Pride, part 2
Last week I wrote an article about pride at the individual level. Today, I hope to tie this into an armchair analysis of pride in broader society. My sources include Kanye and psychology. I hope you can see where this going. At the individual level, I wrote about how pride first elevates you above the world… and then isolates you from it. Too focused on his own superiority and needs, a prideful person becomes less willing to serve and connect with others. In Dante’s The Divine Comedy, the image of pride is Satan himself. He is frozen in the center of Earth, chewing Cassius, Brutus and Judas in one of his three mouths. He's stuck at the heaviest, most self-centered point, ceaselessly chewing on past resentments. He can’t escape himself. The extreme image of pride, therefore, is one of frozen, self-centered isolation.
One challenge to any society is to prevent its citizens from becoming a loose assemblage of frozen, self-centered narcissists. Without concern for others, trust erodes. Crime and polarization increases. The question remains: is the U.S. heading this way? The self-centered part seems to becoming gradually truer over the decades. In more recent years, psychologists have warned of an “epidemic” in narcissism. It’s unclear whether the psychologists spent 30 minutes on LinkedIn’s home feed before agreeing on the word epidemic. I can only assume...yes? Research has illuminated the following interesting findings: 1) The endorsement rate for the statement ‘I am an important person’ has increased from 12% in 1963 to 77–80% in 1992 in adolescents. 2) Recently published books feature more self-centered language compared with earlier publications. 3) Also in books, the use of narcissistic phrases such as “I am the greatest” has increased between 1960 and 2008. I also find it fascinating that research also shows the lyrics of popular songs have gotten less "collectivist" and more "individualistic" since 1980. Kanye’s “I am a God” (from 2013) certainly brings up the average here:
“I am a God So hurry up with my damn massage In a French-ass restaurant Hurry up with my damn croissants I am a God”
Even music itself is more likely to be produced by individuals instead of bands today, a point famously made by Adam Levine of Maroon Five last year. Of the 50 most streamed songs on Spotify right now, only five have been released by a band—and two of those were from rather seasoned ones: OneRepublic and Metallica. What’s the story here? Books, social media, and music all gesture towards greater self-absorption and individualism in American society. This comes at a time when Harvard reports that over 36% of American adults report feeling lonely “frequently”, “almost all the time” or “all the time”. For young people 18-25, it’s 61%. If self-absorbed pride isolates, here’s the strongest evidence of it. Sometimes I observe this anecdotally. Though I don’t have TikTok, mostly because I prefer my data is out of the CCP’s hands, my girlfriend sometimes sends me clips I think would be entertaining and/or cringeworthy. Ideally, both. One shows a young Manhattan woman meticulously explaining her daily routine, which begins at 5 AM with a one-on-one pilates session that costs more than my groceries. She then shows off her Yeezy’s while walking to her chic private equity job. But astute (envious?) commenters point out she doesn’t really work in private equity; it’s a “middle office” gig. She responds defensively. Everyone feels worse off. Platforms such as LinkedIn and TikTok often involve distinguishing yourself as an exceptional, symmetric, and mate-worthy individual, creating a warm, moist environment for pride to ferment. But as we’ve seen, pride and excessive focus on the self don’t bring people closer together, but further apart. Is our country experiencing an epidemic of narcissism and isolation? I hesitate to use the word epidemic (as some psychologists have), as it signals the exact kind of pop science melodrama I try to skrrt around. But, as we've seen, the data supports an increase in these areas. And at the same time, participation in organized religion, local organizations, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, etc. is all... down. In recent years, the focus has been on the special-snowflake-individual, not the connected whole. From obstacles, fortunately, there are opportunities. Some entrepreneurs are starting to step in to figure out how to profit from getting people connected again. BeReal is a new social media app that mandates all users take a picture of themselves at some coordinated, random time each day. It’s hard to posture much or show off, and it reveals people are mostly the same, not different. 2:30 PM on a Tuesday? BeReal shows almost everyone at work, in solidarity at a desk. Hopefully, this can be a trend that other companies and organizations pick up on. If the metaverse gains traction, we can only fight for one that is relatively egalitarian and sociable—not oozing with the same toxic status signaling that pervades today's prideful social media. The key virtue here is humility, which involves a degree of vulnerability and self-deprecation. (BeReal figured this out.) Humility sounds lame, but it's more powerful than you think. People often meet their closest friends during that first year of college, when everyone is equally scared, humbled and "in the same boat." Rekindling that closeness with others today requires that same degree of vulnerability. Pride, necessarily about elevation and superiority, is at odds with this. Historically, that's why it was considered the deadliest of the deadly sins. As we've seen, this doesn't just impact individuals, but broader society.