Monday, April 14, 2008

Should respect be unconditional?

The post I put up on Friday, April 11th, entitled "A hierarchy revealed," has been chewing at me for a while. In particular, and like a true "liberal" who questions everything, especially my own beliefs, I am troubled by a seeming inconsistency in the advocation I make at the end of the post:
...maybe one thing we can do to work toward an egalitarian society is to simply be respectful to others, regardless of their social class, profession, income level, appearance, or whatever other criterion we might invent.
But, Dade, one might say, you refer to President Bush as "Junior" and call Vice-President Cheney a beast in one paragraph, and then suggest that we all be respectful toward each other in the next. How is that consistent?

Good question.

I don't know if it is consistent, frankly. And, although I say that people deserve respect regardless of their social class, etcetera, I do not say that respect should be unconditional.

Put it down to the principle of reciprocation. I hold that, by default, people deserve respect. But there is a condition: in order to retain one's right to respect, one must afford it to others. If I feel I am not being respected by someone, that person will get no respect from me. In fact, I'll go out of my way to disrespect that person. A person deserves respect up until that time at which he or she fails to afford it to me or one of my people.

Returning to the story I mentioned in the April 11th post (A hierarchy revealed), my coworker, operating according to the laws of her perceived social hierarchy, offers respect to those whom she perceives to be above her in the hierarchy.

For me, it's a little different. First off, I reject the idea of a social hierarchy. The concept of America, at least as it was (perhaps naively) taught to me in school, is that of a society wherein there are no aristocrats, none elevated above the common man by birth or wealth. A person deserves respect not by virtue of his/her position, wealth, or appearance, but because of his/her integrity, honesty, sincerity, compassion, knowledge, kindheartedness. One need not have all of these attributes to retain my respect, but at least some of them must be in evidence. It is possible (and wise) to respect one's enemies if they are honest, if they are operating with integrity.

But for those of one's enemies that have none of these virtues --well, such creatures cannot be treated with respect. To do so only allows them to continue on as they have done. These creatures must be unfailingly ridiculed and belittled until the truth of their corrupt souls is exposed for all to see.

So, now we're arriving at the nub of my disrespect for Bush and Cheney and neo-conservatives in general. These people show no respect for their victims. They have no integrity or honesty. They deceive. They lie to hide their agenda. They despise those whom they perceive to be below them in the hierarchy, but they hide their contempt in order to use those very people whom they victimize for their own ends.

Such people deserve only contempt. And that's all Junior and the Beast will ever get from me.

Of course, there's a Catch-22 in all of this...some kind of chicken-or-egg hypocrisy. But, let's face it, all of us operate from positions that we can't completely defend. So, to the extent that I am inconsistent in my reasoning, I offer mea culpa, and point to my human fallibility.

He who is without sin can go ahead and start chuckin'.


Shus li said...

No, respect should not be unconditional, in my opinion. I'm not only disrespectful of humans like the corporate heads who decide to clearcut old growth, I feel contempt for them. Not a gnawing hatred that keeps me awake at night, but knowledge that, if given the opportunity to stop their actions by any means possible, I might be so inclined.

Dan Binmore said...

In order to be a communal, tribe-based animal humans evolved a default system of assuming fair play and punishing severely those who aren't fair. This is a concep well outlined in Game Theory and tested in the laboratory. To a certain extent Dade, your position isn't one that people can decide to have, it's more a case of it being hard-wired in.