Gregarious animals tend to have one individual in charge.  A dominant female will control a herd of horses or elephants.  Animals like deer tend to have a season in which the males strive mightily to establish a winner, after which the females more or less take whatever mate they jolly well please to although I imagine winning the fight is a bit of a help.  Gorilla troops tend to have a dominant male, in which case there is a sort of selective advantage in being that male with the office providing a wider mating horizon.  That may be the case in humans although I find humans make far better followers than leaders. 

Unsophisticated hunter gatherer societies according to my old anthropology teacher tend to have no fixed ranking system.  However there may be a particular male who more commonly than average has the energy and initiative so start a hunt for, say, a giraffe.  The others will fall in with the program.  Under such conditions status is a very fluid thing and of little importance to people.

In a subsistence farming community, the biggest issue is getting the work done, and although there may be neighbors or elders with disproportionate influence, the bulk of energy is expended simply in doing the farming. 

But put people in cities and status becomes a thing of monumental consequence.  Personally the things that win my respect include moral integrity, the moral integrity of a person’s family, a person’s interest in mental accomplishments and the sacrifices the person is willing to make to nurture the mind, honesty, courage, a sense of fairness, good judgment, prudence and generosity not necessarily in that order or limited to those things.  Financial competence is good, but great wealth adds no more.  However the easiest thing to count is money, so for the sake of argument we shall only consider money.  We shall assume that status equals money. 

By that reckoning humans vary in status orders of magnitude more than our animal brethren.  The difference in standard of living between the most dominant gorilla and the least assertive gorilla in the troop is rather slim.  They have a trifling difference in how much they eat, how comfortable their nests are or how many other gorillas they can have social interaction with.  The richest person in a city has unlimited access to high value food, lives in a palace and, barring a repressive government, can travel easily to other continents for social purposes.

Such resources do not come easily unless inherited and are easily lost.  Maintaining them requires considerable investment.  So the question is why make the effort. 

The first guess would be that high status provides better mating options, but most rich people are already married.  And wealth is not a chick magnet.  Women think about money, but I am reminded of a scene from “The Sting” in which Johnny Hooker has just made a lot of money by less than honest means.  He takes his girlfriend out with the promise that he is going to spend a lot of money on her.  At the outset he stops to gamble and loses almost everything on a dishonest game.  The woman leaves in disgust as he shouts after her that he still has the money to spend on her.  At this point in the show, a friend that was watching it with me whispered, “He just spent all the rest on himself.”  According to his judgment, a woman does not care how much money a man has.  She just wants to be center stage when it is deployed.  I cannot claim to have even an average understanding of women, but I have no reason to question his opinion.  Besides a man in our society can only marry one woman at a time no matter how rich he is. 

So the accumulation of wealth does not much increase mating possibilities any more than it increases how much a person can eat or how comfortable his house it.  Yet it is pursued with feverish intensity and in defiance of a lot of things that are more important.  I have a good friend who calls it a kind of sickness, but I suspect were she less polite she would have said a perversion.  She has always been quite sympathetic with sick people.

I think this is another case of people buying into an idea too completely.  The urban imperative is to recruit a population.  To do so, one must persuade outsiders that the urban opportunities are worth any sacrifice without quite letting on that the big sacrifice will be the chance of grandchildren.  Because of the dynamic system that is set up, the best way to get rich is to become the best one possibly can at selling the urban message and recruiting people for some urban agenda, such as power, entertainment or the creation of wealth.  One way or another, the way to financial success is to pursue an urban goal and to proclaim to all what a wonderful thing it is.

Those who have driven themselves to accumulate more wealth than they can possibly enjoy often have fallen into the usual trap of listening to themselves lie and believing what they have heard. 

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