On arrogance

by The Editor

SERIES: The Thing About is a weekly Business Day column designed to discuss democratic ideas, ideals, values and principles from a liberal perspective. A common accusation today is to accuse someone of being ‘arrogant’. In doing so, however, arrogance is often confused with boldness and, in truth, it is the powerful who, not wanting to be contradicted, evoke the idea of arrogance to defend themselves.

On arrogance

By: Gareth van Onselen

24 July 2012

Arrogance and deference share a particular relationship. In an environment where reason and evidence are used to gauge the veracity of an opinion, it is assumed arrogant simply to assert one’s view as right without those two supporting pillars. And that is as it should be. The pursuit of the truth demands sound argument, proof and explanation.

However, in an environment where the powerful command deference, it is deemed arrogant merely to contradict the status quo, regardless of how well argued one’s position might be. The reason is that a deferential attitude is a response to low self esteem, both on the part of those in power and those subservient to it. The former is unwilling to entertain criticism, for fear it will undermine their position; the latter, unwilling to speak out, for fear of the consequences.

Thus, in being deferential, one’s first inclination is to suppress difference in favour of ‘respect’. Obviously, such a situation is not conducive to debate and, with it, the battle of ideas, knowledge and enlightenment.

Because one is ridiculed as arrogant when contradicting or questioning certain beliefs, those ideas are never properly challenged. If they are wrongheaded or the product of some outdated cultural conviction, rather than rational thought, such ideas are nevertheless protected as intellectual ‘no-go’ areas and criticism of them belittled and derided with no regard as to the actual merits of any counter-position proposed.

‘Arrogance’ becomes a euphemism for intellectual relativism: all ideas are equal and, should one raise their head above the parapet, best it quickly be cut off by the politically correct guardians of insecurity.

Beware, then, those quick to lable contradiction or criticism as arrogance.

Of course these ‘protectors’ of our supposedly fragile collective sensitivities can offer no rational explanation for their crude hostility to any boldly stated opinion they do not like; indeed, even if there was one, they would never seek it out.

Ironically, by acting this way, they serve only to illustrate arrogance’s full and proper meaning: the blind defence of ignorance and its imposition by force of will alone.

An abbreviated version of this column first appeared in the Business Day. For more columns from The Thing About series, click here.

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