One of my longstanding social weaknesses has been a deep intuitive understanding of respect. I simply didn’t understand it at all, even if I counterfeited it well enough to get along. Respect made no sense, it was arbitrary. Jokes about ‘being dissed’ were funny to me precisely because I had no idea what this arbitrary thing was; clearly it wasn’t just basic courtesy, but beyond that I didn’t follow. Novels like the 3 Three Musketeers novels were enjoyable enough, but I didn’t follow what these things about honor and respect were that D’Artagnan and company would go on about, and would kill or die for.
But people always have some reason for doing something (even if the something might as well be random). So I was well aware that I was missing something, and that this something is very important given how often ‘respect’ is invoked in global culture.
But I think I’ve finally grasped what respect is about. I now see 2 different kinds of respect:
- True respect
- Social respect
True respect is the pure form. It’s what one feels for a great scientist like Isaac Newton or Charles Darwin: we consider their achievements to have been enormously profitable, of high utility, and we acknowledge that they were extremely difficult achievements.
This respect is moral, it combines personal like with personal approval: I think Darwin was a great guy and wish more people would emulate him in making great discoveries. This approval isn’t unconditional, though: I tremendously respect Isaac Newton, but I don’t think people should waste time as Newton did pursuing pseudosciences like alchemy. (You can’t even defend his work as at least showing alchemy a dead end because he didn’t publish any of it.)
To be given this respect feels great. It is emotionally rewarding to find someone who both likes you and values your accomplishments. True respect is akin to love1. We value it very much.
I have no issues with this kind of respect. It’s perfectly understandable. If one speaks of how they respect Neil Armstrong or Leif Ericson, I know exactly what they mean, and I can evaluate this kind of respect on rational grounds. The person did such and such things, which led to such and such consequences, and so on; I can think about whether this respect is justified—perhaps morally good outcomes happened despite that person and so they deserve that much less credit, and so on.
This kind of respect is no harder (but no easier)2 to evaluate than evaluating historical events. It is, ultimately, rational.
Obviously one’s view of history will change one’s respect. If you see Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a hero for his New Deal, then obviously you will respect him more than someone who regards the New Deal as not ameliorating the Great Depression and representing just an expansion of state socialism.↩︎
pg 101, What every body is saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People; Joe Navarro, Dr. Marvin Karlins, ISBN 978-0-06-143289-5; 2008↩︎