‘That’s Too Good For Me’

Who here hasn’t been prideful? Who, right here, isn’t prideful still?

Who hasn’t said: “That’s too good for me”? Who hasn’t gotten huffy, murmuring under one’s breath: “That’s beneath me.” Whose anger isn’t slowly brought to a simmer, only to remain on a low boil?

In 1981, Alasdair MacIntyre must have seen pride as the great vice of that sovereign self, the one with emotivist colorings. In After Virtue, he points out that the Aristotelian account of teleological ethics had three components. One, a state of “untutored” human nature. Two, the proper telos for an excellent, full human life: a condition of (call it) “cultivated” nature. And, three, the salient virtues, which–make no mistake–are not just the ethical “means” by which one is transformed from untutored to cultivated but also that through which one is constituted. The virtue of caritas drenches us in love, in loving charity.

Pride, so lauded among the Classical Greeks and rightly criticized by medieval Christians, has, in modernity, become the accompaniment to human beings’ inviolable autonomy and autarchy. As a result, untutored nature remains untutored, glorifying at the same time in what were once vices: greed (now calculating self-interest), vanity (now fitness and physical attractiveness), excessive wealth (now financial freedom and then some), lust (now perfectly ‘natural’ sexual desire’ to be satisfied by porn or in the flesh), and envy (now, for the one so envied, ‘impressiveness’ and influential-dom).

Of course, the remedy for pride is humbling the heart. But from what source today? Which Zen master or Benedictine abbot will humble the young, headstrong one? Who–tell me: who–will mop the floors? Which leader in the C-suite will just listen as others stumble over their lines (unless, to be sure, he has learned that it’s part of “vulnerable leadership” to be engaged in “appreciative inquiry”)?

Pride, giving a free pass to the tyranny and ubiquity of the ego-self, is sanctified in liberalism and libertarianism. The former upholds pluralism, the latter the inviolability of the body and the freedom of the mind. Consequently, anything goes.

Without regnant, widely shared conceptions of the good, for what, in view of what will we humble ourselves? For what reason?

Joined by ignorance, pride sees that there is nothing whatsoever the matter. Wisdom, were it to be heard, would tell us otherwise.