Regarding Snobbery

Apropos of nothing in particular, a few thoughts on the subject of snobbery.

1. One is perfectly within one’s own prerogatives to feel snobby about things, if one feels invested in them in one way or another.

2. However, being a snob often makes one look like an asshole.

3. It especially makes one look like an asshole if the basis for one’s snobbery lacks an adequate foundation. For example, if despite rhetorical flourishes and handwaving, one’s critical thesis devolves to “This stuff is awesome because I like it; this stuff sucks because I don’t; those who like the things I do not are stupid,” then one will look like an asshole.

4. If one’s critical thesis exhibits this level of foundational poverty, no amount of rhetorical flourish or handwaving will hide it. One’s pleasure at the presumed rhetorical cleverness will likely be noted, however, and added to the tally of things that make one look like an asshole.

5. Likewise, gathering friends of like-minded snobbery and exegetic facility will not make your common critical thesis better. It merely means that as a group you enjoy the smell of your own farts. This is nice for you, and likely obvious to anyone outside your circle.

6. If one’s feeling of snobbery leads one to believe that one is in fact some way superior to those who do not hold the same snobbery, then one is at severe risk of crossing over from merely looking like an asshole to actually being an asshole.

7. A reason for this is that one is exhibiting a childishly binary way of looking at the world, and while that is fine for a child, who may not know better, one is an adult and should have the ability to exhibit complexity whilst thinking. Because it is polite to assume that an adult is, in fact, not stupid or incapable of complex thought, the maintenance of such a binary classification system relating to people suggests one might be an asshole. There may be other reasons for this choice besides being an asshole, but if Occam’s Razor teaches us anything, it is that the simplest explanation is often the correct one.

8. If one uses such simple, non-complex binary sorting to classify others as inferior in some manner, it does not make one any more of an asshole, but it may mean that one’s sense of irony is not as finely tuned as one would hope.

9. If one declares oneself publicly to be a snob, then one actively invites scrutiny of the sort detailed above, often by those with the means to determine whether the snobbery proclaimed is warranted by anything other than one’s own estimation of self-worth. There are more of such people than you may expect.

10. It is worth considering what benefits one ultimately receives in declaring one’s snobbery. There may be fewer than one thinks.

Thank you for your attention.

By John Scalzi

I enjoy pie.

73 replies on “Regarding Snobbery”

9. If one declares oneself publicly to be a snob, then one actively invites scrutiny of the sort detailed above, often by those with the means to determine whether the snobbery proclaimed is warranted by anything other than one’s own estimation of self-worth. There are more of such people than you may expect.

THIS, very much. Oh, I have a “friend” who tells everyone he’s a snob about this thing or that thing, as if that a) excuses assinine behaviour and b) is somehow meant to be impressive. Add to this, he also is the first to admit to being an asshole, again, as if this excuses the behaviour. One wonders why we still visit with the guy…

Apropos of something in particular; I don’t get out much and when I do it’s with lovely people who are kind, considerate and tend towards that old “if you don’t have anything nice to say; don’t say anything at all”. And, okay, we/they can get pretty snarky on occasion but never, ever, anywhere near the level of rude I just saw in some comments on another site this morning. Seriously. Are there that many trolls out there or just a load of miserable people that think being hateful human beings will make them feel better?

Would it be snobbery to suggest that the opening for point 7 is missing the word “the”? I believe it should be “childishly binary way of looking at the world”. At risk of opening myself to massive scorn. ;-)

About twenty years ago a landlady told me how proud she was that she had Good Taste. Unfortunately, I had to disguise my amusement and strained my throat.

“They are stupid who delight in things that I do not.” Might need a “quae” before the last clause, now that I think about it.

I guess I’m a snob about bad Latin grammar. :-)

(Sorry for the double post, John — hit send and then realized I might have goofed.)

These points are mostly the reasons I’ve never been able to act on my thoughts of being a professional critic. It’s hard to square delivering authoritative opinion with not wanting to be snobbish. I mean, my base assumption is always that people try to do their very best (not always true, but generally safe when commenting on something), so it’s hard to publicly critique someone’s creative work without feeling like a monumental jerk. Plus, there’s the existential weight of being a focal nexus for #5 amongst people you’ve never met.

