Hierarchical Stress

In this episode Dr. Josh Stout explores the relationship between hierarchy and stress and offers solutions for the individual and society.

Hierarchical Stress
Understanding social stress

Eric 0:02

Today is Friday, December 15th. Hi, Josh. 

Dr. Josh Stout 0:07

Hi, Eric. Today we're going to talk about hierarchical stress and I'm trying to give hints about where the talk is going from at the beginning. So we're going to end up with talking about why why we need to get rid of the the bad men and why. 

Eric 0:26

The bad men have to go. 

Dr. Josh Stout 0:28

They really have to go. And why I basically love is the answer. And so it's going to be a long walk to get there and we're going to start off with stress. So I'm going to end up with love so it'll feel good. All right. Okay. So yeah, so just to start off with what what is stress? What do we mean by stress? How do we measure stress and what does it do to us? So stress is something that is evolutionarily determined and in context can even be good for you. So when you are stressed, you release the primary stress hormone, the corticosteroids, and these inhibit the effects of insulin. So they increase blood sugar, they increase increase uptake by blood sugar, and they increase utilization of fat. So you can imagine this could be good, right? They they burn the fat and they they let the fat turn into sugar and be taken up by your muscles. 

Eric 1:23

You're saying stress makes you go. 

Dr. Josh Stout 1:24

Stress makes you go. So this would be you know, makes a lot of sense. You see a sabertooth tiger and suddenly your muscles are filled with sugar and you start running really fast or all of all of their all of their membrane channels open and sugar just starts pumping into the mitochondria and you're pumping out ATP and energy to power your muscles. And so that's that's short term stress and it's going to go specifically from where you want it to go. So it's going to be the the visceral fat, the authority. Basically your gut fat is going to be burned first. The ones you don't like the most is what's going to be going first. 

Eric 2:00

That goes first. 

Dr. Josh Stout 2:01

Yes. Well, because it. 

Eric 2:02

Doesn't it doesn't feel that way. That's why I ask. 

Dr. Josh Stout 2:04

It's the portion of you that most strongly responds to hormones. So when you have insulin in response to sugar, you're going to specifically store all that fat in your gut first before anywhere else. But when you have stress, you're going to burn it from your gut first. So it's the part that just responds most strongly to 2 to 2 in general hormones. However, long term, this is not so good because if you have long term stress now, you have a continuous high blood sugar, you have continuous insulin being poured out that your body can't deal with because it ignoring it due to the corticosteroids. And so you're going to end up with the problems of metabolic disease long term. You're going to have the exact opposite effect. Having a lot of insulin in your body. Insulin is a hormone that makes you store fat. So by pumping out more and more insulin because you you're no longer noticing it because of the corticosteroids, because of your stress, now you're ending up with a fat gut. So long term stress ends with with with more gut fat, short term stress is going to burn it, even though it's the same stress. 

Eric 3:15

But again, it seems to me like you're not saying short term stress alone. It would be meaning short term strip stress, meaning that it comes in intermittently so that there are periods with less or no stress. Perhaps. 

Dr. Josh Stout 3:28

Perhaps it seems as though a lot of us are exhibiting signs of continuous rest without interruption. 

Eric 3:35

But the way to make stress good is to have it intermittent. 

Dr. Josh Stout 3:40

Right. And we try and do this again, sort of one of the principles that I would like to talk about is how evolution tries to make things that are good, that evolution not good for us, but good for evolution. Right. Makes those things feel good. And so we watch horror movies, we get on amusement park rides. 

Eric 3:58

Makes things that are good for evolution feel good to us. 

Dr. Josh Stout 4:02

Right, right, right, right. So it might not necessarily be good to have lots of babies that could go wrong for you in your life, but you're going to have a lot of desire to do that. Right? So evolution makes having lots of babies feel good. Evolution makes overeating feel good because you're storing all that energy to have more babies, Right? So there's many, many things that evolution makes feel good because it thinks that you're going to get more babies from it. And so it will tend to encourage those things. They're not necessarily good for you, but they're good for evolution. And so stress in the short term actually will be good for you. And so we tend to seek out short term stress, amusement park rides, horror movies, etc.. And it feels good to feel that that tension and then that release again. Certainly the Greeks would talk about things like that in tragedy and the catharsis and all of this kind of tension and release. This is something that is actually good for you. But long term, day to day, ongoing stress that never goes away is going to give you the worst of both possible worlds. You're going to be ending up with more gut fat while at the same time ignoring your own insulin. You're moving towards type two diabetes and you're going to end up with kidney damage and liver damage and all of all of these kinds of of bad outcomes. 

Eric 5:17

Sounds like a strong argument for meditation as medicine. 

