Status Anxiety

9/10

I really like this book.

 

First of all, it happens to address one of the BIG questions of my journey through New Zealand:

“Was it possible, asked Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1754), that it might in fact be the savage and not – as everyone had grown used to thinking – the modern worker who was the better off of the pair?” (62)

I’ve spent a lot of time recently asking myself whether the sequential plan that is laid out for us – high school, apartment, college, entry level job, job, marriage, kids, house to settle down – is necessarily right for me, or right for anyone for that matter, and whether the end goal of having a well-paying job carrying out the ideas of someone else is really what we should all be striving for. This is what I’ve been told I want. However, it doesn’t sound that appealing to me, and never has. Part of my travels through NZ have exposed the autonomy that comes from taking a different path and knowing how to grow one’s own food and be self-sufficient. Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot, which can be found in many of the other posts I’ve written or will soon write. Most importantly I’ve found that there’s something extremely powerful in knowing that if the world collapsed and it came down to just me out in the wilderness, I could make something of it an not just survive, but support myself and create a self-sustaining ecosystem. I’ve found gardening to be extremely meditative – I’ve had pretty much zero stress here, and it’s helped me have more fun, be more creative, and focus on my mental health. I think that’s pretty cool. One of the main reasons I decided to WWOOF was because I felt my education was lacking in certain areas. I felt like my knowledge of things crucial to human existence {plants, identifying food sources, growing food sources, water systems, ecosystems} were lacking in the most practical ways. I lacked general hands-on literacy and competency, and I think many of the US population suffers the same. Back home I would never have been made to collect cow shit for four hours a day to then carefully chop and lay it over the plants I had grown from seeds and planted in beds. I had the opportunity to see the results yielded from my hard work. I think hands-on literacy is something that can be lost, especially in university when so much time is spent studying. Sure, I knew my brain could do a lot, but I think I’d forgotten the impact I could have on the physical world. Back home I would never have been handed a dead turkey and been instructed to take the remainder of the day to “figure it out”. There was something amazing in that moment. However gruesome the actual task was, how often are we instructed to take the time we need to get into something, get messy, and learn? Dealing with that turkey is something I will never forget and the result was something tangible; I could see what I’d done and the impact the action had.

What my internal question was is this: “Why is it that society tells us that the ‘modern man/woman’ is what is best, what we should all strive for? Why do we want to have sterile lives centered around jobs we don’t like, that control us, where we don’t even get to create physical things that we can be proud of, just so that we can stress out to hoard money away, and use that money to buy the same boring house that doesn’t interact with our world in any positive way – no living garden, but instead a horrible grass lawn, wasted, contaminated water, a house that is so ingrained in society as desirable that we see no other alternative”. Long, multi-part question, I know. But really, why don’t people question these things more? Why are people okay with what they’re given? Why, when we know water is such a precious resource, don’t we demand that houses be built in a way that the sinks and showers drain into a retaining tank for dirty water that can then be used to flush the toilet? Honestly. Do we need purified water to flush a toilet? I don’t think so.

What this book made me question, “Why are we always trying to separate ourselves as humans from nature? When will we see that we are one in the same?”. When we learn that we are one in the same, I hope that we will take better care of ourselves (meaning humanity and the planet).

 

On another note, de Botton’s book also helped me make a connection for an issue I see rising, that of the future feudal state. Perhaps I’ve been watching too much Downton Abbey and listening to the Tim Ferriss Show too much lately. Anyway, in his most recent interview with Chris Sacca, Tim and Chris discuss how the future appears to be one in which the ultra-rich are a select few, controlling companies and the world economy, surrounded by everyone else, the gentry-level workers. I couldn’t help link this to the feudal system, or even the aristocratic society of Downton, and how the noble few controlled the land and had the duty of creating jobs for the rest of society. Sounds similar, right? Anyway, my brain jumped to this conclusion when I was reading through these stories featured in Status Anxiety:

Three Useful Old Stories about Failure

  1. The poor are not responsible for their condition and are the most useful in society.
  2. Low status has no moral connotations.
  3. The rich are sinful and corrupt and owe their wealth to their robbery of the poor.

Three Anxiety-Inducing New Stories about Success

  1. The rich are the useful ones, not the poor.
  2. One’s status does have moral connotations.
  3. The poor are sinful and corrupt and owe their poverty to their stupidity.

Perhaps, when we return to a feudal society, the useful old stories will become relevant again? Either way, there are pros and cons with both arrangements.

 

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