Thursday, March 12, 2009

Prime Passage: Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton

“Status anxiety may be defined as problematic only insofar as it is inspired by values that we uphold because we are terrified and preternaturally obedient; because we have been anesthetized into believing that they are natural, perhaps even God-given; because those around us are in thrall to them; or because we have grown too imaginatively timid to conceive of alternatives.

Philosophy, art, politics, religion, and bohemia have never sought to do away entirely with the status hierarchy; they have attempted, rather, to institute new kinds of hierarchies based on sets of values unrecognized by, and critical of, those of the majority. While maintaining a firm grip on the differences between success and failure, good and bad, shameful and honorable, these five entities have endeavored to remold our sense of what may rightfully be said to belong under those weighty and dichotomous headings.

“In doing so, they have helped to lend legitimacy to those who, in every generation, may be unable or unwilling to comply dutifully with the dominant notions of high status, but who may yet deserve to be categorized under something other than the brutal epithet of ‘loser’ or ‘nobody.’ They have provided us with persuasive and consoling reminders that there is more than one way—and more than just the judge’s and the pharmacist’s way—of succeeding at life.”

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