’s way cooler than the Snark Poper.
At this, I was speechless.
This is what happens when those two meet.
Snark Papist: Hey there young man, do you know where the subway station is? I’m afraid I’ve gotten a little mixed up.
Hipster: Why the fuck are you bothering me?
Snark Papist: Oh, I’m just trying to figure out where to go. I’m not from here, I came down to see the Art of Niger exhibit.
Hipster: Whoa bro, did you just say the N-word? The NIGGER word? C’mon man, you can’t do that.
Snark Papist: No, no, it’s Niger. It’s a country in Africa.
Hipster: I don’t think you know anything about nigger. Name every African.
Snark Papist: I’m sorry?
Hipster: Damn right you’re sorry. Ooga booga bix nood mufugga watermelon chicken! Gronk! Snood! Do you even know what that means? That’s Nig-Nog, the language of the Nogger tribe.
Snark Papist: Well, ah, uhh, um, that’s why I’m trying to learn more, so I can grow and thrive.
Hipster: Ummm, you’re Chinese.
Snark Papist: I… I am? No, I… I’m Jewish.
At this point, the Hipster begins aggressively pelvic thrusting towards the Snark Papist. The Papist flees in terror. When he gets home, he wonders if he was raped. He resolves to be a better feminist ally in the future.
What is status? Social dominance. And what is social dominance? Social dominance is the ability to force your way in social situations. If everyone agrees on something because it benefits them all, that doesn’t take any social dominance to do. What takes a lot of social dominance? Pointing at a deer and calling it a horse. Or better yet, pointing at an empty box and calling it a horse. Not just a horse, but the most majestic stallion you’ve ever seen. And the act of exerting social dominance and getting away with it is itself both a signal of and a producer of more social dominance. The act is its own social proof if you don’t get called out on it. Roughly speaking, we can say social dominance has two components, which I will call Nerd Power and Cunt Power, and your total social dominance, which is your status, is a function of the two factors.
Nerd Power is your ability to generate objective value. In a relationship, it’s your ability to provide, to bring home the bacon. In the white collar tech world, engineers have the Nerd Power. But it’s not just things like that. If the standard of value is muscles, then the jock has a lot of Nerd Power. In fact, it is commonly observed, and true, that many jocks are just Nerds for Sports. The value of Nerd Power is the ability to give people carrots. In the carrot-and-stick of social dynamics, your Nerd Power is how many carrots you bring to the table. One problem is that without a stick, a lot of your carrots can be bullied out of you for very little. And the traits that make people good at things often make it harder for them to defend what they make. Cooperativeness, high trust, and affability generate value in most parts of life, but it’s easy to be walked over if you do. The most conscientious person on a work team ends up carrying the project. But there’s an even worse failure state. Sometimes people don’t want any carrots out of you. At that point, you reach Nerd Power’s failure mode. Nerd Power’s value comes from objective Survival Constraints. The more you need that value, the more you’re going to have to negotiate with someone with Nerd Power, and the better their conditions will get. The classic example of Nerd Power achieving utter social dominance is when you have Employee #1, the only one who groks the mainframe. People like that set their own rules and name their own price. But much of the time, Nerd Power can be pushed around by the other source of social dominance: Cunt Power.
This is what happens when Nerd Power has no carrots the other party wants.
Let me tell you a story. How many layers of recursion deep can we go? As many as it takes to fry the brains of the censors. There was a junior investment banker who had a girlfriend, a journalist, he wanted desperately to please. But no matter what he did, none of it ever seemed good enough. Not that he had enough time. He hated that. Every day, he woke up – too early – and rolled out of bed, sometimes clothes still on from the last night, and dragged himself into the office.
He wanted to die. He was counting the days until that bonus check hit. Was it worth it? Could it be worth it? Was this all there was to life?
He was neglecting her. Was he abusing her? Was this abuse? He hated himself. He didn’t want to hurt her, he really didn’t. He wanted to love her. He wasn’t worthy of loving her. He wanted to be. He couldn’t. He hit himself, a lot. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Stupid! Even his nights didn’t belong to him. He could leave the office, but he couldn’t escape the office. Ping. Ping. He checked his phone. It was Teams. It was his boss, actually. He was supposed to spend some time with her. He wouldn’t get to. Was this his fault? He should have checked his work more. He should have asked for comments before leaving. Stupid. Stupid!
I’m sorry, he croaks. I have to do this. Ten minutes, babe. Twenty, tops.
He spends the next hour turning comments. By the time he finishes, she’s bored. She’s gone.
He wants to crumple up and blow away. He can’t. Yet another thing he can’t do right.
