Status Anxiety

Here is a fairly nice documentary. 

Many great points are brought up about the ideal of a meritocratic society.  One point made that I highly agree with is that if the rich deserve to be rich, then the poor deserve to be poor.

Where I think this documentary missed out is on the details.  The narrator states that American meritocracy doesn’t assert that all are equal but that all are given equal opportunity.  The problem I had is he didn’t analyze this in any great detail (environment, pollution, health, nutrition, medicine, neuroscience, psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc.).  The inequality between people is so vast in the world that any theoretical equal opportunity is just a joke.  It’s quite easy to criticize the very notion of equal opportunity on any number of grounds.

A very small minority hold most of the world’s wealth and power, and the vast majority of this wealth and power is passed down from generation to generation within a very small set of families and bloodlines.  A teacher that was interviewed stated that meritocracy was an eternal goal which implies it’s a goal that never is actualized in the real world.  So, it’s a pleasant fantasy to keep the masses contented.

Furthermore, the wealth and power of the developed industrialized nations is built on the very poverty and disempowerment of the rest of the world.  Does the slave-wage worker in a sweatshop deserve his lot?  Do Americans deserve the cheap products the get through the suffering of the poor?  Do Middle Easterners deserve all the conflict that the West bestows upon them simply because we think we deserve their oil?  Does South and Central America deserve all of the political unrest caused by the CIA and the American War on Drugs?

For further information on how to be included among the elite who deserve all of their power and wealth, see the following:

How to be Successful

Also, check out Barbara Ehrenreich’s view presented in her book Bright-sided.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=113758696

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/10/books/10ehrenreich.html

http://www.statesman.com/life/content/life/stories/books/2009/11/01/1101ehrenreich.html

The inspiration for her writing about positive thinking was her experience with cancer.  She saw the darkside of positive thinking within the cancer community.

This brings to mind my own grandmother who died of cancer.  It’s because of her that I was raised in New Thought Christianity where positive thinking is very popular.  She was diagnosed with cancer.  She embraced the whole alternative medicine field and she had great faith in positive thinking.  My dad says she was utterly crushed when doing all the right things didn’t make her cancer go away.  She died of cancer.  She was a woman who had a great sense of faith, and apparently I inherited my spiritual interests from her.  I’ve seen all aspects of positive thinking and so I have a personal sense of what Ehrenreich is talking about.

But what is different is that positive thinking has become mainstream like never before.  It’s not just alternative types.  Positive thinking has become merged with the early American ideals of meritocracy, and together they create something greater than either alone.

In one video I saw of Ehrenreich, she made an interesting connection.  She was talking about the meritocracy ideal, but I don’t think she was using that term.  She was just talking about the ideal of positivie thinking in general within American culture.  She connected this with Ayn Rand’s libertarians.  If I remember correctly, she was making the argument that Rand was a one of the factors in popularizing positive thinking.  She mentioned the book The Secret and how it’s representative of our whole culture.  She blames the economic troubles we’re having now with the business culture of positive thinking, and it makes a lot of sense to me.

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4 thoughts on “Status Anxiety

  1. Hello.

    “The problem I had is he didn’t analyze this in any great detail (environment, pollution, health, nutrition, medicine, neuroscience, psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc.). The inequality between people is so vast in the world that any theoretical equal opportunity is just a joke. It’s quite easy to criticize the very notion of equal opportunity on any number of grounds.”

    I think this is quite true. It’s unfortunate, because, although de Botton does question the concept of meritocracy, he also repeats that it’s come to seem self-evident and beyond challenge that our societies are meritocratic, implying that they aren’t without taking the opportunity to expose very strongly ways in which they are not. I think, though, this was perhaps largely to do with the focus on status and the cultural and psychological implications of that single idea, so he probably didn’t want to go off on what might have seemed a tangent.

    I suppose I’m currently feeling the pull of opposite attitudes in the sense that I see the value both of fatalism and of taking charge of one’s own destiny. Knowing when and if to give up is a difficult thing. Of course, some, such as Churchill, would urge us never to give up. Speaking personally, the whole question of the extent to which we actually are in control of our destinies remains entirely mysterious to me, though I think that from a moral point of view one must at least assume the possibility of free will, even if that only extends to one’s own actions and not to the environment in which one is placed.

    • “I think, though, this was perhaps largely to do with the focus on status and the cultural and psychological implications of that single idea, so he probably didn’t want to go off on what might have seemed a tangent.”

      Yeah, I realized it was only a documentary and not extensive investigative journalism. I could tell that the documentary was focusing on particular aspect of meritocracy. There is nothing wrong with that.

      It’s just that I have a mind that thinks in tangents. As far as I’m concerned, the tangents are the most interesting part. But I suppose many people have short attention spans and might get bored by too many tangents. However, in terms of making a strong argument using the most supporting evidence, the tangents would’ve been very helpful. On the other hand, the general public isn’t persuaded by strong arguments with lots of supporting evidence.

      Ahhh… the ol’ freewill vs fatalism dilemma. I tend towards the fatalism side most of the times. Even when I look at willfully self-directed people, they don’t seem all that free to me. They’re very motivated, but I don’t sense that they know what motivates them anymore than the drunk bum. I figure you just gotta be who you are. The question, then, is about who you are. Free or not, I don’t think anyone can successfully fight their own nature or if they try they probably will only feel frustrated. So, I always go with self-knowledge where ever it may lead.

      The moral issue does, however, complexify things a bit. My response is that morality isn’t so much about freewill. Morality is normal human behavior unless either the individuals has become dysfunctional (psychologically or biologically) or society itself has become dysfunctional. I really don’t think that most people are usually any more or less moral than the society they’re born into.

      Personally, I feel strong moral impulses about many things. It’s just my nature. In my case, at least, it doesn’t seem directly related to freewill per se. Often my sense of moral goodness has a spiritual tinge to it rather than understanding it merely in terms of psychology or society.

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