It’s the one affliction that is universally acknowledged—the fear that one is really a “loser” or a “nobody.” Alain de Botton takes this idea and explores why anxiousness over one’s place in society has been more pronounced in modern societies. He neatly sums it up early in the book:
That status anxiety possesses an exceptional capacity to inspire sorrow.People in the medieval ages didn’t fuss over status as much. In those days, if you were born a farmer, you will most likely die a farmer. There’s no chance to cross over and be a priest or to found a little fiefdom. Everything’s been fixed for you. And anyway, when you die, God has promised you a garden of unearthly delights.
That the hunger for status, like all appetites, can have its uses: spurring us to do justice to our talents, encouraging excellence, restraining us from harmful eccentricities and cementing members of a society around a common value system. But, like all appetites, its excesses can also kill.
The most profitable way of addressing the condition may be to attempt to understand and to speak of it."
Discussion about one’s place in society inadvertently means that you go back to Marxism, but de Botton argues that yes, people are worried about money, but more importantly, people are concerned with the attention and respect one gets from the goods which declare that you have money. So you see, this is really about getting the love and respect from other people.
He also offers other solutions to this anxiety: seek refuge in art, philosophy, religion, bohemia. But ultimately, I don’t think you can even pause to consider bohemia when you’re more worried about where to get the next meal.
So ruminations about your place in society must at least mean you have the time (and some money) to purchase this book and give you a glimpse of salvation. Good for me, because I got this book for P90 (hardbound! First edition!) in one of those sales in the mall. I previously read Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel. It's not quite literary theory or philosophy. One of the reviews in Amazon called de Botton's works as "literary self-help." At any rate, if you're not into philosophy or theory or ruminations, then maybe this book is not for you. But if you're fine with ruminations, Status Anxiety is a good read, quite informative as de Botton excels in distilling ideas from philosophical and critical texts and applies them to current concerns.