Tuesday, 19 January 2010

snark attack

"Just the place for a Snark! I have said thrice: What I tell you three times is true."
         -- The Bellman, The Hunting of The Snark (C.S. Lewis).
Snark is a portmanteau of snide remark and widely prevalent in certain circles.  It's origins in classic literature, subversive humour, puns and wordplay has seen it mistaken for wit and incubated exponentially by Internet semi-anonymity.  It intends to ridicule the envied or mock those perceived with too high esteem by re-hashing 'received wisdom' laced with attribution errors and anodynes for cognitive dissonance.  Methods used include low-brow humour, sly sarcasm and indirect derision rather than evidence or facts, relying on in-jokes and cliques built on taboo behaviour towards enviable success.  It caricatures indiscriminately, believing only the worst and attacks traditional values without offering viable alternatives.

Snark is a method of control, a normative process that like Procrustes, maims those failing to fit the hospitality of it's exponents.  Snark feeds the Dog In The Manger inside us on dirt, schadenfreude and vitriol.  Aristotle (in Politics) and Livy (in The History of Rome) tell how those in charge advise to weed out the pre-eminent to stay in control.  Livy's story inspired the observation of tall poppy syndrome.  Another expression of snark sentiment is Janteloven (Jante Law) or in Swedish, Jantelagen.  This is based on Scandanavian small town mentality and explained marvellously in this video.  .

Individual motives behind snark indicate a need to level social capital and equally to deny the pleasure found in others.  Snark attempts to express a perception of standards or need for appreciation at the expense of others.  It implies a competitive zero-sum mentality similar to that found in a bucket of crabs; this competitive streak is prevalent in those used to insider jokes and indirect humour. 

What is said reveals as much about the speaker as the subject.   In forming social contracts, is the need to normalise or identify needs worth offending or alienating people who you're spending time with?  Wanting to get things done or to be liked is reasonable. Being a jerk to communicate or meet those needs is less so.  Are you good company or is it guilt by association?

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