Alain de Botton postulates that the search for status is linked to something which is as essential to us as light, food and water. Once we work out how central the need for love is a lot of things become clearer, from why we go shopping to why we sometimes kill one another. Much of the reason why we go shopping is unconnected to any urgent material need. We often shop in order to persuade the world we are worthwhile, interesting people. We often shop for emotional rather than practical reasons. A lot of consumption is about acquiring status symbols, material objects whose primary use is psychological and which signal to the world that we are worthy of dignity and respect.
Why do we shop?
Thorstein Veblen, an American sociologist and the man responsible for the term status symbols wrote a witty book The Theory of the Leisure Class in 1899. Having observed the rich at leisure he became fascinated by how people acquire certain luxury goods to symbolise their high status. Many clothes were deliberately designed to show that people didn’t need to work and in fact couldn’t do so in clothes which were highly impractical.
Alain de Botton looks at why we are interested in acquiring luxury cars and what these cars say about us. He argues that perhaps it is those who strive the hardest to be successful who are most haunted by feelings of failure. Scratch the surface of almost anyone who has made it to the top of their chosen field and you will find an unusually viscous fear of being a loser. What need would there be to be so impressive if their wasn’t a fear of being the opposite? There is a sad emotionaly deprived side to the purchase of luxury cars sales he claims. People are attracted to status symbols because they want to feel valued. Rather than a tale of greed, the history of luxury goods could more accurately be read as a record of emotional trauma. It is the legacy of people who felt pressured by the insensitivity of others to impress them with material objects. The amount of love you receive from the world is dependent on the amount of status symbols you can wield.
Part 6 of this series goes to demonstrate how our extreme touchiness about our status can lead to duelling and tragically even death.
Posted by Shona Lockhart on 18th June 2012