One of my favourite books is the History of Manners by Norbert Elias.
It’s a history of how social norms ‘have developed over the last several centuries to create different layers of status, often linked to social class.
My favourite chapter is on ‘dining’, probably because it’s the most obvious. The general gist is that the aristocracy used to eat with just a basic ‘single set’ of cutlery, but at some point, as the middle classes emerged, they picked up on this and started copying the dining habits of the elite, rather than their hands, so then the aristocracy developed more elaborate sets of cutlery and more elaborate dining rules and manners to distinguish themselves from the middle classes.
And so on and so on until we have the very elaborate multiple courses and multiple eating implements for different edibles, and all the manners.
(Gazpacho soup is supposed to served cold, remember!)
There’s an interesting chapter on indoor toilets too - the emergence of which Elias argues was because of status rather than hygiene - the poor had no choice but to crap in public, but a means of signifying wealth and status was to not do so, but rather crap in private.
Status costs money
As a general rule ‘status items’ tend to cost money - the more elaborate your cutlery set, the more you have to pay for it.
Maybe a more obvious example today is your Mercedes costing more than your Audi, which I tend to think of as a poor man's Merc, but that’s still better than your VW Golf or Ford Fiesta.
The poor man's Merc?
Now, showing off your wealth is FINE if you’ve got enough money to burn - if you’ve made it, if you’ve got, I dunno, $2-3 million making you money, why the hell not buy a six bedroom house in a nice area, stash it full of mod-cons, buy some nice threads and an Aston Marton.
(Actually, personally, I only say FINE because that’s your right, for me personally I don’t want any of those things!)
The 'expansion' of status
I think for a long time now we’ve been in this situation where the desire to fake status is trumping the ability to pay for the display.
This is because those with money are more visible, you may have noticed that the mainstream media is chock full of the upper middle classes, and the elites, the people who have made it, and so we get the impression that ‘high status’ items are normal, even necessary just so we fell like we 'fit in'.
A case in point is the teenager who NEEDS those Nikes.
And today it’s not just cutlery, it’s EVERYTHING
And it's not just trainers. Today, we are expected to have and display as having an enormous array of stuff just to 'fit in', let alone signify success....
I mean think about it - to be regarded as 'normal' what do you need?
- To own your own house
- A nice car
- Nice threads
- Grooming - several times worse if your female.
- Holidays abroad - a stock topic of conversation.
- Something ‘edgy about you’ - like surfing as a hobby, which costs money.
- Meals out/ drinks/ a social life.
And don’t even get me started on the cost of big life events like buying your own house or a wedding, or dating.
And it’s fine if you’ve got the money, but the thing is, MOST people don’t, they’re struggling on an average wage to just keep up with the basic 'status norms'.
The norm is to struggle to not feel left-out, rather than to struggle to show that you're ahead.
This kind of thing really doesn't help...
You may be aware of this kid Ryan, 2020's biggest YouTube earner. He and his parents make videos encouraging children to buy pointless shit they don't need at inflated prices.
Encouraging kids to buy sweets from a vending machine, presenting this as normal and 'fun' - it's sick beyond belief.
And if this is the starting point of normal today's kids are growing up with, they're going to have shit lives if they try to keep up with this level of consumption.
Personally, I think distancing oneself from mainstream media is a good start, and mainstream friends and family if you’ve got that luxury.
And just not playing the status game, not being led by it, not trying to fake it, until you’ve got enough to spend with ease and not go into debt to maintain an image you cannot afford!
Oh, and don't have kids, lest they be subjected to the normalised-terror of Ryan and his hideous parents.
Poor things don't stand a chance!
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