Skip to content

The Function of Cool

“Cool” impresses us – at least in unguarded moments – because it signals surplus:

  • Acing an exam without studying indicates surplus academic ability
  • Making a difficult shot without seeming to pay attention indicates sporting prowess
  • Not worrying about how much a meal costs (or who pays) indicates wealth
  • Risky behaviour (extreme sports, excessive drinking, putting yourself in danger) suggests that you have spare vitality to burn
  • Social aloofness signals confidence in your desirability or social capital…
  • … as does not caring what people think of you and knowingly flaunting convention
  • Sangfroid in general suggests that you have (surplus) control over the situation (or at least surplus self-control)
  • Seeming to reject status roles suggests security and sufficient status
  • Not punctuating your bullet-pointed lists properly suggests that you’re above worrying about such trivialities…
  • … or that you think you are.

I thought I was reminded of this via mention of smoking as a kind of conspicuous consumption in an article on Luxury Beliefs by Rob Henderson, but I can’t find the right article.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...