The superiority complex.

The belief that one has “the answer” or “the only correct doctrine,” and that everyone else must be saved from error or immorality, has led to human beings trying to control each other on a global scale, whether it be religious doctrine, political doctrine, racial doctrine, or any other doctrine one can conjure.

Superiority complexes have many sources. For those who believe in some collectivist worldview, the belief in one’s superiority and the desire to save unbelievers comes built-in, for memetic reasons of course (belief systems that motivate their believers to spread the doctrine or kill unbelievers tend to survive).

They can also come from believers in a non-violent movement when said movement is failing. The frustration of failure turns determination into anger; anger at the people who don’t join their cause enthusiastically, anger at the authorities for successfully thwarting their efforts, anger at a world which they see as not being ready to accept their self-evident truths. Such a movement, if imbued with a sense of urgency, will eventually turn to violence, with all the mental rationalizations that this entails.

They also arise naturally from social warfare, through the same general process. People who are forever forced to fight for their values against other people who share different values will eventually become frustrated and start seeing their opponents as stubborn idiots or as deliberately evil. This objectification can lead one to a superiority complex and the desire to use the apparatus of the law for one’s own advantage. This interplay is what we naively call democratic politics (when in fact the real interplay takes place at much higher levels and much less openly).

I also mentioned objectification in my discussion of the “noble revenge” mentality. Objectification is a powerful mechanism because it occults people’s natural compassion and empathy for others, an integral part of their true self. One would not think of having compassion or empathy for a rock, and would not object to splitting it or throwing it in a furnace. In the same way, a soldier ideally sees his victims as nothing more than sophisticated targets, to be gunned down or blown up without sorrow, for the sake of objectives and orders. The religious fanatic, on the other hand, sees his enemies as demons from Hell itself, and their deaths as a cleansing of the Earth, thus proving that one can objectify in many different ways.

Why have people always killed each other for religious reasons? We know that for the true believer all other competing belief systems are threats. If one detains the Absolute Truth, then all other beliefs must necessarily be wrong and dangerous. God has set up the path to follow, and all who reject it must be killed. And since life only has meaning in submission to God, it must be the case that the unbeliever’s life has no value at all, except as an example of what not to do (to the rulers of that religion, unbelievers are extremely useful as enemies).

Political violence can also come from the superiority complex. War, in and of itself, is mostly a result of “noble revenge” rhetoric served up by the ruling class, but imperialism (whether as colonialism or as the modern neo-liberalist form of economic imperialism) is inscribed firmly within a context of superiority. In colonialism, the colonizing power has the “burden” of “civilizing” populations that are seen as inferior. In neo-liberalism, countries where the people are being uppity are called “undemocratic” and need to be imposed “democracy” (by which they mean stability for the ruling class and freedom for foreign investors) by guile or by force.

To the true believer, all other solutions are wrong, and therefore are threats. To the Catholic, the mere existence of Protestants is a menace to his own religion, and vice-versa, because they are both based on faith and thus cannot grow without some form of coercion or violence. Atheism and science are also threats, far greater threats because they deny the premises of the game condition itself. This has led, in recent times, to the creation of pan-religious alliances to fight against atheism, much like how capitalist firms in an industry will ally against outside threats and for effective lobbying.

The true believer may have other reasons to attack his fellows. He may do it out of “altruism” (he doesn’t want others to go to Hell), out of belief in the common good, out of belief in duty, and so on.

The parenting institution is another example of the superiority complex. The “parent” claims near-total control over children on the basis of having had sex which led to the child’s birth. The justification for such control, we are told (putting aside the issue of the irrationality of assigning only two adults to any given child), stems from the superiority of the “parent” over the child, the latter not being able to fend for himself. Ergo, the “parent” knows better and should enforce his values on the child who is left without recourse, far beyond the acquisition of reason, in fact all the way to his eighteenth birthday. The child and young adult must be saved from his own “immature” desires.

In psychology, the superiority complex is a defense mechanism used to compensate for one’s perceived inferiority, a form of projection. This seems reasonable in this case also. After all, someone who actually does feel confident in the superiority of his beliefs should see no need to control others. This need seems to betray a pessimism in the future and an admission of the superiority of one’s opponents (notably, for being so strong as to be able to keep us at bay). This is why the superiority complex is mostly present in collectivist belief systems, which are founded on the principle that man is inherently depraved.

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14 thoughts on “The superiority complex.

  1. George Donnelly June 30 2009 at 6:28

    So we should be certain about being uncertain. Seems like this tends toward a contradiction.

    One’s a parent by dint of having sex? No, by dint of creating the life, by dint of the sex act resulting in a life.

