Status Anxiety – Alain De Botton

February 25, 2016
BOOK OF MONTH CLUB

STATUS ANXIETY BY ALAIN DE BOTTON (CLICK TO SHOP)

THE SYNOPSIS

This book has quickly taken pride of place on my virtual book shelf therefore has to be the first entry in my book of the month club.  Ever feel a book was written specifically for you?? This is how I felt when I started reading ‘Status Anxiety’ by Alain De Botton, with each chapter I felt he was directly attempting to answer questions I have pondered and speculated over for years beginning with the cause of status anxiety.

The book begins with one of my favourite quotes “Every adult life could be said to be defined by two great love stories.”  The first story is the quest for sexual love which as De Botton points out is well covered and documented but the second however “is a more secret and shameful tale.”  This second tale is the quest for love from the world which in case you haven’t heard of social media seems to be becoming less shameful.  However I think the point here is that almost no one would admit to the second tale despite your midnight Snapchat spam sessions.  This De Botton states is because we tend to allow others appraisals to play a determining role in how we see ourselves.

The book next covers comparison, which is possibly the most interesting.  The book explains how people constantly assess themselves by comparing to other similar status individuals to bench mark our own value.  In the past this worked well, the peasant compared himself to the peasant and never to the king.  Nowadays however boundaries are broken down and due to everyone having access to the same facets of life our basis for comparison has widened and we find ourselves constantly comparing ourselves to higher status individuals, which leads into the next cause, meritocracy.

Meritocracy is the idea that you achieve based on your merit.  In the past the peasant gained comfort from knowing that being a peasant was outside of his control and to compare himself to a king of divine rights would be ludicrous, a form of acceptance existed which cushioned the poverty coupled with the fact that the rich were seen as corrupt and evil.  But attitudes started to shift and now the view that a poor person only has themselves to blame and it is the rich that are hardworking and happy while the poor are lazy and generally bad is commonplace.  In other words it is your own fault you’re not achieving.

De Botton then moves on to cover other causes such as snobbery  i.e. the main reason one of our first questions to someone is “What do you do?” the answer to which will determine how we view their status, and dependence which touches on all the fragile factors on which our current status balances.  Why it may have been virtually impossible to improve your status in the past it was also very hard to descend from grace, but now with our status threading on thin ice like the economy, technology and our bosses it’s no wonder we’re anxious.

Next, the solutions, which are by no means concrete answers but more so a compilation of the tools man uses to combat the disease or at least the outlets used to vent his frustrations.  The book brings us through topics like philosophy to learn to how one should view the appraisal of others i.e. with a pinch of salt, to art, comedy and politics and how they act as anxiety pressure release mechanisms to my favourite and final chapters of the book, death and bohemia.

The abrupt realisation of the insignificance of all the little seeds of anxiety we thought so paramount when confronted with our own mortality.  This serves as somewhat a morbid and refreshing thought but our death bed may be a little too late for self-actualisation and certainly too late to get InstaFamous.  This leads us to Bohemia, my favourite chapter of the book.  The quest for an alternative lifestyle in opposition to the bourgeois life we have come to know, a restructure of values where ones status had no dependence on monetary wealth but on values of more substance such as the arts, family and travel.  Protesting through non-conformity we are introduced to the history of the bohemian movement, a little like modern day hipsters only with conviction and an actual goal.

TAKE AWAY POINTS

  • Ever wonder why everyone seems so anxious and fame hungry these days?  Join the club, the Book of month ‘Status Anxiety’ may have your answers.
  • The author masterfully disassembles the components of status anxiety all the way back to its roots while at the same time making you feel you are reading some highbrow Literature.
  • People constantly assess themselves by comparing to other similar status individuals to bench mark our own value.
  • Due to everyone having access to the same facets of life our basis for comparison has widened and we find ourselves constantly comparing ourselves to higher status individuals.
  • ‘Dependence’ touches on all the fragile factors on which our current status balances i.e. the economy, technology and our bosses it’s no wonder we’re anxious.
  • Philosophy, art, comedy and politics act as anxiety pressure release mechanisms by addressing the status quo.
  • Become a bohemian where ones status had no dependence on monetary wealth but on values of more substance such as the arts, family and travel.

Status Anxiety by Alain De Botton

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