Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Pride vs. humility

A couple of reasons for writing today’s entry about pride vs. humility:

1) On the surface level, the endorsement of pride and rejection of humility seem like an obvious front on which LaVeyan Satanism may appear to be strongly at odds with traditional religious values, and/or dysfunctional in the values it espouses.  

I like to think the negative impression is weaker than in the past as far as the pride part goes, inasmuch as there are positive social movements with “pride” in the name these days - i.e. I get the impression that most people understand pride as a thing that is bad in excess rather than bad-as-such, which is then what LaVeyan Satanism itself says anyhow.  The humility part is worth addressing though, as while there are aspects of humility that I think LaVey does make valid points against, I would ultimately contend that the resulting anti-humility stance does not amount to anti-questioning-yourself, anti-admitting-you-are-fallible or etc.

2) Pride and humility are actually both more complex concepts than one may initially think.  I would thus argue that often when there is an apparent clash of values between two different religions on this front - e.g. between LaVeyan Satanism and Christianity - it is possible to at least partially reconcile this clash by recognizing that in fact the two parties mean different things via some of the words they are using, and thereby end up talking past one another.

My contention then would be that beneath the way each religion talks about pride and humility, whether as good or bad, there is fundamental agreement about what makes for a good human life, vs. the surface argument merely reflects different views about what is the most worrisome way to go astray from this vision of the good.

This entry is divided into three sections:
  1. Some examples of apparent clashes
  2. Complexities of pride and humility
  3. Reconciling apparent clashes
* * *

Some examples of apparent clashes

The contrast between traditional Christianity and LaVeyan Satanism re: pride vs. humility is perhaps most easily-and-efficiently highlighted via a comparison of passages like the following:
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
- Matthew 5:5-9
Blessed are the strong, for they shall possess the earth!
Cursed are the weak, for they shall inherit the yoke!
Blessed are the powerful, for they shall be reverenced among men!
Cursed are the feeble, for they shall be blotted out!
Blessed are the bold, for they shall be masters of the world!
Cursed are the righteously humble, for they shall be trodden under cloven hooves!
Blessed are the victorious, for victory is the basis of right!
Cursed are the vanquished, for they shall be vassals forever!
Blessed are the iron-handed, for the unfit shall flee before them!
Cursed are the poor in spirit, for they shall be spat upon!
- Book of Satan 5:1-5
From excerpts such as these, it seems like what Christianity is most worried about is people who go around with a sense of entitlement, patting themselves on the back for being ‘good’ because they live up to some supposed standard, while at the same time doing a lot more oppressing-of-their-neighbours than they do loving-of-their-neighbours (*cough* *cough* Pharisees *cough* *cough*) - hence the passage’s championing of said downtrodden neighbours.

LaVeyan Satanism, on the other hand, seems far more worried about people who thwart the potential-greatness of others via fear of the new and different, insecurity re: how the achievements of others may reflect unfavourably on one’s own accomplishments, outright hypocrisy and/or general conformist cowardice - hence the passage’s contempt for said cowards and hypocrites.

A better illustration of Nietzsche’s distinction between slave morality and master morality may well be difficult to find.  Note too that in saying that, I am not necessarily saying one is in-all-ways better than the other, but rather speculating that such drastic differences probably arise in part from the differing social standings of the founders of the religions.  As the left-leaning crowd would say, a marginalized person and a privileged one are not going to have the same opinions about what is good/bad about the-world-as-it-currently-is, about what problems most urgently need to be fixed, and etc.

The key point here, however, is that regardless of the exact reasons for the clash, that there is a clash seems self-evident at the current level of analysis.

* * *

Complexities of pride and humility

Reflection suggests that pride and humility are both quite complicated concepts, more so than some of the religious discourse (from any religion) about them might initially seem to suggest.  Each can be broken down into three aspects:
  1. How you feel about yourself
  2. How you assess your abilities
  3. How you respond to situational challenges, e.g. how you react to the ethical claims put forward by others
Each of these three aspects can in turn be broken down into a strength and a weakness.  This then is what leads to a lot of confusion, because, for example, a Christian might talk about a weakness-aspect of pride while saying it’s a sin, vs. a Satanist might talk about a strength-aspect of pride while saying it’s a virtue; they both call it “pride” though, which is what I then mean about people talking past each other.

