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One facet of morality involves not putting others above you, not letting others put themselves above others, and using teasing, humor, putdowns, indifferent body-language etc. to attempt to "lower" those whom appear to be getting a "big-head" or whom are beginning to think very highly of themselves. A big part of this seems to involve attempting to lower the social standing and/or self-esteem of those who fancy themselves "alpha-males" etc. As I understand it, this facet of morality is (or was) especially prominent in hunter-gatherer societies which were for the most part "fiercely-egalitarian" and whom used humour quite aggressively and even cruelly to prevent anyone from getting a big head, since this was understood to lead to interpersonal conflict and even violence, and thereby to undermine group cohesion.

Anyway, this kind of behaviour clearly falls under the umbrella term of "equality," but its also much more specialized than the (very general) term "equality." The phrase tall poppy syndrome (hereafter TPS) comes close; however in TPS, the emphasis is really on belittling the size of a person's contribution; whereas in what I'm talking about, the emphasis is more on lowering the self-esteem of those who think themselves superior (although belittling the size of their contribution can definitely be part of that).

Question. Does philosophy have one or more terms for this facet of morality, and what have various philosophers written about it?

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This seemingly natural mechanism of restoring social equilibrium has, as you imply, many historical-cultural forms and political manifestations. Among the Greeks the Aristotelean sense of "virtue" is portrayed as a median between extremes, with Hubris afflicting and eventually destroying the hero who lacks a sufficiently self-critical sense of place.

The "tallest poppy" proverb has exact equivalents around the world, the "tallest blade of grass" in Russian, the "nail that sticks out is hammered first," in Japanese. A Chinese version was used both in imperial courts and during the Cultural Revolution. Even in popular comedy there is humorous schadenfreude when the rich man slips on a banana peel, but not when the poor old woman does so."How the mighty have fallen," we cry with delight.

What is crucial here is the political manifestation, which veers in two directions. The idea of "cutting the tallest poppy" implies, as your link says, that it is a person of "genuine merit" who is being reduced, at least ostensibly, out of common spite. The interpretation is famously expounded in Nietzsche's genealogy of morals as "slave morality" and resentment. It has gone on to modern mass mischief in the "John Gault" mythology of Ayn Rand. This view is naturally anathema to socialism and hostile to democracy.

Its most interesting form is in the Greek ostracism, through which people could vote to expel a citizen, and this was frequently turned on those whom history might define as the "best." A famous story tell of 'Aristides the Good' coming into Athens when an illiterate peasant asked him to help him vote in the ostracism. Aristides agreed and asked the man who he wanted to ostracize. The peasant replied Aristides the Good. When asked what Aristides had done wrong, the peasant replied, "Oh nothing. I just get sick of hearing him called 'The Good'." Modern tabloid news serves much the same bilious function.

The other political interpretation is that some form of leveling is indeed necessary and internal to any stable social system. Those who rise to power will only use it to expand their power. And it is true that in most societies, whether aristocratic or capitalist, those in power insist that the society is a true meritocracy, and thus any criticism of them is mere "cut the poppies" resentment by the 99 percent against those of "true merit." A "merit" usually attained at birth.

But how to restore equilibrium? Here the Hobbesian paradox arises. Thus society has at least two paths. First, a single "poppy" can rise to overshadow and level the rest, as in Hobbes's Leviathan or the emergence of Augustus as "first citizen" out of the civil wars of the Republic's "tall poppies" against one another. Or the society can constraint inequalities through an abiding myth of justice, whether some religious ideology or a "faith" in reason and the law. This is what Jean-Joseph Goux and others call the "general equivalent," the invisible center of a value system to which all citizens are relativized.

This is the precarious situation of modern constitution democracies that appeal to "equality under the law," but with the dangerous caveat that the "law" can be revised by external powers, such as corporate capitalism. Here, the height limit of "tallest poppy" is identified not as an individual but, in Gouverneur Morris's odd phrase, as "We the People," a kind of autocratic statistical abstraction, a representation that functions as a kind of regression to the mean. In modern, mass "statistical societies" the poppies are not so much cut as "averaged out" through rationalizing systems and ideologies such as "nationhood" or the "job market."

A long-winded digression, but I hope you will find some useful terms and indicators in the above. I would look at Nietzsche's "slave morality," the philosophical works on "resentment" and the history of "ostracism, for starters. The TPS concept itself seems to have near-equivalents in the proverbs and social mechanisms of many cultures.

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