Archive for September 22nd, 2019

Pride and Prejudice

September 22, 2019

I saw this meme posted on Facebook.

I don’t actually subscribe to the point of view expressed in this meme. To begin with, I do not believe that expressing pride is actually a good thing. Pride, according to Roman Catholic doctrine is considered to be one of the seven deadly sins. Many Christian thinkers have viewed pride as the worse of all the sins, the sin that caused Lucifer to rebel against God and become Satan. As C. S. Lewis put it in Mere Christianity:

The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. You may remember, when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the center of Christian morals did not lie there.  Well, now, we have come to the centre.  According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride.  Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

If pride in oneself and one’s own accomplishments is a vice or a sin, what about pride in one’s race or ethnicity? None of us have had any choice about the race in which we were born. It seems to me to be more than a little silly to take pride in something over which we had absolutely no control over. Why should I be proud to be White? I did not choose to be White. If other White people have accomplished a great deal to be proud of, they are not my accomplishments. Race pride is both foolish and pernicious.

If I do not agree with the sentiment in this meme, I cannot deny the logic expressed.  Why is race pride considered to be a good thing in every case except for Whites? Perhaps the answer is that Whites have committed horrible crimes against people of other races in the past and present and therefore being White ought to be a cause of shame rather than pride. But this only raises another question. If every White person ought to feel a collective shame and guilt for the admittedly considerable injustices and atrocities of other White people, then why should they not also feel pride in the considerable accomplishments of other Whites?

The idea seems to be that encouraging greater collective identification among people belonging to groups, racial or otherwise, who have been discriminated against in the past will help to eliminate discrimination against them. Highlighting the particular accomplishments of each group will help to alleviate the lingering effects of past discrimination. Shaming Whites, particularly While males for being the perpetrators of past discrimination against other groups will help to eliminate present and future discrimination. Dividing everyone up into groups and encouraging everyone to be proud of their group, except White males will help everyone get along better.

I think this emphasis on race pride will have the opposite effect. I think that encouraging everyone to identify with and take pride in their race will only encourage racism. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, pride is essentially a competitive sin.

Now what you want to get clear it that Pride is essentially competitive – is competitive by its very nature – while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident.  Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If someone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.  That is why I say that Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not.  The sexual impulse may drive two men into competition if they both want the same girl. But that is only by accident; they might just as likely have wanted two different girls. But a proud man will take your girl from you, not because he wants her, but just to prove to himself that he is a better man than you. Greed may drive men into competition if there is not enough to go round; but the proud man, even when he has got more than he can possibly want, will try to get still more just to assert his power.  Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride.

You cannot really be proud of your group without eventually distaining members of other groups. A person who is proud of his race is proud because he believes his race his better than others. He can only take pride in his own race by believing that other races are inferior. The net effect of encouraging race pride can only be to set people of different races against each other.

I also do not believe that treating Whites as though white skin were the mark of Cain is going to be very effective at reducing White racism. In the long run, it is more likely to increase racism among Whites. No one wants to be the villain of the story. Over time, Whites are going to become more conscious of the hypocrisy of rewarding expressions of race pride among other races while condemning any expression of racial pride in their own race. They are going to feel as if they are the ones being discriminated against. Whites will be all the more susceptible to racist demagogues who tell them that they have no reason to be ashamed of their race. In fact, they will say, Whites have more reason to be proud than others. It will not end well.

If we must be proud of our race, why not be proud of belonging to the only race that really matters, the human race. If we want to fight racism, we shouldn’t be driving people of different races apart by emphasizing what makes us different but bringing ourselves together by focusing on what makes us alike. To quote C. S. Lewis again, this time from Prince Caspian

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

Let us be content.

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