The Strain of Pride

I’ve read most of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, but I’d never gotten around to his Tiffany Aching series til this month.  These books are pitched as more for children than the main Discworld sequence (which doesn’t explain why my local library stored them, in order, in YA Fiction, Adult SF, YA Fiction again, and finally the Children’s section).

I’d say they’re enjoyable, but not as much so as the main books (try Witches Abroad, instead, which I’ve just gotten onto my gentleman caller’s queue).  And I don’t find the ribald pixies that assist Tiffany entertaining in proportion to their page time.  But one thing that was fun is getting to see my favorite Discworld character, Granny Weatherwax, as a peripheral player in someone else’s story.

In A Hat Full of Sky, Tiffany delivers the following rebuke (not to Granny’s face).

“You test people all the time, test, test, test, but you really want them to be clever enough to beat you. Because it must be hard, being the best. You’re not allowed to stop. You can only be beaten, and you’re too proud to ever lose. Pride! You’ve turned it into terrible strength, but it eats away at you. Are you afraid to laugh in case you hear an early cackle?”

It seems like one of the best possible rejoinders to the arrogant Ghost’s arguments in C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. Tiffany’s portrait of pride reveals it as fundamentally fearful and covetous. To jump magic novels, it puts me in mind of this passage from Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead

She was levitating two inches above the ground and would have reprimanded herself had she noticed. Levitation was a reflex of immature Craftsmen. Students floated in the air to feel in tune with the universe, but, like any unnatural posture, hovering caused more tension than it relieved.

Sin is exhausting because it’s unnatural.  It contorts our feeling and our hearts into postures that feel strained.  Though, even when we notice the pain, we’re prone to misinterpret that ache as a feeling of power expressed, instead of wasted.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Randy Gritter

    I don’t know that wanting to be useful is a point of pride. Maybe. In some ways being useful means being distant. John Paul talks about using someone being the opposite of love. He means using someone for sex but he really means everything. Being useful means being less than fully human, less than fully intimate. I solve a puzzle for someone. They benefit from that and I feel good but they have not interacted with the depths of who I am. Yet is that so bad? I can see that the nature of sex is such that hiding behind being useful is wrong. But is the nature of puzzle solving comparable?

    Pride can take it to an extreme. We want to put our good parts forward and hide our embarrassing bits. It does cause us to twist ourselves out of shape. We can’t just be. Being used then appeals to us. I can mange my relationship and reduce myself to being a master puzzle solver rather than someone who often struggles to be a good human being.

    The corporate world will push you that way. I have a job function and I am that job. At what point does it become wrong? At what point are we refusing to love?

  • Jacquelyn Dierksen

    I adore the Tiffany Aching books, but I think the audiobooks are preferable, especially as far as the Feegles are concerned. Probably has to do with having the fun of their crazy lingo spun straight into sound instead of having to mentally translate along the way.

  • guest

    I don’t know, personally I find pride invigorating and not a strain at all. It’s the opposite of pride- self-disgust- which I find pulls you down and makes it hard to carry on.

    Although there’s an important distiction to be made in pride that’s actually deserved, pride in a job well done, and hubris, where you feel proud of yourself for no particular reason and with no evidence to back it up. I think hubris is always going to be vulnerable to criticism. If you’ve actually done the thing you’re proud of, though, I don’t see what’s wrong with feeling good about it.

    Both your examples are from fiction. I’d like to know if there are any real-world studies, from psychology maybe, that actually show pride is bad for us.

    And now I have ‘the devil came back to georgia’ stuck in my head. “The sin of pride!” the devil cried, “is what will do you in”

    • Dan F.

      I think that your definition/understanding of pride and self-disgust diverge strongly from Ms. Libresco, at least in my reading of her.

      From my own perspective, the opposite of pride is not self-disgust but humility, a certain willingness to admit that much of our success is out of our own control and that while we have worked hard (no one works harder than a humble person), results that are dependent on another individual will always be beyond our control. Pride, to my mind, is the belief that you have control over more than you do. It’s exhausting because it is really a form of dependence masquerading as strength and as a masquerade, is a form of lying (to oneself).