Dr. Josh Stout 5:21

Absolutely. And we will talk about that in a future episode. Again, short term stress can make you stronger. Long term stress makes you weaker so that short term stress can increase the response rate of of particular muscles. Longer term stress will actually decrease the response rate of muscles. Short term stress can make you smarter, relatively low level. A short term stress has shown to improve response on on exams and things like this. Very intense stress means you can't think at all and you can't pass the exam. And if it's long term stress, you can't even learn, you can't, you can't take in any new memories. So stress is something that we are evolved to be with, but not something that we are evolved to be under all the time. And we are under it all the time. And we are seeing huge mental health problems in our society now, right now, all of us right now, and increasingly so. And so what I wanted to talk about was something that is built into the way we've designed our society and is not a matter of simple interpersonal stress, but is the stress of society itself. So going back to sort of very beginning of primates, if you look at the most evil of the primates out there, you know, maybe it's my opinion, but baboons are really mean creatures. They they they bite each other, they'll bite you. They have giant fangs. They're very aggressive. And they evolved in the same kind of habitat, weeded out on the Serengeti. And so we are aggressive, partly probably because of some of the same reasons baboons are so aggressive. If you're on the Serengeti, there's nowhere to run. There's nowhere to hide. And so you need to be able to have a strong, aggressive response so you don't get eaten by a lion. And so baboons are full of a aggressive hormones. And the males in particular have very, very long fangs and they will intimidate a lion. A pride of lions meeting a pride of baboons will back off because baboons are just that mean. And we were we were definitely like that on the Serengeti. And so, you know, this explains some of our aggression. 

Eric 7:37

We didn't have fangs, but we knew how to use sticks and rocks. 

Dr. Josh Stout 7:39

Our sticks and dogs became our our face, essentially. Yeah. And so in the baboon society, there was a really interesting scientist name of Sapolsky, and he started looking at how stress hormones are correlated to hierarchy and what he found is that when a high ranking baboon bites a lower ranking baboon, that lower but ranking baboon will go by a further lower ranking baboon, and it goes all the way down until a baby baboon gets bitten. And so each level of this is increasing the stress for the lower members of the hierarchy. Strangely, in the higher levels of the hierarchy, stress is actually reduced, biting a lower member baboon decreases your stress levels. And so what he was going around doing is he was darting these baboons. He would creep up to them. They would get used to him being there and he would dart them and they would just fall right over without running away from him. You can't study stress hormones by chasing something. It will obviously cause stress hormones. So they were just sitting there minding their own business and boom, you know, Bob would fall over or whatever. And then he would go and test the blood and let it go and they'll bounce back again. And so he wasn't really he was doing his absolute best not to disturb the hierarchy or the stress levels of the entire baboon troop. And so he found out this really interesting correlation that stress was lower at the top of the baboon troop than it was at the bottom of the baboon troop. And it was directly related to the talk of the baboon troop biting lower ranking ones. And you could actually see these these interactions have. 

Eric 9:20

My head is already spinning, please. 

Dr. Josh Stout 9:22

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And so this was going on and he was studying and he had some great, great data. And the the baboon troop he was studying happened to be close to Nairobi. It was great for his study because he could get to it really easily. And it's a very large troop and intended to live on the the garbage dump in Nairobi. And so it was it was it was a super troop with, you know, roughly three times the normal number of baboons, maybe 150, 200 baboons all living in this big, big garbage dump. And someone was getting rid of some cow dead cows that had died of tuberculosis. And the baboons ate these dead cows and died. But baboons don't share. So it's only the the the top most aggressive, top of the hierarchy baboons that actually ate these these toxic cows, essentially. And so the idea was there was there was there was a a basically a coup. And all of the all of the dominant top ranking males died and suddenly. 

Eric 10:24

All at once. 

Dr. Josh Stout 10:25

All at once, at the same moment, without giving any of their poison food to the females. So there were still lower ranking males and there were higher ranking females, but there were no upper level high ranking males. They were all killed and suddenly everyone's stress hormones went way down. Everyone became much less stressed and there was actually physiological responses to this. So if you saw a lower ranking male, he would have high cholesterol, he would have a hardening of the arteries and have a big fat gut. And so. 

Eric 10:58

So you're saying that Sapolsky witnessed this event? 

Dr. Josh Stout 11:03

Yes. In real time. 

Eric 11:05

He was there studying for four years. 

Dr. Josh Stout 11:07

Yes. This is why this is such an amazing study. 

Eric 11:09

And this them all die. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Can you. Sorry, I just had to. 

Dr. Josh Stout 11:13

Yeah. And he was able to document variations in this and all sorts of aspects to it. So for example I do stress actually is a little bit worse if you're the very, very top ranking baboon. They've top ranking baboon has to fight a lot more than other baboons. But in general, the hierarchy is is is really noticeable by by corticosteroid levels. And the higher up you go, the less stress you have. It's only the very top position that tends to have a slightly higher stress, and that's the one that's going to have the most mating opportunities. So this is one where basically there is there is there is there is a turnover within the baboon troop competing for that top place. And that that spot is stressful. But everyone below that has much, much lower much, much higher stress as you go down in the hierarchy. So it's worse to be a low ranking female than it is to be a low ranking male because that low ranking male can go beat the low ranking female. 