Here’s then a listing of aspects of pride via the analytic breakdown just-mentioned:
  • Self-esteem: Liking yourself and who you are, on account of a realistic appreciation of virtues that you do in fact possess.  (attitude about self + a good thing to have)
  • Confidence: Belief that you can achieve what you set your mind to, based on a realistic assessment of your capabilities.  (assessment of abilities + a good thing to have)
  • Integrity: A sense that there are certain values you “stand for” and thus will not compromise on, thereby establishing yourself as honorable and trustworthy.  (response to challenge + a good thing to have)
  • Arrogance: Thinking excessively highly of yourself while failing to be realistic about your vices and shortcomings. (attitude about self + a bad thing to have)
  • Hubris:  Acting as if no limitations can possibly apply to you, on account of an unrealistic assessment of your capabilities. (assessment of abilities + a bad thing to have)
  • Stubbornness:  Clinging to values or to a particular way of doing things because it is your way, even after it becomes evident that is not the best way. (response to challenge + a bad thing to have)

A listing of aspects of humility via a similar analysis yields:
  • Modesty: Avoidance of unnecessary and counterproductive showing-off, i.e. just because you like yourself doesn’t mean you have to brag about it all the time.  (attitude about self + a good thing to have)
  • Prudence:  Awareness of the limitations of your abilities, leading you to reflect carefully before acting, rather than just leaping in.  (assessment of abilities + a good thing to have)
  • Compassion:  Thinking of others rather than being preoccupied only with yourself and your own group.  (response to challenge + a good thing to have)
  • Shame:  Dislike of yourself and who you are, based in an exaggeration of your flaws and a lack of appreciation for your potential.  (attitude about self + a bad thing to have)
  • Timidity:  A “I’d better not try because I’ll just fail anyway” -type approach to life, based in an overemphasis on your shortcomings.  (assessment of abilities + a bad thing to have)
  • Self-effacement:  Failure to stand up for your own needs and rights due to a sense of worthlessness; excessive preoccupation with not wanting to inconvenience others.  (response to challenge + a bad thing to have)

Another interesting way of understanding pride and humility is in terms of attitudes toward order vs. toward chaos.  

Via this approach, pride is the term applicable to areas of endeavor that entail the self imposing order on chaos.  Constructive aspects of it enable one to move confidently and competently through the world, vs. destructive aspects of it involve overestimating one’s ordering capacity, thereby inviting a collision with chaos.

Humility is then the term applicable to areas of endeavor that entail the self accepting that a certain amount of chaos is an irreducible part of life.  Constructive aspects are cognizant of human limitation and thus protective of oneself and others, vs. destructive aspects of it involve underestimating one’s ordering capacity, thereby amounting to a surrender to chaos.

This analysis in terms of order and chaos in turn invites an interesting angle on Nietzsche’s distinction between master and slave morality: masters are those largely able to impose order upon their environment, therefore their morality emphasizes striving for ever-greater excellence (as per pride + positive traits above); slaves are those who find themselves largely at the mercy of chaos, therefore their morality emphasizes trying to avoid bringing further trouble down upon their heads (as per humility + positive traits above).  The risks of each moral system then entail the possibilities that masters will overestimate themselves and make mistakes (as per pride + negative traits above) and slaves will underestimate themselves and fail to achieve their full potential (as per humility + negative traits above).

To say this much reinforces the impression of two clashing value systems, such that the sinister path (i.e. Satanism) could then be cast as an embodiment of master morality and right-hand-path religiosity (i.e. Christianity) as an embodiment of slave morality.  However, in the next section I will argue that the clash may not actually be as absolute as it first appears.

* * *

Reconciling apparent clashes

Looking at the above not from the perspective of a Satanist per se, but from the perspective of a philosopher of ethics, one might arrive at the following remarks:
  1. A person who possesses both self-esteem and modesty, and avoids acting in a manner that is either arrogant or shameful, will thereby make their way through life in a dignified manner, i.e. a manner deserving of respect both from themselves and from others.

  2. A person who possesses both confidence and prudence, and avoids both hubris and timidity, will thus be able to act effectively in the world.

  3. A person who possesses both integrity and compassion, and avoids both stubbornness and self-effacement, will then treat both others and themselves in accord with the requirements of justice.

These points in turn appear to suggest that if one wants to go through life in a manner that is dignified, effective and just, one actually needs an integration of the good aspects of both pride and humility, while at the same time avoiding the bad aspects of both pride and humility.  

