The Status Nightmare

Sometimes I stare at the computer, listening to some meditative music, and wonder why things are so difficult, why it feels like every day is a Herculean battle against all odds, when the real story is just “I’m designing and building some UI for my boring corporate employer.” That’s something I’ve been doing for 25 years, and I can do it half asleep, half drunk, on a kind of autopilot reminiscent of Peter in Office Space just spacing out at his desk.

Truth is that the work isn’t hard. It’s annoying, stressful, time-consuming, full of anxiety and a sense of impending dread, but it isn’t hard. The truly difficult things in life are a step removed from the day-to-day drudgery of modern employment. It’s all wrapped around the status games, the politics of the mundane, the difficulty inherent in being a shitlord in the DEI-HR age.

How do I preserve what I’ve won in life? Holding on to a family, a wife, a job, a life – it all feels like Atlas with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Was it always like that and our generation is merely the first that could air complaints about it across the world? Or are things somehow different?

How do I create an impression of success in a world that harshly judges a man for even the smallest of perceived failures? How do I earn enough money to secure a lifestyle for my family while also accounting for some kind of retirement? How do I add some sort of value to this world, instead of endless corporate-government bullshit, even if it goes unrecognized? Forget fame, forget my name living for a thousand years or some gloriously LARPy and futile legacy. I’d just like to die knowing I did something, somewhere, that was moderately useful.

These aren’t new struggles. A man from 50 years ago or 500 years ago would recognize them and empathize with modern men also experiencing them. But the bar has risen since those days – at least it feels like the bar has risen. Maybe you disagree, maybe not. But if the general tone of Social Media is any indication, the feeling is probably not uncommon.

I look back at my father, who experienced a similar set of troubles, and I recall that the middle-class provider archetype was respected. Work hard, go through the drudgery of white- or blue-collar employment, provide for your family, and it was good enough. Not quite the quasi-mythical legend of the 80s Japanese Salaryman, but something real even so. Hustle, be smart with your money, and you have done something of value, something worthy of respect, emulation, and a feeling of accomplishment.

Many people complain that material living standards have fallen in our day, but I question that. Cars are nicer, faster, and more reliable. Houses are bigger, often constructed better, and contain more fancy upgrades than the 70s and 80s. People have more technological toys, eat out more often, and generally enjoy a mode of life that would have been enormously expensive 40 or 50 years ago. The wine aunt complaining she doesn’t make a living wage is the same person posting pictures from Cabo. The college liberal agitating for the luxury gay space Communist revolution does so from a nicer phone than mine.

Yet the perception of a decline is real, and perhaps it stems from the same place as my own anxiety. The bar has risen. You must accomplish more, earn more, and signal more in order to achieve the same respect and comfort of earlier generations. It’s not enough to be a regular guy anymore.

Fortunately, I’m no longer in the dating market. But what I hear from my single friends is frightening in many ways. Women setting 6-foot filters on their dating searches. $200k salary minimums. People thinking the Instagram lifestyle of exotic vacations and luxury cars is real and achievable for most, and then dinging potential partners for failing to meet it.

In my own world, the Karens of my community are ruthless creatures of status signaling, whispering of poverty and financial struggle because we don’t choose to buy BMWs. It matters little to me, but there are times I can see how the chattering disrespect bothers my wife, and that part gets to me. Our mode of life doesn’t max out on the conversion of cash and credit into status points, and there’s a social cost to pay for that.

So, the vagaries of the dating market can influence the happily married, too. Because like it or not, even married people are in a kind of suspended – but not ended – competition with the dating market in terms of status. Romance fantasies aside, this is just how the world works.

I suspect the status pressure of the modern world contributes to the feelings of dread, shames husbands and wives alike into wanting more, envying more. It’s like an endless search for authenticity and intense feelings that you could probably only achieve in high school with your first love and your first car. An authenticity and intensity buried in youthful ignorance. You didn’t know that you should want more, so it was easier to find excitement and satisfaction.

It’s a search that often winds up in the wrong places. Your BMW will not grant you this feeling. Neither will the fancy couch in the living room nobody uses, nor the likes on your Facebook pictures of that vacation to Barcelona. The plate of food at the fancy restaurant doesn’t give it, nor do the selfies from the box seats at the sportsball game. Status signaling is a strange addiction, like chasing a high you can never have. Buying more doesn’t get you closer to victory because there is no victory.

At least the cokehead got a good feeling from his drugs once upon a time. He’s chasing it for the rest of his life, but it did exist at some point or another.

