Thanks to N/M/A for the photo.
While watching a PBS special on the mating rituals of a South American tree frog, one might be hit by the silliness of animals. Their odd behaviours, constant preening and advertising of themselves as Good Mates; or The Sole Proprietor Of This Selection of Females; or even The Real King Boss of This Arbitrary 3.5 square Meters of Forest. "That's silly", one is tempted to scoff, "dumb animals certainly are."
And yet, here we are, monkeys with a particular talent in tool-making and written language, gawking at "Cribs", or enviously tracing the outlines of our neighbours new German engineered status-mobile. As various philosophers have stated in various epochs, one can't measures oneself in relation to others. Or to put it another way, "[the average dutch citizen] considers the perfect wage to be 10% more than their neighbour".
Most people, most of the time (even if subconsciously) compare ourselves to others.
Which, I suppose is human. Everyone wants to feel like their are top dog. Or at least, you know, not bottom dog. That one's place on the status ladder isn't entirely insignificant. But it's -- to my hippy sensibilities -- despicable. Why can't one be happy just about one's happiness. Why must it be a zero sum gain? Why are we constantly jostling and bumping everyone else in ever shifting completely artificial, self-imposed hierarchy?
Ah, an endless stream of why questions is just the universe's way of telling you that you're a whiny sod. And besides, I hear many of you think. "I'm certainly not like that. I live my life free of comparison and envy!" You apparently also shit perfect 10 carat princess cut diamonds and sweat the sweet nectar of ambrosia from your brow, all the while writing a pithy yet compassionate letters to the editors of Utne and Mother Jones, and a thank you letter to the Paris Review for publishing an entire issue devoted to your iambic pentametric hybrid haikus about the state of chlorofluoro-carbons and their impact on sub-temperate Uzbekistan.
It's not like we mean to do it. But we monkeys are naturally hierarchal creatures. We do not live vast amounts of time by ourselves (like the polar bear), we evolved to live and cooperate in groups. Having structure, having this person above that person, this person below that other person, is a natural instinct. It's why we have/had royalty, it's why we have "Entertainment Tonight", "E! Daily", and whatever other 'news' program out there that feature impossibly beautiful people who have more than 6 hours a day devoted to their skin, fitness, and karmic well being all the while decrying the state of this cause or that atrocity that we huddled masses have until now been blissfully unaware.
It creeps up on us. There are all sorts of ways : talking about how much better you feel being on the 100-mile diet is a pretty subtle one (although the mock suprise as your friend tells you they don't know what it is, after which you barely contain your smugness as you discuss Carbon Footprints and sustainable eco-living is less so); going for that extra degree of discomfort in your yoga class while trying to maintain an aura of relaxed enjoyment; constantly bringing up the Japanese version of every film and talking about how it's so much better (but only in it's subtitled form).
In our enlightened society, the brag has taken subtle, insidious forms. It does nothing more than to show all of us are little more than boors. Not too far removed from the cigar chomping hummer driving nouveau-riche who walks around with a swagger and a well-worn copy of "Atlas Shrugged".