Friday, April 24, 2009

Book Review: Status Anxiety by Allain de Botton

Allain de Botton addresses the issue of status anxiety or the feeling that we are not doing as well as we should in comparison to our peers, neighbors or some other reference group. This feeling can appear as a low level of discomfort when you find out your college buddy is on another cruise while you've never been on one, to strong anxiety and even depression when you see yourself as a loser in comparison to others. Now, these comparisons are all in relative terms: you don't feel jealous of Bill Gates because his wealth is in the stratosphere and therefore incomparable, but you do feel jealous of Bob in the next cubicle because he makes $10,000 more than you and you've both been with the company for five years.

How do you address these feelings? Via five ways - via philosophy, politics, religion, art and bohemia. Each of these provides a reframing of the relationship of the individual to the values of the larger society. For example, politics reveals to us that the markers of contemporary success, which we may not have achieved, are ideological constructs of the ruling class, constructs which may have had no vlaue 50 years ago and may have none 50 years from now. Religion in general places value on the individual as an individual rather than in his or her accomplishments and possesions, and thereby relieves the pressure to meet the expectations of the larger society. There are similar effective palliatives provided by the other disciplines and the bohemian attitude.

If you suffer from status anxiety, as you probably do, read this book and get some major relief.

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