Eric 12:08

So what happened? After all, the high ranking males died, All. 

Dr. Josh Stout 12:11

Of the stress hormones went away in the entire troop. And so they the everyone started showing not just lower corticosteroids but lower effects of stress. So there, there, there, there, there. Fat gut started going away, their cholesterol started getting better. Their their high blood pressure went down. All of these effects directly from stress were going away because the high ranking males weren't out there biting anyone anymore. And so they could they could actually record not just the corticosteroid, but they could record. You know, they they knew that the whole troop they knew who was where in the hierarchy, and they could see who was not getting bitten and they could see how how the how the total stress went down. 

Eric 12:48

The only way this was would work is if you were there prior already. Yeah. 

Dr. Josh Stout 12:52

So it was a very lucky natural experiment. And you can't get. 

Eric 12:56


Dr. Josh Stout 12:57

And you can't go to you can't go to Kenya and just start shooting male baboons. Right? So this had to be a natural, a natural experiment. And so what then happened was really interesting. The females decided they liked this situation. And in baboon troops, the females are related and unrelated males come from the outside and they decided they were not going to allow any jerks into their into their baboon troop. And so males had to wait until they figured out how not to bite females. And then they were allowed into the troop. And if they started biting females, they were kicked out again. So any males that wanted to have mating opportunities had to stop being jerks, had to be nice to the other members of the baboon troop. And so this became a stable, new baboon society essentially built on a garbage dump. So they had larger numbers. No other baboon troops had enough numbers to conquer them. And so this this basically baboon utopia on the on the on the garbage dump ended up being a paradise of of low stress, a hierarchy without the downside of hierarchy. So there was still dominant males still competing for that top position, but they were not biting all the other members of their baboon troop. And so the entire societies' stress levels went down. 

Eric 14:22

So and due to their unique situation, it was maintained. It was actually sustainable. 

Dr. Josh Stout 14:27

It was sustainable because they had such a large number, because they had a resource that allowed them to fight off any more aggressive troops, they were able to to maintain them. 

Eric 14:36

Since it happened anywhere else, it wouldn't have happened. And it's amazing the whole the whole thing. 

Dr. Josh Stout 14:42

The whole thing is amazing. Exactly. 

Eric 14:43

And was able to study it. 

Dr. Josh Stout 14:44

Right. So this is then comparable to studies done in humans. So in the late sixties, there was a study called White Hall One where they took members of the British Civil Service and they looked at the health effects and stress levels and saw the same exact thing. So this British civil service, everyone has a number that tells you your hierarchy within the number within the civil service. And because it's England, everyone has socialized medicine, so they all have the same access to the same medicine and they have a very easy to tell hierarchy based on a specific number. And so they looked at stress within this this hierarchy, and it was the same pattern. The lower you are in the hierarchy, the more stressed you are, the higher you are, the less stress you have, the fewer people are yelling at you. And so you're not stressed, presumably at the very top where there's a little bit more competition, you would see the same thing is in the baboons with a little bit more stress for the very, very top position. But within the entire hierarchy, not being yelled at is the key aspect. If someone is yelling at you, you're stressed and the fewer the higher you are in the hierarchy, the fewer people are yelling at you. And so there's a direct correlation at the bottom of the hierarchy, you see all sorts of the the the the behaviors associated with poor health. So in addition to high cholesterol and high blood sugar, people have bad eating habits. They tend to have a higher prevalence of smoking. All of these things that correlate with bad health are strongly related to position on the hierarchy and position of of of, you know, are you going to be yelled at and are you of. 

Eric 16:28


Dr. Josh Stout 16:29

Relative stress related to the hierarchy? 

Eric 16:31

Somehow I just have to say I am finding this discussion deeply frustrating. 

Dr. Josh Stout 16:38

You know, it is it is deeply frustrating. 

Eric 16:40

Me very upset. 

Dr. Josh Stout 16:41

Right. So this is this is leading to some ideas that are really profound. 

Eric 16:47

I mean, the thoughts that are going through my head as you're talking are disturbing. 

Dr. Josh Stout 16:51

Yeah. So it's also very difficult to move up in a hierarchy because if you're stressed all the time and you're having all these health issues, you have more absenteeism, you're late more often, you respond badly to situations. 

Eric 17:04

More difficult to recover. 

