Tag Archives: status

Lawns

Ran Prieur again:

June 23. Zimbabwe bans urban farming (dead link unrecoverable). They make ecological excuses but the real reason is to keep people dependent on the domination system for their food. Police threaten to destroy the crops, and they urge people to plant flowers and lawns! Here in America we have the same rule, but it’s enforced with subtle propaganda associating flowers and nice lawns and clean (dead) supermarket food with higher social status. In a few years when we get desperate, they might have to use the police, or robot aircraft loaded with herbicides.

Lawns take a lot of effort — you have to mow the damned things every week or two, and if you want to get them to be green and free from weeds, you have to put in that effort too — and produce nothing but status. Why do we have lawns?

My father once told me that, one year when he was growing up, his father got it into his head to have the best lawn in the neighborhood, so he set all his children to mowing, watering, and weeding it, which was apparently a lot of work.

Around here, the biggest ‘weeds’ are dandelions — they’re edible (that is, useful) and they don’t look bad, but the status-game says you have to get rid of them.

My mother used to have a cherry tree in her yard. Half of it was dead, but the other half put out some cherries every summer. The thing was ugly, because half of it was dead, but it was useful. She kept it against the protests of her neighbors until her lawn service cut it down — which she couldn’t stop because none of them spoke English.

Lawns are useless, and dandelions and cherry trees are useful. The status-game of the lawn requires burning utility. This is not an uncommon pattern: conspicuous consumption is the same way.

It’s possible to have status-games that protect utility: the old Calvinist status-game of frugality is explicitly oriented against conspicuous consumption. A penny saved is a penny earned, so if you don’t save your pennies, you’re one of the poors. The problem is that there are always forces aligned against this — if you grow your own food, it doesn’t get counted in the GDP, and if you save your pennies, you’re not passing them off to some corporation to let them get the larger profit margins that come from the exchange of money for status* — so it requires a great deal of coordination (and a great deal of coordination-promoting homogeneity) to protect it. The Calvinist virtues are not very popular anymore.

* I’m guessing here; I don’t actually know whether the profit margins are larger. Status is a form of value, so imbuing a product with status means it can be sold for a higher price than otherwise, but maybe it’s made up for by advertising costs or something.

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How much is status worth?

If a rich and noble Khitan citizen wishes to bind his head in a turban [as a symbol of high status], then he pays [to the government] seventy head of oxen and camels, and a hundred horses, and he is given a Khitan title, which is called sheli.

Wu Gui, Miscellaneous Notes on the Lands North of Yan, 1061 (source)