Crab mentality is a phrase popular among Filipinos, and was first coined by writer Ninotchka Rosca, in reference to the phrase crabs in a bucket It describes a way of thinking best described by the phrase “if I can’t have it, neither can you.” The metaphor refers to a pot of crabs. Individually, the crabs could easily escape from the pot, but instead, they grab at each other in a useless “king of the hill” competition which prevents any from escaping and ensures their collective demise. The analogy in human behavior is that members of a group will attempt to “pull down” (negate or diminish the importance of) any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy, conspiracy or competitive feelings.
The concept figures prominently in Terry Pratchett‘s novel “Unseen Academicals.” A fish monger does not bother to keep a lid on the crab bucket because “any that tries to get out gets pulled back.” The protagonist comes to realize that his social status results not from external repression, but from his own low expectations of himself: “The worst of it is, the crab that mostly keeps you down is you.”
This term is broadly associated with short-sighted, non-constructive thinking rather than a unified, long-term, constructive mentality. It is also often used colloquially in reference to individuals or communities attempting to improve their socio-economic situations, but kept from doing so by others attempting to ride upon their coat-tails or those who simply resent their success.
The popularity of the phrase has made accusing opponents of crab mentality a common form of defense against criticism, whether the criticism is valid or not. In logic, this tactic is considered a common logical fallacy known as argumentum ad invidiam, or appeal to envy.