Friday, January 20, 2006

Status Anxiety

A while back a friend of mine lent me a copy of Status Anxiety by philosopher Alain de Botton. I caught parts of the companion tv series when it was shown here on the ABC, and I had always been interested in reading the book. He has some very interesting things to say about the nature of snobbishness, envy and why we compare ourselves to some and not to others. It's quite thought provoking, and got me to thinking about my own attitudes towards things and whether I ever suffer from status anxiety.

I'm not an envious person in general, and certainly not about material things. Frankly I'm not that concerned about material status symbols, and the more I study Buddhism and work on my own attachments I get less and less so each year. I find the idea that status anxiety arises when we see people who we could be, because they are from a similar background or similar circumstances, rather than people who are too far removed from ourselves, like celebrities or the intensely rich, quite interesting.

Around the time I turned 35 I had un petite crise about getting older and not having acheived lots of the things that my peers had. More to do with not having a long term relationship, not having travelled as much as I had hoped to, not owning my own place etc. Looking back some of this was because people around me, people I was friends with and had grown up with, had acheived these things. It quite surprised me because I always considered myself to have few expectations about how things 'should' be and rarely ever feel overt envy.

Last night I had the opportunity to go out with an old friend and a group of his friends, but didn't go. These friends of his are all buff 'Oxford St' party boys, and frankly I feel like I don't have a lot in common with them. I can laugh at their wild stories of doing lines of blow in the back of a ute in South Africa, but it's not something I can relate to. Worse, I find them intimidating and suspect that they consider me a misfit, with my short stature, lack of a gym built body and reluctance to get out of it and dance 'til dawn at ARQ.

That sounds a bit bitter and judgemental, but I think it's a fairly accurate analysis of the situation. Some of them are quite likeable, but I just don't feel part of the crowd and they do seem pretty focussed on how physically attractive everyone is. Some of it must be that their status as desireable party boys is something that I won't ever attain. Weirdly, it's not something that I particularly aspire to, but I guess the status anxiety part of it is that we often desire that which is out of our reach but is available to others.


Miss Krin said...

A well thought out wake-up call, thanks Andrew. I've been struggling with this over the past few years, trying to decipher the difference between what I am content with and what I want because I feel the need to be like "the Joneses". Attachment is a curious thing, and perhaps the most profound part of the Dharma.

Cozalcoatl said...

Maybe i'm lucky or just lazy, but i'm not envious of anyone or anything.
I not very materialist by nature either, i have a lot of crap but its wierd crap.
Yes, being rich would be nice, so i could make my family safe and comfortable, but i wouldn't want to look like Kerry Paker (esp now)

Michael Guy said...

Whoa! this is deep stuff for my post midnight snack break. I'll say this: I let a brand new Jaguar ruin a perfectly beautiful friendship because of envy. I worked harder, longer...busted my fanny for all the very same 'toys' but just couldn't keep up. It was draining and I walked away from it. No one else knew it was all about that damn car. But I knew. Know.

Folks jokingly call me a 'label whore' nowadays. That's all in good fun; maybe so. What they don't know is how desperately edgy my life was living in a roach-trap and buying shirts 3-for-a dollar at the Goodwill. Been there, too. That keeps me grounded today when the Versace jeans don't come in my size. Yep.

amy said...

well done andrew.
I sometimes struggle with the thought that I am not the party girl I used to be...but you know what? I like the life I have now so much more than I did back then. I feel things more deeply, I do things I want to do and best of all, I remember them in the morning.
Sounds like it might be more fun to have a nice sunny brunch with this crowd instead of a smoky evening.
Don't stop being the person you have become.

worldpeace and a speedboat said...

nice post TOA - I love Alain de Botton, he's a thinker for our generation. the Filewoods and I have mused over his tv series and books a fair few times. gah, just trying to think of that first series that showed on Aunty - the one about philosophers? still my favourite.

I love stuff in general, and I really love *my* stuff - but I don't usually covet other people's stuff. part of that is because I love the feelings and memories in my stuff and the reasons how/why and from whom I got stuff in the first place. other people's stuff don't have any of that.

I have never been a label whore... if something is aesthetically pleasing or promotes a good feeling, I don't care whether it came from a Wank-o-rama Boutique or the Salvos. expect of course I'm more likely to be able to afford the thing of beauty from the Salvos! ;)

in fact, stuff I've found on the side of the road with Mr Manly-Thighs during council clean ups have been really rewarding, because I've saved things from land fill that just shouldn't go there - a Deco high chair, a hand-thrown pottery bowl, an amazing domed-glass picture frame, a fab Deco hall runner - and I have a fun day with someone I care about.

and I've got to say that in general I don't, and never have, set myself goals to attain of a material nature. I never have. sometimes I actually suspect that a teeny-tiny bit of that wouldn't go astray, because it's things like that which make people get off their arse and go and do stuff. and achieve stuff. sometimes I don't think I've got an awful lot to show for, as far as 'achievements' are concerned, if you know what I mean? but ingerenal I feel quite content with my lot.

btw, I don't think the bit about not wanting to go out with a crowd of people because you couldn't relate to them was in any way bitter or judgemental. I've felt exactly that way before. it's all about knowing who you are and what you want to do, and knowing who you want to do it with!

you know you did the thing which made you feel the most comfortable with youself. can't ask for better than that.