A friend of mine, who I shall call C, has a wife who I will call K. K is a woman who, like many, thinks herself immune to the status pressures. She and C are well matched together and have two children, a nice home, and a good life. Her friend – I will call her W – is a status-obsessed woman who constantly complains about the inferiority of her own husband because he isn’t tall enough, is too timid, and doesn’t make enough money for her to enjoy the lifestyle she wants. Her rants influence K, who now tells my wife frequently about the failings of her own husband. C provides a very good lifestyle – probably top 5% in the country – to K. But now K is dialed in to the expectations of the world, the chattering of the other women, and it is a kind of happiness poison. W wants to divorce her husband, take his money, and land somebody she perceives as higher status. Will this destroy K’s relationship with C? It remains to be seen. I hope not – C is a great guy, and K was a wonderful woman before the influence of W came into the picture.

C no doubt feels the pressure on himself, now, to earn more, achieve more, and give K an even better life than he already does to defend against this perception. Humans have adapted to understand these kinds of social pressures very well, even if it’s not always conscious. Yet at a certain point, a person can’t do more, can’t earn more, can’t be more. And then what? To my horror, I realized at some point in this tale that if K follows W’s path, she will become the voice whispering to my wife: he should give you more, he’s not good enough. Trade up for someone else. How much of my own fear of losing what I have is rooted in the thought that I could very well be next in the domino chain of status obsession?

Fortunately, I think my wife is smart enough to drop a friendship that becomes poison like that before it happens. But even so, I’d be lying if I said that fear didn’t exist.

Pop culture has long understood the transactional nature of the trophy wife. But we are entering the world of the trophy husband/boyfriend becoming a more common trope, too. Trophy wives were at least given a reasonable standard, be hot/sexy/beautiful. That’s it. Simple enough, if not necessarily easy. For the man to be a proper trophy husband there are many more requirements on top of physical attractiveness. Wealth. Height. But most of all, social status and fame. The percentage of men who can be proper trophy husbands is probably much smaller than the percentage of women who can be trophy wives.

Still, there it is, the ideal of the current age: relationship authenticity replaced with the artificial status signal. My husband/wife is a trophy, which means I’m awesome. Look upon my status (not my works) and despair.

This was probably always the province of the highest elites in the land, to some degree. Political marriages were essentially status plays writ large. But we live in the age where this practice has come down the masses. Every relationship can be a thing of status convenience. There are parallel lives, the one in your head or your heart, and the one on your pictures and posts.

What even is status? Popularity seems to have something to do with it. But even the hated man can have status. Even the beauty every woman loves to trash talk can have status. Status is this thing that resists simple definition, but people generally know it when they see it. It’s not quite popularity, but somehow related.

Star Trek offers an interesting take on status. Supposedly in the far-off future, there is no need for money. Nobody has to work. Replicators can make everything, including other replicators. So, what else is there to do?

A joke circulated on the interwebs some time ago, and I don’t know its origin, but it said that the most unrealistic thing about Star Trek wasn’t the technobabble about tachyons and subspace fields. No. It was the idea that your coworkers were competent. Where are the idiots, the failures, the people who do nothing? Every workplace has them, right? Not the USS Enterprise.

In the world of Star Trek, Starfleet was some kind of elite institution that thrived on status. The Federation’s currency wasn’t gold or fiat money, it was status. Starfleet was presumably where many of the competent status seekers went to farm for status points. Is that why Captain Kirk was so popular with women? He was the Federation’s equivalent of Brad Pitt, rich in everything that meant anything in the society he was born to.

As the environment around us becomes more prosperous in a material sense, the importance of status grows. We move up the Hierarchy of Needs. Where once it was enough to reliably satisfy your physical needs to gain the respect of others… now perhaps you must do much more.

When you’re 16, even having a junker car moved you up the status ladder. Girls swooned over your Civic, the Jenna Jameson of automobiles. When you’re 46, having a brand-new Toyota with all the bells and whistles isn’t enough. It’s not a Lexus, pleb. It’s not a Porsche, peasant. It’s probably always been the case that expectations increase as you age. But what if that’s also true generationally?

People frequently rant about the Boomers, but every generation has had its various fuckups and successes. In some ways, we are victims of the success of the Boomers. They were the 16-year-olds. Gen X and Millennials were born in the later years of the modern West. The expectations are greater. My father could drive around in a piece of crap 15-year-old Dodge Dart that he had to wrench every other weekend, and he was middle class, and worth respecting. Today, lol. You are the poorest of the poor if you drive a 15-year-old car and must wrench it to keep it going.

