The Doctrine of Inferior People
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Inferior relative to what? We all too often refer to people as inferior and neglect to note the standard by which we make that judgement. When we talk about people being inferior or superior we are making a metaphor of height below or above some standard neutral status. We also refer to the distinction as high-class versus low-class, a measurement of relative social status. In Medieval England members of the lowest class of freemen were known as churls and they were regarded as a blight on society. Theyíre still with us and they form a subculture that adheres to an anti-social doctrine that comes from their sense of inferiority. One truly unpleasant product of that subculture, a small subset of churls, is bullies and criminals.
The defect that we tend to associate with inferior people (or churls) consists mainly of ignorance and stupidity, a lack of knowledge and an inability to use knowledge. They are deficient in the very quality that we regard as separating us from the "lower" animals. That deficiency tends to create a propensity to violence. Churls are easy to anger and slow to calm down. They also like loud noises and frenetic activity, disparaging peace and quiet as boring. They also enjoy intoxication and vulgarity, conceiving them as signs of "toughness". These are all things that diminish the mind, so the churlsí doctrine is fundamentally a promotion of sin, an evil one commits against oneself.
Because of that fact, churls are notably anti-intellectual. They revel in their animal nature, judging themselves by physical strength and endurance and by sexual prowess, rather than by intellect. We may think of them as ignorant and stupid, but they would disagree. Certainly, they dislike book learning and detest learned people, because those are reminders of their deficiency. We can say that the inferiority that drives the doctrine is primarily a kind of mental laziness. Anything that requires a significant effort to learn Ė science, philosophy, music, engineering, history, and so on Ė does not appeal to the churls, because they canít conceive themselves as succeeding in these endeavors. Instead, they give their assent to simple versions of those disciplines, often versions that oppose the standard versions (think of Creationism versus the theory of evolution accepted by professional biologists). The churlsí rejection of science and adherence to what we regard as ignorance is their means of diminishing the social status of real scientists and thus exalting themselves.
Physical violence is another behavior that we associate with churls. They conceive sadism and cruelty as "toughness", though itís actually a sign of flimsiness. The desire to hurt people comes from being hurt. Glorying in destruction and violence, the churl seeks to intimidate people away from doing the things that would hurt him and he gets hurt easily. A truly tough person will not treat others worse than others treat them: tough people donít need to intimidate others.
Further, by wielding violence, a bully or a criminal seeks to drive people into subservience so that he can feel superior to them. Itís control of others that makes the churl feel powerful. The ability to control people through coercion or intimidation feels like power, but itís an illusion. The churl is not asserting any power of his own, rather he is controlling other peopleís power. Heís like the driver of a car who steps on the pedal and feels a rush of excitement when the car makes a loud noise and moves fast. The driver feels powerful, though heís exerting no real power at all. Likewise, destruction and hurt are easy to inflict and they create the illusion of power. But engineers and physicists define power as the rate at which a system does useful work and violence is not useful: it is purely destructive. In their efforts to coerce superior people to exert real power for their benefit bullies and criminals expend wasted energy.
In addition, all of that coercion is futile. We generally donít dislike people who grant us benefits (willingly or not), but bullies and criminals hate their victims. The benefits extorted from the victims (and the process of extortion itself) are a reminder of the extortersí inferiority, their inadequacy to function as valued members of a good and decent society. And the violence meets resistence and condemnation from the people who comprise that good and decent society, so only the most inferior of people resort to such tactics.
There are other ways in which churls can assert dominance over others. One fundamental strategy, one used by bullies and criminals as well, consists of inflicting abuse on easy targets, people who are especially vulnerable to abuse. Racial animosity provides the classical example of this phenomenon. Indeed, the churl dislikes anyone who is different from him. He conceives the difference as an insult, a rejection of his values and, thus, a rejection of him.
It doesnít have to involve overt violence. It can range from giving people insulting nicknames to nasty pranks reflecting a mean-spirited humor. And the churl always blames others for what he does.
The churlís behavior also includes dishonesty. Deceit is useful in manipulating people and is necessary for someone who cannot have a mutually beneficial relationship with others. Honesty doesnít work for the churl in his estimation. Again, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
As you can see, churls adhere to a doctrine, tacit though it may be, that leads them to diminish others. Almost everything the churl does is aimed at diminishing people in some way. Since we define evil as anything intended to diminish a person, this is an evil doctrine and is, therefore, something we want to eliminate from our society. The best way to solve a problem is to see what causes it and address that cause.
What causes it?
While no one wants to be inferior to all other members of society, the judgement of inferiority is almost entirely self-inflicted. People in poor circumstances conceive themselves as inferior to others. They do not conceive themselves as valued members of a good and decent society and they resent people who are valued members of that society. They then react to that conception in an effort to deny and defy it. That reaction has led folk philosophy to devise the doctrine described above, which encodes the denial and the defiance.
How does someone decide that they are inferior to other people? What feature of human existence do we use for the criterion by which we judge ourselves?
Social status is the end toward which we aim, but the quality that gets us there is the quality that distinguishes us from other animals. We usually refer to that quality as intelligence and itís not a simple thing. However, we can say that at its simplest intelligence consists of knowledge and the ability to use it.
In their need for social status, no one wants others to see that defect in them; thus, accusing someone of possessing that defect will arouse anger in that someone. If someone judges themselves to possess that defect, then that anger becomes resentment against anyone who could make the accusation. The resentment drives certain behaviors meant to assuage the anxiety behind it through various self-deceitful ploys.