When they make love, he thinks about death a lot. Mortality. Death would be the end of his pain. At least he could die right. Everyone can. But death also seems like a door. Who knows what’s beyond death? At night, he dreams about a different, far off world. It is full of fairies and dreams and sweet princesses and noble princes. Everyone lives happily ever after. Is that the place beyond death? Maybe this is his sleeping life. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with his life. She’s out there, in the woods. She’s waiting for him to wake up. Death. He tells her this, once, well, at least the first part. He thinks of death when they make love. She looks at him with sheer contempt. He never brings it up again.
He takes her to the Hamptons by Blade. That helicopter service. He thinks it will be magical. The house is his parent’s, but it’s his for the weekend. She thinks it’s too loud. Her hair gets messed up. She blames him. She mopes. He wakes up before dawn. He stands in the sand, water up to his ankles, and looks out, waiting for the sun to rise. The cold wind nips at his face. He subscribes to Jezebel. He wants to understand her better. He doesn’t understand the articles. Stupid. Stupid!
He’s going to do it. He’s going to quit. He’s going to love her like she deserves to be loved. He’s going to move to New Hampshire and become an English professor. He’ll have a large dog that he walks every morning. He’ll grow his own flowers. They’ll sip coffee and watch the swaying of the trees. They’ll be happy. Come with me. He tells her.
She leaves him. Later, she writes an article about him. My experience dating a toxic finance bro who pretended to be a feminist!
He cries. He wants to die. He takes a fluffy, woolly blanket, and wraps it around himself until he feels safe. Then he picks up his pencils. And he begins to draw.
A world where the pain will stop.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
I am on the train heading into New York City.
Summer is over. It’s always better to spend as much of summer outside the swampy, murky mess of New York summer as you can.
I am pacing the halls back and forth, agitated. Bored, mostly. You lose signal sometimes – often, frankly too often. The infrastructure in this fucking country. You can’t put cell towers all along a fixed railroad route? Of course they can’t. They used to have booze on the trains. It was something to do. Killed time. They got rid of that a little while back. Still, I can’t hate the train. I love the train. I love cross-country trips by train, and I even love little commuter hops. I love the sleepers and I love the Amtrak food.
At the very least, you might run into someone interesting, someone to talk to. You meet all kinds of people in the train. I’ve met Italian dukes who run painting contractors (there’s a lot of money in that, apparently). I’ve met retired medical professors. I’ve met ranchers headed back to their vast herds in the trackless Midwest. You never know, you know?
I walk up and down the seats. I see someone reading. Tall kid, young, white. Square jaw, but a bit of softness around the eyes. Well, you don’t want to interrupt that, it’s rude. They’re reading. I spy the title of the book on the front. Kirstin Lavransdatter. Oh, what the hell. I know that book.
“Hey,” I say. “Is that Kirstin Lavransdatter?” He doesn’t respond. The hell is this? “I’ve read that book,” I say again, loudly, staring directly at him. He jumps a little up in his seat, looks like he’s about to bolt. Maybe that was a little much. I think about conquering the world while he opens his book more widely, then reaches a hand into his coat pocket, retrieving… a fucking flower? He places it slowly in the inner fold of the book, then pauses, then picks it up, adjusts it slightly, and gingerly moves it so that the bloom of the flower isn’t disturbed by the book. Then he slowly closes the book around the flower.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I didn’t realize you were talking to me.”
“I’ve read that book too. It’s interesting,” I say.
“Really? I can never get enough of it. You know, the way flawed people… women, they can find grace. People getting caught up in themselves, but… it works out.”
“Well, that’s the beauty of the Catholic tradition, I think. It doesn’t demand perfection, but penance. Grace is a gift, freely given, to sinners, if only they reach out for it. Lord have mercy.”
“Lord have mercy,” he repeats.
There is a silence. There is only the rumbling and shaking of the train.
“I’m Clive,” he says. “I teach this book at a local liberal arts college. Local to Nassapaqua, I mean, not New York. It’s, uh, the subject of my doctoral work. I find it really interesting… women, feminism, sacrifice… coming to terms with a broken life. I don’t- well, that is, I mean… it’s not feminist like that, not in… It’s not clear that she’s right or wrong. Can any woman be happy with a disappointing man? But can she do anything but blame herself when the man she does pick… he’s… well… It all comes down to the grace of God, I guess. What do you do?”
“I work in finance.” He winces.
We pass through the internet dead zone. I sit down in a row I can have to myself, whip out my phone, and doomscroll the Bird the rest of the journey.
