The Morning Call struggles with vanity

As every schoolboy knows, Pride is, in the Christian tradition, one of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Indeed, it is the deadliest of the deadly sins, the father of all evil, the sin that transformed the light-bringing angel into Lucifer the devil.

Aristotle, by contrast, was less sure about pride and its deleteriousness.  “The truly proud man,” he said, “must be good.”

Greatness in every virtue would seem to be characteristic of a proud man. And it would be most unbecoming for a proud man to fly from danger, swinging his arms by his sides, or to wrong another; for to what end should he do disgraceful acts, he to whom nothing is great? If we consider him point by point we shall see the utter absurdity of a proud man who is not good. Nor, again, would he be worthy of honour if he were bad; for honour is the prize of virtue, and it is to the good that it is rendered. Pride, then, seems to be a sort of crown of the virtues; for it makes them greater, and it is not found without them.

For Aristotle, false modesty and vanity were the vices associated with pride:

Vain people, on the other hand, are fools and ignorant of themselves, and that manifestly; for, not being worthy of them, they attempt honourable undertakings, and then are found out; and tetadorn themselves with clothing and outward show and such things, and wish their strokes of good fortune to be made public, and speak about them as if they would be honoured for them.

C.S. Lewis, our modern-day Aristotle, was of two minds on pride and vanity.  In Mere Christianity, he argued that vanity was lesser – and less deadly – form of pride:

The trouble begins when you pass from thinking, ‘I have pleased him; all is well,’ to thinking, ‘What a fine person I must be to have done it.’ The more you delight in yourself and the less you delight in the praise, the worse you are becoming. When you delight wholly in yourself and do not care about the praise at all, you have reached the bottom. That is why vanity, though it is the sort of Pride which shows most on the surface, is really the least bad and most pardonable sort. The vain person wants praise, applause, admiration, too much and is always angling for it. It is a fault, but a child-like and even (in an odd way) a humble fault. It shows that you are not yet completely contented with your own admiration. You value other people enough to want them to look at you. You are, in fact, still human. The real black, diabolical Pride, comes when you look down on others so much that you do not care what they think of you.  

In his classic tale, The Great Divorce, Lewis nevertheless reasoned that vanity could still be potent and deadly.

In this story, the ghosts of people trapped in the Gray City (Hell) are allowed to board a bus to the Bright World (Heaven), where they witness and can converse with the glorious, glorified spirits of heaven.  These ghosts may cross over, move from Hell to Heaven.  All they must do to make this transition is to repent, to give up the one sin that caused their condemnation in the first place.

Among the ghosts on the bus is a woman whose weakness was her vanity.  She is invited by one of the glorious spirits to leave the bus and make the cross-over journey, to save herself from death and eternal damnation and to embrace life:

"How can I go out like this among a lot of people with real solid bodies? It's far worse than going out with nothing on would have been on earth. Have everyone staring through me."

"Oh, I see. But we were all a bit ghostly when we first arrived, you know. That'll wear off. Just come out and try."

"But they'll see me."

"What does it matter if they do?"

"I'd rather die… No, I can't. I tell you I can't. For a moment, while you were talking, I almost thought... but when it comes to the point… You've no right to ask me to do a thing like that. It's disgusting. I should never forgive myself if I did. Never, never. And it's not fair. They ought to have warned us. I'd never have come. And now-please, please go away!"

"Friend," said the Spirit, "Could you, only for a moment, fix your mind on something not yourself?"

"I've already given you my answer," said the Ghost, coldly but still tearful.

Anyway, we’ve been thinking a great deal lately about pride and especially about vanity.  The latter, in particular, seems epidemic in American society these days.

In Dripping Springs, Texas, a father stripped down during a school board meeting Monday to make a point around mask mandates. According to KXAN, James Akers is the parent and fifteen-year resident of Dripping Springs, who got to speak to the school board just thirty minutes into the meeting.

“I do not like government or any other entity — just ask my wife — telling me what to do,” Akers said. “But, sometimes I’ve got to push the envelope a little bit, and I’ve just decided that I’m going to not just talk about it, but I’m going to walk the walk.”

Akers then began stripping down while outlining various societal expectations, such as wearing a tie, stopping at red lights and not parking in handicap spots. These are societal expectations people are expected to follow and he believes masks fall into that category.
Akers ended his comments with nothing but his underwear on and applause from the attendees. “It’s simple protocol, people,” he said. “We follow certain rules. We follow certain rules for a very good reason.”

Ah.  He stripped down to make a point.  And that point, of course, was “LOOK AT ME!”

This may be the first time we’ve read about a man stripping “in protest,” but this happens all the time.  People take off their clothes “to protest,” and then the media takes them and their cause at face value.  “Oh.  Look how brave she is, showing the world her [insert body part] in order to make an important point about [insert cause here].  That takes guts!...And six-pack abs, amiright?”

On Tuesday, two American Congressmen, Democrat Seth Moulton (MA) and Republican Peter Meijer (MI) chartered a plane and flew into Kabul airport, you know, just to check things out. According to the AP, these two incredibly dedicated advocates for the people and overseers of the military made their plans and conducted their trip “without coordination with diplomats or military commanders directing the evacuation.”  Because that’s what you do when you’re a bold, take-charge kinda guy.

The AP notes as well that “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Tuesday evening taking note of the desire of some legislators to visit Afghanistan and saying she was writing to “reiterate that the Departments of Defense and State have requested that Members not travel to Afghanistan and the region during this time of danger.”  Of course more Members want to go to Afghanistan.  It is extremely unfair that the two who thought of the idea first should be the only ones who get to have pictures of themselves looking tough, brave, and still compassionate.

There’s a word for these people – from Moulton and Meijer to their now demoralized colleagues.  But since we try not to swear (too often) in these pages, we’ll leave that to your imagination and will simply refer to them by a synonym for that foul word: “Members of Congress.”

As for the Biden administration’s reaction to the debacle it caused at Kabul airport, no one will acknowledge that anything has happened that was unplanned or unforeseen.  They’re all too vain and too stubborn to do anything that might help the situation because that would require asking for help.  And – again, as every schoolboy knows – asking for help is a sign of weakness.

It’s all so tragically clichéd.

We suppose we should be grateful that they still care what other people think, that they aren’t so far that they suffer from the diabolical Pride that “comes when you look down on others so much that you do not care what they think of you,” e.g. when you hold your damned 60th birthday party in the middle of a pandemic resurgence because…well…you’re you and no one else is or ever will be.

Narcissus, you may recall, was so vain, so enamored with himself that he died in service of his self-absorption.

Will we?

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