      Similarly, self-disgust is just another form of pride since it will (stubbornly) not admit to one’s own potential, gifts, talents, beauty, no matter how often they are pointed out by those around them. Self-disgust tries to control (negatively) self-image.

      I don’t think that enjoying success or accomplishment is inherently prideful.

      • guest

        Maybe. My definition of pride would be feeling pleased with yourself after doing something well. My definition of self-disgust is feeling disgusted with yourself, either because you’ve done something you know is wrong, or because other people have rejected you and you have internalised their criticism. I think it’s possible to feel proud of yourself for achieving something while still accepting that you were lucky and that other people helped you. There’s no contradiction there for me. What you are calling pride I would call arrogance. I still don’t agree that it’s exhausting though, I think arrogance can be invigorating. It’s certainly exhausting to be around an arrogant person though, I’ll grant you that. Calling self-disgust a form of pride just seems blatently wrong to me.

  • Cam

    Are you offering quotes from fictional characters as evidence for your claims? Or do the characters merely exemplify your claims, the evidence for which you don’t have time to share with us?

    Anyway, so you’re comparing fictional characters in one novel to bizarre caricatures in a different work of fiction written by a two-bit apologist desperately trying to avoid the descent into injustice and incoherence that results in his interpretation of Christianity when good, intelligent people reject the concept of god. Adam Lee dispenses with the Great Divorce here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/essays/the-great-divorce/

    “Sin is exhausting because it’s unnatural.”

    What does unnatural mean in this context? Does it mean.. not like god? Rocks aren’t like God. Since God is essentially a super-powered Homo Sapiens, most things in the universe aren’t like God, including most of the living creatures we’ve discovered. Or does it mean not in accordance with the telos with which we are imbued? I’ll go with the latter.

    What does exhausting mean in this context? Does it mean our thoughts are slower? Does it mean depression? If somebody has sluggish thoughts or depression, does that mean they have sinned? If not, does that mean that the mechanism by which sin affects us could become indistinguishable from other mechanisms that don’t involve sin at all? Wouldn’t that make this sin-exhaustion relationship totally ineffective at changing us for the better?

    If sinning is exhausting, how did that relationship become established? Did God construct humans so that sinning would tire us mentally, or did this relationship arise organically or as a logical necessity? If God constructed humans to become mentally tired by sin, then why didn’t he avoid doing a shitty job- why didn’t he do something that would actually work? We’re told that God did not create us as creatures who would not desire to sin because that would infringe upon our free will. But God is happy to infringe upon our free will by forcing a telos upon us, and forcing us to feel tired when we sin. That seems like a contradiction. Alternatively, we’re also told that God wants our love freely given.. but then he’s okay with making us feel exhausted if we don’t love him? That seems like a contradiction.

    Does all sin make us exhausted? When people become extremely violent, don’t they sometimes feel energised and lucid? Doesn’t this disprove your hypothesis that sin causes us to become exhausted? If not, what data WOULD disprove your hypothesis?

    • TheodoreSeeber

      I do not consider Adam Lee to be intelligent. I consider him to be a fiction writer.

    • Mr. X

      Out of interest: do you complain whenever somebody says something about biology and doesn’t preface their remarks with a complete explanation and proof of the theory of evolution or the scientific method?

      • Cam

        Well nobody in this thread is asking for justification as extreme as your analogy, the standard of evidence being sought is currently at ‘anything, anything at all’.

        If you argue that there’s a time and a place to query how somebody knows the things they claim to know, then I’m with you 100%. However, don’t you think that a blog that explores philosophical issues with a focus on rationality is a good place to raise these kinds of issues?

        • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com/ Christian H

          “If you argue that there’s a time and a place to query how somebody knows the things they claim to know, then I’m with you 100%. ”

          I’d also argue that there’s a way to query somebody on these questions. To me, your tone sounds like you expect Leah to have already answered your questions and you are upset that she hasn’t. This kind of expectation isn’t so fine, because the genre does not require a complete argument in a blog post–how could it at Leah’s typical blog post length? I suspect that your tone, and not your question, is why you’re getting some negative pushback on your comment.

    • Dan F.