When I arrive at the station, I call an Uber. The app spins a bit, then picks up a driver. Because I’m an Uber Diamond Rewards customer, Uber upgrades me to a black cab automatically. A tank-like SUV pulls up to the curb. “Ahmed?” I ask. He nods. He repeats my name back to me. I confirm. We’re on our way.
I’m headed down to Dimes Square. Dimes Square is a microneighborhood, a little lemon wedge squeezed next to Chinatown, a little slip of a place. That’s what it is geographically. Culturally? It’s the scene.
All cultural roads lead to Dimes Square. Here is the intersection of Trumpism and breast milk and tradcaths and racists and leftists and dirtbags and poasters and troons and and balloons and drugged out freaks and artists and geeks. It was, in short, the worst place on Earth and the only place to be. Anyone who was anyone was there, and there were there to be a tastemaker and a tastetaker.
And me? I don’t know. I supposed I wanted to see it. Just to know about it, and that it was there. Grandly, I thought, I would give voice to the voiceless stories. Lowly, I thought, this was my version of Little Honey Boo Boo. The truth is probably something in between.
I showed up at the door, only to be checked by some bro in a jacket.
“Do you see this jacket? Do you know what that means?” he screamed.
“No,” I said, nonplussed.
“That means I work at BOAR’S HEAD, BRO. I make SANDWICHES. I decide who pees! You want to pee, I’m the bathroom king.”
I just wanted to go inside but this guy wouldn’t let me. But then, a black man looked at me, then looked at him, and spoke. “Ay, what do you think you’re doing? Crazy motherfucker,” he said. The Boar’s Head Guard stammered. “I’m Black,” said the black man. He was black. The Boar’s Head Guard’s eyes widened in realization as he realized the black man was black.
“Sorry,” he murmured. “Right this way,” he said, ushering me in.
I went inside. I scanned the room. Some people were clearly and visibly dysgenic, their physical mutations no doubt only matched by their mental ones. The others were not. They were attractive. Art hos. The place was swarming with journalists. They loved it. They hated it. It disgusted them. It was that curious mixture of emotions that was closest to them being collectively aroused. They were aroused by this, The Scene. And they were here to observe it, write about it, fawn about it. I wasn’t sure which group disturbed me more. This was not a place of honor. A man was hitting himself in the testicles with a hammer. That was his art. Another was reading his poetry. The poetry was about masturbating to his dead cat, who reminded him of Garfield the Cat, who he was sexually attracted to. It climaxed and so did he. I sidled up in that awkward mixer way to someone to strike up a conversation.
“So what’s your deal?” he asked.
“I work in finance,” I mumbled.
“Pfft. You know where I work?” he asked, puffing out his chest. “I work at a fucking movie theater, man. A mo-vie the-at-er.”
“Like for ar-” I started.
“Man, we show the best pictures. Probably. I make the popcorn. I pop the popcorn. I put the butter on the popcorn. Does a faggot financier even know what butter is? Fucking retard.”
I started to talk again, to tell him that I did know what butter was, but he interrupted me again.
“Butter is,” he said, crinkling his nose. He paused. He was thinking. “Butter is that yellow delicious stuff.” He looked me up and down. “So where do you live? Can you even afford your own place? Loser.”
“I live on the Upper East Side,” I said.
He smirked condescendingly. “I live in SoHo,” he said. “My rent is $15,000 a month.” Then, triumph crackling in his voice, he said, “Daddy dearest pays for me.”
He scoffed, concluding I wasn’t worth any more of his time, and turned around. It didn’t matter. The King had arrived.
The King was the coolest guy in this crowd, the New York scene, which made him the coolest guy in New York, which made him the coolest guy in the Western World. He wasn’t just a tastemaker, he was *the tastemaker*. At least until someone knocked him down. But that would be hard to do. He was a magnificent specimen. His hair formed a greasy Jewfro. His eyes were beady and poorly spaced, so it was never quite clear what he was looking at. His jowls were too fat, and bulbous, and he looked around the room with the cool, dispassionate gaze of someone who knew he was the shit. Idly, he picked at himself with his fat sausage fingers.
With him was 2022’s It Girl. Everyone knew he was the most beautiful woman in New York. He had broad shoulders, like a linebacker. His jaw was thick enough to crack granite. He was wearing a wig, which was starting to fall off. He had a hairy chest, which the King licked with lust. He was hot with desire for his Queen. They began to make out. As one, moved by this sight, the crowd stood to clap. And clap. They kept clapping.