Dr. Josh Stout 17:06

And you're going to snap at someone. If you interact with people, you're less friendly, you have a more difficult time making connections, you have a more difficult time networking and even more difficult time moving up in the hierarchy. So everything is benefiting the people at the top and everything is is basically penalizing the people at the bottom constantly, constantly. And so this is based not on ability, but merely on where you are in the hierarchy and the stress that is then placed on you. So this was in the in the late sixties and Whitehall too, decided to follow up in the in the late eighties. 

Eric 17:42

Did the people who did Whitehall know about Sapolsky, did they know? 

Dr. Josh Stout 17:45

They had no idea. Okay. Sapolsky started I think in the eighties as well. So Whitehall two also was following up. So he he he might have had this idea that he was looking at hierarchy already because of the Whitehall studies. And let's look at something where we can see hierarchy in a primate group and let's follow up on this Whitehall stuff. So he was, he was working at the same time and some of these same ideas. So Whitehall two said maybe society has changed in 20 years from the sixties to the eighties, maybe we have less of this sort of structural hierarchy. England was a very class based society and moving out of World War Two, there was some thoughts that maybe this had changed them. 

Eric 18:24

Why is it that even as we struggle to learn, we don't learn. It's just mind boggling. 

Dr. Josh Stout 18:28

Yeah, the answer is nothing had changed. Absolutely nothing has changed course. The other the other aspect is they've never studied women. And so maybe this had just been men that had been doing this kind of stuff. And it wasn't. It was women just the same way as men were. They were they were suffering sometimes different health effects. I you know, they would have problems with their periods in a way that men wouldn't have, for example, but they were suffering health effects that were were were noticeable and were directly related to their hierarchical status, just the way men's health effects were directly related to their hierarchical status. And because we know that there are effects on infants and such like this, you could then see probably heritable effects on are caused by hierarchical stress due to epigenetics. Things that happened to the mother are then passed down to to to the offspring. So this is something where we know as part of society that there are direct bad health repercussions to being lower in a hierarchy. And there is some really clear clear there's some clear reasons why, you know, answers to this, reasons why this could be I solved based on the on the baboon hierarchy. So if you get rid of the evil man at the top of the hierarchy, just like happened to the baboons, you will greatly reduce the stress going down. Or if you let men into a society who aren't cruel and evil to the people under them. But here's here's the kicker. If if a boss is being abusive to the underlings, the boss's corticosteroid levels go down, it is a benefit to the boss to be abusive to the underlings. 

Eric 20:19

You're saying we are baboons? 

Dr. Josh Stout 20:21

We are absolutely baboons. And the boss is not going to change willingly because he is getting a - 

Eric 20:28

It's good for him. 

Dr. Josh Stout 20:29

It's good for him. Exactly. While it is bad for everyone else. But if you think about this as sort of enlightened self-interest, if you're a boss with a company and you want your your workers to not suffer the effects of stress and not get sick and actually show up and do good work, you would want to be less abusive, but it's not going to feel right. It's going to feel intuitive, really wrong to act that way as a boss, particularly the more stereotypical male, dominant boss kind of boss. You are a more open structure, a less hierarchical structure, more basically niceness. Kindness between members of the hierarchy is going to be beneficial to an entire organization, but the boss in charge is not going to feel it and it's going to feel intuitively wrong. And so the only way to change this situation is change the boss. So if you're in a bad job, that boss is not going to change you have to change jobs. And if you're in a, let's say, civilization that is based on this, there is not going to be any kind of change without changing the people at the top. And so this is what I meant by we have to get rid of the bad men and they really have to be gotten rid of all at once. Because if you get rid of just one, the next one replaces them and gets the same kind of benefit. And by pushing everyone else down, they push themselves up. It lowers everyone else's efficiency so it makes them look better and they feel good doing it. So there is a huge vested interest in in abusive organizations for the people at the top, but it's actually not good for anyone else in the organization or the organization itself. If you want to be a profitable boss, be nice to your your workers. And so this, this, this is sort of a basic take home message. But there is, there is there's a lot more to it. Sapolsky has continued studying these baboons over a very long period of time. 

Eric 22:29

We're talking contemporary. 

