In the previous article I presented #Universe25, an interesting experiment made in 60s on mice. Today I want to still talk about psychology, but more related to humans. For this article I got inspired by some concepts proposed in the book “The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett” which I partially revisited.
But lets start with some basic observations. We, as humans, have the need to differentiate our-self from the others. The idea of being “another brick in the wall” make us unconformable and we definitely want to try distinguish our-self from the mass. We all have an in-conscious desire to be part of a small elite group for feeling better and specials: we need to believe that we are among the chosen ones!
For years the rich class could easily distinguish them-self by simply buying expensive clothing, fancy goods, travelling around the world, eating in restaurant, etc.
Lower class was destined to remain poor, unable to match the upper class life-stile…The global society was bad structured, but with very well defined roles.
The first one noticing that the wealthy class was using publicly observable goods (clothing and accessories) as means to demonstrate their class status was Thorstein Veblen in 1899 when he published “The Theory of the Leisure Class” in which he explain in a criticizing way this concept. Just to be fair, this behavior was not new; already in the roman empire, when the wall painting fresco became affordable for the rich plebs houses, the more noble class started to use mosaic inside their residences. Or when in later 1700s women/nobles started to wear high hill shoes to show that they did not had the need to work.
Ok, rich people always liked to show-off their money, we know that.. what’s new?
Well, to answer this questions, we need to take in consideration the deep changes happened in our society during the last 30 years or so. In particular we have two major changes:
1–Everybody has become a potential Noble. And by this I don’t mean it on the paper. What I mean is that globalization, improving in the labor conditions, and social rights, has led to more and more people to access consumer goods. This means that in general mostly of the developed word people can afford to go to restaurant once in a while, have the latest phones, large TVs, nice clothing , some travelling, etc. So we all can get the taste of the upper classes.
2–Internet and the access of information. Everybody can easily compare himself so other people around the world. The way how they eat, talk, dress, accessories, lifestyle, cars, etc. all this information are somehow available on articles,Google, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
This two changes has shaken the fundamentals of our society and the roles that each of us play. The lower classes now started to “threat” the wealthy people by attacking their distinctive characteristics/lifestyle simply by emulating it. Wealth class, on the other ends, still need to find a way to distinguish them-self. So, the way is not moving to more luxury but instead, rich people started moving their distinguishing characteristics to something more abstract. They started to spent more and more to private schools, arts, opera, they begin to eat exotic fruits, unknown grains, etc. They tried to became a cultural elite instead.
This led also the normal people to follow the direction, starting trends like eating organic, palm-oil free, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, quinoa-avocado diets, etc. Just to be clear, maybe some people really have the biologic need to be part of one of those categories (such as gluten free diet for celiac people. ) but for mostly of them is just a trend: a way to feel different from the others and be part of the cultural elite. Social networks amplified this effect, having people competing to show that they are better than the rest of people/friends.
This illusion of cultural superiority makes them feel also satisfied with their real life too. Obviously as more people follow a trends, it become less “elitarian”, so people needs to find new niches sometimes as ridiculous as “smart-water”.
So all this struggle for feeling special… is not feeling special the worst that a human can experience? well no, there is something way worst and is not having a purpose in their life… but this is an argument for the next article.