November 16, 2015

Persona striving and the end of family

All forms of status striving lead an individual to withdraw investment in others and re-allocate it to the self, the better to climb up whatever pyramid they're trying to conquer. This is easiest to see in family ties since everyone has them. Strivers will tend to lose touch with their siblings, let their elderly parents fend for themselves, and maybe not even bother with having children of their own to take care of.

And yet not all forms of status competition have the same strength of impact. Here I outlined the three basic forms, based on career, lifestyle (external, regular behaviors), and persona (internal, character traits). It looks like the career side will stay closer to family formation, while the persona side will be the furthest removed. Lifestyle strivers may be an exception, preferring more family involvement.

Part of this is because what drives people to seek out status in the persona arena is that the career arena is already saturated, so persona strivers won't have as much income or wealth. Career strivers may be making enough money to pay someone to take care of their parents, whereas a persona striver has nothing to show for their efforts but reputational coolness points. Not exactly what the owner of the assisted living facility will accept as payment. So while career strivers will be remotely involved with their elderly parents, the persona strivers will be removed altogether.

Ditto for paying for all the things and services that go into raising children -- just at the very basic level, let alone all the extra junk that goes along with making them pawns in the parents' status contests.

But there's a separate pathway from persona striving to the divorce from family, aside from having less money. It's that persona construction and maintenance is such an inward-focused set of activities that there's really no way that other people can contribute toward it.

Maintaining ties with siblings or parents could be a way for career strivers to network, get their foot in the door, get a loan, etc. Having children means they have yet another way to show off their wealth -- sending them to exclusive schools, dressing them in expensive clothing, hiring armies of tutors and coaches, and so on and so forth. Every investment in others is an investment away from the self, but at least the other family members can help the career striver recoup some of their lost striving effort.

Lifestyle strivers seem to be more involved in family life. These are the Gen X overly involved parents who want to do everything as a family -- all those activities that make up a lifestyle. They make their parenting style part of their lifestyle identity (parenting being an ongoing set of external behaviors, not a persona). Whether it's the hyper-concerned food-allergy parent or the free range kids parent. They get to express their foodie lifestyle by bringing their kids to the organic yoghurt bar, fixing them striver cupcakes (and posting pictures to social media), etc. They are concerned with their kids learning how to become lifestyle strivers at college, not how to score high-paying jobs.

However, lifestyle strivers appear to not be very connected to their parents, aunts and uncles, or grandparents. Not very much to their siblings either. After all, it's hard to make your mother or your brother enhance your lifestyle points. Your own children don't really have much of a choice about eating your foodie meals, acquiescing to your parenting "philosophy," and tagging along on regular trips to your leisure haunts. There's no room for Aunt Edna in the striver version of family vacation.

Persona strivers have even less use for family in boosting their status points. The whole goal is meticulously crafting and maintaining an image of one's internal characteristics -- how are other people supposed to reveal one's own inner psychology? Not by their actions, which reveal their own inner traits. If they're family, though, perhaps their persona is correlated with your persona based on genetics.

This is terrifying news to the control-freak persona-shaper. Just think -- the audience's perception of your character could get flushed down the drain if your clashing-persona of a father waltzes into the frame. The audience of a story likes to know who the family of a character is, and forms an image of the character in part on that knowledge. Therefore, all family members will be kept very far out of the frame -- outside of the entire artist's studio, and ideally in another region of the country.

The same goes for not wanting to have children. Their actions do not reveal your persona, and their inner traits will be similar to yours by inheritance, but you're not projecting your true self to others in the status contests -- you're portraying your crafted persona. The child doesn't yet have the ability to shape their persona to harmonize with yours and make you look good as the genetic donor. You could try to make it seem that the way you treat and raise your children reveals your persona -- your beliefs, opinions, attitudes, philosophies, etc. But that's really putting you in the lifestyle striver arena, which was already so full that you opted to seek status in the persona arena instead.

It's not impossible to make children play into your persona crafting this way, it's just a lot harder than conscripting them into a lifestyle contest. Dragging your kids to a foodie ice cream parlor, sending them to get their hair cut at a trendy kiddie salon, or hiring a private tutor, doesn't need to imply much about the parents' core personal beliefs, preferences, and attitudes. Merely participating in the activity makes them part of a lifestyle contest, whatever it may or may not suggest about the parents' inner character traits. For persona strivers, parenting decisions would all have to reveal something meaningful about the parents' special snowflake personas -- and how special and unique is it to want your kids to have a decent haircut and a helpful tutor?

So do persona strivers remain totally childless? Not quite -- they may adopt pets, whose own characteristics will either be seen to not reflect the personas of the owners (no genetic relationship), or can be carefully chosen to harmonize with those of the owners. They're more of a decorative item in the LARP-y stage design of their home. But, it is a living creature that needs their care, so it's about the best they can do without risking a major hit to their own personas, or a major distraction from them.

Pets play a different role as substitute children for lifestyle strivers. They are taken out on walks to the dog park (a leisure hangout akin to the cafe that the owner visits), they are taken to the doggie spa, and so on and so forth.

Career-oriented strivers are more likely to want their pets to win at something, the way their owner does -- a dog show, a hunting competition, or some other kind of doggie career.

It's going to be interesting to see if Millenial strivers actually have any kids. Those who are not caught up so much in status contests will, of course, but I mean in a place where competitiveness is high -- the middle-class and above in California, Texas, New York, etc.

And as before, I want to emphasize that it's not just one narrow sub-culture of persona strivers that is cut off from family maintenance and family formation. The wannabe models on Instagram, the YouTube characters, the SJWs on Twitter and Tumblr, or the neo-pagan cosplayers on the right. All of them feel a visceral rejection of their own existing families, and do not seem very interested in making many babies to start a new branch of their family tree.


  1. It wasn't too long ago I heard a lot of talk about authenticity. I guess they gave up on that, coming face to face with your own essential empty uselessness is too dreadful a prospect. Better to craft a persona.

  2. That wasn't so much about being your authentic self, but about adopting the authentic symbols of the persona you were portraying, to make your performance more convincing.

  3. Lol, "An Authentic Replica"

  4. I am in my late 30s and I see a lot of Super Awesome Facebook Families from my peers that go beyond the level of just letting people know what you have been up to recently.

    Most of my childless friends went though a state of arrested development in their late 20s. Like to a letter they basically worked for 5 years while in long term relationships/cohabitation. They ate out but didn't brag, didn't travel, weren't into high fashion, not buying fancy stuff. Then all of a sudden, a couple years ago they all married their LTRs, started talking about craft beer, obscure cheeses, doing international travel, pastries from this or that local place, etc.

    But to back up your theory, the only post 30 people I see working the persona angle are females that are either single or frequently single. Most of them have cats. To those of us with meaningful relationships though it looks rather desperate, because we have on occasion discussed/gossiped about a few of these people.

  5. This focus on career, lifestyle and persona indicates to me that these people just can't "be". Attention is a surrogate for some psychological need going unfulfilled.


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