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I’d like to riff for a second off these remarks from Dalrymple’s essay about why he hates sports fans:
Like many phenomena, snobbery is easier to recognise than to define. The definition of a snob in The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is inadequate. The Penguin English Dictionary does much better. It defines a snob as ‘Someone who tends to patronize or avoid those regarded as social inferiors; someone who blatantly attempts to cultivate or imitate those admired as social superiors; someone who has an air of smug superiority in matters of knowledge or taste.’ The same dictionary defines ‘inverted snob’ as one ‘who sneers indiscriminately at people and things associated with wealth and high society.’ One possible derivation of the word snob is from the Latin sine nobilitate, without nobility.
I doubt whether there is anyone in a modern society who is entirely free of snobbery of some sort, straight or inverted.
That’s almost certainly true. Usually when I hear someone described as a snob, the first thing I think about is that the person making the accusation is admitting to personal insecurity, without realizing it. We typically call a “snob” someone who has made us feel inferior because of our status or taste. More often than not, I find, the word “snob” is deployed as a defense against those whose tastes are more refined than our own. This is unfortunate, because it implies a hatred of excellence, and a denial of the opportunity to improve one’s own tastes.
I happen to like wine, but I don’t know much about it. My tastes are more developed than they were 10 years ago, and if I keep drinking wine with discernment and curiosity, they’ll be even more developed 10 years from now. I am always pleased to drink wine with someone who has superior taste in wine, because often I can learn something about wine from that person. There is a difference between a snob and a connoisseur. A connoisseur knows a lot about something, and can appreciate the differences of quality among examples of the thing. A snob may be a connoisseur, but what makes him a snob is a quality of arrogance, and an assumption that he is a superior person because he has superior tastes.
To believe in hierarchies — aesthetic or moral — is to believe that some qualities make something superior to others like it that lack those qualities. We all judge, and to judge is to risk snobbery. The man who will denounce another fellow for being a beer snob for preferring Dogfish Head to Pabst Blue Ribbon would find it ridiculous if the Dogfish Head drinker said that as far as he was concerned, one football team is as good as the next. Inasmuch as we all have something we’re inherently snobbish about — that is, something over which we unfairly judge others for failing to measure up to our standards — we are at risk of being snobs. The challenge is to be connoisseurs without being puffed-up and nasty about it. One is not an inferior person because one prefers Cote de Cheapy over a vintage Bordeaux. But the vintage Bordeaux is a far better wine. If you honestly can’t tell the difference, but you insist on drinking the $100 Bordeaux instead of the $7 Cheapy, you’re probably a snob.
Sometimes, though, there’s just no point, and we irrationally despise those of lower standards. I bet if you think about it, you can come up with something you judge people unfairly over. Dalrymple says he cannot abide sports fans, but he at least has the self-awareness to recognize that his judgment is not especially fair. I am not a sports fan, and I do think sports is overvalued in our society, but I don’t have an opinion one way or the other about sports fans. But there is one area in which I am a horrible snob (well, beside hating Crocs, which puts me on the opposite side of everyone in my family, but I don’t care.
Here is my secret snob shame. What’s yours? Come on, admit it. You might not even be ashamed of it. But you know you’re a snob about something — even if it’s a snob about Not Being a Snob. We must not be egalitarians about taste!