Pride and the Great Chain of Being

2014-03-05

A thought on the nature of pride.

I have noticed that my recent (longer) posts have a strong Christian flavor to them. In my defense, the other things in my head normally involve computer programming, fictional worlds, why I don't have a girlfriend, and that the world is confusing. The first two depend on too much prior knowledge, and the that two are boring (even to me). So you get Christianity.

In Christian theology/philosophy (line line is fuzzy at best), evil is normally considered to be "disordered". That is to say, something is where it shouldn't be, or is isn't where it should be. The evil is not in the components, but in their incorrect arrangement. For example, cowardice is a lack of courage (or a surplus of self-preservation), while recklessness is a surplus of courage (or a lack of self-preservation). Exactly what is wrong may vary between descriptions, but there is always something.

And now we come to pride/arrogance. Pride is traditionally considered the worst sin, insomuch as a ranking is meaningful. You would think it would be malice, but that is beyond my scope here. The thing is, using the "disorder" theory or evil above, whatever composes pride should also have a ordered (non-evil) form. In my experience, theologians generally prefer to condemn pride than study it, so I have never actually read anything on what this ordered form might be. But I have a guess.

We (humans) instinctively understand that the world requires different people/things/components to do different things. The extreme form of this is something like the medieval Great Chain of Being, which placed everything in order of status, ranging from God (highest) to rocks (lowest). In a more modern form, we have the division of labour, where people specialize in different skills. On a dairy farm, grass plants convert solar energy (among other things) into leaves, and cows convert the leaves into milk.

You will notice that there is still a hierarchy here. We recognize the cows as somehow "above" the grass, and the farmer who collects the milk as above the cows. In a business, giving orders is not merely different than obeying them, it is "higher". We all understand this, and what is more, we know that there are proper tasks for each position (although we argue over exactly what they are). The CEO of Aperture Science should be making policy decisions, not operating a corner-cutting machine in the factory. If his job description says he has to cut the corners himself, the job description is wrong.

I think pride happens when this sense of proper places gets mixed up. We don't actually say the CEO is "too good" to operate the corner-cutting machine, but that is what we mean. On the other hand, if the proper operator felt he was too good to run the machine, that would be pride. Similarly, the CEO really doesn't have time to talk to all the employees who might want to talk to him, and there is nothing wrong with that. On the other hand, the corner-cutter operator who refused to talk to his coworkers would be proud. Pride consists of acting is if your place in the hierarchy of being is higher than it really is: you are applying rules in the wrong circumstances.

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