Dr. Josh Stout 22:30

Life. Yes, contemporary. He's still there. He's still guarding the baboons here. He still has graduate students darting baboons for him, probably at this point. Wow. So this is a very, very long term study. And so what they're looking at is all the nitty gritty. So he you know, the second thing he found out was that sometimes the top of a hierarchy, even if you've got a low stress hierarchy, the top can be a fairly stressful position still. So you know that that is something where if you're at the top of a hierarchy and you're stressed out, there is a sort of automatic tendency to lash out at your underlings because that will make you feel better. And so there is there's always going to be this push for the for the top of the hierarchy, particularly a male top of a hierarchy, to then be aggressive towards underlings as a way of helping himself. And then the other thing he found out was that relationships between baboons reduce the stress as well. So baboons that are engaging in grooming have a lower stress, more oxytocin. Oxytocin inhibits corticosteroids. They have lower stress. Baboons that are involved in taking care of babies, reduce their stress, any kind of particularly in baboons physical relationship is going to lower the stress between them. So the more bonds there are between baboons in a society, the lower the stress of the entire society. So the worst possible thing is isolation for men and for an isolated man who feels stress is immediately going to want to abuse others. And so this is built into our our, you know, evolutionary makeup that when we don't form bonds with others, we're going to immediately turn towards being abusive towards others. And so, you know, this is an incel. You know, it's it's right there in everything we do. And we can certainly see this happening. And I don't mean to sort of I don't I don't want to just reinforce stereotypes we already know about, But this is definitely something that is measurable and has been seen in both humans and baboons. It is part of our primate lineage and it certainly explains a lot of the way we behave towards each other, other ways we can get around it. So certainly a revolution would take care of it, but you'd have to have a revolution where you didn't just replace the bad men with another bad man, which is what tends to happen every time a revolution happens. 

Eric 24:56

It's what revolutions are. 

Dr. Josh Stout 24:57

Right. It's what happens every single time. And again, the person who started the revolution is going to feel pretty stressed because they had a whole revolution that they're making happen. And so if they're stressed, what they're going to do is they're going to be abusive to those under them. And so we need to have a different kind of revolution, one where it's we're looking at hierarchies based on on bonding between individuals that doesn't have to be, you know, grooming. We're not going to give each other back rubs, but because we're humans, we can use words, We can we can use words instead of touch. We can we can form bonds through through discussions with people just the way, you know, you can be abusive with your words. It's just like a baboon biting someone else. You can be kind with your words as well. And so we we can lower the stress of a hierarchy through specifically forming bonds and connections between people in the hierarchy and particularly across levels in the hierarchy. So these are ways to reduce that, that that that overall effect of stress. So we could have a revolution, but it'll be very difficult to make it work. You could get rid of a boss in a particular company and it will make the whole company better if you replace it with a boss who is not as abusive. Often this might be a woman just because of the way testosterone tends to increase aggression and combined with corticosteroids in particular to increase increase aggression. Now women obviously can be bad bosses. I am not saying they couldn't be and they would fit exactly into that same hierarchy. In the in the Whitehall two studies, there were many women who are upper levels of the hierarchy and they showed that same pattern. They had fewer sick days than the people under them and they were abusing the people under them as a way of decreasing their own corticosteroids. So it doesn't matter if you're male and female, but there definitely is a stereotype of the abusive male at the top of a hierarchy. 

Eric 26:48

And there's a reason for this. 

Dr. Josh Stout 26:49

And there's a reason for that stereotype. It's based on on sort of the aggressive nature of testosterone and the way it works with with the corticosteroids. 

Eric 26:58

But it's fascinating that that in the baboon troop that the origin of the stress was the males. 

Dr. Josh Stout 27:05


Eric 27:05

The men the males suddenly disappear. 

Dr. Josh Stout 27:08

There was no stress. 

Eric 27:09

The stress disappeared and stayed away. 

Dr. Josh Stout 27:12

Yeah. And when the new males moved in, there still was a male male hierarchy. The males were still fighting for position and the top of that position still had some stress. But everyone in the troop had lower stress, including the other males in this competition. So if males only fight with each other and don't fight the females overall, everyone's stress is improved because there's just less abuse in the entire system. And so that's what the females were enforcing. They're like, You guys can do what you want if you need to fight to figure out who gets a mating opportunity, you can do that. Just don't bite me. 

Eric 27:46

So they they figured out how to deal with with it without actually rewiring themselves. 

Dr. Josh Stout 27:52

They didn't rewire anything. They created a culture. And so culture can change this situation. 

Eric 27:58


Dr. Josh Stout 27:58

You build a new culture and make it sustainable. But that culture needs some sort of support because another more aggressive culture might come in and take over and so that that that one is based on the, you know, resource abundance that these that these, these baboons have. But we now live in a very abundant resource society. We should not be competing as if we're living in a society with very limited resources where only the top can get us well, those resources. 

Eric 28:25

Ration out the resources. 

Dr. Josh Stout 28:27


Eric 28:28

And so we have a deeper understanding of why that's so important to them. 

Dr. Josh Stout 28:32

So there's there's there's another sort of interesting way you can get at this. So let's so we talked about you're in a bad job site and you're being abused by your boss. You can either kill your boss, which is probably going to go well, become become the boss and become let's. 

Eric 28:47

Just be very clear, we're not advising that path. 

Dr. Josh Stout 28:49

You about advising that. Yeah, no, you could become the boss and now you get to abuse everyone else and you feel better, but nothing changes. Or you can leave and find a better job where you where you know you're on your own or you've moved into a place that is is is less hierarchical, less abusive. But you're not going to change the boss by explaining to them that it's in their own best interest to be nicer to everyone. It's just probably not going to happen because it's always in your boss's interest to be mean. 