Many causes in the world today are essentially status plays. Does anybody really know if electric cars are better for the environment? Solar panels? Windmills? I won’t claim that they aren’t. But neither do I necessarily believe claims that they are. The batteries of your electric car use lithium, the mining and disposal of which has all kinds of environmental drawbacks. Does anyone know if the manufacturing environment cost – all of it – is adequately repaid from solar and wind, from battery production? Maybe there are papers and studies that take into account second- or third-order effects and offer some kind of thought on the question.

But I doubt most of the people posting memes about environmental common sense, or even the people making environmental policy read any of them, or care. And, of course, no one wants to admit the status-damaging truth of saying “I don’t know.” You have to know. Your status depends on you “knowing” to some extent. Even if the knowing is just regurgitating what the TV or some Al Jazeera journalist said about it.

Loving the environment is a status signal like any other. And it doesn’t matter what is better, only what seems better to enough people. In 15th century villages, people probably had their own status games, but the connectedness of the modern world has allowed for status signals to normalize across the Earth.

Imagine asking a large sample size of people – and you somehow had a magic wand capable of making them tell the truth – “which would you rather have, true happiness or greater status than all the people you know?”

How many would choose status? And what fraction of people could reasonably say both – i.e. that happiness and status are the same thing? I doubt happiness alone would be very popular.

An old study from 1998 asked people if they would rather make $50k, and the folks they knew made $25k, or $100k, and the folks they knew made $200k. The difference between being better than your peers, or actually living better. Approximately half chose $50k. Status can outweigh even direct material prosperity. This goes a long way to explaining how many people feel that lifestyles have declined relative to older generations, despite so much evidence to the contrary. And it explains why so many are willing to drive themselves into the arms of crippling debt just to signal how much better they are than some theoretical other.

Lifestyle has declined in the sense of status becoming more and more difficult to obtain, and often fraught with risk. If you jump on the wrong social bandwagon too early, you could be canceled. If you jump too late, you are canceled, or you just receive little to no benefit. Today, saying you are for supporting Ukraine with money and arms is expected. You get no status points for saying that, though you could very easily lose them for saying otherwise.

Protesters holding signs or stopping cars on the freeway are competing for the status table scraps, mere leftovers. But if Taylor Swift or AOC says something early enough, the status will flow like the spice.

Communists like to complain about money concentrating in fewer hands and want to share the wealth. But in the modern West, wealth has already been shared, at least to the point of most people living well, materially. Poor Westerners live better than chieftains in much of the third world, and far better than their ancestors. But in terms of status? Ah, that has become rare indeed.

Communists, as it turns out, are focused on the wrong thing – some through ignorance and some through clarity and vision. They want to have a monopoly on status points; to convert your money into their status. The formula is easy enough: whip up the status envy, misapply it to the material, and then profit from the mistakes of the peasantry.

Look at that guy driving his Lambo, says the Communist. How dare he own that when people are suffering food insecurity – itself a near-meaningless term of the DEI-HR Newspeak dialect. Of course, it’s not the guy with the mint condition Countach in his garage whose wealth is ultimately redistributed. It’s yours. And whoever did the redistributing gains status at your expense. It was never about food, or housing, or paying the electric bill. These are levers designed to buy your compliance. The voters see an opportunity for the status crumbs from the elite table, the elite see an opportunity to gain at your expense. Everybody wins, unless you happen to work for a living.

Hey, weren’t Communists supposed to be for the workers? Workers in modern context are low status. The college protester, the OnlyFans star with her own Bentley, the welfare queen with the drug dealer baby daddy, the politician who can’t hold a hammer or pour a beer – these are high status in their respective domains. Not you.

We are well on our way to a twisted Star Trek future – luxury gay space Communism came early, without the space part and with a lot more gay. Captain Kirk is saving the poor cannibalistic masses of Haiti, while questioning xis gender identity, ensuring the USS Enterprise is powered by ethically sourced carbon credits and crewed by black lesbians.

There is no post-scarcity paradise for Man. There is just a boot of status envy crushing a human face, forever. Or at least until reality decides to intrude, and we all wake up from the status nightmare.


Skip to comment form

    • Daniel K Day on April 29, 2024 at 10:10 PM

    Good to hear from you again, Dystopic. I was just wondering this morning if you were really still around.

    • Alt Numlock on April 29, 2024 at 11:42 PM

    These reflections reiterate for me how crucial it has been to be part of the Latin Mass community. This sort of existential angst is just not part of the picture.

