The Respect



November 7th, 2021 by Diana Coman

~This is my translation of a 2010 article on Trilema: Respectul.~

Man being a social animal, it follows that each person will live among a certain group of other people. Any such group will always be structured as a hierarchy, to a greater or lesser extent. Strictly speaking, this extent can be very small indeed and the hierarchy consequently very flat at times, but it can never be entirely absent. Just like there can't possibly exist a purely bidimensional1 object in this world, some sort of surface without any depth at all, so it is that there can't possibly exist a group of people without a hierarchy. Sure, one can easily find real objects that may seem on a first pass bidimensional, such as a sheet of paper, but any closer look at them will always reveal that such objects are at best a remarkable approximation of a notion that is in the end purely theoretical, without possibility of direct existence in the real world.

As part of a hierarchy, each individual will occupy therefore a position that is superior to some and inferior to others. Which others will occupy, in turn, just the same sort of position2. The inferiority position is marked in social relationships through showing respect, while the superiority position is marked through showing condescendence. Obviously, the dictionaries emitted3 by the Romanian kakademy succeed to mistake one term for the other4. The two terms are not at all synonymous but perfectly disjunct5.

Respect denotes the attitude of giving priority to the respected person's need for action over one's own need for comprehension. As a result, the simplest and rawest form of showing respect translates in practice to doing as told instead of asking questions and requesting explanations. This is not to be confused with subservience, which consists in doing as told without asking oneself any questions at all. On the other hand, condescendence denotes the attitude of giving priority to the condescended person's need for comprehension over one's own need for action. As a result, the simplest and rawest form of showing condescendence translates in practice to interrupting what one was doing in order to explain something to someone who doesn't get it on their own. Of course, both notions are much more complex than covered by this rough sketch of an explanation but this little will be enough for the needs of this article.

It so happens that any given society can be fully covered by one single hierarchy or by several hierarchies. Primitive societies are usually enclosed by a single hierarchy, which is based on one way or another of translating "strength" - most often in the direct sense of who kills whom. In such societies, the respect is a spontaneous secretion, naturally and abundantly present as the direct effect of the correct functioning of the brain's fear circuits. As a result, all people are respectful, all the more respectful as death is a more common presence in their life.

As time passes and societies advance, there appears a plurality of irreducible criteria that can generate hierarchies. In such situations, condescendence is a spontaneous secretion, naturally and abundantly present as the direct effect of the correct functioning of the brain's gratification/self-contentment circuits. As a result, all people are condescending, all the more condescending as success is a more common presence in their life.

Romanian society has recently crossed, as a result of the maturation of production relationships, from a mono-hierarchical to a pluri-hierarchical phase. The crossing happened suddenly, through a tearing. If one generation had respect solidly inculcated through the most genuine methods, namely violence and the threat of it, the next generation found itself bereft of this form of socialization6. Unfortunately, this new generation finds itself at the same time bereft as well of the other form of socialization, namely through success, as it still lacks, broadly speaking, the competences and abilities that have slowly accumulated in other societies and other groups until they gradually overturned the mono-hierarchy.

The society of violence, of respect and of a mono-hierarchy is very efficient at organising the raw labour of its citizens but it dents significantly their creativity. By contrast, the pluri-hierarchical society is very efficient at organising and collecting its citizens' creativity but it dents significantly their capacity of integration through respect. The dissolution of the Romanian society as it is perceived and deplored publicly can be explained starting from this theory, as a practical exercise.

From a practical perspective, the pluri-hierarchical society is more productive for the needs of the economy, since creative work has become a more important source of gain in the wider, worldwide economy. It so happens though that, although all citizens are able to work, not all of them, but only a minority are able to create. The winners of this economic change are therefore only a minority, while the losers are all the others.

For the sake of increased profits or under the pressure of progress, depending on how you prefer to look at it, John and George lose their social structure that forced them to integrate into society according to their actual abilities, through respect, so that Marin wins his social structure that allows him to integrate onto a higher step, meaning through creativity and not through raw labour.

At the time when military service was mandatory and fathers as well as teachers did not spare the rod, John and George did not need to know or find out anything on their own, as the system took care of them and of their needs. From now on, the winning strategy for John and George would be, of course, that they increase their respect on their own and thus continue their life into a society that is more plentiful through the efforts of Marin. Unfortunately, just as the stupid never knows they are stupid, neither John nor George know, on their own, that they are the ones this article is all about, that it's precisely them the Johns and Georges of this world.

This generation is one to be sacrificed, as the saying goes7. Looking at it from this perspective, it's not surprising to me that Romanian films made during these times are good.


  1. Wordpress' own spellchecker objects to bidimensional as well as to bi-dimensional although it is fine with uni-dimensional and two-dimensional (though not unidimensional, somehow it seems to have a problem with the very mechanism of prefixes or something). Seriously, spellcheckers of this ilk are more of a liability than anything else (translator's note).  

  2. This is the third place in barely two paragraphs where the translation hurts as there's way more packed than the direct meaning in that super-contracted "care la randul lor" and arguably even the "direct" is not all that direct given the implicit subject, verb, object and almost everything else. The type of construction is more usual in Transylvannia and as such arguably a regionalism but otherwise it's entirely and quite fully clear to a native speaker or rather a native reader so one can't fault the writer for using it in a blog article. I'm not at all sure though how much of all that is implicit in the original text still carries over to English, even when unpacked plainly like that and despite paying thus the cost of lost flavour and added plainness. To state at least the core of it perhaps: for the purpose of the issue under discussion, there is no significant difference between the various possible positions in the hierarchy as the focus is on them being relative - there are always superiors and inferiors at any level (translator's note). 

  3. Yes, it's emitted and not issued, for good reasons, namely the nature of the dictionaries (translator's note). 

  4. As far as I can tell, there are plenty of other similarly (or even more mendaciously) confused dictionaries around, so this is not even an original achievement of the Romanians or of their cacademy, as such (translator's note). 

  5. It's worth perhaps to note here that the choice of "disjunct" is not at all random but a direct reflection of the original author's approach to comparing words and notions - it's through applied set theory, not algebra (translator's note). 

  6. I find myself having to either avoid the term "socialization" or defend it as it is NOT about "making something socialistic" but about a *person's* way of acquiring a personal identity and with it the means to be an active part of society (translator's note). 

  7. This "generation to be sacrificed" is a saying that was oft-repeated in Romania as a sort of explanation for current hardship as necessary for future gains to be enjoyed by the next generations aka "the children" (translator's note). 

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