You feel contempt for someone who is inferior or unworthy in your eyes, because you believe they possess a negative personal characteristic1. It is not uncommon that some amount of stereotyping or prejudice is involved in contempt2. For instance, people may feel contempt toward bankers (greediness), unemployed people (laziness), criminals (ruthlessness), or uneducated people (ignorance). Although it is the negative characteristic that triggers the contempt, the emotion is felt towards the person. Somehow, that specific characteristic becomes to define that person as a whole.
The result of this judgment is that you feel this person is somehow inferior compared to other people or yourself. When someone feels contempt for people who are also in a ‘lower’ social position than himself, this is called ‘downward contempt’. For example, contempt for people with a lower education, for people who are lower on the corporate ladder, or for people with a less developed cultural taste. However, the opposite also occurs: ‘upward contempt’. This is when people feel contempt towards people who are (in a hierarchical sense) their superior. For example, people may feel contempt towards their bosses, towards government leaders, or towards a cultural elite. In each of these cases, even though the contemptuous person knows that these groups are superior in terms of social standing or power, they feel that these people are inferior in terms of other, more important aspects, such as integrity or solidarity3.
Because contempt inherently deals with a socially constructed ladder, on which some people are higher and others lower, the extent to which people feel contempt depends on how strongly they believe in such a classification. People who genuinely believe that everyone is equal will most likely not feel contempt towards others. However, most social structures have a hierarchical classification of some sort, because it functions to reward people who exhibit praiseworthy behavior and punish people who behave poorly. People who feel contempt have an urge to disassociate from the target, for instance, by avoiding them, ignoring them, or banning them from the social group.
In the comic, Murphy discovers that Patrick, the manager whom he already dislikes, has a very disparaging attitude towards his female employee. His blatant lack of respect and smugness evokes contempt in Murphy.