On Deference

On Deference August 18, 2020

Deference is a funny thing. Well, it is to me, anyway. The longer I have philosophised and analysed the world around me, the more I have felt that we are all humans and we are all, in some sense, equals. With regard to myself and my own competencies, I have really begun to challenge the idea of deference. It doesn’t have a place in my life.

These days, I believe that if I sat in a room for a chat with Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Boris Johnson, the Queen or Lord Fauntleroy III, I would treat them as complete equals without showing any untoward deference. Even my heroes – cultural, philosophical or academic or whatever – I don’t think I would show anything other than some excitement about meeting them.

Deference seems to be a sort of caste or hierarchal system that I simply don’t adhere to. There may be times, perhaps in some organisational or work environment, where you might show some form of obsequious deference for pragmatic reasons, but this wouldn’t be a genuine sort of deference, just a means to an end. This would, of course, be the result of some kind of power differential.

Genuine deference is dependent upon a belief that someone, say, an Earl or a monarch or some billionaire, has some kind of intrinsic value over and above a mere peasant like oneself. This is, of course, pure nonsense.

Value appears to be very much a contextual abstract. One might be far more intellectually, and in terms of knowledge, superior to another such that it could cause the other person to feel naturally inferior, but this other person might be stronger and more physical and could easily punch the first person in the face. In an academic debate, the first person might have more value, but in a fight, the second. We all have different values in different contexts and shouldn’t let wealth and power beguile us into showing deference where it is not merited.

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