In the 18th century in European society, people equivalated wealth and becoming wealthier as a step heading in the right direction. Rousseau, one of my favorite 18th century philosophers, did not believe this to be true. He was stagmant in his belief that this psuedo-progress was, in fact, destroying society’s morals. Wealth has a destructive influence on the morality of human beings.
Rousseau theorized that society is constructed and fueled by a desire to please one another, impress one another, and collect compliments and approbation. Basically, people were, and are, perpetually seeking to please one another. According to some 18th century Europeans, this principle of admiration allows a person to create a civilized and cultivated society. For 21st century humans, this is all still very true. We all live in a state of approval seeking that constantly influences our choices. Are we using the right phone, driving the right car, wearing the right clothes? Are we insta-famous yet? How many likes and followers? Societal categories of social class, from the elite to the working class, have practically always existed. In the past, people recognized wealth mainly through clothing. Today, elites continue to be instantly recognized through their affiliation with beautiful, top brand, fashion-week-ready clothing, whereas less priviledged classes are not.
Through fashion and clothing, the world can see a person’s wealth. This was true in the 18th century, and it continues today. Top fashion and name brand is not “just fashionable” – it’s elitist, classist, and even a tad egotystical. Through this faux means of advancing towards perfection, we lose ourselves. I think our deperate need to dazzle people stems from feeling desperate and in dire need of filling an emptiness inside us.