“Know Your Place”

People don’t always tell you what they are thinking. They just see to it that you don’t advance in life.

It comes in the form of subtle messages that can leave us feeling inferior, inadequate, and resentful.  It can be the kind where nothing is said but felt.  It is a kind that erodes confidence and leaves us in a state of wonder as to what others really think.  It can keep us “in our place” at work and in life and make us the subject of dismissal or ridicule.  It is contempt, hate, and hubris.

Racism, ableism, and sexism come from contempt, hate, and hubris.  I have two challenges for liberals: one, we are exclusive in our use of fairness and, two, we use contempt on our enemies.  Why focus on some—race, ethnicity, and sex—but not on others?  As feeble and soft as it sounds, the theme that makes liberalism what it is is caring for others.

Contempt Explained

We here at freethought blogs love to use contempt.  From comments to our posts, it is always present.  Contempt is the feeling that a person or idea is not worthy of our respect because it or they are beneath us.  It works by us finding negative characteristics in ideas and in people and then attributing the whole idea or person to being inferior.  It is a form of stereotype since it generalizes.

Contempt is at the heart of racism and sexism since we feel above them and generalize their “inferior” qualities to be what defines them.  Hate, by contrast, is when others pose a threat to our status, which is our need to advance in the eyes of others, or to our wellbeing.  Contempt and hate involve social hierarchy, that is, who is above us and who is below us, but do so in different ways.

Someone can feel contempt for a very lazy person, but not hate him, because he poses no threat.  Similarly, someone can feel hate for a rival, as they pose a threat, but not feel contempt, because they are not seen as inferior.
If we care about others, then should we limit its use?  When is it justified and effective, other than to inflate ego?  I argued that “bullying the bullies” is moral, but I must be a wimp because I struggle with it.  I am, however, guilty of using it on my enemies.

The Forgotten Persons

For me, there is nothing more disturbing than when Trump ridiculed and mocked the reporter from the New York Times.  If we define ableism to mean the ability to accomplish things effectively and efficiently, then there are a lot of people in trouble.  There are thirteen million people in the United States that have intellectual disabilities.  But at best we pity them and at worst we ridicule them.

If we define social value as what another person has to “offer us”, which boils down to our appearances, likability, and capabilities, then this class of people is at risk of being dismissed and ridiculed.  But these people have been underrepresented up until the 1970s.  In fact, we actually had “ugly laws” at one time that barred “undesirables” from making appearances.  I am speechless.

Think about the movies “Unhinged” and “The Joker“.  What “drives” these hypothetical characters is that they were “dismissed” in life and no matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t compete and cooperate.  This class of people, let’s call them the “Losers”, decided to not “take it”, “it” being their subordinated role in life, and “do something about it”.  But it was at the cost of the well-being of others.


  1. Crimbly says

    Interesting thoughts.

    Reminds me of some of the stuff you see occasionally on job-seeking websites – if you aren’t “hustling”, you’re a failure. Or articles that try to “lay truth on you” that you’re only as useful in the eyes of society for what you can offer them, so you might as well offer what you can.

    I’m not a big thinker but does this have to do with how western capitalism values function over form? From a young age, we’re told to get good grades, so we can get a good job. Teaching compassion, humility, and general worthiness as a human being are afterthoughts, not the main focus. It’s all about the pecking order.

    • musing says

      Thanks for the comment. My intent was to portray reality as it, unfortunately, is for some and not to be satirical. But I agree with you that society emphasizes status striving at the cost of looking out for others.

      We all have felt feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, and they are not comfortable feelings. So I propose the hypothetical scenario that what if we suffered from, as one of many examples, an intellectual disability and felt feelings of inadequacy every time someone snubbed us or gave us “that look”. After a while, I suppose we would get to “know our place”.

      Then I pose the challenge to liberals as to why are we inordinately focused on race, sex, and ethnicity and not other problems that lead to dismissiveness and ridicule from others. I argue that the same things that racism and sexism are caused by – contempt, pride, and hate – are also involved in when we look down on others in general.

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