20 January 2011

An Inconspicuous Status

One of the main signs of insecurity - and insensitivity - is an overt preoccupation with social status.  On the other hand, to be totally without any care about how we are perceived by others might sometimes be associated with mental illness.  Finding a balance between the two is, however, quite easy.

Many people who are devoted to the accumulation of consumer goods and, especially status goods, are never truly satisfied.  Do they make time just to live, and to appreciate the simple things in life?

The desire for higher status

Conspicuous consumption, consumerism, and "keeping up with the Joneses" are somewhat oppressive to those of us who do not share the obsession for those activities.  There is so much waste in the world, much of which would be regarded as discarded wealth by those who place more value on the earth's resources.

My maternal grandparents always told me to buy the best I could afford - quality always taking precedence over quantity.  Yet they lived simply, and never had anything ostentatious (which they would have considered as vulgar).  They both wore very good quality coats when going out, though, with very good shoes, too.

The desire for quality

Unlike my grandparents, I only buy the best when it is at a bargain price, and make do with what I already have for much of the time.  My only exception is food.  I try to buy the freshest seasonal products, preferably local and organic ones, regardless of how much they cost (as long as the price is fair).

I am fortunate not to have been affected by floods here in Australia, though I am glad that most of my furniture is made of solid wood, rather than chipboard.  The things in my house are mainly second-hand.  I do not mind that what I own often consist of what others have previously discarded.  I have no need for anything newly manufactured, except perhaps for a new sofa quite soon.  The old one is not very comfortable to sit on any more.

The desire for fairness

It is important to see life as if it is never a zero-sum game.  The same applies to work.  I would never want to benefit at someone else's expense.  It is much better that everyone wins, but it is also important to recognise that sometimes everyone loses.  Creativity is fair when everyone wins.

You may have different views than me about positional goods, material goods, public goods, private goods, common goods, club goods, and even Veblen goods, but what is your view on the ethical meaning of the word good?  And what sorts of games do you play?

The desire for understanding

Social status may be inconspicuous in a crowd of similarly dressed people, but what about the invisible aspects of status?  Would you consider me to be of a similar status group as yourself, based on the content of this blog post?

Status in terms of cultural capital, and social capital, is something worth reflecting upon when living in a simple, quiet, inconspicious way.  With the online world, we can experience many cultural environments that were once outside the reach of all but the very wealthy.

Perhaps the most important aspect of status in the years ahead will be how we spend our time rather than how we spend money.  How might that view of status already be reflected in your social and economic life?

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