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Snobbery Blinds us From Seeing What's Truly Good
You've never read Proust?!
“Every adult life could be said to be defined by two great love stories. The first—the story of our quest for sexual love—is well known and well charted, it is socially accepted and celebrated. The second—the story of our quest for love from the world—is a more secret and shameful tale.”
— Alain de Botton
It is uncomfortable to admit that we love attention: as much as we’d love to spread the virtue of humility with the sincerity of a preacher’s passion, deep down inside, there’s nothing that tastes quite like the reward of being attended to.
Because how can we not?
Up until a certain age, we were given attention by adults just by being small and cute. The adults smiled at us, waved at us, complimented our shoes, and they chimed along to whatever we were interested in. Then, suddenly, we grew up and everything became merit-based: we get a pat on the head for getting good grades, the adults only applauded when we outdid our peers at music or sports—even when we became adults ourselves, the striving for attention never stopped. We want our boss’ word of approval, we compete with our peers for the spotlight or “likes” from strangers.
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We are taught that a bit of competition—that is, social comparison—is good. It motivates us to do better, be better. How else would we be able to know who we were if we didn’t have a neighbor who was doing a tad bit better or worse? From this, we became status-conscious.
We want to know where we stand, and that we stand, on some scale of value in the world. Status provides us with freedom and resources that a lack thereof would not have.
If all we wanted was a living wage, “what then are the advantages of that great purpose of human life which we call bettering our condition?” Adam Smith questions, “to what is all the toil and bustle of this world? What is the end of avarice and ambition, of the pursuit of wealth, of power and pre-eminence?” Sure, a plumber can make more than a banking analyst, but there is something intangible, perhaps an air of nobility, to our occupation.
The greatest irony of snobbery is that the term “snob” originates from “s.nob.” which was an abbreviation of sine nobilitate, Latin for without nobility. It was written after the names of those who did not come from aristocratic families, distinguishing them as commoners.
Its original meaning, combined with its modern pejorative use, means that a snob is someone who is phony and pretends to be of higher socioeconomic status than they actually are by associating themselves with topics that are typically the natural pastimes of true nobility.
In other words, snobbery is the outward expression of one’s inner anxiety about their social standing, or, how others might see them.
It’s the proud sommelier who rolls her eyes when you pick out the cheap wine.
It’s the creased-pants-wearing Latin-reading classical fan who looks at you like you just called their firstborn ugly if you told them that you can’t tell the difference between Bach and Scarlatti.
While there is such thing as good, better, best, the snob fails to correctly judge true skill, virtue, or nobility:
They mistreat the wealthy patron because they dressed shabbily that day, they don’t glance twice at the world-renowned cellist playing on the metro platform, they walk past the million-dollar Rubens simply because it’s sitting on the shelf of an antique store instead of being displayed under the delicate spotlight of an art gallery.
This is because snobs fixate what they deem as “good” along the metric of status; therefore, virtue is only associated with those who already have fame and social standing. This is why snobbery is an expression of status anxiety. It’s the fear that we will be seen as ignoble if we let our images loose—God forbid we are seen wearing sweatpants at the opera, or that we forget to tell people we work as a lawyer at a prestigious firm. While dress-code and taking pride in one’s accomplishments can be good things, using the image of such to prove that we are of a certain social standing can be off-putting.
“Snobbery is the pride of those who are not sure of their position.”
— Berton Braley
Snobbery is a shell constructed out of status insecurity, it is motivated by the fear that if we use the wrong adjective, pick the wrong wine, or identify the wrong composer, our illusory image of nobility will be exposed as a fraud.
Snobbery is the blind pride of those overridden with status anxiety, unable to tell what’s truly good behind appearances.
This means that we ought to judge less and think more—a single impression or trait of a person may not be exemplary of their entire being. The best classical pianist may be stuck inside someone who can not afford music lessons. The so-called maverick painter may only be so because he grew up in a privileged surrounding that encouraged his craft out of niceness, despite the possible lack of true talent.
When we drop this heuristic, we wipe our eyes clean to discern true goodness when we see it. At the same time, when we judge less, we become more charitable to what could be instead of what already is.
“Judgements prevent us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances.”
— Wayne Dyer
Thanks for reading Pluripotent! There’s good stuff on the way…I’ll let you know when it’s here 💌 If you have once made a pledge, I appreciate you very much :)