“Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of societies: those where you can get a shoe shine and those where you can’t,” wrote Roger Cohen in a 2008 Op-ed.
Americans love their shoe shines. The opposite is true of egalitarian societies like France where such a cleaning service “rubs the Gallic egalitarian spirit the wrong way.” But in New York and Chicago, shoe shiners are aplenty.
“There’s something about having someone applying polish to a blithe client’s boots that comforts American notions of free enterprise, make-a-buck opportunism and the survival of the fittest.”
Yet, as Thomas Chatterton Williams so wisely notes, there’s a price to pay for brutal capitalism. As an American expat living in France, he writes: “it’s also nice to live in a society where not everything is for sale. When I landed back in Paris, I placed my heavy bags on a luggage cart, which I unlocked free of charge. It would have set me back $6 in New York.”
Quid pro quo.
As we get older, we care less about looks and more about functionality. When’s the last time you had to have a cool pair of running shoes?
When we’re younger, the things we desire are all about slickness and impressing others. This often meant buying the most popular and expensive Nike sneakers.
The opposite material desires run true between kids and adults as well. Adults like expensive antiques to show off to friends. Children don’t see any value in buying art; they want to make it.
What we want and when we want it depends on age, with materialism being an equal obsession at different stages in life. Neither adults nor children can asses real value. Things are merely things.
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