Thanks to the rise of capitalism, most people nowadays appear to be enjoying privileges of economic prosperity such as access to a wider range of goods and services. However, Alain De Botton, a renowned author, raises doubts regarding the effect of democracy and economic wealth. Through his book Status Anxiety (2004), De Botton asks the following question to readers—“Are people actually living better lives compared to those who lived in the past?”
Alain De Botton is a writer and a philosopher, well-known for his essays and frequent media appearances. After gaining recognition for his novel Essays in Love (1993), he soon expanded his spectrum to non-fiction starting with How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997). He is loved by many for covering philosophical topics and associating them with social issues. Status Anxiety is also one of his beloved non-fiction works. Through this book, he diagnoses emotional poverty in modern society by elucidating the concept of anxiety as the outcome of humanity’s exchange of emotion for material affluence.
De Botton elaborates on his thesis by providing profound explanation of both the causes behind anxiety and solutions to minimize it. Throughout the first five chapters, he analyzes different origins of anxiety, including Lovelessness, Expectation, and Meritocracy. It is surprising to discover how meritocracy, which is considered a legitimate method to provide opportunities to people who deserve them, is interpreted as the source of anxiety. He then suggests solutions that can decrease anxiety by providing directions in five different areas. Throughout the delineation of these solutions, he enhances the plausibility of his theory by referring to various historical facts and theories developed by renowned scholars.
▲ Author Alain De Botton. Provided by youtube.com
Even though De Botton presents a meaningful viewpoint, his perspective also contains logical fallacies that work against his persuasiveness. Most importantly, he hastily generalizes anxiety as a social problem that should be eradicated by concentrating only on its negative aspects. Even though anxiety itself carries a negative connotation, it is in fact necessary since it exerts positive influences as well. Anxiety has functioned as the source of advancement and reformation throughout history by motivating people to pursue change instead of stagnation. Therefore, efforts to minimize anxiety might result in the creation of a stationary society where social awareness and criticism are nonexistent.
Another question that can be raised by readers is about the ambiguity of the solutions that he provides. All five solutions are vaguely suggested in that they simply urge people to change their perspectives toward society in five different aspects. However, a solution needs to include specific and realizable guidelines in order to be effectively implemented in reality. Therefore, by suggesting a shift in viewpoint, he only mentions the ultimate goal of the resolution without clarifying the specific process of accomplishing it. In order to make these solutions more convincing and feasible, he should have provided directions regarding realistic reforms that can eventually result in a change of viewpoint.
While most people consider economic affluence to be a bright side of modern society, this book questions this optimistic perception that people take for granted by emphasizing the subsequent emotional poverty. Still, it contains logical errors, and it definitely would have received more applause if it had provided concrete solutions without any hasty generalization. Nevertheless, this book deserves more attention since it will activate efforts to reduce anxiety in our society.