16 Sep 2008
Arrogance as Adaptation
Richard Conniff, who has a blog named strange behaviors, compares in his delightful book „The Natural History of the Rich“ the behavior of the rich with various animal species. Territoriality, social hierarchy, pecking orders, imitation and competition for mates are not just confined to the animal kingdom. He compares gibbons and gorillas to CEOs and movie stars, which is entertaining, but in the end they are not that different from the rest of the society, they are only more extreme and less constrained. He talks about “triple-A” personalities – people who are aggressive, acquisitive and ambitious about getting what they want. Other words starting with “a” may also come to mind – for instance arrogant.
Arrogance is a way to separate yourself from the rest. In fact this is what rich people do: separating themselves from the poor. It is an adaptive behavior. The environment of rich people is importunate and intrusive, and everyone would like to have a part of the wealth. Arrogance looks like an adaptation to this environment, a reaction to keep the intrusive people out. Quite the contrary to this nasty atmosphere, the environment of poor people is indifferent and unconcerned. Nobody would like to have contact to the have-nots. Kindness looks like an adaptation here, too. Altruism, kindness and friendliness can draw the attention of the unconcerned environment to oneself and thus compensate the lack of resources (if rich people act altruistic, it is not only to act friendly. Conniff argues that even altruism can be a way of showing wealth).