      Adam Lee’s post “dispensing” with the Great Divorce is an excellent read if you are looking for examples of begging the question, poor reasoning and poor reading skills. It’s a shame really because a well written critique of the Great Divorce (instead of a dismissal) might add something of value to the conversation.

  • somervta

    I’m getting a 503 on the “arrogant Ghost’s arguments” link.

  • keddaw

    “Sin is exhausting because it’s unnatural.”

    What the heck are you talking about? Define sin, then define (un)natural and we’ll talk, but this glib statement is so generic and able to be interpreted however the reader wishes might seem deep to some but in reality you are saying nothing here.

    Edit: To take one sin from your new religion – is homosexuality “exhausting because it’s unnatural”, or is it exhausting because of the vilification and denial of rights from Christians (and other religions)?

    • Randy Gritter

      There is a genre of spiritual reflection. It does not require explicit definitions and strong arguments. It just reflects on life , on God, on fiction, on whatever. Leah points out a connection she felt between something that she read a couple of years ago and something read more recently with a few other random thoughts thrown in. It rang true for her. It might for you or it might not. It is not particularly Christian. Some of the categories she thinks in might be Christian but often spiritual reflections ring true across different faiths and even with atheists.

      Is sin exhausting? I have no experience with the example you cited of homosexuality. So take another example. Lying. I find lying quite exhausting. You have to remember what you said to whom and who is talking to whom and will likely find out what you said and what stories fit with what this person already knows and what creates a contradiction. It is hard work. Why? Because it is unnatural. We are natural truth-tellers.

      • keddaw

        “It does not require explicit definitions and strong arguments. It just reflects on life , on God, on fiction, on whatever.”

        Calling BS on this, and citing it as evidence that the non-specific nature of Leah’s original claim leaves it hollow and empty while making her as wise as a mirror.

        Sin is rather ecplicitly defined by her new religion, but she doesn’t yet accept everything the Catholic church teaches as sin to be sinful. What does she consider sinful? Until I know this, and if we accept your nonsense, then we’re left with a tautology that what is sinful is exhausting and what is exhausting is sinful.

        And I’d like some evidence that we are natural truth tellers when all the best art is fiction. And the majority of the world’s population follow the wrong religions.

        • Dan F.

          Good fiction (good art) tells the Truth, apart from the superficiality of whether a character or dialogue exists in space and time beyond the pages of the book.

          • keddaw

            You do know truth doesn’t need a capital letter, unless you’re using it as a code – in which case please explain because I’m not party to such a secret society.

          • http://janalynmarie.blogspot.com/ Beadgirl

            Exactly. Keddaw, the whole point of (good) fiction is to get at a truth, even if it is not the literal truth.

            As for the comment about the world’s population following the wrong religion, while yes, as a Catholic I believe that is true, I also believe as a Catholic that most, if not all, religions have some truth in them.

            Finally, being mistaken about the truth is not the same as lying.

        • Randy Gritter

          Citing it as evidence? Spiritual reflections are what they are. They do not show that you do not also have an argument for believing what you believe. Just like the fact that CS Lewis wrote fiction proves his conversion was based on imaginary lions. If you want to interact with logical arguments then you have to start with a piece of writing that tries to make one. This just throws out a few ideas and tries to suggest some connections between them. It is not bad because of that. It is just something other than an argument.

      • Rob

        Lying is harder than telling the truth because it involves not only remembering what actually happened but also inventing another version of events and remembering that too. That causes extra strain on your brain. It’s certainly not unnatural. Little children will begin to lie, without any prompting from adults, at the stage of their development when they start to be aware that their point of view is not shared by other people and that therefore other people don’t automatically know what they know. No-one needs to be taught to lie; most people can and do do it instinctively.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Definitely because it is unnatural. As exhibited by any ex-gay I’ve ever read.

      • Jones

        Most ex-gays are lying. Try reading something from actual gay people. They outnumber ex-gays by a wide margin. Or read the testamonies of ex-ex-gays, explaining how ex-gay conferences were used by most attendees as a way to meet other gay people and have sex with them.

  • Dan

    Leah,

    Have you read Pride and Prejudice? It fits in well with the theme of your post and provides an example of a character who overcomes that sin.


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