Although I suppose it can be generalized to the confidence required to professionally do any creative endeavor. But critical analysis just seems so much more proximal to snobbery than contrarian creation.

Equally as snobby, I don’t like X because lots of people like X. Translation, I don’t like X because it’s for the commoners. Actual Translation, I’m a hipster snob now go away you fleeb.

It’s entirely possible to have preferences without being a snob about it, however.

Likewise, I wish people wouldn’t interpret my lack of enthusiasm for something they like as a negative judgement of their taste.

I’ve got friends that I love very much that would have moments of sliding into the realm of snobbery. Of course, I say that, and realize I could be just as guilty of sliding into that realm. But I also know everything I like truly is awesome and everyone should love just as much as I do. My particular friends on the other hand, I really wish they’d stop mocking me for finding that one Uncle Kracker song catchy.

It disturbs me to no end to discover that I might me in the class of people who do not the view the world as black and white. With us or against us. Baby Killer vs Woman Hater. GOP vs DEM. Vegan vs Omnivore. The list goes on and on.

Is it ok to hate haters? To be prejudiced against prejudicial people? To be intolerant of intolerance?

Peter Cibulskis, November 30, 2011 at 3:18 pm :
“Is it ok to hate haters? To be prejudiced against prejudicial people? To be intolerant of intolerance?”

“We have to go forth and crush every world view that doesn’t believe in tolerance and free speech.” – David Brin

(And yes, I believe he is aware of the self-referential irony.)

@button –
Is that from a book? I dont remember it, and have read most of his stuff.
The Nazi’s fight to march in Skokie was such and eye opening view into the true meaning of free speech.

Is it hate speech? Hell yes. Should we allow it? Sigh, if we don’t, who gets to draw the line? Shudder

Is this like “You might be a redneck”?
– If you treat anyone who is different from you like crap, you might be an asshole…
– If you’re so full of shit you cant walk without assistance, you might be an asshole…
..and so on. I’ll spare you any more, since even I recognize I’m not very good at this game.

But how do you feel about behaviour that only some people see as snobbish? For example, British manners. Most of them do actually have a purpose, if only to express consideration for other people. For example, not swearing in public is meant to show that a) you care about not pointlessly offending your audience and b) you have a vocabulary good enough to express yourself without resorting to expletives. So when a British person looks down on the sort of person (often American, but we have some tossers of our own) who turns up in Britain and suffers from potty mouth in front of his long-suffering hosts, is that snobbery? And if you think it is snobbery, then aren’t you being snobbish yourself toward people who don’t speak in the way you do?

And yes, you guessed it, I’m British.

“appropos of nothing”

hm. I note that you use this phrase with some regularity. Mind you, it isnt often enough to turn it into a drinking game like “hi bob” while watching a Bob Newhart show, or similar. But I am noticing t.hat every time I see that phrase on Whatever, the number I have to roll above to disbelieve it gets a little bit lower. Its currently around the vicinity of 6. with three dice, thats pretty hard to believe.

not that I am saying I have special powers of divining or anything. Just noticing my personal bias change over time.


If “The thing I like is awesome because I like it; the thing you like is dumb because I do not,” then the basis for one’s snobbery lacks an adequate foundation: asshole.

If “The thing I like is awesome because it demonstrably possess the qualities widely accepted by those with relevant expertise as being the mark of a superior thing; the thing you like is dumb because it lacks these qualities,” then the basis for one’s snobbery has a firmly established a basis: connoisseur.


I read half of this, and decided I was too good to read it’s other half. I’ve always believed use of a definite article (“the”) to be a symptom of lower class discourse, and prefer not to sully myself with any missive containing it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I must lift my nose in your direction.

ah. I think the Scalzi Blogging Drinking Game (TM) would drink on the word “one”. This entry would probably kill a number of players.

also, had to double check but pretty much every online dictionary has at least one definition of the word ‘snob’ that means ” someone who thinks their opinions and judgments are better than other people’s” I am debating whether that means number 6 in the original is, by definition, always true.

as an example, I think evolution is far better a judgement of the evidence at hand than creationism. not quite sure at what point that judgement crosses into being an asshole. I would oppose efforts to teach it in school. and if you dont think thats a judgement because evolution is ‘true’, is that somehow less judgemental? or is it really more judgemental?

