Part two of a two-part post.
Facing my Inner Snob
I attended a conference, packing as we all do: maximum changes stuffed in a carry-on, trusty basics extended via accessories. Tying an Hermès scarf over a simple v-neck, I thought, I'll bet no one here (employees of an unglamourous retail chain) will know what this is. Then I asked myself, Do you care? No.
Whew, just squeaked under the snob wire that time. But did I? Or was I guilty of the snob's shell game: They don't know, but still, I am 'better'? And if I meet someone who does, won't we enjoy our status semaphore?
The opposite of snobbery is humility, and its shy cousin, modesty, traits Canadians revere. This makes us sensitive to snobbery, and prone to hiding our light lest we appear arrogant. While we have produced world-class snobs like Conrad Black, we much prefer discretion.
We have at least one self-confessed snob in the family, Le Duc's eccentric, beloved aunt. He and she will sit, brandy snifters before them, belting out the lyrics to Boris Vian's classic, "Je Suis Snob" (click for English translation).
Reverse snobs scare me more, because they are often anti-intellectual, so they stop thinking. (Just try to find a broadly-read reverse snob.)
The true snob courts those above. The reverse snob resents them, and can broaden his resentment to contempt for any achievement. They are prone to Tall Poppy Syndrome, the criticism and punishment of the successful.
However, I have also heard snobs disparage those they consider beneath them. Ageism, sexism and racism occupy the same hermetically-sealed universe as snobbery, because they establish and maintain an arbitrary status differential. Any religion founded on a premise of election (we are saved, you are not) is tinged with snobbery. If you're unsure whether the organization you're thinking of joining is a snob lodge, ask yourself, Is their premise 'being a member is being better'?
The real cost of snobbery
For the material-object snob, the obvious cost is financial. The premise that consumption elevates is a marketer's dream. Once we agree, we're theirs, willing to buy what we can't afford, whether house or handbag. And of course as you climb, the accoutrement becomes ever more expensive. What a brilliant scam.
The deeper cost is to a person's humanity. When our life is dedicated to approval and status, we isolate ourselves on our narrow rung of a precarious ladder and, peering anxiously up to the next level, worry about slipping. Or we look with disdain on those below. Run by envy and fear, life shrinks; hyperselectivity whittles the range of experience to a narrow band.
I'm not advocating settling for shoddy goods, denying ourselves the pleasures of possessions, or downplaying our talents or achievements. I am, though, hoping we'll pause, if we wander into Better-Than-Thou Land, to ask ourselves if we really want to live there.