Lately I’ve been troubled by laughing-at-stupid-people infotainment, especially in partisan news media, and on both sides of the political spectrum. I’d like to watch a broadcast that doesn’t devolve into some version of nanny-nanny-poo-poo-you-have-stinky-pants. That the anchor wears a suit and tie, frowns, and speaks solemnly makes the content no less snide.
But from my armchair, where I finger wag at others with impunity, I’ve been reflecting on my own habits of mind. This self-reflection reminds me of one my favourite passages from Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, and that a little well-placed self-deprecation is unlikely to go amiss, for myself as much as for anyone.
“And as to the faculties of mind, … I find yet a greater equality amongst men, than that of strength…That which may perhaps make such equality incredible, is but a vain conceit of one’s own wisdom, which almost all men think they have in a greater degree, than the vulgar; that is, than all men but themselves, and few others, whom by fame, or for concurring with themselves, they approve. For such is the nature of men, that howsoever they acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned; yet they will hardly believe there be so many as wise as themselves; for they see their own wit at hand, and other men’s at a distance.” (Hobbes, 82) Part 1, Chapter 13, Paragraph 2. Men by nature equal.
Thomas Hobbes. J.C.A. Gaskin, Ed. Leviathan. (1651) Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford University Press: New York. Reissue 2008.
**Compare with John Stuart Mill, On Liberty. A quote worth contemplating.
***Compare with A Walter Lippmann (1922) quote worth contemplating. Timely.