“So when a British person looks down on the sort of person (often American, but we have some tossers of our own) who turns up in Britain and suffers from potty mouth in front of his long-suffering hosts, is that snobbery?”

It depends where they draw the line. Miss Manners basically states that it is bad manners to correct other people’s manners. Period.

So going off in a huff because some chav upset you is bad manners. Being proper and polite is required at all times.


So the artwork looks like Sam Rockwell. I’d have gone with a picture of Graham Chapman chewing on a pipe. Not because I’m a snob, but just because our tastes are different yet equally valid.

“”Snobbery occurs as the result of a logical fallacy. We all want to experience and appreciate something of excellent quality, but it doesn’t follow that we’re every bit as good as what we do.”

John Gierach

Fifty-two comments so far, and none about people who favor (or might be construed as being snobs about favoring) Apple computers, despite forays into that topic in comments to previous related posts during the past several years. Does this mean Apple has attained a level of popular acceptance that might permit such people (including me) to not worry about being perceived as Apple snobs?

As a graduate student, I often come up against other students’ snobberies. Usually I’m fine with it, since I think my life is a heck of a lot more gleeful than theirs, like when I’m bopping along to *gasp* Hanson or enjoying a tub of popcorn and an episode of True Blood.

However, one of my grad student colleagues recently told me about how she took a copy of Romeo and Juliet and Vampires, tore the cover off, and burned it (she worked for Borders at the time and I think somehow got money back for the store from the cover). She wanted to keep the dirty, unworthy book out of impressionable customers’ hands.

That level of snobbery was too much for me, so I ordered a copy of the book then donated it to a holiday charity.

Wendy, that’s awful. When I worked at a bookstore I would cheerfully get the customer any book they asked for, even if I did drive my nails into my palms any time I saw a “modern translation” of Shakespeare. (Because God forbid we actually trust students to have the intellectual capacity to acquire Elizabethan slang.)

Though I know you said apropos of nothing in particular, the synchronicity of my reading this after having a dreadful run-in with snobbery against genre fiction in a grad school class yesterday afternoon, the synchronicity of coming home and reading this felt almost supernatural.

Greg, Nov 30, 4:27

Point 1 is not a negative

Point 3 fails on the evolution vs creationism divide. This brings down points 4 and 5 with it, and drastically weakens point 6 (but not 7).

That leaves the negatives as 2, and 7 to 10. Those latter are easily covered by maintaining a non-binary view in respect to people based on this issue.

All in all, that means it’s not a big issue unless you go out and actively be an ass about it.

Thackery rote “The book of snobs” with the subtitle “as witten by one of their number”. I have a rather battered and much treasured old copy.

I run into this snobbery problem a lot when it comes to music. Some would term me a “hipster,” but I prefer to think of myself as “expansive,” which is to say I can see elements of aesthetic merit in all sorts of music, even those I don’t particularly care for. On the other hand, I refuse to accept that there is no substantive difference between “good” country and “bad” country, “good” pop and “bad” pop, “good” music generally and “bad” music generally. I grant that music can merely be termed “different” in a whole range of legitimate ways not in themselves proving one variation is better than the others.

In summation: No, I can’t prove that Led Zeppelin’s music is objectively better than Nickelback’s but it is, and saying so doesn’t make me a snob. It makes me a person with good taste.

I riffed on this earlier in the year. Where I think a lot of writers in particular are blind to their own snob impulses, is in assuming that accumulation of knowledge or even history about the goings-on of a particular vein of literature, does not automatically transmute one’s subjective opinions on current work into objective facts. I’ve seen “intersubjectivity” trotted out as an excuse for lousy thinking along these lines, but it’s still Big Heads presuming that because their heads are, in fact, enlarged, that this magically grants them Superior Taste, when compared to us poor schmucks kicking it down with the rest of the unwashed. Good post, John. I think you nailed it across the board.

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