Opening the door on equality
Most of us open our own doors. We don’t expect others to do it for us, and when they do, it can feel awkward. When people are hired to open doors for other people it is a sign not just of service, on which the tourism industry thrives, but of servitude, on which degradation and narcissism thrive.Servitude comes in degrees that define the level and quality of a resort. The star rating is one way of measuring luxury, with five stars implying the highest in creature comforts. But a five-star rating also implies servitude, which has never fit very well in Aspen.The young men hired to open doors at certain hotels in Aspen are obliged to smile, greet people pleasantly, and open the door. These gestures are intended as a welcome, but they also establish a subservient mien, which has always been contrary to Aspen’s social design.By condoning subservience in our community, we further the growing rift of class consciousness. We also add the door-openers to the ranks of employees seeking affordable housing, which translates to developments like Burlingame.People who work in Aspen ought to be able to live here, but should door-opening be construed as the kind of work that justifies new development? This begs the question of what kinds of employment are necessary, especially when all workers factor into the growing traffic congestion that was featured on last week’s cover of The Aspen Times.Thorstein Veblen, in his book “Theory of the Leisure Class,” coined the term “conspicuous consumption,” meaning the public display of wealth for the purpose of elevating one’s social status. Door-openers represent conspicuous consumption through the excessive consumption of labor.Excess labor in Aspen is not limited to door-openers, but to all labor tailored to extraneous ends. When a household is too large for its residents to care for it themselves, hired labor becomes requisite. Cooks, cleaners, landscapers, chauffeurs, etc. add to a growing labor pool that strains the community’s carrying capacity.Aspen’s growing pains are evident from Parachute to Burlingame, from I-70 to the Highway 82 S-curves. These pains are due to a high demand for labor – first to construct oversized estates, then to serve and maintain them at five-star standards.When Aspen’s small lodges were disenfranchised by the private hotel, aka monster homes, the new level of service exceeded the capacity of the extant, and largely domestic, labor force. The acceleration of excessive services has required importing new ranks of labor that now crowd Highway 82 and overwhelm the local housing inventory.This excess level of service is now part of Aspen’s so-called competitive advantage, even though its impacts are felt in traffic congestion, land development, and expectations for subservience that bear moral and ethical considerations.Veblen writes: “Servants should not only show a servile disposition, but it is quite as imperative that they should show a trained conformity to the canons of conspicuous subservience.”Aspen’s growing pains are attributable to a constant ratcheting up of consumer expectations that define personal luxury and conspicuous consumption as the chief ambitions of our visitors. When that expectant attitude spills over into other, often egregious, social demands, the community pays the price for its overt acknowledgment to the narcissistic baggage of material privilege.The narcissist is a person who feels he’s “entitled to special rights and privileges, whether earned or not … and expresses surprise and anger when others don’t do what they want.” Do we wish to further this type of behavior by acquiescing to excess?Aspen was once renowned as an egalitarian community in which the many strata of its society could co-mingle without pretense or acrimony. Because of an inflated level of service and the subservient image it projects, that egalitarian bias has eroded.Do we really need door-openers in Aspen? Not if we value lower growth rates, reduced congestion, and social equality instead of class consciousness. We might even curtail narcissism by reaching for the door handle ourselves.Paul Andersen thinks a healthy community hinges on equality. His column appears on Mondays.
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