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Status Anxiety

Alain de Botton

Alexis de Tocqueville: when inequality is the general rule in a society, no-one worries about it. In medieval times, peasantry, no matter how wretched, enjoyed happiness that is difficult to appreciate today. Because they cdn't conceive of a state different to the one they were in, and never expected to become the equal of their leaders, they accepted their position as being God's plan. But when democracies dismantled the class barriers, it was possible for the poor to become rich, and that sometimes visibly happened. So when it didn't happen, they went looking for a reason. Democratic societies, by fostering unlimited expectations, keep open a permanent gap between what we are and what we want to be, and so leave us feeling more deprived than primitive savages.

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American society creed of equality partly a reaction to English social hierarchy. But it quickly developed into a sentiment that working hard was the ideal, and from that, idea that anyone cd get rich if they worked hard enough. So work = virtue; poverty = sin + stupidity.

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We only envy our peers - not Bill Gates or David Beckham - our work colleagues, friends and relatives. Rousseau: "every time we seek something we cannot afford, we grow poorer, whatever our resources. And every time we feel satisfied with what we have, we can be as contented as a rich man, however little we may own. Wealth is not absolute, it is relative to desire."

Roger Hall play 'Spreading Out' basic premise that life isn't fair and doesn't meet our expectations, but then, that's life. We're supposed to take comfort in knowledge that there's always someone worse off than ourselves, but what is bloody annoying is that there's always someone better off.

So easiest way to feel wealthy is not to chase after money, but to surround yourself with people poorer than you.

Every adult is defined by 2 great love stories: our quest for sexual love, and our quest for love from the world. In an ideal world we wouldn't care if no-one noticed us; we'd be sure of our own worth. But we seem to hold conflicting views of ourselves. We know we are clever and stupid, humorous and boring, deep and superficial. So because of these dichotomies, we need the casting vote of social approval. Our ego is like a perpetually leaking balloon, forever requiring eternal love to keep it inflated, and vulnerable to the slightest pinpricks of neglect.

The greatest source of status anxiety is not money or fame, it's age. Youth is the single most infuriating example of unearnes status. The generation that made Youth cool has just made 48 the median age for Harley buyers. Nancy Reagan was asked how old she was and replied "I haven't decided yet" but was outed by the Washington Post which reported that "Nancy Reagan, 62, celebrated her 60th birthday yesterday".

The thought of death brings authenticity - very quickly realize how shallow and unnecessary our anxieties and desires. Andrew Marvel's To His Coy Mistress

At my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity
The graves a fine and private place
But none I think, do there embrace

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Gustave Dore The New Zealander an imaginary scene of twentyfirst century London; it's ruins being sketched by a New Zealander in the same way as eighteenth century Englishmen had gone to Rome to sketch the Colisseum.

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