The basis for those ploys is a desire for supremacy over others. That desire is not gratuitous: it comes from the natural human propensity to act in ways that make others feel what we feel, all the more so if they made us feel what we feel. If someone feels inferior to others, then they want to make others feel inferior to them. Self-aggrandizement is a common trait among churls, but it operates primarily through the disparagement of others. Thus the churl refuses to show any consideration of others, justifying such behavior by claiming that no one cares about him (so why should he care about them?).
That latter fact reveals an important truth about inferior people. They are empty souls, terrified of having their deficiencies exposed. They exist in a hideous solipsism that they maintain by keeping other people at a distance, psychologically and, sometimes, physically. Alienated from others, who might offer emotional anchors, they conceive the world as a hostile place. The resultant anxiety drives a commitment to intimidation and deceit, which intensifies the anxiety in a positive feedback loop. The churl assumes that people hate him and makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The churlís self-regard fills his entire mind, leaving no room for consideration of others. He has convinced himself that he is the only person in the world who counts for anything, so he thinks only of himself and thinks of others only when he sees some use for them to his benefit. This vanity is a reaction to his feelings of inferiority. Conceiving himself as a useless nobody, he imagines himself as a valued somebody. In a parody of an important personage, he disparages others, dismissing them and their concerns as beneath contempt.
Here we see another way in which he sabotages himself. Consideration for others, thinking about other people and their feelings, obliges us to develop a kind of social radar. It enables us to navigate our social milieu without colliding with others and, thus, enables us to associate with a higher class of people.
But we obtain another benefit from consideration for others. It makes us tougher. When a person is entirely full of himself, his own feelings loom large in his mind and take precedence over all other considerations. On the other hand, when a person brings other people into their mind, those peopleís feelings, imagined though they are, serve as a reference for the personís own feelings. Such reference can serve to mitigate the excitability of oneís feelings: knowing that other people donít panic over certain events leads the person to not panic over the same kinds of events.
Emotional over-excitability manifests itself in vindictiveness. Because he has no outside reference, the churlís feelings achieve intensities that are unendurable. He panics easily. He resents intensely the fact that people can hurt him so badly so easily. And he wants violent revenge, he wants to hurt people far more than they have hurt him, because he understands subconsciously that other people are tougher than he is.
He maintains his flimsiness by masturbating his grudges. He replays his memories of slights and insults, however minor, and stokes his indignant rage, over and over again. He wants revenge on a world that hurts him so casually: he wants to hurt the people who have done nothing intended to hurt him. The alternative is to acknowledge his lack of toughness and he will not do that. Unwilling to recognize the problem, he cannot solve it.
How can we fix it?
The elimination of churls is not a good option. The non-criminal ones, the great majority of them, do much of the work that society depends upon. More importantly, such an effort would lead down a very bad road that would degrade what we are as a people, in essentially the same way in which the Nazis degraded the German people. So we must ask How can we make them less churlish?
We think of churls as stupid, but thatís not necessarily true to Reality. We define stupidity as the inability to appreciate the obvious. If someone says that they donít understand the quantum theory, we donít say that they are stupid. But if someone doesnít know that a red light means stop, we regard them as more than a little less than intelligent. The churlsí anti-intellectualism makes them appear stupid in a society that promotes literacy. The key to social status in a modern technologically oriented society is specialized knowledge, especially the kind of knowledge that comes from books. But, while some people work best with their minds, others work best with their hands. Churls lie in the latter group as a rule.
The problem is cultural, so we need to change our culture, the medium in which we grow and flourish. A society that reveres hand-work along with mind-work (e.g. Japan) will have more success in diminishing churlishness. Handcrafts should evoke as much awe and respect as do the intellectual arts. Such an attitude would enlarge many churls socially and tend to bring them into good and decent society.
There we see what we must do. We must get the churls to enlarge themselves, to abandon their feelings of inferiority. They must develop the sense of magnanimity that is a hallmark of superior people. To accomplish that, they must execute a reversal of attitude.
Enlarging people is the opposite of what churls do. Churls like to make people feel smaller, as a means of self-aggrandizement, lording themselves over others. Anything intended to diminish another person is evil, so we want to eliminate such diminutions from our society. That means we must also oppose the self-diminution that the churls inflict upon themselves.
Itís fundamentally a problem of conception. If I can diminish someone in some way, then I can say that in that way I am superior to that person. Itís an intellectual fraud, of course. Truly superior people donít push others down, rather they lift others up. Inferior people seek to thwart others in achieving their goals; superior people smooth the path to othersí goals. Where the inferior person seeks supremacy over others, the superior person seeks equality. These are the things that the churl must learn.
Further, he maintains his impotence by blaming others for his deficiencies and failures. He conceives himself as a loser rather than as a failure: this ploy absolves him of responsibility for his deficiencies, blaming others for them, and takes away his power to change. To take control of his fate, to stop playing the victim, he must learn to wield the power that he possesses by virtue of being human. That power exists in the practices of apology, consideration, and compassion, which nurture the mental growth that makes one a valued member of society.
That growth can be a hard and frightening path to follow. As noted above, destruction and hurt are easy to inflict on others and easily create the illusion of power. Construction and kindness are hard, but itís helping, not hindering, that displays real power. In order to grow in power the churl must be induced to give of his own effort and not merely manipulate others into doing things for him.
We must wean the churl away from conceiving people as nothing more than means to an end and get him to reconceive them as ends in themselves. He must conceive people not as things to be used for his own personal pleasure, but as mutual participants in a good and decent society. In that way he will develop the six basic features of good character: (1) citizenship, the sense of being part of a larger whole, (2) responsibility for what he does or must do, (3) fairness, (4) caring for others, (5) trustworthiness, (6) respect for other peopleís rights. Thatís what a superior person looks like.
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