So what else could you possibly do? If you see these hierarchies based on money as arbitrary, which they are? This is just something we've invented for ourselves. There are other ways to be the top of a hierarchy. If you're the coach of a team, if you're the director of a play, you are the top of a hierarchy and you will feel it. You will get the, you know, lowering of corticosteroids. You will actually see the, the, the health improvements. If you are the leader of something, evolution will reward you. Evolution doesn't know anything about money or your job or your title. It just knows how you feel and it's all relative. If you know someone is getting more money than you, you will be stressed because evolutionarily you will know they're lower on the hierarchy. But if you can put yourself into a position where you're not measuring people by how much money they make relative to you, you can actually create a hierarchy where you're higher up. Even if you're not making the money, you can be the leader of something and evolution will give you the benefits of being the leader because evolution doesn't know. Leaders always get more meeting opportunities. And so evolution is just going to penalize you for not being the leader and make you feel bad and it's going to make you feel good if you get to be the leader. So it is literally in our heads. 

Eric 30:34

In what you're saying is it doesn't really matter what you're the leader. 

Dr. Josh Stout 30:37

It doesn't really matter what you're the leader of, as long as you really feel you're the leader. 

Eric 30:41

If you believe you are the leader of that thing, you will get the benefit of that. 

Dr. Josh Stout 30:47

Yeah. Yeah. And but, you know, it's very hard to feel like you're the leader if you're not making any money and you're struggling day to day and you're trying to just pay your bills and you're feeling the stresses of all of this, this is what society is doing to you. It is purposely stressing you as a way of punishing you for not being the leader. And so you are. Our capitalist system is very much based on this. It punishes people to to cause them to try and work harder, to get more money, to move up in the hierarchy. And so we've turned ourselves into this this, you know, dog eat dog society where we really punish people for lack of success and and this is all based on measurement via money. And simply having ultra rich around us makes all of us more stressed because we all know we do not have this money. And so we're not the top of the hierarchy and we can't get it out of our heads. And so simply the existence of of Bezos and Musk makes us more stressed because of how much money they have. There is a lot of work done in a behavioral economics a while ago, and they were asking people in a Harvard economics class, Would you rather have $5 and everyone else in the room have $10, or would you rather have $2 and everyone else in the room have $1? Right. Would you rather have more money? But everyone else in the room comparative to you have more money than you would. You have less money, but you have more than everyone else. And everyone in that Harvard class chose. I would rather have less money as long as I know everyone else has less than me. And so this kind of abuse is built into the way capitalism has been designed, not because of the nature of capitalism, right? Any kind of capitalist economic systems who say, I should always want more money, I should always want the $5 instead of the $2. But because we are primates, we're comparing ourselves to the people around us, and we would rather have everyone else have less money. And then everyone have more money if we don't have as much as everyone else. So we're comparing ourselves based on the relative hierarchy, based purely on money, and are instincts are to make everyone else worse off so that we will feel better. And certainly we see this at the at the in government and the heads of industry all of these things are designed to try and make their workers have as little as possible as a way of making them feel higher up. And so this is one of the costs that we don't really think about. I often think about capitalism sort of like a game of tag. It's something that everyone understands intuitively. You don't really have to explain the rules of a game of tag, but you need someone to stop it turning into a tackle game of tag. And so that's basically where we are in capitalism right now. We're like in a tackle game of tag on pavement where if you lose, you lose really, really hard. All the benefits go towards being as cruel as possible and the people who are who you know, wipe out on the pavement have no health care and they're just done. But they're not done because capitalism keeps happening. They have to get up and start running again. And now they're injured. They're not running as fast and they're and they're having a hard time keeping up. So these hierarchies are are incredibly cruel and they're entirely arbitrary and they are built into the way the system of capitalism works. Now, I am not an anti-capitalist. I just think we shouldn't be playing on pavement, right? We shouldn't be abusing each other to the point where we actually suffer tremendous health effects from the nature of capitalism itself. This is actually immoral the way capitalism is set up in our society is immoral. 

Eric 34:39

But you're saying that it is because we're primates, that it's set up, that it is set up this way. 

Dr. Josh Stout 34:43


Eric 34:44

Capitalism would say whether you should be owned. You should be dealing in absolutes that either you're going to get $2 or you're going to get $5. I mean, that's a very clear choice. But being that we're primates, we are not set up to think in absolutes. We think of everything in communal relative terms. 

Dr. Josh Stout 35:00

Everything is relative. 

Dr. Josh Stout 35:02


Eric 35:03

And we are not nice by nature. 

Dr. Josh Stout 35:05

Well, we are. We are we are rewarded for our cruelty and we're also rewarded for our niceness. So it's just like our on the Serengeti aggression wins, but working together also wins. And so as a society, we need to focus on the part where we're working together and we have bonds between each other. And we're not about just dog eat dog. The top, you know, destroys the bottom. 

