The art of the ‘put down’ is an integral part of one-upmanship. I like you. You remind me of when I was young and stupid.
Stephen Potter wrote the book “One-Upmanship: How to Win Life’s Little Games without Appearing to Try” and may even have invented the word, but he didn’t invent the concept. I have come to suspect that the attempt to climb the pecking order is little more than an extension into the modern world of basic primate courtship rituals. Unlike Capuchin monkeys we no longer urinate on our hands before rubbing it all over us as the ultimate aphrodisiac; but at their heart there isn’t really all that much difference in our behaviours.
It’s simple, the higher up the pecking order you are, the wealthier you are, the healthier your mate will be and the better the chance of your offspring doing well. So one-upmanship is probably something that is innate.
There are people who feel that they’re outside the system and who look upon those jostling for status with amused contempt. I confess that I have found myself in that category, living as I do semi-detached from conventional society. But in reality this pose can merely be another form of one-upmanship. As we sneer at those for whom the ultimate status symbol is a pair of fake Chinese made Christian Louboutin shoes, all we’re really doing is pointing out that we’re so superior that these people aren’t even in the same league as us. In one of his books, Jack Vance had a character say “I apologise if I trespass against the full rigour of your informality.” Sneering at the rules of Oneupmanship is in itself a gambit to put you ahead of those you are sneering at.
There’s also the indirect approach, the ‘one-downmanship’ approach as shown in the classic ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ Sketch
“TG: You were lucky to have a ROOM! *We* used to have to live in a corridor!
MP: Ohhhh we used to DREAM of livin’ in a corridor! Woulda’ been a palace to us. We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip. We got woken up every morning by having a load of rotting fish dumped all over us! House!? Hmph.
EI: Well when I say “house” it was only a hole in the ground covered by a piece of tarpaulin, but it was a house to US.
GC: We were evicted from *our* hole in the ground; we had to go and live in a lake!
TG: You were lucky to have a LAKE! There were a hundred and sixty of us living in a small shoebox in the middle of the road.”
I think it could be instructive that so many comedians say that they were the weedy kid who used to tell jokes at school to make themselves popular and avoided being bullied. If winning a good place in your social group demands the ability to punch the lights out of an opponent; for the weedy kid, survival demands a rapid reassessment of your assets and an alternative approach.
Then of course, there’s self-depreciation. It’s something that I’d like to say I was good at, but I always blow it by boasting by accident. Luckily it’s my humility which makes me the warm and wonderful person I am. “Humility is like underwear – essential – but indecent if it shows.”