So my dad discovered that if you shine a laser pointer on the floor, our dogs will chase it. When he first told me, I didn’t believe him. I figured the dogs were smarter than that. My brother, Aksel, on the other hand, thought that it would be really cool and begged Dad to show him. Dad got out the laser pointer and waved the little dot of light under the dogs nose. Sure enough she tried to bite it and chased it all over the living room.
“Cool!” Aksel exclaimed wide-eyed. He made a grab for the laser pointer and Dad let him take it. Aksel zoomed around the living room waving the laser pointer wildly. However, the dogs had stopped chasing it.
The dogs would only chase the light when it was right under their noses, when they felt that they could attain it. When the light was waved wildly around, they would lose sight of it too often and give up.
(And, yes, this does all relate back to the objective vs. subjective nature of food.)
Just as the dogs would chase the laser pointer, humans will chase after symbols of wealth and status. One of the most universal forms of wealth is food, and in the ancient world, this wealth was exemplified by beer and wine. As beer was the foundation for the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations, the quantity of it was what was considered the measure of wealth. Whereas with wine in the Greek and Roman civilizations, the quality of the wine was what was emphasized. (From the south face of this one mountain….) However, this quality was purely in the mind. It was subjective. Now obviously there are some places that are just not suited for growing wine grapes; but if it is grown in the same climate, with the same growing and brewing techniques, it’s pretty much going to taste the same.
This brings us to our definition of pretentiousness.
Pretentiousness: 1) Full of pretense or pretension. 2) Characterized by the assumption of dignity or importance.
The first definition is a “no-duh” definition, thus I will focus on the second definition which is actually useful. Wine in the ancient world was universally assumed to be important because, like the spices, it was extremely hard to get. One had to have participated in far flung trade in order to attain it. This is not cheap and thus wine became a symbol of status. It is not that wine could not have been made in other place in the Mediterranean, it is that it wasn’t considered as good. No one challenged this. Wealthy people had a vested interest in keeping the wine expensive. If the wine wasn’t expensive than anyone could have it. And then it would not symbolize the wealth and power of the upper classes. The status quo would be threatened.
Now this is where people are like the dogs are with the laser pointer. Through out history, people in the lower classes have tried to become part of the upper classes. To do this, they either try to accumulate enough wealth through hard work or conning in order to purchase the symbols of wealth and status, or they kill the upper classes altogether. (I just realized that this entire simile could be perceived as rather degrading and deprecating, so, just saying that it was not intended to be that way.) People need to feel that they have the ability to attain the wealth and status (or at least the symbols of it) in order to accept the assumption that the symbols of the wealth and status are superior. People chose to believe in the symbols of wealth and status in the hope that one day they will be the ones in order to attain them.