Part 3 of this documentary series by Alain de Botton on “Status Anxiety” looks at the theory of meritocracy. Is meritocracy the route to happiness? De Botton investigates the “American Dream” and asks if such a thing is achievable. The programme cites William James, an American psychologist, who looked at the problems which societies create for themselves when they start raising huge expectations in their citizens. The formula James came up with is that Self esteem = Success/Expectation.
In order to have the healthy level of self esteem which we are all looking for we can do two things: we can either become more successful or lower the number of things we expect to be successful at. The problem is that modern societies place us under huge pressure to succeed and make self esteem very elusive. Every rise in our levels of expectation entails a rise in the risk of humiliation.
According to Alain de Botton it became possible to argue for the first time that the rung of the ladder which a person stood on accurately reflected their true qualities and conveniently for the successful this reduced the need for welfare, redistribution of wealth or even sympathy.
Take a look at the arguments made Alain de Botton in the third part of this fascinating series and decide whether you agree with his analysis. If you want to learn more you can purchase Alain de Botton’s book Status Anxiety from Amazon.
Posted by Shona Lockhart, 14th June 2012