Feeling Anxious with your Place in Society?

It’s about Status Anxiety

If your existence is one of subsistence, say in a traditional tribe in Papua New Guinea, you only know your day-to-day circumstances and in accepting it, you’re happy. Even in the long past feudal days, society had a social caste. There were those who had and those who had not.

Those who had little – yes the peasants – didn’t even know they how much others had compared to themselves but lived a life accepting what they had. But, if you can compare yourself with those who have more, well then you have dissatisfaction and that unhappiness leads to all sorts of issues including Status Anxiety if not down right revolution.

Opulence in America.

Wanting more… Bigger and grander.

Unlike in the past, we now have a society which has an almost religious zealotry of “You can be anything you want, if only you strive for it“, and those who achieve it, despite the odds, are held up as the poster boys/girls.

So we compare ourselves against the wonder kids and our contemporaries and wonder why we don’t seem to match up to their success. We’re told we can have it all, but we don’t have it,  leaving us with the anxiety of what we haven’t done or achieved like those around us who have a bigger house, better job or more beautiful spouse. Here we have Status Anxiety of this video and it’s one of the major causes of unhappiness in Western Culture.

A long history of warnings.

In Democracy in America Alexis de Tocqueville suggested 180 years ago that the incessant desire for more would lead ‘items of luxury’, to become the ‘decency of life’, to eventual the ‘physiological necessity’. I look at all the perfectly functional cathode ray televisions being thrown out today, as it’s now a necessity to have a wall size, flat screen TV in every home. If you still have an old box do you feel a little anxious?

Now all barriers to social expectation have been removed as everyone is told they can have a shot at the title. They just have to get up and go for it to be theirs. To quote de Tocqueville again…

In America, I never meet a citizen too poor not to be able to glance with hope and envy at the pleasures of the rich.


Also as mentioned in the video, Jean-Jacques Rousseau the french philosopher said…

Wealth is relevant to desire and is not absolute… Every time we seek something that we can’t afford, we can be counted as poor however much money we have. Every time we’re satisfied with what we have, we can be counted as rich however little we actually possess.

Rousseau suggest that the ‘savages’ of his time were actually happier with their lot than his contemporaries with all their wealth. And for those with the wealth…

The possession of money seemed less like a fortunate blessing and more like proof of moral superiority.

It’s about Luck.

Ask anyone who’s succeeded and they’ll mention how luck played a hand in their success. However luck is never mentioned by the cheer squad encouraging us to have more and strive further to succeed.

Luck has disappeared as a plausible explanation for what happens to people in their life. Winners make their own luck, is the punishing modern mantra.

While those who are unlucky are seen as lazy or stupid.

Old Christian constraints.

To wrap up the video, looking at the worldly values of Christianity and the American model of God granting wealth to those who are more Godly, compared to spiritual beliefs of the past, particularly in Europe…

In an age which could believe that what happened to you on Earth was but a brief prelude to what might happen in the next life, the pressure to succeed and fulfil yourself would inevitably be lessened but in a secular age where the whole idea of an after life has become increasingly unbelievable, the pressure to succeed in this life has inevitably heightened to what you achieve right now, in your own life is all that you will ever be. No wonder we’re slightly more worried.

Although I’ll add, the traditional Christian model also benefit others by deluding the peasants into putting up with their lot in life, while their meagre value was strip mined by the Gentry.

This video sums up a rising awareness within Western Society that not everything we’ve been told is true and something is very rotten at the heart of how our society operates.

No wonder people are depressed these days.

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