Illusory Follies Andrew Flanagan's Blog

6Nov/074

Patently pretentious people

Is it just me, or do others notice a lot of people around them who are:

1) Pretentious

2) Obvious about it?

I think everyone's a bit pretentious (myself included -- notice the pedantic use of alliteration and long words in the title --and, oh darn, the use of the word "pedantic" just now). I think that as a Christian, and in particular who experienced a rather long period of life under a pastor who was a big on "mortification" I may be more sensitive to this than others. I was always able to see the dark side of my own actions (for example, "I'm writing this blog post because other people write more interesting things on their blogs and I need to be better than them"). Maybe it's unhealthy... It's definitely highly pessimistic. But I can't help but be somewhat annoyed when people think they're so clever but they're not very gracious about admitting their shortcomings. I think I mostly feel that people are "real" when they're able to say that they may not know what they're talking about.

So, if anyone ever asks you if your "motives are pure" answer immediately, "No!". I don't think this side of the pearly gates we'll ever have pure motives. I think that friends and relatives admitting faults to each other is amazingly refreshing. And to be clear, this is not the same as inventing trivial, almost good sounding faults. "I'm so sorry to give you such a large and expensive present!". Honesty, especially when talking about motives makes me feel so much better. "Sorry that I was abrupt with you today" is not nearly as helpful as saying, "I was in a rush and didn't consider that you had something you needed to tell me." Or even, "Sorry that I was abrupt but I was angry from before with you and took it out on you." (By the way, I tend to be abrupt with people when I'm irritated with them and I know that this last statement is one that I should say more often.) There's something there that isn't usually mentioned in an apology... It's a statement that you didn't do something right but now you'd like to make it right. It's not passing the buck or making excuses. We always can make excuses (I was in a rush, it was a stressful day, you were hard to deal with, etc.) but the reality is that these simply don't help the person that we're supposedly apologizing to. And the point is to help them.

But I've wandered a little bit -- I was talking about pretentious people. From the Free Dictionary I get the following definition:

Claiming or demanding a position of distinction or merit, especially when unjustified.

So, my gripe is that everyone, absolutely everyone has tons of problems and should be awfully careful that they don't act as if they deserve distinction or merit for their actions. And furthermore, that being humble will go a long way to really connecting with people. I was just listening to some lectures by Gordon Clark from a class that he taught. He was asking students in the class if anyone knew what the "Lycopersicon esculentum" was and making it sound like they should. No one knew. But instead of blithely going on and pretending that this was everyday stuff to him, he sort of stumbled over the term himself making it abundantly clear that he had simply written the name down himself and probably wouldn't remember it tomorrow. I know this is trite example but it was something fresh in my mind. He could have made himself seem incredibly smart but he instead really connected with his students by admitting that he didn't have this stuff memorized and then went on to make his point.

I was watching (I'll admit it) a rather horrible show called The Next Great American Band. The idea is that bands get up and perform and are one after the other eliminated until the voters (the watcher's of the show) have determined the final band that "makes it". Anyway, the point is that after each band performs the judges make some statements about how they think the performance went and what needs improvement. With one exception, all the bands said things like "That's just who we are", "that's how YOU feel", "We don't agree", etc. It was kind of disgusting. Because they "made it" to the show, they were too proud and self-important to admit fault at all. I thought some of the bands did well, but I was immediately disgusted afterward when they acted so pretentious about their performance. It's so commonplace now in America to act like this and it's sort of sickening.

This has been sort of a long post and I don't know what else to mention. It just bothers me a lot and it seems like people don't realize how bad they make themselves look. Doing something stupid makes you look bad but not admitting it or making excuses makes you look much worse than just stupid. Being smart makes you look good, but being smart and admitting that you don't have all the answers make you truly seem wise. And that's what we should all try to be!

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  1. well said, I very much agree. I really try to combat the self-conception of a purveyor of absolute truth as much as possible, and I know I don’t always succeed, but I hope that I do most of the time. if I ever get self-righteous in discussion with you and don’t realize, feel free to mention it.

  2. Well I don’t have to go very far into the past to think of real life examples of pretention; and again like you I may be absorbed with the dark side of my actions – for some of the same reasons I’m afraid. Perhaps when it brings me closer to God it is healthy, but I won’t go into that.

    So I was in class tonight, and we spent half the time reviewing the midterm exam. The prof stopped himself on question 5 out of 40 and said “should we do this, or is it a waste of time?”, and I said something like “well, I believe I have had a fair chance to learn the material, and there is no real need for reviewing the questions…” but he went on anyway. You see, I was starting to feel superior because he had just written the grades on the boards – the lowest was 60 something and the highest was in the low 90’s. I had the highest. Then as he went on to review the questions my comments were focused on why the questions were just fine, vs. several other complaining students (this is somewhat of a discussion style class oftentimes).

    Now here comes my humbling – afterwards a student came up to me and told me that essentially my behavior brought to mind the concept of Pareto efficiency, which he was just learning about in economics class, because my comments really didn’t help me, and it could be said, adversely effected the other students. He pointed out that a lot of students in the rows behind me were rolling there eyes and getting really frustrated that I was intervening in this.

    So, I told him something like thanks for pointing it out, and I told him that at the time I felt that I just couldn’t help myself (ignoring that little voice that says “stay in your chair and be quiet”), but that his input would help me think about my social surroundings and be more disciplined about considering the feelings of others. So… in so far as he hit on something meaningful, at least I admitted being wrong – whether or not it makes a dent in my tendency to put on arrogant displays.

    Hey, about the people in your category (2) may or may not be “worse” people, right – let’s see, I mean, I might admit being at fault not out of gratefulness and humility but because I simply realize that refusing to do so will make things worse. Someone without that realization might refuse to admin being at fault. I suppose the latter individual displays less integrity; but the former might have as much or less integrity of character, and simply made a different self-interested judgment call.

  3. Funny that you would mention Gordon Clark. I was just resurrecting the issue of the great van Til / Gordon Clark debates of the last generation, and the tremendous animosities that were generated, as well as staunch arrogance that followed, both from “van Tillians” like Bahnson and Rushdooney, as well as Clarkians, like John Robbins. Then, there are those like John Frame that feels that the controversy was a bunch of nonsense, with both sides failing to understand fully the opposing arguments. Yet, the debates are extremely instructive at helping one think out the nature of truth, and exactly how we know that truth. Just don’t let any van Tillians know that you are reading Clark.
    KAF

  4. “Being smart makes you look good, but being smart and admitting that you don’t have all the answers make you truly seem wise. And that’s what we should all try to be!”

    Or, to put it another way:

    Human wisdom includes recognizing the limits of one’s knowledge.


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