Is it how fat you are? Or how skinny? An iPhone or Samsung? Clothes, car, house… surely all of these. But like so many things, of course, it depends.
The consumption model flows from conspicuous to discreet, along a kind of progressive continuum, whereby once you achieve a certain stage or level of affluence and find momentary reprieve from keeping up, your benchmark then changes to reflect the new set of priorities of those directly above you. And the fun begins again.
So what if (!) other variables experienced a, um, shift, in their ability to reflect the wealth of their bearer? For example, let’s say that once upon a time only the rich could abandon the bustle of the city and afford lengthy commutes to far flung homes, to live out in the country and venture into town only on occasion. Even if they had to travel in everyday, this too was a sign of how much they could afford to spend on personal transportation. But then the dirty, dangerous city becomes more desirable for some reason, or life in the country less so (bears, Sasquatch) and a switch occurs wherein a long commute is suddenly a symbol of penury, while the short drive or the ability to even occasionally do without a car becomes IT among the fashionable set. Wow. That’s convoluted. You see what we’re up against. But is there another way to have get fancy trains and buses and trams and funiculars?
There’s no way to pull back on burning seas oil drilling without dramatically stepped-up conservation; and there’s no way, in this culture, to make conservation work without making it part and parcel of status and/or something people want. I guess we might at least look at this as something that can happen, however far-fetched it may seem.