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Greg Johnson & Hugh MacDonald
Vanity, Pretentiousness, & Snobbery

John William Waterhouse, Echo and Narcissus

John William Waterhouse, Echo and Narcissus

56:55 / 133 words

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Greg Johnson has a conversation with Canadian filmmaker Hugh MacDonald about the concepts vanity, pretentiousness, and snobbery. Topics include:

  • Good and bad senses of vanity
  • Good and bad senses of pretentiousness
  • The concept of taste
  • Good and bad senses of snobbery
  • Elitism
  • Bad vanity, pretentiousness, and snobbery all have aspects of failure and falsehood
  • Narcissism
  • Rousseau on vanity (amour propre) vs. self-love (amour de soi-même)
  • Vanity and honor
  • Caring about the opinions of others
  • Vanity and civilization

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8 Comments

  1. J Bonaccorsi, Phila
    Posted May 4, 2015 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    Enjoyed this. Maybe Messrs. MacDonald and Johnson will be interested in the following:

    “The vanity of others offends our taste only when it offends our vanity.”

    That’s numbered 176 in Epigrams and Interludes, the fourth part of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. Herr N., as a friend of mine used to refer to him, seems to have lifted it—unconsciously, maybe—from La Rochefoucauld:

    “Ce qui nous rend la vanité des autres insupportable, c’est qu’elle blesse la nôtre.” (“What makes the vanity of others unbearable is that it wounds our own.”)

    That’s number 389 in the fifth (and final) authorized edition of Réflexions ou Sentences et Maximes morales.

    Here’s something I’ve seen attributed to Cary Grant:

    “I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be and I finally became that person. Or he became me. Or we met at some point.”

  2. Donar van Holland
    Posted May 2, 2015 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    And I may add, as someone who tries to follow the Germanic pagan tradition, that in the Saga’s the Gods and heroes are constantly in competition. Whether it is wisdom, strength or cleverness, each seems to think constantly: “I am better than you”, and then tries to prove it.

  3. Donar van Holland
    Posted May 2, 2015 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Very enjoyable talk I must say, and very relevant for us, who believe in inequality. Indeed, I must confess that the thought “I am better than you” is quite motivating for me. My egalitarian upbringing makes me a bit ashamed to think this, but I cannot deny the great positive effect it has upon me.

  4. rhondda
    Posted May 2, 2015 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I must say that I like this and the reason why I like it is because it is not framed within the Christian mindset of virtues and vices. Vanity could be likened to the sin of pride, yet it is healthy to be proud of something done well. The way pretentiousness and snobbery is framed is good also. I had not thought that someone seemingly pretentious could be trying to grow. One could also say that there is ignorant snobbery and enlightened snobbery. We all think we are the latter, but possibly really the former. I would like to add that a sense of humour is important too, especially when the joke is on oneself.

  5. Ulf Larsen
    Posted May 2, 2015 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this – I found it very educational. Especially the part about having to be pretentious, and having to be an actor, at first when learning new skills. Thinking back on my life up to now, I believe that this, not wanting to be pretentious (I am Scandinavian, with the Jante Laws and all that, and not wanting to be pretentious is deep in our race soul), might have been an obstacle that has held me back and slowed me down when it comes to doing new things and learning new skills. In the future I will try to have in mind that anyone who wants to learn new things has to pretend and act at first, until the act becomes natural. That is a valuable lesson.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted May 2, 2015 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Thanks. One point that I neglected to make is that the objectionable sense of narcissism can be seen as a failure to grow up or really learn a particular lesson and skill. Maturation, broadly speaking, and learning particular skills, involve acting in certain ways under the watchful eyes of teachers, who then give one guidance, until one gets it right. Any given learning or maturation process ends when the skill becomes internalized and authentic, rather than merely a performance to an audience. The narcissist never gets there. He always remains an actor, playing to a crowd, and he is an empty and fake person because his performances never become internalized and real.

  6. Posted May 1, 2015 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    Interesting talk. I found it humorously ironic that these topics were discussed at “Hyde Park.”

    I do believe that the idea of vanity having a role in beauty is very false, though. In fact, I would argue that beauty is the absence of vanity. Beauty, as an objective value, requires a kind of selfless cultivation, meaning a humility towards one’s inherent nature, strengths, weaknesses, etc. because beauty is a kind of unity that we perceive in an object, in which we perceive that the object is unified in itself. Beauty is necessarily symmetrical, balanced, etc. This is why I believe beauty is far from vanity- beauty requires an objective perception of oneself separate from one’s desires on how one wants to appear. Yes, people want to be beautiful, but a successful achievement of beauty requires objective humility and honesty.

    Vanity is just the opposite- we notice someone as vain because they betray a lack of self-awareness. Girls and dudes who post a ton of photos of themselves on Instagram are considered vain because they overblow their self-importance. Thus, we intuitively perceive that their self-worth is disproportionate to their self-content. Thus they are vain because of imbalance. This imbalance usually stems from a lack of wholeness in one’s self, working too hard to complete one’s self with the approval of others.

    In addition, why are naturally conservative girls generally cuter than egoistic liberal girls? Because the former generally has more humility than the latter, and thus a better ability to cultivate the beautiful.

    • Peter Blood
      Posted May 1, 2015 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

      Aristotle’s Golden Mean helps in such matters.

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