My suspicion then, upon reflection, is that a typical member of the religions I have referenced in this entry (and others besides) will likely react to the above formula in a “yes, but…”  -type way that is revealing of their different assumptions re: where human beings typically go wrong, and what on that front is most worth worrying about.  To identify a very general pattern that I would expect:
  • Right-hand path religions, e.g. Christianity: modesty, prudence and compassion are good + arrogance, hubris and stubbornness are bad; self-esteem, confidence and integrity have their place, but are too-often exaggerated into the negative-pride traits; preaching against the negative-pride traits risks breeding shame, timidity and self-effacement via over-correction in the other direction, but excess of those negative-humility traits causes less total harm in the world than excess of the negative-pride traits.

  • Sinister (left-hand) path religions, e.g. LaVeyan Satanism: self-esteem, confidence and integrity are good + shame, timidity and self-effacement are bad; modesty, prudence and compassion* have their place, but are too-often exaggerated into the negative-humility traits; preaching against the negative-humility traits risks breeding arrogance, hubris and stubbornness via over-correction in the other direction, but excess of those negative-pride traits causes less total harm in the world than excess of the negative-humility traits.

* = As I expect the claim “modesty, prudence and compassion have their place in LaVeyan Satanism” to be the most contentious, I would here highlight that: i) among the Nine Satanic Sins are “pretentiousness” and “counterproductive pride” - i.e. the average LaVeyan will probably reflexively dislike the term ‘modesty,’ but I would argue that some degree of it is nonetheless implied via negation; ii) contra people who confuse the word ‘prudence’ with ‘prude,’ really prudence is just practical wisdom, and wisdom is framed positively by the Third Satanic Statement; iii) between reflection upon the First Satanic Statement and LaVey’s explicitly pointing out in several places that being a Satanist doesn’t mean being a psychopath who only cares about yourself, it is possible to arrive at an argument for compassion - maybe not the universal extent of compassion that some would prefer, vs. compassion more in the sense of care for one’s own loved ones and immediate associates, but still.

Now, many people are likely to read this and conclude “well, they still sound like total opposites then.”  And I see where that is coming from if one is in the habit of dualistic thinking (which unfortunately I think social media and various other factors train people in nowadays).  However, what I think should not be lost sight of is that the disagreement between religions re: these values can be conceptualized with regard to where people mess up the formula for being a good person who lives a good life.

By contrast, the formula itself (as per what I just wrote re: dignity, effectiveness and justice) does not come across to me as fundamentally-contested here.  And I think that is to be expected, really, inasmuch as human beings, regardless of subgroup, will surely all share similar needs re: vulnerabilities of the body and mind, need for social contact in order to feel fulfilled, etc.  One would, in other words, expect widely-shared optimal survival needs to translate into widely-shared moral imperatives, as evolution would root out societies that did not thus articulate imperatives favorable to the flourishing of their members.

Of course, one would not want to go so far as to say there are no significant clashes between the right-hand path and the sinister one.  Nonetheless, so long as one is dealing with functional, constructive members of either worldview (i.e. as opposed to, say, theocrats-not-grounded-in-reality on one hand and/or libertarians-not-grounded-in-reality on the other), it seems to me that some degree of getting-along ought to be possible.

My own experience, in fact, points to an even stronger conclusion that this one, as I actually both i) tend to get along quite well with many Christians I’ve known, and ii) have done more than my fair share of arguing with other Satanists (albeit more so in far-distant days of the earlier-Internet) re: the pointlessness of being flippant and snarky about what is essentially “straw-man Christianity,” i.e. trashing something that they do not actually appear to have much real understanding of.

I have also been situations in which the Satanist (me) and the Christians (friends of mine) wind up allied against certain forces of secular politics, on account of our shared impression that said forces are in fact guilty of arrogance/hubris/stubbornness.  This is one (not the only) way of conceptualizing, for instance, the apparent refusal to reflect upon how imperatives such as Nazi-punching and due-process-abandoning might lead to harm for undeserving parties, with the underlying “but our side is oh so good that we would never make punching-or-imprisoning-the-wrong-person mistakes” attitude then being what both religions are criticizing.  It is perhaps also relevant to the shortcomings of “I don’t need to actually read that book before I criticize it” and “I can judge that person’s entire life according to the demographic I classify them into” -type attitudes as well.

As one Christian friend at one point said, “if both the Christian and the Satanist think your position sucks, that’s probably a sign that you should rethink your ideology.”  :)

This suggestion strikes me as having even more merit if it can be demonstrated - as I have tried to do above - that it actually is possible for conclusions between these two religions to converge somewhat when it comes to questions of “good” and “evil” without utterly losing sight of values essential to either religion.