He then takes issue further than career: it is the impulse to be liked by the “best people” — it is the mechanism of social media in our time. The desire to be looked at by those whose attention we desire:
5. This, then, being the main idea of “advancement in life,” the force of it applies, forall of us, according to our station, particularly to that secondary result of such advancement which we call “getting into good society.” We want to get into good society, not that we may have it, but that we may be seen in it; and our notion of its goodness depends primarily on its conspicuousness.
The original of this piece was as a speech, and so at this point Ruskin asks a question. He begins by stating the background: is the only motivation for human behavior acquisition and jealous — at least as for business:
Will you pardon me if I pause for a moment to put what I fear you may think an im- pertinent question? I never can go on with an address unless I feel, or know, that my audience are either with me or against me: I do not much care which, in beginning; but I must know where they are; and I would fain find out, at this instant, whether you think I am putting the motives of popular action too low. I am resolved, tonight, to state them low enough to be admitted as probable; for whenever, in my writings on Political Economy, I assume that a little honesty, or generosity — or what used to be called “virtue” — may be calculated upon as a human motive of action, people always answer me, saying, “You must not calculate on that: that is not in human nature: you must not assume anything to be common to men but acquisitiveness and jealousy; no other feeling ever has influence on them, except accidentally, and in matters out of the way of business.”
He posits a different motivation: love of praise:
I begin, accordingly, tonight low in the scale of motives; but I must know if you think me right in doing so. Therefore, let me ask those who admit the love of praise to be usually the strongest motive in men’s minds in seeking advancement, and the honest desire of doing any kind of duty to be an entirely secondary one, to hold up their hands. (About a dozen hands held up — the audience,partly not being sure the lecturer is serious, and, partly, shy of expressing opinion.) I am quite serious — I really do want to know what you think; however, I can judge by putting the reverse question.
He then puts this into context with duty:
Will those who think that duty is generally the first, and love of praise the second, motive, hold up their hands? (One hand reported to have been held up, behind the lecturer.) Very good; I see you are with me, and that you think I have not begun too near the ground. Now, without teasing you by putting farther question, I venture to assume that you will admit duty as at least a secondary or tertiary motive. You think that the desire of doing something useful, or obtaining some real good, is indeed an existent collateral idea, though a secondary one, inmost men’s desire of advancement. You will grant that moderately honest men desire place and office, at least in some measure, for the sake of beneficent power; and would wish to associate rather with sensible and well-informed persons than with fools and ignorant persons, whether they are seen in the company of the sensible ones or not.
While perhaps not every person finds praise a motivation; or perhaps not every person is affected by the same degree; here is a lever which moves many (if not all) men and women. People will do a great deal simply to be honored, respected, adored.
From this we can deduce that human beings are susceptible to be dragged about their love of praise (and its converse, the desire to not be mocked, attacked, excluded). We must realize two things: First, that we are susceptible ourselves. To think otherwise is to praise ourselves as somehow above other human beings. Second, we should become aware of how this love of praise is used as a weapon to persuade and motivate others.
As for the first: in the words of AA you will have to do your own “searching and fearless moral inventory” (I had to look it up to get the quote straight) on how praise affects you. It is a funny thing about praise — we want it dearly and yet will deny it when asked. It is a bashful desire.
But as for the second, think of how say advertisements work. While not the entire mechanism, there is always the implicit praise for the one who made the right choice. You don’t want to the shunned one who took the wrong vacation, wears the wrong clothes, et cetera. You want to be the person whom everyone praises as being the best: the most in style.
We find great value in praising the best team, the best movie, liking the best song — because then some of the aura of that well-praised person becomes ours by reflection. For example, a book is advertised as being a best-seller, the movie has a record breaking weekend, the song presented some fancy metal “record” award. We want to be part of that — we will buy so that we can partake in the adulation at a distance.
And here is what is funny: we think ourselves better for doing what “everyone” else is doing. Thus, we have a pride of superiority in being part of the crowd (and since when did the crowd know best?).
This persuasive ploy need not be extended or obvious. In fact, if it is too apparent, it will easily be off-putting. But, we smell out our own advancement so easily that we can find the least hint of praise hidden in the middle of a pitch. It is catnip.
Merely consider the advertisements and the pitches of politicians (politicians are the most wonderful of all salesmen, because they most often sell nothing at all; they waive promises, which cost them nothing to manufacture — yet they can sold at great cost).