I kept clapping. They kept clapping. We were clapping. Seconds passed. Sweat dripped down my forehead. I shouldn’t have worn my coat. But I couldn’t take it off now. I was busy clapping. What, was I gonna stop to take off my coat? But still, that was making me thirsty. My arms were getting tired. I was clapping. How long were we clapping? Five minutes? Ten minutes? Clap, clap, clap. Finally, one of the journalists, she began to slow down. She stopped clapping. Bit by bit, the crowd slowed too, then stopped.
The King locked eyes with her, his gaze steely.
The next day, she was cancelled on Twitter for transphobia. Soon afterwards, she was fired from her job.
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.
HE WASN’T THE FINANCE BRO SHE WANTED HIM TO BE.
Cunt Power. What is Cunt Power? If Nerd Power is the carrot, then Cunt Power is the stick. Cunt Power is how much of a dickhead you are. The more you can cunt people out, the more power you have over them, because people will do what you say to make you stop. Cunt Power is bragging, Cunt Power is being overbearing, Cunt Power is shaming people into line. One of the reason why women like assholes is because without any ability to be an asshole, people will just walk over you and take all of your value. They will win by Cunt Power. But absent the survival constraints, Cunt Power tends to dominate Nerd Power. Any time Cunt Power interacts with Nerd Power, Cunt Power will simply own Nerd Power. You can only deal with someone pushing you by pushing back yourself.
The problem with a pure Cunt Power strategy is that people can easily disengage with you. Social status is not a one person game, but requires other to acquiesce to your will in order for you to be high social status. You can cunt people out, but if they have no reason to stay, then they will stop interacting with you. So most people have to balance carrot with stick, and on balance, they tend to need more carrots than there are sticks. But cunt power can spiral out of control if there’s no need to bargain for the other person’s social presence in your life. That creates an inherent power imbalance. So someone’s Mother-in-Law can get a very high social status by cunting out their Son-in-Law. If his status is high, then her status becomes his status + 1, which is very high. The ideal status-maximizing position to take there is for the Son-in-Law to be a real catch, but still not good enough for your daughter, and have to sit and take it while you ream him out. That’s the visceral feeling of winning. Similarly, a Bridezilla is essential to her own wedding, so she can feel and demonstrate high social status by making everyone else’s life hell. That’s, on an animal level, the definition of winning. And we are just status apes deep down.
But we can go further. What if you could cunt out total strangers? What if you could achieve maximum cuntiness all the time with people you don’t even know? You can. All societies have sacred myths which they find legitimate. In ours, wokeness and progressive morality plays that role. By becoming holier-than-thou in the reigning ideology, you can cunt out random people, and if they resist, you can shame them inside the dominant moral paradigm, bringing down force against them. Damn, that feels good. You’re winning as an animal. There is, however, a problem. Status showing behaviors almost all come at a cost to the signaler. A peacock’s tail is a drag on the peacock. Philanthropy comes at great expense if you do it for real. The ancients used to have their Big Men throw grand feasts or make sacrifices of their fine animals to the gods. To show off your status usually makes you poorer, not richer. Even pure social shows of status rarely turn out well for the signaler – nobody really likes a braggart. But we still do it. High status means high mating chances. And those hipsters mate like crazy, for what they bring to the table (nothing but how cool they are). The problem with constantly degrading your own life when you already have little, though, is that you break right through rock bottom and keep going. In some objective sense of life achievement, these are some of the worst losers you can imagine. They’re not smart, they’re not successful, they’re not learned, they’re not working to benefit society, they’re not good company, and they’re not nice.
I suppose that gives us a good working definition of a true Status-Maximizing Sociopath. A Status-Maximizing Sociopath is someone who looks at that and thinks “Good deal”. Love of the world, or perhaps, love of the world loving you.
But almost everyone will do something for a few status points more, unless they’re literally fighting to survive.
Later that night, I had the opportunity to own my interlocuter. And I took it. He was complaining about venture capital. How come he couldn’t raise a bunch of VC money? It’s because he didn’t have the right credentials. Someone like my friends had the right credentials. But his ideas were good. I took this opportunity to own him.
In fact, his ideas being good were the problem. I was in that world long enough to know that many of the companies that raised the most money came from the stupidest ideas. Why? Because it’s, again, status signaling. It takes a good VC to make money. But it takes a great VC to lose a lot of money. First, because you need that money to begin with. And secondly, the stupider an idea, the more “visionary” it seems to champion it, which benefits the VC’s status. I had won.
But I had also lost, in principle, the argument I had made earlier in the night. And so, to my interlocuter, who I know will be reading this, consider this essay my concession speech. You have won the traditional Thanksgiving political argument, and proven yourself to really have become an exceptional young adult. I am thankful for another year passing – after all, we only get so many.
May all of your lives be blessed and may we all get through the coming trials.
Monsieur le Baron