Unspeakable Arrogance

Pretty much everyone thinks they are better than some of the people they meet. Not better on all possible features of course, but better on the features that matter most to them. But it seems to be arrogant to say “I often think that I am better than other folks I meet”, and especially so to say it about particular people. As in, “I am better than George.”

But for the purposes of this post, I’ll have to own up to this. I am in fact often disappointed by the people I meet. For me it is mostly about their intellectual curiosity and abilities in conversation. They either show little interest in fundamentally interesting things, or they show interest but seem incapable of effectively engaging such topics. C’est la vie.

Interestingly, my feelings often go beyond mere disappointment into full irritation – it bothers me to share a room, a department, a firm, a stage, etc. with them. Sometimes I am even angry. Yet such irritation makes a lot less sense that it would seem.

Consider how I would treat a dog, or a young child with similar intellectual capabilities. Abilities that are disappointing in someone with whom I’d share a stage could be quite impressive in a dog or a young child. I imagine I’d be quite happy to associate with such a dog or child, and hardly irritated at all by their lack of capacity. I could easily find activities that they and I would find mutually enjoyable. And I imagine that if I were a racist, classist, or sexist, surrounded by those who shared my racism, classism, or sexism, I could find ways to associate comfortably with my race, class, or gender inferiors, as long as it were clear to all that they were my inferiors.

I’m led to conclude that it I’m not so much irritated by the low abilities of associates, as by rivalry and how my associating with them will reflect on me. If they don’t share my low opinion of them, I’ll have to either hide my opinion, or to create a conflict by expressing it. And even if they do share my opinion of our relative abilities, others might see me as arrogant to visibly acknowledge it. Since there are lots of ways to lose and few ways to win this game, I’d rather not play.

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