An Aristocracy of Foxes
People want egalitarianism when they’re being selected, but they’re elitist when they’re doing the selecting. This is the ultimate luxury belief: wanting average for everyone else while wanting the best for ourselves.
Capital Thinking • Issue #1124 • View online
The tragedy of luxury beliefs is that, since they're free, and since the non-elites aspire to eliteness, the beliefs themselves trickle down to the masses who can’t “afford” them.
It'd be as if the masses bought a ton of expensive luxury products they didn't need and became saddled with credit card debt. And since being high status means avoiding what the masses are doing, as soon as the masses adopt the luxury beliefs, the elites drop them.
So elites accrue the short-term status benefit while the masses get hit with the long-term debt.
And luxury beliefs are far more costly and dangerous than credit card debt...
The Hypocrisy of Elites
Egalitarianism for thee, Elitism for me
Why are affluent people more susceptible to luxury beliefs? Because they can afford it. And ironically, the highest status people are the most insecure about maintaining their status.
Another irony is that redistribution is always an aristocratic thing. Aristocrats want it even more than the peasants. People assume that conditions are economic, but nearly all social movements are led by the rich. (Fidel Castro went to college and wore two Rolexes).
This is what being an elite is about, after all. It’s not about money, although money plays a crucial role. It’s not even about education, though education plays a large role as well. It’s more about the set of behaviors and dispositions that indicate a person to be a member of the elite — which center around wanting to change the world.
Recall we discussed the leveling and importance game: Wanting to change the world hits the sweet spot because it shows how important one is (you can afford worrying about the planet and not your rent), while also highlighting one’s empathy (wanting to take care of the less fortunate).
Which is the whole point of being an elite.
It’s what separates a person from simply being a bourgeois. Aristocrats want to *matter*. Bourgeoisie just want comfort and safety. Meanwhile proletariats just want to put food on the table.
It’s worth noting, however, that the elites have evolved in one key respect: our elites are in denial that they’re elite. 100% of our present aristocratic oligarchs think aristocracy is evil and that they personally are fighting for the little people.
Pareto called this the aristocracy of lions vs the aristocracy of foxes. Lions are proud, forceful aristocrats who explicitly own their position as leaders. Foxes, however, are humble servants who will forever deny that they’re in charge. While lions want to run the world, foxes want to save the world.
Ultimately, though, the egalitarianism of the elite is hollow.
People want egalitarianism when they’re being selected, but they’re elitist when they’re doing the selecting. When people seek a job, partner, or doctor, they do not seek the average job, partner, or doctor — they seek the best.
This is the ultimate luxury belief: wanting average for everyone else while wanting the best for ourselves.
We see this everywhere:
- Elites advocate for public schools that disavow gifted programs for the poor while simultaneously sending their own kids to fancy private schools with gifted programs galore.
- Elites advocate for defunding the police while living in gated communities with private security.
- Elites throw a fit about getting homeless people off the streets, while moving to neighborhoods where they will never see any homeless people.
Not only do they advocate for egalitarianism for others while pursuing elitism for themselves, elites also recommend practices for others that they themselves don’t follow.
This isn’t just hypocrisy; it’s pulling up the ladder.