We are tempted to believe that certain achievements and possessions will give us enduring satisfaction. We are invited to imagine ourselves scaling the steep cliff face of happiness in order to reach a wide, high plateau on which we will live out the rest of our lives; we are not reminded that soon after gaining the summit, we will be called down again into fresh lowlands of anxiety and desire.
Philosophy, art, politics, religion and bohemia have never sought to do away entirely with the status hierarchy; they have attemptee, rather, to institute new kinds of hierarchies based on sets of values unrecognised by, and critical of, those of the majority. They have provided us with persuasive and consoling reminders that there is more than one way of succeeding in life.
The essence of the charge made against the modern high-status ideal is that it is guilty of effecting a gigantic distortion of priorities, of elevating to the highest level of achievement a process of material accumulation that should instead be only one of many factors determining the direction of our lives under a more truthful, more broadly defined conception of ourselves.