Is Being Popular Immoral?

Obviously, from Mean Girls (C) 2004.

Of course, not, per se. That is not the question I actually seek to answer. A lot of the work I do in disability advocacy, more than the other politics I do, involves fighting the sociology of cliques and even this far into my adulthood, the world is still very high school-esque. The question is begged, to me, on an ethical level whether a high level of inequality in social capital is actually immoral. It is resented, yes, but is the inequality itself wrong. In politics, the same is often asked about economic inequality and the answer is actually fairly similar. No, popularity is not immoral but the inequality almost inevitably leads to and results from things that are immoral. So, for all effective intents and purposes it is immoral. Establishing this is important because it will emphasize the need to use various means to integrate the cliques and raise the social capital of those who lack it.

Firstly, and perhaps most obvious, bullying is greatly exacerbated by a highly stratified hierarchy. That’s the case because it usually arises from ingroup/outgroup prejudice. The more strongly divided a society is, the stronger is that prejudice and the more socially taboo it is to cross the class barrier, the higher the prejudice and the harder it is to break that prejudice. At a certain level of inequality, the top’s relationship to the bottom is not benign neglect but active harm and this social psychology is almost hard-wired. I’ve complained about oxytocin and that is one of the primary neurotransmitters guilty of this. In the normative, one may posit an unequal society where the rich smile on the poor. In the empirical, this does not happen.

The next item is that in addition to the various forms of active discrimination there is the effect on the lowest strata in the system, psychologically, which is pretty bad. The system creates a social capitalism in which the middle-strata aim to emulate and join the highest strata and therefore the lowest strata become abandoned and made friendless. This is not necessarily because they lack the social skills to have friends but because of their relative position. Not their absolute position.

For whatever reasons, those whose attractiveness, personality traits, hobbies, and so forth made them less desirable become socially toxic for anyone above them and become abandoned not only by the upper classes but also the middle. Even if they reform themselves and become more “respectable”, the taboo doesn’t go away easily and they are cursed for as long as they’re known by a particular society. Being treated as treated as radioactive and as worthless scum for the formative years and even after of one’s life is quite unhealthy and otherwise functional and well-adjusted people with mild awkwardness or similar traits will often become less social and have any deviance made greater in addition to many years of depressive and anxious conditions, sometimes to the point of PTSD and making those members of society significantly less productive.

In recent years, not only has economic inequality become worse but also this type of social inequality. That because people are more risk averse. There is less lead in the environment, people drink less, and so on. That all means people are much more careful with regards to their social choices. Their risk aversion does not mean that they’ll be more ethical or less prejudiced in their selections. It will usually do the opposite. They’ll calculate who is in their self-interest to associate with and with more prejudice. One of the reasons for the collapse in both the dating and platonic friendship scenes is the greater discernment of the people who are discerning not who is safe or good but who is advantageous. Advantageous being a relative term as their definition of that is usually shallow and shortsighted.

The micro class systems of our schools, workplaces, and other institutions can have serious effects and do real harm and it is imperative that we take sociological means to rectify these issues. If we do that, not only will we be kinder and more ethical but also we will make people and society more productive. The less stressed and depressed people are, the more productive and creative they are which benefits society and its constituent institutions, including the institutions where these micro societies are like our companies and schools. At a level of inequality, it is effectively immoral and it also harms the bottom line of wherever it exists. So, investments should be made to solve it.

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