Being Poor With Style

  • Posted on: 27 November 2019
  • By: David Trammel

In last week's Ecosophia post Dancers at the End of Time, Part Three: A Mortal Splendor Greer made this comment:

"MichaelV, true, and they also don’t know how to be poor with style. It can be done; it’s just that most people now have forgotten how to do it."

If you take Greer's writing seriously, as I do and many others both Green Wizards and not, you have come to understand that we are headed into a cycle of downward de-growth. The energy and resources just aren't there any more. Its getting harder and harder to mine and extract what our energy intensive civilization uses to just get by, let alone continue endless growth.

Yet for at least the last half century the machinery of that civilization, fueled by energy has made the life of most of the people in Western and now some Asian cultures the envy of medieval Kings and Queens. The opulent over spending and extravagant (and sometimes decadent) excesses once reserved for the rich and powerful, which once were the markers of style and something for the Masses to expire to with envy, are now available for those Masses as well.

Made me wonder, just what being poor with style might mean? To answer that we must look at what "style" actually is and why we seek it.


Peacock Feathers and The Right To Breed

Consider the male Peacock.

That great tail has to come at a huge cost, in energy from food, to grow. It doesn't protect you like a sharp set of claws and teeth. It doesn't help you run faster and get away from hungry predators quicker. It serves only to signal to a potential mate that you are the best and she should let you breed with her?

Style and the status it brings is kind of like that peacock tail.

For most of our long evolutionary history, style for humans has come down to are you the baddest bro in the tribe. This mostly means the biggest, most skillful hunter and fighter, able to bring in food and provide protection. Raising human children, like many large mammals takes a lot of time and resources. For a woman, there is a great advantage to have a mate who is all those things to help her raise her children.

As human culture evolved from simple tribes barely getting by into more complicated and nuanced society, that desirable style of the biggest and baddest broadened to include non physical traits too. The smart male became stylish. The specialist who was skilled at making flint spear points could count on his status to get him a mate sometimes too. This broadening of the definition of style expanded as human groups got bigger. As living in caves gave way to living in villages and then towns. Specialists grew in importance as their skills contributed more to the welfare of the group. There was always a place for the warrior but the land holder, merchant or tradesman tended to accumulate more resources which a woman could use to improve her life and her children's.

Humans are social animals and once our basic needs are meet we often put energy into things that seem on the surface to not be survival related.

"Human beings become more preoccupied with social status once our physical needs are met. In fact, research reveals that sociometric status (respect and admiration from peers) is more important for well-being than socioeconomic status. Furthermore, studies have shown that negative social judgment is associated with a spike in cortisol (hormone linked to stress) that is three times higher than non-social stressful situations. We feel pressure to build and maintain social status, and fear losing it."

You see this play out especially among children and young adults. Who hasn't witnessed a child throwing a tantrum because their parents didn't buy them the latest thing that everyone cool has?

'Arrogant' son pushes BMW given to him into river because he wanted a Jaguar

First television and now modern social media has only amplified this trend. Now we have "Influencers", people whose only claim to status and style being their selfies and their posts to their accounts, racking up thousands of "Likes".


The Accepted "Style" Changes When The Elite Can Not Stand Out Anymore

Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class—A Status Update

"I was bewildered when I encountered a new social class at Yale four years ago: the luxury belief class. My confusion wasn’t surprising given my unusual background. When I was two years old, my mother was addicted to drugs and my father abandoned us. I grew up in multiple foster homes, was then adopted into a series of broken homes, and then experienced a series of family tragedies. Later, after a few years in the military, I went to Yale on the GI Bill. On campus, I realized that luxury beliefs have become fashionable status symbols. Luxury beliefs are ideas and opinions that confer status on the rich at very little cost, while taking a toll on the lower class.

In the past, people displayed their membership of the upper class with their material accouterments. But today, luxury goods are more affordable than before. And people are less likely to receive validation for the material items they display. This is a problem for the affluent, who still want to broadcast their high social position. But they have come up with a clever solution. The affluent have decoupled social status from goods, and re-attached it to beliefs."

Rob Henderson's experience is probably pretty common on college campuses with Woke culture and the hyper need of young adults to conform to the "style" of their peers. Its natural to rebel when you are young but in my experience, its important to know when how you are rebelling is for a meaningful cause or just rebellion for rebellion sake.

Its also important to know when someone is using you.

I would argue that it is time for a "counter style". One that throws out the false narrative of endless growth, excessive consumption and the "Myth of Progress". Those false styles aren't going to help our civilization adapt to the Long Descent and a World Made Harsh. A new style which values voluntary austerity, a respect for Nature and a desire to make yourself a better person. Though it is not a style you can preach that others do, but one you must lead by example.

That's how you be poor with style.


I like Terry Pratchett's idea, based on the monks of cool.

What is cool? Yo, it's anything I choose.

This may not be up to date in the trends, but hey, so what? If I choose to live this way, it must be cool.

Teresa from Hershey

David Trammel's picture

Came across this post:

Really liked this quote:
"“If a person gave away your body to some passerby, you’d be furious. Yet you hand over your mind to anyone who comes along, so they may abuse you, leaving it disturbed and troubled – have you no shame in that?” —Epictetus"