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Monday, November 30, 2009

What you are

It's always a bit mystifying and off-putting when people adorn themselves excessively.

For the sake of argument, let's define "excess" as anything with no added utilitarian value, for instance expensive clothes which are neither more comfortable nor longer-lasting or noticeably better-looking than cheaper clothes. (A forty dollar pair of slacks can look sharper than a twenty dollar pair, but a hundred dollar pair is almost never worth the added cost.) Any showy watch (such as a Rolex or Omega) is also excessive, especially now that cheaper watches tell time so accurately.

The basic conceit is that wearing a higher quality product makes you a higher quality person.

I succumbed to this silly disease myself when I bought an expensive car several years ago. Prior to that, I had driven a Toyota Corolla. But five years of wearing a Corolla in my upper middle class town had left me feeling somehow....tawdry. So, even though I'd always looked down on people who put too much stock in their cars, I purchased a Lexus LS 430. (My standard joke is that now I just look down on people who drive lesser cars.)

For a while, having the car actually did, at some inane level, make me feel as if I were the human equivalent of a Lexus LS 430, a powerful, smooth, and well-designed piece of machinery. I never consciously analyzed it that way, but I did sort of feel that way.

(In self-defense: one's thoughts may be a reflection of one's IQ, but one's feelings are not.)

The only problem was, as I discovered, driving a Lexus does not make you the human equivalent of one. Ever since I bought it, I have only gotten older and weaker and slower and balder. And, now that I think of it, poorer.

The fact is, what you are at the most basic level is your intelligence, your character, and your body. Everything else is just window dressing. I suppose you are also your accomplishments, and some accomplishments can result in having more money. But possessions are still a very secondary definition of who you are.

If Albert Einstein had lost all of his money through bad investments, would this somehow have diminished him as a human being? (He might have felt diminished, but it certainly wouldn't have taken anything away from his accomplishments.) Away from his breakthroughs in physics, he seems to have been a fairly philosophical type, and one senses that he could have weathered the loss of his money better than most; maybe that's a better measure of one's worth as a human being.

I can't seem to recall any pictures of Einstein wearing gaudy jewelry. Neither can I recall any such pictures of Bertrand Russell, or George Bernard Shaw, or Leo Tolstoy. In fact, the very ridiculousness of such an image underscores the basic point:

The more expensive the bauble, the cheaper the human being.

An aside: Can those of us who take pride in our physiques pull rank over those who pay excess attention to clothing, or baubles? Probably -- but not by much. One thing I've noticed over time is that people who pay attention to fitness (ardent triathletes and the like) tend to pay less attention to their clothes. People who pay attention to clothes, on the other hand, tend to pay less attention to fitness (fitness being a related but separate issue from weight). I guess this means that if you meet someone who pays a lot of attention to both, you know he's really vain.

Anyway, my next car will be an econobox. Wearing a Prius means that some will mistake me for a liberal, but I don't care. At least I'll be getting better gas mileage. And, perhaps, hiding my shallowness a little better.

(By the way, have you ever heard a more long-winded justification for not dressing well?)


Anonymous said...

John, it seems that you have Quaker values. You probably strike out on the pacifism thing, but I think you would be happier in one of the following states:
Fairfield county just ain't the sort of place likely to be steeped in Quaker values.
G :)

Anonymous said...

PS I will also try out your logic on my wife who is forever berating my honest NH (lack of) style. "What's the point of being in decent shape if you dress like a schlub???" Familiar perhaps?

John Craig said...

Guy -- It's really not so much that I HAVE Quaker values, it's that I realize I SHOULD have those values. (I haven't given up the Lexus yet.) And actually, one of the few areas where I actually do have those values is on the pacifism thing, especially in regards to our two current wars.

Believe it or not, I was actually brought up as a Quaker till around the age of 12. My father comes from Presbyterian stock, my mother from Shinto stock, I guess they figured Quaker meeting was a good compromise. But asking a young kid (especially THIS young kid) to sit through an hour of silent meeting was too much, and I rebelled. They stopped making us go after my brother and I got into a fight during one of those meetings (I guess I don't pass the pacificism test completely).

John Craig said...

Guy --
(in response to your first comment) It's not so much that I HAVE Quaker values as that I realize I SHOULD have Quaker values. I just fall short as a human being. However, pacificism is actually one of the things I wouldn't strike out on, at least as regards our two current wars.

Believe it or not, I was actually brought up as a Quaker till around the age of twelve. My father comes from Presbyterian stock, my mother from Shinto stock, I guess they figured that bringing us up as Quakers would be a good compromise. But an hour long silent meeting is too much to ask of any kid (especially THIS kid), and my parents stopped making us go after my brother and I got into a fight one time during silent meeting (I guess I don't pass the pacificism test completely).

John Craig said...

Guy --
Some day I'll figure out how to delete or change the comments after they've been posted, I just wrote the above comment for the second time, thinking I had lost the first one, only to see it pop up later.

Anyway, in response to your second comment -- It sounds to me as if you pulled a fast one on your wife. She obviously figured she was marrying some fancy London investment banker, only to wake up and fine out that in reality she was married to a schlub. Sort of the opposite of that kissing-a-toad-to-have-it-turn-into-a-prince thing.

I'll be honest here: my wife went through basically the same process of discovery.

Anonymous said...

A Prius? Really?? For me, it belongs on the list of ugliest cars ever. Just can't picture you driving one, no matter how fuel efficient.

John Craig said...

Anonymous (whoever you are, you seem to know me) -- Thanks you, I guess. My past cars include a Honda Civic and a Toyota Corolla, so I don't mind small cars. Of course, this time around the downsizing may take a little getting used to.

Louise said...

Chirpping in a little late on this post (just found your site). I also drive a luxury auto. Not to look "cool" but more for the comfort and safety feature. I was in an auto accident at 18 in a small honda civic and decided there and then that I would alway drive a large car. Besides, if you can afford the luxury... and the gas, not to mention the insurance, go for it!

John Craig said...

Louise --
Thank you for reading this far back.

I'd like to be able to say my reasons for buying that car were as logical and safety-oriented as yours were, but I'm afraid mine were a touch more ego-driven