I propose a novel model of the human ego (which I define as the tendency to measure one’s value based on extrinsic success rather than intrinsic aptitude or ability). I further propose the conjecture that ego so defined both is a non-adaptive by-product of evolutionary pressures, and has some evolutionary value as an adaptation (protecting self-interest). I explore ramifications of this model, including how it mediates individuals’ reactions to perceived and actual limits of their power, their ability to cope with risk and uncertainty, and how this model may interpolate between rational choice models and cognitive psychology. I develop numerous examples and applications, including poverty traps, to demonstrate the model’s predictive power to elucidate a broad range of social phenomena.
[December 2018: Updated version to submit for publication. Expanded Sections 4 and 5.1, revised Section 5.7]