November 18, 2004

Status Anxiety, Alain de Botton

I parted ways with this book when Botton suggested that peasants used to feel comfortable about their status, and aristocrats uneasy, because the Church comforted peasants and the aristocrats knew they hadn't earned their place.The Church mixes its messages on the subject, and aristocrats were very proud of not having earned their place; that was the whole point. I believe there's experimental evidence that treating people with the markers of high status will induce most of the hormonal (neurotransmitter? I should look this up) turbocharging we get when we fight our way to high status, which suggests that the curlèd darlings were soaked in self-regard like babas are in rum.

I do see that the possibility of earning one's place has added a new stress, but that's no excuse for whitewashing the old ones.

Other than that, it's a nice trot through changes of attitudes towards just desert, with special attention paid to props for battered status: religion, duelling, Bohemianism.

I have looked through the index of Botton's The Consolations of Philosophy for any reference to Boethius or his excellent The Consolation of Philosophy, and not only is it not in the index, but Amazon's search-inside says Boethius isn't even mentioned in the text. Fie. Read the original, with or without the Latin.

There's an oddity in Boethius that I think should come up more often in discussions of how technology affects our world-views. He wrote,

[plants] all, as is so well known, are like regular machines not merely for lasting a time, but for reproducing themselves for ever, a nd that by their own kinds.

That seems quite surprising to me; "so well known"? Combined with "like...machines...for reproducing themselves"? Unless The Book of Ash were right, Boethius saw no self-reproducing machines; and if everyone thought of plants as like machines, only spectacularly better, then they had startlingly plastic understandings of technology.

ISBN: 0375420835

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