Eric 35:32

And we need the women to remind the men about the rules. Yeah. How to play this game. Right. 

Dr. Josh Stout 35:37

It seems as though as primates, not necessarily sort of in an abstract sense, but as primates, female relationships based more on this kind of eye pair bonding and in relationship bonding between individuals as opposed to hierarchical competition. 

Eric 35:54

And a rules based communal. 

Dr. Josh Stout 35:56

Right. And I'm not speaking in a theoretical sense. I'm speaking on a observational animal behavior sense that that that female individuals in a baboon troop are sort of more accustomed to relating to each other in this in this bonding way and with the males in their troop. And so they're lowering the stress of the males in their troop through the grooming behaviors, etc.. So this is absolutely something that is there is there is deep in our in our evolution on very many, many, you know, we we have, I think, decided to use race, for example, as a way to not think about this and that We think that everything is about racism when it is actually hierarchy and about the way capitalism works and. 

Eric 36:42

About relativism. 

Dr. Josh Stout 36:44

And about relative hierarchy. Exactly. 

Eric 36:46

We look at things in in terms of the perspective from which we are standing. Yeah. 

Dr. Josh Stout 36:53

And we we, we have decided that, you know, the Republicans certainly since the days of Reagan, have decided that government is not the solution, it's the problem. And that any kind of moving money from top of the hierarchy to the bottoms of, the hierarchy in any way is is is Marxism and is antithetical to the nature of capitalism and is intrinsically inefficient. And Ivan, we. 

Eric 37:17

Please talk about universal basic income. 

Dr. Josh Stout 37:19

Yeah. So I would I would I would like to posit the idea that actually ridiculous amounts of money going to the top of the hierarchy is stressing us all out and is inherently inefficient. Just like taxes tend to lower the output of individuals. Right? So if we raised everyone's taxes to, say 50%, the theory is, is that we would all work less because we're getting less money. 

Eric 37:46


Dr. Josh Stout 37:48

That's the theory. And so we all want to avoid taxes so that we can keep our money. And it's very natural feeling, right? This is not unnatural to want to keep our money because it moves us up in the hierarchy. We feel better, we feel less stressed if we have more money. So we hate paying taxes. But we have to think about someone like like like musk or Bezos as essentially taxes on the whole system. They're there. They're removing money from the system and using it for things that are not putting money back into the system. They're they're building vanity rocket projects and things like this. This is not more efficient than a government. A government can use money taken from taxes in a more efficient way to build roads, to give education, to give things that actually build more money for the entire society. When you build roads in education, there is more money for everyone in the society, including those at the top of the society. But people at the top of the society will not want to do that. They do not want people to do better because it makes them feel worse. The worse everyone else is doing, the better everyone at the top of the society feels. So there is a huge vested interest to doing anything to stop the dangers of capitalism. Again, I think capitalism is a great way of producing goods and services because it's again like a game of tag. Everyone knows what you're trying to do. You're just trying to get the most of fastest you can, just like just, you know, tag, just run faster. Capitalism just make more money. It all makes sense to you as a primate. You're going to move up and you're going to feel good every time you get that reward in the form of money. So capitalism is going to work better as a way of production than, say, Marxism, where you try and, I don't know, share equally across things. But it is inherently stressful, it's inherently immoral because it's putting stress on the people lower in the hierarchy and it doesn't have to be this way. You can have capitalism where you have safety nets, where you're not playing on pavement and everyone gets killed, where you have a ways that if something goes wrong you can be built up again. You can get some sort of education to allow you to enter and make more money again. And so there is there's actually ways to improve the nature of our society based on understanding AI, the sort of the way we are doing capitalism right now is inherently immoral and cruel and is inherently inefficient. And so even if you just want to be the most efficient capitalist you can be, you should build hierarchies with more connections between people rather than simply top down. You should have a people at the very top not have such extreme higher salaries. I know they feel good with those extreme high salaries, but it makes everyone else feel worse and it makes society as a whole less efficient, both on a purely economic sense. This is money removed from the system that is not used for investment and on a primate, higher hierarchical sense, on a purely behavioral sense, it is inefficient to do this. So I am trying to argue from a rational, enlightened self-interest point of view for why we need to change the guys at the top. And we need to in some way not redistribute in a sort of Marxist sense the money, but create safety nets so that we can live in the society and form more bonds between each other, lower our overall stress and, you know, maybe have things like hobbies that we go and do that make us feel good, make communities where there isn't someone being abusive. You know, we all go together and do a pottery class where we talk together and there is, you know, a teacher who's getting the benefit of teaching this class, but they don't have to be mean about it. And everyone in the class feels nice because they're making connections. 

Eric 41:45

I love I love what you're saying. But the beginning of what you're saying is change all the guys at the top. 

