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Status Anxiety
Author Alain de Botton
Publisher Dorling Kindersley Book Ltd
ISBN 9780241142387
Classification Philosophy > Western Philosophy
Price HK$208.00
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There are few more powerful desires than to be treated with respect and avoid humiliation. We long for status and dread its opposite. But such aspirations and anxieties are rarely spoken about, or at least not without sarcasm, embarrassment or condemnation. In Status Anxiety, Alain de Botton asks where our worries about questions of status come from and what, if anything, we can do about them.

The word status, deriving from the Latin statum or standing (past participle of the verb stare, to stand), refers in a narrow sense to one's legal or professional standing within a group (married, a lieutenant, etc). But in the broader--and here more relevant--sense, to one's value and importance in the eyes of the world. Different societies have awarded status to different groups: hunters, fighters, ancient families, priests, knights, fecund women. Increasingly since 1776, status in the West has been awarded in relation to financial achievement. The consequences of high status are pleasant. They include resources, freedom, space, comfort, time and, as importantly perhaps, a sense of being cared for and being thought valuable--conveyed through invitations, flattery, laughter (even when the joke lacked bite), deference and attention. High status is thought by many (but freely admitted by few) to be one of the finest of earthly goods.

For this reason, we worry whenever we are in danger of failing to conform to the ideals of success laid down by our society. We worry that we may be stripped of dignity and respect, we worry that we are currently occupying too modest a rung or are about to fall to a lower one. Like confessing to envy (to which status anxiety is related), it can be socially imprudent to reveal the extent of our concerns and, therefore, evidence of the inner drama is uncommon, limited usually to a preoccupied gaze, a brittle smile or an over-extended pause after news of a good friend's success. We might not worry so much if status were not so hard to achieve and even harder to maintain over a lifetime. Except in societies where it is fixed at birth and our veins flow with noble blood, our position hangs on what we can make of ourselves; and we may fail in the enterprise due to stupidity or an absence of self-knowledge, macro-economics or malevolence. And from failure will flow humiliation: a corroding awareness that we have been unable to convince the world of our value and are henceforth condemned to consider the successful with bitterness and ourselves with shame.

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