So, I was thinking about the world of exploitative groups more. And I was thinking specifically about what counts as value. If the goal for those at the top is to extract as much value as possible from others while offering as little as possible in return, then what counts as value that can be extracted?
Power, of course, must be at the top of this list. Power is the name of the game. It’s the reason for the exploitation. Power feels good, and we all want a little of it, but power in this world is different from the power over ourselves that we also need. Power over others is the goal here–not the power to make choices for oneself. Power means telling someone else what to do and having them do it. So, it’s something everyone has on offer. But there are ways of being able to offer more power. Having power over someone who has power themselves is more meaningful. Obeying in carrying out very distasteful or humiliating acts offers a greater sense of power as well.
Money is a kind of power: Money is potential, and is a way to get other people to do things as well as securing material goods for oneself. It can give you the resources to protect other members of your group as well as enhance your prestige.
Information can be used to obtain either power or cash, and so information can have a value as well. Of course, it needs to be the kind of information that’s needed, or that can translate into some other benefit. In families, this can mean informing on your siblings, and in the sex industry it can mean informing on other sex workers or on your observations of a rival pimp. In the corporate world, it might mean selling trade secrets or insider stock tips. Information, as they say, is power.
Goods and services are not only nice to have in themselves–we all know that–but they can enhance power and prestige. Powerful war lords display their wealth openly: it states plainly what kinds of resources they have at their disposal. Luxury items like jewelry, big houses, and fancy cars are symbols–just as they are in the rest of the world.
Certain performances have a value as well. What I mean by that is that most people have a certain image of themselves that they prefer–maybe they think they are smart, witty and charming. Or perhaps they see themselves as a violent, heartless thug. Behaving around them as if that view is correct–even if all their jokes are decidedly unfunny or you know they cry themselves to sleep like a baby whenever they drink–has a value. It’s something you can trade on.
So does behaving in a way that supports that persons view of how life works or what people are supposed to be like–so this form of value has to do with carrying out a performance of yourself that supports their cherished beliefs. If the boss thinks that desirable people all shine their shoes every day, then by God you’ll shine your shoes. If they think people ought to go to church, you go to church. If they believe that everyone is always out for themselves, then you won’t mention the poor woman on the bus you saw give a homeless guy with no shoes a dollar so he could get where he wanted to go.
Prestige should probably be at the top of the list, because it’s the sum total of everything you have to offer, and it includes intangibles that suggest you have the character traits valued by other members of the group, such as acts of daring or violence in a street gang.
Protection and material sustenance. You can protect someone from dangers in the outside world, or those posed by members of the group. Lower status members protect the leader, and the leader’s hold over his members can in turn provide them with a degree of protection. We all need safety, food, shelter–and they can so easily be taken away.
That’s what I’ve got so far.