What Makes a Snob

Nobody likes a snob.

But most people don’t understand what a snob really is, either.

If asked to define a snob, most people will say: ‘Someone who thinks himself better than everyone else.’

Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. Superficially, it might be true. A snob might look down on you because she feels that she IS better than you.

But the big question here is: ‘Better’ by what standard? And by whose standard?

The standard, for a snob, is by definition the opinion of other people.

For example, a snob feels that she’s better than her friends. Why? Because she has more money, better designer labels, and a better type of car. OK, fine. Why do these things matter to her? Is she excited about the better car because it really is of objectively superior quality? It might be, but that’s not what the snob cares about. The snob feels superior because, ‘I have a car held in higher esteem by people than you do, so that makes me better.’

She doesn’t buy a BMW over an Acura, or even a Mercedes, because she has rationally concluded it’s a better car. She buys it because it seems to be the most envied car in her neighborhood.

The same principle applies with designer labels, or anything else a snob feels entitled to be snobby about. Trace back the origins of the snobbery and you will NOT find objective superiority as the standard. You will find being held in high esteem by others as the standard.

Snobbery is not the exclusive domain of the rich, either. A snob is anyone who feels he has the approval of his peers, and therefore he is superior to someone who does not have the approval of his peers.

Not everyone is a snob. But snobbery IS everywhere. A woman who feels superior because she has the same designer brand as the First Lady of the United States is a snob. She doesn’t merely have a really high quality dress (by objective standards), and feels proud to be wearing it. That’s not snobbery. What makes her a snob is the belief, ‘I have the same dress as the First Lady. This makes me superior, because everyone knows the First Lady is superior, and if I have the same dress maker then I’m superior too.’

By the same token, you could find a snob in a group of blue-collar men. On the surface, nothing could be more different: A rich executive’s wife versus a blue-collar Joe Six Pack? There’s no way he could be a snob, right? Sure he could. If his peers disapprove of someone who thinks differently from the group, and he belittles this person of his own accord, then he’s being a snob. How? By having the false belief, ‘I’m better than this guy because I agree with the group, not with him.’

Or, a group of high school kids belittle (or even beat up) the member of their peer group who works hard and gets high grades. They do so on the rationalization that this high grade getting guy is a snob. In fact, THEY are the snobs, because they are letting the ‘group standard’ decide who’s superior and who’s inferior.

The root cause of snobbery is what’s called ‘social metaphysics.’ Don’t run. I’ll define it for you. It’s not that complicated, really. Social metaphysics means letting other people, in some context, decide the standard. ‘Other people’ in whatever context replaces the standard of fact, reason, logic or even simple common sense.

Ayn Rand, who wrote Atlas Shrugged and much else, defined it this way: ‘A social metaphysician is one who regards the consciousness of other men as superior to his own and to the facts of reality. It is to a social metaphysician that the moral appraisal of himself by others is a primary concern that supersedes truth, facts, reason, logic. The disapproval of others is so shatteringly terrifying to him that nothing can withstand its impact within his consciousness; thus he would deny the evidence of his own eyes and invalidate his own consciousness for the sake of any stray charlatan’s moral sanction. It is only a social metaphysician who could conceive of such absurdity as hoping to win an intellectual argument by hinting: ‘But people won’t like you!”

Sound like anyone you know?

The snob is, by definition, a weak person. Nobody who’s objectively better in some context really NEEDS to feel superior to someone else. He or she knows his or her accomplishment or worth, takes pride and satisfaction in it, and that’s that. Other people are not a factor at all. This is how a psychologically healthy person feels, and as a consequence you’ll find no snobby behavior exhibited by a truly secure person.

Sadly, social metaphysical snobbery is everywhere. I have seen it certainly in the rich, but also in the poor, as well. I have seen it in men and women, equally. I have seen it in arrogant white men and people of color, gay as well as straight. I have seen it in Republicans and (believe it or not) Democrats as well.

It seems to me that we live in a world where few people understand the nature of reason and truth. I know that’s a heavy assertion, but it has real-life and everyday consequences for us all. People tend to feel unduly humble or guilty when their own conclusions, observations or preferences don’t square with the preferences of the ‘majority opinion’ in their chosen interpersonal circles.

Social metaphysics is a breeding ground for all kinds of immature behaviors and emotions, not to mention mental disorders and syndromes as well. Nobody—or damn few, at least—seek to be their own person. It’s as if they possess no means for doing so, because they’re constantly looking to ‘the group’ or ‘others’ to tell them what’s true.

Doesn’t it ever occur to them that most of those to whom they look for truth are just as lost as they are?

Nobody knows everything. But nobody need be lost, either. If you have the courage to observe what’s true and makes the most sense using your OWN mind, and your OWN powers of reasoning, then you will have liberated yourself in a truly rare and powerful way.


Be sure to “friend” Dr. Hurd on Facebook. Search under “Michael Hurd” (Rehoboth Beach DE). Get up-to-the-minute postings, recommended articles and links, and engage in back-and-forth discussion with Dr. Hurd on topics of interest.