Monthly Archives: November 2011

Pride and Cosmopolitanism

Colourful army

Around 170 A.D., Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Pride is a master of deception: when you think you’re occupied in the weightiest business, that’s when he has you in his spell.” Even in religion, “pride” is listed as the most detrimental of the Seven Deadly Sins. Pride is the insidious parasite that sidles into your consciousness when, as Marcus said, you believe too strongly that the work you do is all-important. Examples from history abound: Maximilien Robespierre, after spearheading the French Revolution and sending the royal family to the guillotine, tried to push his deistic beliefs—“the Cult of the Supreme Being”—on the French citizenry, and was promptly sent to the guillotine himself; Cyrus the Younger, in an attempt to usurp the title King of Persia from his brother, Ataxerxes II, was slain by his own blood in a civil war; Louis Borders, co-founder of Borders Bookstores, had all the money, investors, and connections needed to create a successful online grocery delivery service, but Webvan nonetheless failed in plain view, in fact voted the largest dot-com flop in history by CNET.

“Pride is a master of deception: when you think you’re occupied in the weightiest business, that’s when he has you in his spell.”
Marcus Aurelius

The common thread among all of the above examples is the extreme sense of pride that one’s ambitions could not possibly go awry. Every failure believes that they are meant to be doing the work they’re consumed by; and if they fail—no, when they fail—they fail in grandiose fashion.

This is the thought that occupies the back of my mind as people talk of “American Pride.” I’m sure al-Qaeda had pride in the job they did on September 11th. Who’s to say that their pride is wrong and ours is right? Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals obviously comes to mind: “While every noble morality develops from a triumphant affirmation of itself, slave morality from the outset says No to what is ‘outside,’ what is ‘different,’ what is ‘not itself.’” This “slave morality”—Is it not the same morality that says No to those races that are different from ours? Is it not the same morality that condemned “colored people” for centuries? Is it not the same morality that manifests in the typical portrayal of “pride in one’s country”?

“…slave morality from the outset says No to what is ‘outside,’ what is ‘different,’ what is ‘not itself.’”
—Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

I’ve always observed that the overwhelming majority of people don’t know why they do or think what they do or think, and this is obviously the case in how Muslims are portrayed in the media. Maybe this is just the macro manifestation of a mob mentality gone completely apeshit crazy over a threat to their precious pride: the reporters need a story, and the American Pride is always a good headline, so even now, ten years after the threat, we rejoice over the loss of a life, we celebrate over the murder of a man of our own species. Or perhaps this is the kind of anti-cosmopolitan world we live in: whenever there is an inter-race conflict, the media will serve as cheerleaders to our cause, as a rallying point for our narcissistic, head-phone-wearing, screen-staring, detached generation that won’t dare to step outside its cultural vacuum.

Or maybe, just maybe, we can find a thought leader that has actually studied the classical philosophies and histories—not simply trained to smile in front of audiences and preach hope—and appreciates, no, affirms and embraces the cultural diversity that will collide with our generation like a plane into a building.

Let’s instead take a step back and learn from the man that wrote the book on cultural synergy, Cosmopolitanism. In the following clip from Examined Life, Kwame Anthony Appiah talks about how to reconcile clashing cultural customs with ever-growing globalization. I beg of you, watch the video, and then read the book.

Watch on YouTube.

Tyranny—It’s not just for breakfast anymore!

Revolution Wallpaper by Jeevay on Deviantart

Seven o’clock de la mañana. Tuesday, November 5th.

Susan slips out of bed, into her day clothes, and makes for the polls. Today would be the first day she voted. Finally! After all this time! She had been waiting her whole life—she was too nervous to even eat breakfast.

A few months later, many people would ask her why she voted. She would answer—and did answer to all twenty-nine of the towns and villages of Monroe county, and twenty-one towns in Ontario county—

“For however destructive in their happiness this government might become, a disfranchised class could neither alter nor abolish it, nor institute a new one, except by the old brute force method of insurrection and rebellion.”1

Indeed, Susan voted. Thoreau would be proud: “Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.”2

Lysander Spooner says that “a man, thus subjected to a government that he does not want, is a slave.”3 Wow! Now that is a statement I can agree with! Spooner and Thoreau were contemporaries and certainly we can see parallels in their ideas and philosophy. Perhaps Susan enjoyed Walden as well—she was an intelligent Female of the Species.

But she was still female! “And Man knows it! Knows, moreover, that the Woman that God gave him / Must command but may not govern—shall enthrall but not enslave him.”4 Is voting not governing—participating in government? What’s going on here?

Back to Spooner: “And there is no difference, in principle—but only in degree—between political and chattel slavery.” So Susan is not a contradiction, she is a noble, in the Nietzschian sense. She overcame the imposed regime within her own writ as a human being, as the owner of herself. She enjoyed the vivid sense of life that few experience.

Banksy in Boston: F̶O̶L̶L̶O̶W̶ ̶Y̶O̶U̶R̶ ̶D̶R̶E̶A̶M̶S̶ CANCELLED, Essex St, Chinatown, Boston

Susan B. Anthony ate tyranny for breakfast. She swallowed it whole, rejecting the notion that any inherited supremacy could crush her intrinsic rights: “for if a [wo]man has never consented or agreed to support a government, [s]he breaks no faith in refusing to support it.”3 A leader she was, infamously on the run. Maybe not in the John Brown-sense, but she inspired perhaps scores of women to cast the illegal ballot.

And so it is—What makes a leader?—the audacity to break the norms. The will to overcome that which does not make sense in the subjective valuation of the leader. When the leader necessitates overcoming an imposed regime, they are not acting tyrannical, but in fact they are an open and diplomatic enemy. That is the American way, after all—diplomacy, politics, compromise. And audacity.

(Photo 1 — Jeevay)

(Photo 2 — Banksy)


Footnotes:

1. Quoted from: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/anthony/anthonyaddress.html

2. Quoted from: Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience”

3. Lysander Spooner, “No Treason 1”

4. Rudyard Kipling, my emphasis