Dr. Josh Stout 41:49

Well, because they're not going to change themselves. 

Eric 41:51

But that's like that right now seems like an actual impossibility. 

Dr. Josh Stout 41:54

Yeah, it's very difficult because they have guns and sometimes entire countries. Yeah. And, you know, so Putin's not going to go away almost. 

Eric 42:01

It's almost a utopian vision. 

Dr. Josh Stout 42:04

It's very much a utopian vision. It's the it's the kingdom of heaven. But it's not it's not a it's not a marxist utopian. 

Eric 42:11

No, no. And but it but it's also like you were saying, you, you there isn't even a reason to work towards it unless everything is going to change at once. That that baboon utopia could not have existed were. It not for the the things that kept them from being invaded immediately and taken over. 

Dr. Josh Stout 42:32

I don't know. I mean, yes, on a more level of countries it would have to be a revolution to change everything at once. But on the level of of businesses, if you understand that your business is more efficient, but if the boss isn't taking all the money out of the business, if the boss is reinvesting the money in the business, if the money is going to the workers in the business, they're not going to feel the stress. 

Eric 42:51

Is nice and lets people connect and the. 

Dr. Josh Stout 42:54

Whole business will do better. Everyone in the business will do better. And so these are ways to think about improving society in an incremental way. And we might simply need to get rid of the bad bosses through age. 

Eric 43:07

So Ben and Jay will age out and Jerry started this way and eventually they had to bring in someone who was paid a lot more, a lot more. You know, they started and after a while they couldn't. They had to it's. 

Dr. Josh Stout 43:16

It can be difficult because we have set up the way business works to have usually one male at the top making tremendous multiples of everyone else. But it's not always been this way. So when industrial Revolution was starting, there weren't this kind of differentials between workers and the bosses. The bosses have figured out how to extract value from their workers and not give it back. And so they're actually lowering the efficiency of the entire project, their own businesses, society as a whole. 

Eric 43:45

I mean, you mentioned Putin. I mean, Putin is keeping Russia. Yeah. Yeah. 

Dr. Josh Stout 43:50

It's just extracting money from Russia continuously. 

Eric 43:53

Can't make anything advanced. 

Dr. Josh Stout 43:55

And he's absolutely someone who has to go with extreme prejudice. You know, he needs to be removed. And that's the only way he's going to go. 

Eric 44:01

It was a time you would have thought that the United States would have actually just done something like that. But that's not happening and not going to happen. Yes, he's got to go, but he's not going to. 

Dr. Josh Stout 44:09

No, he's not going to go. And because he's everything is in it for him to stay and to and he rewards everyone under him by giving them tremendous amounts of money. So everyone around him is invested in keeping him in power. 

Eric 44:21

Inviting everyone below that. 

Dr. Josh Stout 44:22

Exactly. And so these are how societies tend to work. So what I'm saying is, for you, yourself, there is a way to deal with this. You can leave your bad job, find a better boss. There's also a way to deal with it in your in your social life. You can find situations where you're in a i communal relationship with people, where you're building bonds. This is going to lower your stress. You could be the boss of something in some way that's going to lower your stress. And there's also the societal way so we could change all society. I'm not holding my breath, but I know the direction I want it to go. And you can change it for yourself If you don't see this happening anytime soon, you can figure out how are you going to have more bonds between people? How are you going to be in charge of something so you get those benefits? How am I going to find a job that is not abusive to me? These these are all things one can do for themselves. So there's two sides for this. There is there's absolutely societal reform that we need to be working towards, but there's also individual. Once you understand what the problem is, you can see that you're never going to get that boss to be better to you. He's never going to be nice to you. He's always going to be mean. And you just have to find a different job. 

Eric 45:40

Fascinating. And it also doesn't necessarily mean that that boss is a mean, terrible person. 

Dr. Josh Stout 45:44

They might not be an evil person. They might think this is the best way to be. 

Eric 45:47

This is the way that they are at work because of all the things you've said. In the end, you take them in a different context and you have a different experience. 

Dr. Josh Stout 45:55

Right? Right. So just like the female baboons were able to convince those male baboons that if they wanted opportunities in their troop they had to be nicer, that worked. And, you know, this is possible, but you can't do it. You can't do it as an underling to the top. You have to do it. It's someone coming in. You have to change the culture to everyone. Coming into that business has to be convinced that this is how we work things. It can't be us, you know, We want everyone to be nice. Let's get rid of the man at the top. That's that's not going to work because there's too much invested in it for him. 

Eric 46:25


Dr. Josh Stout 46:27

All right. Anyway, that's. That's all I wanted to talk about today. 

Eric 46:29

Excellent. Well, thank you, Josh, as always, fascinating. See you next time. 

Dr. Josh Stout 46:34

See you next time. Thanks. 

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