3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Why do we cry at the front seat of a BMW?,
This review is from: Status Anxiety (Paperback)
I truly expected a bit deeper book with more surprises when I got Alain de Botton's book "Status Anxiety" in my hands. I would go as far as to say that he has written this book with eye strongly on the mass-market, even if the ideas presented in this book are not light-weight as such.
Maybe just because of this emphasis on mass market "Status Anxiety" is extremely illuminating, well-written and even fun to read, and I did swallow it few big bites in a few days.
Alain de Botton is getting in this book at the bottom of why we are so anxious and uncertain amidst all this wellbeing and even luxury that surrounds us, but the answer is of course quite obvious.
According to Alain de Botton we are simply paying the price of rising expectations and rising material status with the wellbeing of our psyche.
The system needs us to raise our expectations constantly to produce growth, and in the end we are very easily left at a state where we are never being satisfied.
On the other hand we are constantly watching how others are doing. Our own material well-being can improve tremendously and we can still feel deprivation if the people with whom we want to compare ourselves do succeed in improving their status more than us.
It does not help if there are millions of people who have less, if just the five or ten people who we do see as our closest likes have more.
These facts have of course been well-known for ages or as long as humanity has produced written records of its anxieties. The Greece of Antiquity was a very similar growth-based society, where social and economical status were extremely important.
It is in fact surprising how Alain De Botton has not given room for Epicurus at all in this book, as he was one of the first people to speak for using restraint in material cravings and an concentrating developing ones inner wellbeing.
Alain de Botton gets to more controversial field when he says that feudal societies where psychologically much easier places to live, as one could not affect ones status and one could find contentment in the finality and inevitability of one's situation.
He says that meritocracy and social mobility have created a situation where a person is in a quite new way seen as being personally responsible for the status he or she happens to be in.
The true social mobility is too often only a pipe dream and a person in a difficult starting position in life has in real life very often great difficulty in changing their fate in real way.
Still they are seen as being personally responsible for the social status in which they end up. So a poor person is in a new way personally shamed for being poor.
Alain de Botton gives also some remedies to status anxiety that he sees as a major problem in modern industrialized societies. As the illness is in the mind, the remedies are aimed to the mind also. His medicines are philosophy, art, politics, Christianity and Bohemia. They are all ways of circumventing and denying the status expectations created by our minds and the society.
I must however say that I was a little surprised by the inclusion of Christianity in this lot, even if there has always been a distinctive anti-materialistic streak in Christianity.
Many practical forms of Christianity are however extremely status-oriented, even if in principle there are ideas on offer that can act as a counterbalance for anxiety over ones status that are pronounced in some forms of Christianity.
Philosophy, art and politics have however a clear-cut and meaningful ways of offering routes out of status anxiety, as one can with their aid put the need for the status and needs of the society into better perspective.
They also offer ways to find new to develop one's status in new environments, if one cannot succeed in the primary economical and social arenas of the society.
One can always have consolation that there is always alternative systems of status. These alternative routes can also give one's life new meaning if one is not equipped or willing to succumb one's identity into succeeding in the main rat-race.