Friday, August 18, 2023

How We Think - Status

Do you buy a fancy car for your own enjoyment, or because how you think others will perceive you?

NOTE:  This is an older posting from 2020 that I just completed today.

Human nature is a funny thing, and often best left unexamined.   It is like turning over a rock and seeing all the creepy-crawly things underneath.  Gross!  Yet confronting this reality - the reality of life - is often more instructive and useful than living in a pretend world.

Take something as simple as a car.  When you think about owning a fancy car, do you think about it in terms of how much you would enjoy it, or how others would perceive you going down the road?  Seems like a dumb question, and 99% of people would answer the former and not the latter, but 99% would be liars.

I've owned a lot of "fancy" cars over the years - maybe not a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, but fun cars, cars that were fun to drive, had convertible tops, and looked nice.   Cars that got you noticed - and that was part and parcel of the fun, but also sometimes a detriment.  There are times - other than robbing a bank - when you don't want to get noticed.

When we had the M Roadster, it attracted a lot of attention. And sometimes, you don't want a lot of attention. Kids in clapped-out economy cars would try to race you - and nearly kill themselves or others trying to catch up.  It wasn't worth it. That and while some might say, "nice car!" as if you built it by hand, others would just write you off as a "jerk with a fancy car."

Quite frankly, I was more satisfied with older cars I had fixed up.  My old Fiat was more rewarding (if not more frustrating on occasion) because I had brought it back from the brink.   The M Roadster?  I put gas in it, such was my interaction with that car.   And merely using a product is not as interesting - nor does it provide one with any sense of accomplishment.   Actually doing things, instead of just owning things, is one way to avoid learned helplessness.

We sold the M Roadster and bought the hamster, and we love the hamster more. Why?  Because it "blends" in more.  No one is jealous of someone in an economy car. No one resents you as an evil 1%'er.  No one wants to drag race you.  That and it is cheaper to own, by a factor of two.

But getting back to the original question, we all think, when buying a car, a house, a boat, a fancy purse, a nice jacket, or whatever, as to how others will perceive us by dint of owning or appearing with that object.  Even a Starbucks cup-o-coffee is this way - which is why people hold the cup with the label facing out, so everyone knows they didn't buy gas-station coffee or bring their own from home.

Think of a jacket for example. You want one for warmth and comfort, of course.  But clothing is sold on appearance more than practicality. So you spend $1000 more for a jacket that says "Canada Goose Arctic Program" - if you are particularly dense - because you want to impress others.  It long ago stopped being about warmth.  In fact, so many "designer" or "fashion" clothes are wildly uncomfortable - women's clothes in particular provide little or no protection and expose far too much skin - hence the thermostat wars in many offices, as overdressed men in suits sweat profusely, while women in mini-skirts and low-cut tops shiver at their desks.  It is style before substance.

I noted before that women dress for other women for the most part.  When you put on that fancy new outfit you bought at the mall, are you thinking about how men will notice you (they likely won't, unless it exposes a lot of breast meat) or how jealous your girlfriends will be of your new outfit?  Sounds like an ugly question - the answer is even uglier.

Men are no better.  Do men buy a $5,000 watch to impress (and intimidate) other men?  Or do they do it to impress women?  And no, "To tell what time it is!" is not even on the list of suggested answers.

This is not to castigate men or women or you or me - we all do this sort of thing and the best and only thing you can do is to realize that we do it, and act accordingly.  You can't prevent yourself from being human and acting human.  We can realize of course that we are doing it, and at least salvage something from it.

Again, getting back to the M Roadster, we finally woke up one day and realized that it was a wildly impractical car to drive - just as a mini-skirt is a wildly impractical piece of clothing to wear. So we sold it, and got good money for it - enough to buy the hamster, almost.  Could we have avoided a lot of trouble by not buying that car?  Probably.  But I guess sometimes in life you have to have experiences like that, in order to learn.  And I guess also you have to learn to forgive yourself for being human and acting dumb.

I enjoyed owning convertibles.  It was nice, in Florida, as the sun set and the temperatures cooled down, to ride along A1A among the fancy houses and feel the cool salty breezes.  It was nice to ride along the Mt.Vernon Parkway along the Potomac on a cool day with the top down.  It felt good and was fun.  There was that aspect to it. But another aspect was, well, one feels more attractive, sexier, and of course projects wealth and sophistication (or so we think) when riding along in a fancy set of wheels - or a fancy suit of clothes, or carrying a take-out bag from the gourmet store.  There are two sides to this - the practical and the status.

As I get older, I find I crave status less and less - but still crave it.  We eschew status as we get older as it is expensive and we have limited means.  I think we also learn over time that it is fleeting and worth nothing.  Whether someone you don't know is impressed by your car, your boat, your coat, or your shoes, is really irrelevant.  Yet, we still crave it.  When we bought the truck, I was shopping for a new stripped 2-door XL with a tow package.  Mark saw the King Ranch and "had to have it."  It has a nice features and is comfortable - and yes, we look down our noses at those plebes in their XLT's and Lariats.  Someone please remove these poors from the road, they are hampering my progress!

So it is not avoidable, I guess.  Like a chronic illness, the best you can do is manage it.