  1. This piece comprises a great many aspects of what’s wrong with us.

    We once found satisfaction in being satisfactory. (Remember Nero Wolfe’s characteristic compliment to Archie Goodwin? “Satisfactory,” he would say.) Being satisfactory meant something fixed, not subject to reinterpretation. It meant doing what you should, and doing it well. Doing the right thing, and doing it right. He who could meet that standard had a reason to stand tall. He could meet anyone’s eyes – most important of all, his own.

    A lot of it had to do with focus and context. You were what God had made you and where He had put you, you accepted those things in a concession to divine will, and you did what you were capable of doing within that context. Today, the sense of context is missing, as is the willingness to accept God’s will. Rather than focus on what we can do with what we are, we compare ourselves ceaselessly and pointlessly to others.

    It’s a form of envy, the deadliest of the capital sins. We’re led into it by the media, by the ubiquity of images of what others do and have. We see and hear far more of others’ accomplishments and indulgences than we can cope with. While it’s not entirely a marketing ploy, there’s a hefty component of that in there, as well. The Siren call of those images displaces our ability to accept ourselves for what we are, and our context for what it is. God’s will? What does that have to do with anything?

    And quite a lot of us are dying inside from it.


    • Andrew Ramos on April 30, 2024 at 6:50 AM

    So well written. The chase for status is why my marriage failed after 20 years. We never had enough of anything in her mind. Once we were divorced and I healed from living with a narcissist my life approach changed. At work, I received 3 promotions within 3 years. I am more successful than I ever would have imagined. There are still pockets of our world where doing the right thing, for the right reasons and not blowing your own horn do get rewarded.  Work towards the ‘win-win’ situations and enable the good people around you to do the same. We may not get the title of influencer or the status, but there are still plenty of folks who will respect you and that self-respect is what really matters. 

  2. Wow! I’m Sharing this with everyone I know. Very concise and accurate statement of the problem, and the consequences for society.

    I’m one of those Baby Boomers. At that time, even someone without a lot of money or family influence could have status in our high school. Girls weren’t quite so catty, then. There were those you hung around with, and those you did not.

    But, we didn’t spend our free time chasing views by others, engaging in risky behavior for public consumption, or using the destructive power of gossip and peer pressure to destroy others’ lives or reputations.

    We mostly tried to live our own lives.

    Among my peers, of those who married, less than 20% divorced. Most of us were married for the life of our spouse. We worked, raised families, economized to stretch our budget.

    Dystopia is correct about the destructive nature of chasing status through spending money. Just about all of those divorced had that at the base of their marital unhappiness. And, for women without particular skills allowing them to earn great quantities of cash, using their sexuality to find a better provider was their only option. So, the infidelity wasn’t the root cause of those divorces. 

    It was envy of the possessions of the wealthy (Say, isn’t there a commandment about that?).

    • Scott Freitas on April 30, 2024 at 2:55 PM

    Good, long essay. Being an older American means you don’t type “TLDR”, or have difficulties reading. Our public-government schools used to use phonics, and flashcards, and repetition. It STAYED with us. We weren’t borderline illiterate like so many younger folks, trapped in their Woke prisons, being lectured to by the Woke authority figures etc

    As for the essay, the best solution to status i know of is to Christian. If you are a sincere Christian, you will not value “status” as practiced by Godless people. You will not live your life judging your neighbors and friends by “status.” You are free from being a slave to the beliefs and demands of Godless people. Let them be miserable making payments on their three-year-old Mercedes, while your fully-paid-for 2010 Ford Explorer continues running smoothly.

    The Christian values God, relationships. Using “Status” destroys relationships, severs and separates them.

    With people who employ “status”, people below them are all commoners, ignorant and above all else “un-educated” (refusing to repeat back current cultural mantras). You have no credibility in the eyes of status-seekers. They may at best gift you with some of their valuable time, but they will not consider your words as valid or worth hearing if you are “below” them.

    Most Americans in terms of sheer numbers don’t have to deal with the true “status-seekers”. Most Americans are beneath the notice or concern of status seekers. Status types stay locked up tightly inside their cars while driving. They do not sing at stoplights or share facial expressions with other drivers or anything like that.

    It seems to be a miserable, joyless life to me, the “status-seekers.” I feel privileged not to have to live among them, as a poorer person. They don’t see me while I’m out walking, and I don’t have to pretend to be their inferiors. We get along fine like that.

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