I’ve been wanting to write a proper post on “crab mentality” ever since I noticed that my post on Ako Mismo unexpectedly got into the first few pages of Google’s search results, but I didn’t feel like writing about something so trivial.
Unfortunately, some idiot tried to use that term as a rebuttal in a Facebook hate group that I passed by earlier today and it looks like it’s a good time to share my thoughts about that Filipino derogatory term.
As I see it, there are two uses for the term “crab mentality”:
As a catch-all rebuttal
You’re just saying that because you’re insecure.
You’re sour grape-ing; just because you don’t have xxxx, you’re attacking it.
Why do you keep on criticizing xxxx? That’s crab mentality!
If you’ve taken high school English or college Philosophy, you know that these are fallacies, not arguments. However, even while knowing this, people will keep on flinging fallacies at each other whenever there is a point to be argued.
To understand why people degenerate to using “What you’re doing is crab mentality!” and other fallacious statements in arguments, we must step back and understand how humans think and how they respond to certain situations. You don’t need to be a psychologist to find the answers to this problem; there’s a book you could find cheap in second-hand bookstores that explains it well.
Yep, How to Win Friends & Influence People, a book so well known that its cliche/parody status has prevented people from actually picking up the book and reading it.
Anyway, one of the chapters in the book neatly explains why flame wars tend to end up ugly in the long run. The title of the chapter?
You Can’t Win an Argument
Here’s Dale Carnegie’s explanation:
You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? Well, suppose you triumph over the other man and shoot his argument full of holes and prove that he is non compos mentis. Then what? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have hurt his pride. He will resent your triumph. And—
A man convinced against his will
Is of the same opinion still
When people see their beliefs being attacked by other people, or even when people just feel that their beliefs are threatened, human nature will make them leap to the defense of that belief. At first, arguments may be logical, but there will come a point in a debate where the fact that humans are not logical animals will come up. At this point, logic will be thrown out of the window and fallacies will start to show up.
The end result is always the same: neither side will concede, and both sides will consider themselves the victor.
This is the reason why when I see people accusing other people of crab mentality in a flame war, I stop watching or participating in it. It just isn’t worth it. Heck, my years of trolling arguing with people with strong beliefs have taught me to stop way before that point, usually when I notice that someone has said something subtly contradictory (i.e. stupid).
In short, this use of “crab mentality” is improper because it’s no different from other catch-all rebuttals. The only proper use of the term is:
As a term to describe a certain human behavior
Pulling other people down instead of working together.
When you think about it, it’s not exactly a Filipino-only behavior. I mean, the Seven Deadly Sins has “envy” and ancient history is full of usurpers. I even quoted Machiavelli once about something that could be classified as crab mentality.
It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.
- Niccolò Machiavelli, “The Prince”
In other words, it’s a substitute term for a concept, just like using “cosplay” for wearing a costume regardless if it’s Halloween or not; and “color of the bike shed / pissing match” for trivial debates. I guess the term stuck because Filipinos are so deep into learned helplessness that they’d rather blame circumstance that shut up and do something about things.
The term, while depressing in the Filipino context, is actually pretty decent as a substitute term. It’s a bit ambiguous and not that popular outside the country, but terms like these tend to be like that.
The problem with “crab mentality” as a term is its use in arguments. The most obvious problem is that it’s a fallacy when used as an argument. The other not-so-obvious problem is that you can’t use it in an argument because there’s no way you can differentiate “having crab mentality” with “playing devil’s advocate” (which can be malicious or not). You don’t know whether that person is pulling you down or pulling you out of the fire.
That said, there’s no reason why “crab mentality” should show up in a serious debate.
IMHO, the correct response to it would be to raise an eyebrow and suppress a chuckle. If the one saying it doesn’t realize how stupid his approach is, it’s a hopeless case.