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Post No.: 0650symbols


Furrywisepuppy says:


Our social standing is a contextual and subjective rather than objective construct. We can be simultaneously respected highly by some groups and looked down upon by others. This is also why symbols that apparently signify prestige will change over time and place.


For instance, pineapples were once displayed as symbols with huge snob value in European high society, when they weren’t and aren’t anything quite so special to the relatively poorer people living in the places they were generally grown, like in the Caribbean islands.


Being tanned implies or implied a high social standing at certain times, whilst being pale implies or implied a high social standing at other times. Lighter skin meant one didn’t work on the fields outside because one wasn’t a peasant. But when jet planes and package holidays started to become a thing – to people who lived in relatively temperate climate countries, having tanned skin implied one was wealthy enough to travel to hot destinations on holiday.


Obesity once symbolised one’s wealth and power because one couldn’t feed oneself that much if one was destitute and frugal. But once obesity became associated more with the poor as cheap fast food became a thing – becoming skinny implied that one was as far away from the poor as possible.


And it’s not just time but place – for instance a caste system based on skin colour still persists in at least some rural parts of India today.


So culture dictates the specifics of whether being curvy, muscular or slim, or wearing obvious makeup or sporting a ‘natural look’, is considered more attractive – and businesses constantly look to exploit the insecurities of people who want to fit the desirable image of the day, or look to exploit the vulnerabilities of people who virtually need to fit the desirable image of the day otherwise they will be ostracised by others. There will be products being sold that promise to give their customers the look they desire, whether they will be dangerous or illegal or not, affordable or not, and whether they will actually even truly work or not.


Despite knowing that an image can be ‘plastic’ – with all these products and industries that sell ways to fake one’s perceived enhanced beauty and stature – enough people still voluntarily play the game themselves, and will believe what they see by virtue of judging other people’s apparent statuses according to how they look. People still care about symbols like how sun-kissed their skin looks even though they know it can be easily faked. And people still trust in and judge others according to the way they look even though they know that many symbols can be easily contrived. From my doggy perspective, humans are weird! I can smell right through to the truth, and for the most part I don’t care about and therefore won’t judge how you look anyway. You don’t have to feel insecure around dogs or cats. Woof!


And it’s not really about health but trying to enhance one’s perceived social image. It can give people confidence for sure, but only because they believe that it will improve their social image. Would most of them continue to put on their bronzer if no one could see them? At least it’s healthier than deliberately getting darker skin through UV radiation sources I suppose. Yet displaying the apparent symbols of status is not about health because some people will go as far as harming their own well-being for the sake of vanity, like starving themselves. ‘Appearing’ is hierarchically more important than ‘being’ in social life, especially in this social media age.


Desirability is contextual. When real fur coats were once desirable symbols, there were fake fur counterfeits being sold. But when genuine fur fell out of fashion due to ethical reasons and fake fur got really good at emulating real fur – real fur was sometimes being sold as fake(!) Whatever is easiest for shady businesses to maximise their profits will be done. (I understand the wearing of pelts in places where modern clothes aren’t accessible, and natural leathers are still functionally more durable than synthetic leathers where necessary, but I personally think fur – real or fake – as a fashion choice looks loopy on any animal other than the animal it originally belonged to! I once knew of an eccentric numbat called Wensley who wore a moulted lobster shell. And it wasn’t a forfeit for losing a bet! He really thought it looked classy on him. My reaction to seeing him in that shell is similar to the reaction when I see humans wearing a furry animal’s coat; unless they’re trying to go deep undercover in a mink farm…)


Only the people and stuff we worship or desire have psychological power over us, as expressed in Post No.: 0606.


And if such things are merely subjective, contextual or cultural, and not objective, intrinsic or immutable – then one has a choice as to whether to follow or believe in any supposed status symbols or fads or not. I did mention that sometimes people feel coerced by social norms because of the sometimes genuine threat of being discriminated against according to how they look on the surface, such as if they don’t try to hide their honestly tired eyes or spots/pimples with makeup (which shows that honesty is hardly always rewarded in this society) – but instead of capitulating to social coercion, we should challenge toxic social norms and voice the fact that we don’t want to be a part of perpetuating shallow and frequently faked ideals. (If all deceptions were punished and all truths were rewarded then lying would’ve eventually evolved into an extinct behaviour. It evidently hasn’t.)


Businesses that market the concept of ideals won’t help us though – they want to keep us feeling insecure so that they flog more of their products. They espouse empowerment in their adverts, but not without using their products i.e. ‘you can feel confident… but only if you buy our product first’! Your todger is too small, but if you buy this then it’ll look bigger! Honest ;).


The ultra-rich find it most easy to engage in one-upmanship to try to differentiate themselves from the rest, such as with white tie (with decorations) events from black tie events in the modern day, hypercars from supercars, and I guess space rockets from private jets (albeit they’re corporate ventures at the moment with a grander purpose – yet it’s not unfeasible that one day the ultra-rich will have their own private space rockets too, and private space stations, and so on because the escalation of status symbols has no limit). I do find it strange that car reviewers will go into depth about how fast a hypercar can go and how well it handles when the vast majority of their customers will barely drive them anywhere near their engineering limits! They really are largely just for posing. And there are environmental costs to the planet for all this ‘just for posing’. (But I guess the ultra-rich will be fine on their private space stations.)


The material stuff we buy can be primarily functional, like to keep us warm or to transport us; but they can also be about signalling our identity, like symbols of our level of wealth and cachet, or symbols associated with the groups we choose to – or try to – align with (in at least a superficial, pretentious way).


Status isn’t just communicated via material possessions though but via achievements and behaviours like risk – in which case, people will take ever greater risks to try to stand out from the crowd, like when content creators perform ever more dangerous stunts to gain views for their videos.


A great deal about human social life is about ‘show’ – about symbolism, image and impressions. A boss must have the biggest chair in the office to show who is boss (even though it’s just a chair). A president must physically visit the scene of a disaster to show that they care (even though they cannot do anything practical by personally being there and directing sufficient relief funds there would be far more useful, although they could fail at doing that too). The statistics reveal that plenty of people continue to use their petrol or diesel cars every day, fly abroad on holidays, waste food and so forth – but as long as they show how guilty they feel about it and verbally express that they care about the environment in public then the lack of enough actual climate action will be excused within everyone’s own personal circles.


If certain fashions or status symbols start to become exaggerated to clearly ridiculous proportions in one-upmanship (like fake lip fillers or implants), or become copied too much and therefore become quite common (because it gets cheaper), or later become associated with someone or something undesirable (such as someone who we’d rather not appear to be imitating, flattering or associated with) – then new trends or fads will start.


Fashions in general constantly change because there are no hard and fast, truly objective rules (such as whether the combination of red and green, or blue and green, should ever be seen together – nature doesn’t have such rules if you look at flowers for instance). And when cultures run out of new ideas, it cycles back to some old ideas because in hierarchical societies, the rich – and more consciously the wannabes – will always want to try to do anything to differentiate themselves from the common or poor.


A major problem with feeling that one has or deserves a higher social standing than others (whether others think of us as possessing or deserving that standing or not) is that it can make us feel less empathy towards those who we perceive as having a lower standing than us. It can make us more selfish, self-important, self-righteous, self-entitled and ultimately make us think we’re better than others. It leads to those kinds of discriminations. That’s why they’re not just harmless fashion trends. And I’ve also got to mention, once again, the environmental, and ethical, costs of (ironically shallow) stratified hierarchical societies too.


Woof. Many people think dogs care a lot about social hierarchies and being ‘leaders of the pack’ – but probably no animal is more preoccupied with that sort of stuff than humans are.


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