There is some very interesting way of comparing people. There's a Facebook application called "Comparing People", but it isn't very interesting. Who's hotter, A or B. Whom would you rather marry, A or B. Who's funnier, A or B. That's not comparing, that's simply rating. In the Six Dynasties period (in China), there was a really sophisticated discourse of character analysis and comparison, preserved to some extent in the anecdote collection _A New Account of Tales of the World_. The thing about that text is that it's not, for the most part, Who's smarter, A or B. Who's more virtuous, A or B. Comparing people is pointless unless it gives you some kind of insight, and the insights there are delivered through narrative.
Comparing people seems like a very touchy subject in our society today. The more serious the comparison, the less comfortable people are with it. In my world, Who's hotter is just--whatever. Whose book or idea is better? Who is the better scholar or thinker? We hardly dare to say. I was thinking about this during and after a long talk I had yesterday with my friend and colleague S-dot.
It is a difficulty with blogging these days that I really want to write very specific things about very specific people, and don't want to bother with pseudonyms and anonymizing... but I have to.
S-dot said, about himself, that he had high self-esteem but high levels of insecurity, but that a nightmare ex of his had low self-esteem but low levels of insecurity. It seems strange that these things could even come apart. I hadn't even considered that, but having done so, I think it's true. Furthermore I can theorize about why they do: you get self-esteem through your parents' love and approval, but you get insecurity or lack thereof from early interactions with peers. If your parents love you too much and your peers too little, you end up like S-dot--or me, as well. If your peers love you too much and your parents too little, you end up like "nightmare ex"--which I suppose is much worse.
I do think I much more like S-dot in this way, though I alienate people slightly less. Without a point of comparison (nightmare ex), it never would have occurred to me, though. In fact, I am like S-dot in many ways, but none of them superficial. S-dot is like a brother to me: underlying commonalities and wildly divergent surface traits. I am never nervous to arrange a meeting with S-dot, or even to talk to him on the phone (although I am generally very nervous to talk to anyone on the phone). I care about him quite a lot, but on the other hand, he also irritates me deeply about 20-30% of the time. That's 70-80% less than he irritates any of our other colleagues, who have urged me to "teach him some manners."
But I really shouldn't say more about that.
Last observation about comparing people--all the most interesting things one could say, the narratives one could relate, are unanonymizable specifics! I give up.