Everybody is familiar with the pervasive bigotry and racism that has so long run like a dark strain of feculence through so many societies. Today, in our society at least, most of us join together in condemning these destructive attitudes that have caused so much pain, suffering and death. We do this despite the fact that such terms often tend to be thrown loosely about and are often overused.
However, I believe that this tendency of people to discriminate and look down on other races or cultures reflects a basic intolerance that is pervasive throughout our psyche. People have a tendency to set themselves up on a particular cultural prominence, and then sneeringly look down on all those that don’t share their particular “elevated” position.
It might be instructive to look at some definitions:
Intolerance: an unwillingness to share or grant social, political, or professional rights. I would extend this unwillingness to all aspects of human endeavor.
Bigot: One who treats or regards the members of a group (as a racial or ethinic group) with hatred and intolerance.
Snob: A. one who tends to rebuff, avoid, or ignore those regarded as inferior B. one who has an offensive air of superiority in matters of knowledge or taste.
There seems to be a sort of commonality here, especially when comparing bigots and snobs. Bigots seem to be the more extreme with their attention more directed at ethinic and racial groups. Snobs seem to me to be part and parcel of the same disease that we all have–a tendency to smugly regard anybody outside our little group (whatever the group is) as somehow inferior. I tend to use the two terms synonymously since I believe they are basically the same.
This tendency occurs in almost all areas of human endeavor, not only the well known intolerance towards other racial and ethnic groups, but also in politics, religion, sexual preference, music, art, etc. When carried to the extreme, it tends almost in some cases to lead to a sort of prim Puritanism with the advocates recoiling in horror at those that transgress their narrow rules of behavior.
For example, I have often seen this in the area of food. Now I myself, sympathize with some of these positions, but I try to draw the line once the positions lead into the slippery areas of intolerance. For example, organic food advocates sometimes become extreme in their denunciation of the food and chemical industry and their attempts to “poison” our bodies (I have done this myself!). Vegetarians are another example of food bigots. Some “vegans” tend to get on their soap box and rant at the barbarians that continue to kill, yes actually kill innocent animals in order to eat their flesh.
Music is another area that brings out the basic intolerance that courses through all of our veins. Not only do we often denigrate particular types of music, but we ascribe unsavory characteristics to the people that like these types. Sometimes we think of them as being of a lower order of humans, unwashed, uneducated and unreachable.
We have also what I call the provincial bigots. These people sneeringly put down entire peoples based on where they live. It’s like an automatic reflex with some of these snobs/bigots. For example think of people from the southern United States. What immediately comes to mind? Where did you get this impression of this large area of the U.S.? What about Texas? New York? San Francisco? Each area often automatically elicits certain preconceived ideas about the people there, their sexuality, their religion, their reading habits, their politics, etc.
Stereotypes are an important aspect of this intolerance, I think. Stereotypes can be a lazy way of immediately categorizing complex subjects. Often stereotypes do have a basis in fact. It often summarizes and typifies large masses of information, but…it panders to racism, bigotry and snobbery and should be avoided whenever possible.
This intolerance can be found in almost any realm of endeavor. Take fishing for example. Yes, fishing…how can anybody be snobbish about their fishing? I have found that there are various levels of intolerance amongst certain categories of fishing.
Below are the categories ranked in order of increasing uncouthness:
a. Dry Fly Fishing
b. Wet Fly Fishing
c. Fishing with artificial lures
d. Fishing with bait (live or dead)
The dry fly purists tend to turn their noses up at wet fly fishermen, and so on down the line. Probably the lowest of the low would be the stink bait fishermen (which is one of my favorites).
So…are you familiar with a skill, a profession, a realm of endeavor that has these levels of hierarchies? And at the top of the hierarchies, are there the elite, the cognoscenti, the true “in” group? I tend to be reminded of the dominance hierarchies in social primates. Perhaps these are just other ways of establishing our dominance in our complex societies.