Monday, 17 August 2009

Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success

Alain de Botton's presentation at TED 2009 has greatly inspired me. (And BTW, the podcasts that come from TED are by far the most informative and diverse thought-provokers I have come across.)

  1. Snobbery: "A snob is anybody who takes a small part of you and uses that to come to a complete vision of who you are. ... You encounter it within minutes at a party, when you get asked that famous iconic question of the early 21st century, "What do you do?" And according to how you answer that question, people are either incredibly delighted to see you, or look at their watch and make their excuses. ... The opposite of a snob is ... the ideal mother ... who doesn't care about your achievements."
  2. Materialism: "I don't think we are particularly materialistic. I think we live in a society which has simply pegged certain emotional rewards to the acquisition of material goods. It's not the material goods we want. It's the rewards we want."
  3. Spirit of equality leads to the problem of envy. "If there is one dominant emotion in modern society, that is envy." That idea that anyone is able to succeed (in terms of social status) makes us all envious of those who have succeeded. "There is a real correlation between a society that tells people that they can do anything, and the existence of low self-esteem." -- because we all feel like failures in comparison to those who have higher social status.
  4. Meritocracy: "A meritocratic society is one in which if you've got talent and energy and skill, you will get to the top. ... If you really believe in a society where those who merit to get to the top, get to the top, you'll also, by implication, and in a far more nasty way, believe in a society where those who deserve to get to the bottom also get to the bottom and stay there. In other words, your position in life comes to seem not accidental, but merited and deserved. And that makes failure seem much more crushing."
  5. Unfortunates and Losers: "In the middle ages, in England, when you met a very poor person, that person would be described as an 'unfortunate.' Literally, somebody who had not been blessed by fortune, an unfortunate. Nowadays, particularly in the United States, if you meet someone at the bottom of society, they may, unkindly, be described as a 'loser.' There is a real difference between an unfortunate and a loser." The result is s higher rate of suicide. "The idea that we will make a society where literally everybody is graded, the good at the top, and the bad at the bottom, and it's exactly done as it should be, is impossible. There are simply too many random factors. Accidents, accidents of birth, accidents of things dropping on people's heads, illnesses, etc."
  6. Ridicule: "When we think about failure, ... what we fear is the judgement and ridicule of others." Newspapers are the prime carrier or ridicule.
  7. Tragedy: "An art form devoted to tracing how people fail." This is a more productive response to failure than ridicule. "At one end of the spectrum of sympathy, you've got the tabloid newspaper. At the other end of the spectrum you've got tragedy."
  8. Transcendence: "The other thing about modern society, and why it causes this anxiety, is that we have nothing at its center that is non-human. We are the first society to be living in a world where we don't worship anything other than ourselves."
  9. Success: "You can't be successful at everything. ... A lot of the time, our ideas of what it would mean to live successfully, are not our own. They are sucked in from ... father ... mother ... advertising. ... So what I want to argue for, is not that we should give up on our ideas of success. But we should make sure that they are our own, ... that we are truly the authors of our own ambitions."

No comments: