Sunday, 2 January 2011

Positive Vision No. 6: Superior to None

Everyone is living as an integrated part of nature.

My affirmation to use while meditating on this positive vision is: Nature rules.

I believe there is another mental condition in addition to supplementitis and egoitis that is connected to the ego which is hampering the development of life on earth.  I call it the superiority complex. I wish I had the time before writing this article to read the books by Alfred Alder who coined this expression or other such works, but perhaps that's not important here.

It seems to me that there are certain types of people in the world who are driven to perfection (whatever that is), to outdo, outperform, classify, categorise, label, re-arrange, judge, confine, outmanoeuvre, construct, rank, and other such endeavours in an effort to be superior, superior to other fellow human beings and even nature. They also make certain animals, insects, etc superior to others, and make certain places on earth superior to other places, and so on.

This attitude has been around a long time. A general sentiment of superiority to much of nature was expressed in Phaedo by Plato over 2000 years ago. Although written at a time when geography, science and natural history were relatively new disciplines, the passage shows contempt for parts of nature.

“For this earth, and the stones, and the entire region which surrounds us, are spoilt and corroded, like the things in the sea which are corroded by the brine; for in the sea too there is hardly any noble or perfect growth, but clefts only, and sand, and an endless slough of mud: and even the shore is not to be compared to the fairer sights of this world. And greater far is the superiority of the other.”

The common meaning of having a superiority complex is when people go above and beyond justified superiority in their own view of themselves as shown by an unpleasant attitude. But I would like to clarify that I think any sort of superiority thinking is a sign of egoitis (see my Positive Vision No. 4 for further details). A superiority complex is pathological, but it is much more widespread and inclusive than most psychologists would be willing to admit. Yet, most people would acknowledge that to say someone has a superior attitude has negative connotations.

One symptom of this predicament was thoroughly investigated by Socrates as related in the Apology by Plato. Because humans have skills, knowledge and abilities they think they also know “all sorts of high matters” and have the wisdom to distinguish everything in a relational manner. Socrates spent much of his life asking questions of people to expose this lack of wisdom, but of course, nobody likes “to confess that their pretence of knowledge has been detected”.  I would not claim to be a big fan of Socrates, but at least he had the wisdom to acknowledge that he was not wise, “that God only is wise...” even though he had quite a lot of knowldege and mental ability.

Some examples may help to shed light on this problem and I could go on forever, but I’ll try to limit the list below to the most obvious symptoms of the common superiority complex as I see it. Mostly you will notice that quality is not the defining factor, but rather an attitude based on perception. Further, I do not believe that ‘superior’ is an appropriate word when comparing quality between two similar objects. For example, an intricately hand-embroidered silk hanky is not necessarily superior to a bog standard plain cotton one. The silk one may be of higher quality in that it is finer, more beautiful and expensive, but the cotton one would serve its purpose better and could be said to be superior in that fashion. Another qualification is that superiority does not refer to complexity over simplicity. For instance, a human is not superior to a single-celled amoeba, merely more complex.  After all, the Amoeba proteus has 290 billion base pairs in its genome whereas the human genome only has 2.9 billion bases.  It would seem that this amoeba could be said to be superior to a human on this basis!  What I would like to know is, how can one totally different form of life that serves its own function in the web of life be superior to another? It really is a matter of perspective.  In addition, as the term ‘superiority complex’ implies, there is usually more than one superiority thought or claim at any given moment and the following examples could easily be mixed matched and compounded, and only represent a small sample of possible contributing factors.

Place of abode:

• Natives (although not including indigenous people) are superior to aliens. (There's an old saying, “why don't you go back from where you came” which portrays this superior attitude.)

• “They live on the wrong side the tracks.” (a saying which means that they live in a bad part of town, e.g., a slum and they're not to be trusted or worth anything. ‘Tracks’ could also be ‘motorway’ or ‘freeway’ nowadays.  This is similar to redlining by banks where mortgages are unavailable for these people because of where they live.)

• A person who lives in a mansion in Beverly Hills is superior to a hillbilly in the sticks somewhere (an American TV sitcom was created for this one called the Beverly Hillbillies. Even the word ‘sticks’ as used in this context implies that it is superior to live in a developed area rather than in a rural fashion).

• Royalty must live in a palace with lots of expensive furnishings as befits their superior position.

• Living by the shore is superior to living inland (although, this may soon change with global warming).


• An Ivy League degree is superior to a State University one.

• Anyone with a college education is superior to anyone without one.

• Private owned schools are superior to public (state run) schools.

• All boys’ schools are superior to co-ed education (believe it or not, this belief is still held in some places, e.g., Eaton College, Windsor, Berkshire, England).

• Religious schools are superior to secular ones (superiority based on religion is very deep-seated.)


• Being a doctor is superior to being a nurse which is superior to being a patient.

• A banker is superior to a cashier who is superior to the customer.

• Scientists are superior to just about everyone else.

• The principal of a school is superior to the teachers who are superior to the students.

• A judge is superior to a barrister who is superior to a solicitor (at least in court) who is superior to a Legal Executive who is superior to a Legal Clerk who is superior to a Legal Secretary who may or may not be superior to the client (but all the others certainly are).


• A superstar is superior to a fan.

• A TV presenter is superior to a couch potato (someone who sits on a sofa and watches television a lot).

• A billionaire is superior to the billions of people who have no money.

• An Olympic gold medallist is superior to silver and bronze medallists.

• A fashion model is superior to plain Jane (someone who is not very attractive).

If you were to reflect on these instances of claimed superiority which are imbedded in our subconscious and come across as a normal part of the lives of many, you will see that it relates back to what Socrates was talking about as mentioned above. Each one of the types of people above may claim a superior position based on possessions, whether material or knowledge.  Of course, not all do, but those who do, do so so from a narrow perspective. When the whole of life is considered, nobody is superior to anybody or anything because we are all unique parts of the whole of the universe and interdependent. This interdependence means that there is always a give and take that makes all things equal in their own right.

Many of the above examples clearly show that the market and money are the cause for what is actually backwards thinking. And much of it has become so ingrained because of our dependence on the market and money to survive, in addition to the fact that it has been going on for millennia. “Of course, the merchant has a role to play in society, but glorification of merchant activities tends to draw people away from a recognition of the true source of life" (Fukuoka, 1978).  It is said that the market runs efficiently when the participants seek to fulfil their self-interests.  However, because these interests are based on the superiority complex, i.e., a narrow band of market defined self-interests,  most of our market based lifestyes are competitive and destructive instead of being co-operative and inclusive, and are becoming more so every day because of transnational corporations.

This superiority complex is bad enough when it comes to creating prejudices between people, but then humans spread it around and use it to rank and file the rest of nature as well. Insects that are unwanted are killed with pesticides while others are considered superior, such as bees. Certain animals are killed as pests and used in experiments without regard to pain and suffering, such as mice, while others are considered superior and kept as pets, such as hamsters. Certain bacteria are wiped out with drugs using antibiotics while others are claimed to be superior with the promotion of yogurt products. It goes on and on.

So back to the dynamic sleuthing duo as mentioned in my earlier articles on Supplementitis and Egoitis: What are Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson up to now? As we can see from the photo below, the superiority complex doesn’t afflict them because white is no longer superior to black and men are no longer superior to women.

Pan in to Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson joined by Dr Kate Pulaski. Now we really are in Star Trek, but hopefully it won’t take until the 24th Century to solve this mystery as well as the supplementitis and egoitis ones. Holmes has a pipe in his mouth, but only for show as there’s no tobacco in it!

Sherlock Holmes: I’m so glad you could join us Doctor Pulaski! All these mental afflictions do call for a second opinion.

Dr Pulaski: It’s my pleasure Mr Holmes. If I can shed further light on any of these ailments, I will be delighted.

Dr Watson: I was thinking, Dr Pulaski, that supplementitis and the superiority complex seem to be caused by egoitis. I believe that if we could find a way to cure that mental affliction, the other two would soon fade as well.

Dr Pulaski: Indeed, Dr Watson, I would concur. The ego seems to take over rational thought and cause reactions such as destroying the food supply and placing one form of life over another. But what I don’t understand is what causes it. Why do some people get it and others seem to be immune?

Sherlock Holmes: Are you thinking that there is a biological aberration or chemical reaction that sets off this way of thinking?

Dr Pulaski: Yes, Mr Holmes. It may be that we will need to consider these factors in developing a cure and a preventive measure.

Dr Watson: But Dr Pulaski, the mind has been known to conquer such illnesses through positive thinking, meditation and other such practices for centuries. Surely egoitis can be tackled in the same manner?

Dr Pulaski: Rest assured Dr Watson, my consideration of the physical causes is not a suggestion that we should develop a drug or surgery technique for the brain, but this knowledge could help with meditation and visualization efforts as well as development of appropriate positive affirmations.

Sherlock Holmes: Excellent Doctors, but let’s not forget regular exercise such as yoga and good wholesome food, speaking of which, I'm famished.  Let’s stop over at my apartment and I’ll whip up a tasty meal for us with foods from this morning's farmer's market.

The three continue on to Holmes’ London apartment, happy in their conclusions, but still aware of the immense amount of work to be done until these pandemics cease to threaten life on earth.

mmm .......... nature rules

Photo credit