Negative social judgments often serve as guardrails

Friday, May 17th, 2024

Troubled by Rob HendersonAt Yale, Rob Henderson explains (in Troubled), he had some friends in the ROTC program who weren’t from the upper class, either:

When we were kids, chain restaurants like Applebee’s and Olive Garden were considered “fine dining.” That was where people with money went out to eat. Upon meeting real rich people, we realized none of them went to such restaurants, except as a novelty. I later suggested to Nick, Esteban, and some other students that we go to the Cheesecake Factory. One guy asked, “Are we going there ironically?” I flatly said no and ordered some Buffalo Blasts.

I realized that even dietary choices reflected class differences. Yale dining halls had soda fountains that nobody used, save for the one nozzle that dispensed water. The halls also offered “spa water,” which was water flavored with cucumbers or strawberries. I’d always associated that with rich people on TV. I mentally contrasted this with my high school, where I couldn’t go more than ten minutes without seeing someone carrying a Powerade or a Pepsi. There was a striking absence of obesity among the students — many of them seemed to be preoccupied with their weight and image. I learned a term I’d never heard before: fat shaming. It was remarkable that students who seldom consumed sugary drinks and often closely adhered to nutrition and fitness regimens were also attempting to create a taboo around discussions of obesity. The unspoken oath seemed to be, “I will carefully monitor my health and fitness, but will not broadcast the importance of what I am doing, because that is fat shaming.” The people who were most vocal about what they called “body positivity,” which seemed to be a tool to inhibit discussions about the health consequences of obesity, were often very physically fit.

The luxury belief class claims that the unhappiness associated with certain behaviors and choices primarily stems from the negative social judgments they elicit, rather than the behaviors and choices themselves. But, in fact, negative social judgments often serve as guardrails to deter detrimental decisions that lead to unhappiness. In order to avoid misery, we have to admit that certain actions and choices are actually in and of themselves undesirable — single parenthood, obesity, substance abuse, crime, and so on — and not simply in need of normalization.

Indeed, it’s cruel to validate decisions that inflict harm, especially on those who had no hand in the decision — like young children.

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