  2. clusiau June 30 2009 at 7:41

    …In psychology, the superiority complex is a defense mechanism used to compensate for one’s perceived inferiority, a form of projection. This seems reasonable in this case also. After all, someone who actually does feel confident in the superiority of his beliefs should see no need to control others. ……

    Très bon raisonnement mais j’espère que tu sais que cela ne s’applique pas dans le commerce. Personne ne pense que lorsque Coke affirme : “Y a rien comme un bon coke” que cette compagnie a un complexe de supériorité.
    Se proclamer numéro uno, indispensable et Best in the World sont des façons de subtilement dénigrer les autres afin de vendre plus.
    La supériorité vend, pas de doute.
    Bonne journée.

  3. Francois Tremblay June 30 2009 at 15:56

    Apparently neither of you have read my entry, since none of your points actually apply. I never made any epistemic argument about certainty, I did already state that one is a parent by having sex which leads to birth, and I never said anything about commerce or ads.

    Please try to actually read the entry before you criticize, people.

  4. rob July 2 2009 at 6:42

    Man is neither good nor bad, man can be part of the herd in his makeup and can be manipulated by people with selfish agendas usually in the economic domain (to gain more land, wealth and power).

  5. [...] The Superiority Complex from Francois Tremblay [...]

  6. Eric Sundwall July 7 2009 at 22:57

    “will eventually become frustrated and start seeing their opponents as stubborn idiots or as deliberately evil. This objectification can lead one to a superiority complex and the desire to use the apparatus of the law for one’s own advantage. This interplay is what we naively call democratic politics (when in fact the real interplay takes place at much higher levels and much less openly).”

    Ok . . . I stopped at this part and want unwrap it a bit. Sorry if I didn’t read the whole thing.

    Is it really so stark and apparent that frustration with supposed opponents yields a deliberate function and capacity to summarize others as stubborn idiots or evil ? Yeah, are these complexes so smitten with such irrefutable objectification ? Does own thus so obviously and successfully transmit that objectification into a practical application of law ? Do we see English common law as a the tool or Napoleonic Code ? Maybe some kind of rocker or mod code, post hypnotic punk perhaps ? Ah yes, it’s just a desire which need not necessarily apply, but when it might or does, we can cast a Pilate like disgust over the shoulder at that unclean thing called democracy. Which by the way is all done in smoke filled rooms . . . . but back to the complex mind you.

  7. Francois Tremblay July 7 2009 at 23:01

    Sundwall, why are you wasting your time here? Don’t you have some ideas to corrupt? Bob (and no, I don’t mean your retro-nazi Fearless Leader) knows that’s all the Libertarian Party has ever been good for.

  8. David Gendron July 8 2009 at 16:14

    Clusiau is a regular reader of my blog.

  9. David Gendron July 8 2009 at 16:24

    “Très bon raisonnement mais j’espère que tu sais que cela ne s’applique pas dans le commerce. Personne ne pense que lorsque Coke affirme : “Y a rien comme un bon coke” que cette compagnie a un complexe de supériorité.”

    En quoi cela réfute la thèse de François? De plus, les corporateux ont souvent un complexe réel de supériorité.

    I think Franc’s thesis applies in a commercial context also!

  10. David Gendron July 8 2009 at 16:27

    Eric, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….

  11. David Gendron July 8 2009 at 16:31

    “The parenting institution is another example of the superiority complex. “The “parent” claims near-total control over children on the basis of having had sex which led to the child’s birth. The justification for such control, we are told (putting aside the issue of the irrationality of assigning only two adults to any given child), stems from the superiority of the “parent” over the child, the latter not being able to fend for himself. Ergo, the “parent” knows better and should enforce his values on the child who is left without recourse, far beyond the acquisition of reason, in fact all the way to his eighteenth birthday. The child and young adult must be saved from his own “immature” desires.”

    Maybe George referred to that. But I don’t see his point about uncertainty.

  12. David Gendron July 8 2009 at 16:33

    @Eric Sundwall

    “Is it really so stark and apparent that frustration with supposed opponents yields a deliberate function and capacity to summarize others as stubborn idiots or evil ?”

    If you don’t understand that, you can’t convince others that the State need to be smashed!

  13. David Gendron July 8 2009 at 16:34

    “Bob (and no, I don’t mean your retro-nazi Fearless Leader) knows that’s all the Libertarian Party has ever been good for.”

    LOL! ;)

  14. [...] is very much related to the superiority complex. The understanding and acceptance of norms and models of behaviour makes one feel superior to those [...]

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