On Vanity

Though the Lincoln Island episodes (I love the nod to Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island) of Nadia: Secret of the Blue Water stand as some of the most ridiculous and boring episodes of anime (John Samuel even advised me to spare myself the pain of watching them), they at least inspired the present article on vanity.  You see, Nadia has an absurd attachment to her vegetarian and technophobic ways.  Now, there is nothing wrong with with either declining to eat meat or preferring low tech or archaic things.  These are personal choices, the first perhaps makes for a healthier lifestyle and the latter less slavery to technology.  Problems arise, however, when the person ceases to believe that these things are personal choices, but rather the only correct choices for everybody.  In the anime, we see Nadia calling Jean a bad person for eating meat and exclaiming that Marie is on her way to fiery damnation for her carnivorous ways.

nadia angry

It sometimes surprises me that Nadia can be so likable with all her vanity and pride, but elevating one’s personal preferences to the objectively best manner of thinking is a common fault.  In the Gospels, we see the Pharisees do this when they complain of the Apostles eating with unwashed hands as if they have committed a terrible transgression.  In our own time, we can point to various snobs who vaunt their peculiarities over the erring ways of the rest of humanity: vegans, vegetarians, non-smokers, teetotalers, hybrid car drivers, anti-hunters, anti-gunners, literary snobs, wine snobs, health fanatics, exercise fanatics, tea connoisseurs, fountain pen connoisseurs, art enthusiasts, classical music enthusiasts, people who use organic foods only, cigar snobs, cosmopolitans, nationalists, intellectuals, otaku, lengthy anime series haters, popular anime series haters, and the list might go on forever.  All the above are personal inclinations–no more that that.  If someone tries to argue that these choices are clearly superior to other choices, intelligent people can easily peg them as a snob.  Why does following a particular fad or predilection so easily make people believe they are superior to people following different fads or predilections?

Captain Nemo

But, my favorite feature of human vanity is the anti-snobbery snob.  This occurs when a person develops opposite habits to those whom he perceives to be snobs in order to further disassociate with them: eating red meat with every meal, never buying organic products, having one beer a day, owning a gas guzzling truck, having animal trophies in every room, refusing to read literature, never touching wine, etc.  Avoiding the arrogance of the snobs often causes one to become a snob oneself–and occasionally to one’s detriment.  When I advised one person to use a glass mug with his craft beer, he deliberately picked up a plastic mug and would not change his mind!  Why?  What pleasure is there in putting one’s lips to a plastic mug rather than a glass one except whatever pleasure anti-beer connoisseur snobbery affords?

Samson playing house

In the case of reverse snobbery, I confess myself to have fallen into such concerning alcohol.  The only creature worse than a wine snob is a teetotaling snob: the wine snob is superior to you because his tastes are more refined; the teetotaling snob claims moral superiority over his fellows.  Reading about the Temperance movement birthed this anti-snobbery.  After all, we see that people in the Temperance movement resorted to violence in order to further their goals, founded religions with teetotalism as a fundamental tenet, lied to influence the passage of Prohibition, and made clearly exaggerated claims against drinkers–such as that drinking was un-American.  (Those German and Irish immigrants were terrible drunks, you know!  But, I don’t think the per capita consumption of 18 gallons of pure alcohol at the beginning of the 19th century can be laid entirely on Germans and Irish.)  Meeting and listening to people whose teetotalism was infected by moral superiority helped my prejudice along.  Only in the last three years have I softened my discrimination against non-drinkers as I met people whose teetotalism was unmixed with hauteur.

Nadia002

However, perhaps the worst forms of snobbery and anti-snobbery find themselves in the realm of religion.  The groups having members most likely to be guilty of this are atheists, militant agnostics, Catholics, fundamentalist Protestants, Anglicans, and Western followers of Eastern religions.  Of course, believers and proponents of these systems can wrongly be perceived as arrogant merely because they believe their ideas are true–especially with the plague of relativism affecting the modern world.  But, some proponents of these worldviews go further than that.  They despise people of other backgrounds as backwards, uneducated, unthinking, unintelligent, unsophisticated, or morally defective.  They say to themselves, “If those people were not so stupid, stubborn, or wicked, surely they would believe what I believe!”  The worst thing about the arrogance of these people is that they drive away people who would otherwise be interested in the Faith.  (For obvious reasons, I am not as concerned about arrogant atheists or agnostics.)  When the stench of arrogance surrounds anything, people not inclined to examine it–whether it be Bordeaux or dogma.

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27 comments on “On Vanity

  1. Cytrus says:

    I’m afraid I have to disagree with your list of “personal inclinations”. A dangerous man might be vegan or not, and you’ll never know, as that’s an actual personal inclination. But when he shoots somebody with a gun, his inclination will have a very real effect on the victim. Weapons, alcohol, smoking, drugs and the like have tangible effects or bring real risks to whole groups, rather than only affecting the individual. Civilized countries all over the globe accept this fact and deal with it by introducing laws to regulate those “inclinations”. (Note how there aren’t laws regulating your tea preferences – there is no need.) Now, the desirable extent of those regulations is a question of politics – it is a balancing act between an individual’s freedom and the good of the whole. In some societies, an extremely low extent of regulations might even work quite fine. However, regardless of the eventual direction taken, an attempt to pretend the good of the whole is not involved at all is either a lie or an immature approach to the issue. So I can’t exactly agree with your broad sweep of “personal inclinations–no more that that” after a list including both innocent things and important social issues.

    Well, I hope you do have an enthymematic “as long as you keep within the law” clause in there somewhere. And feelings of pride, hatred and the like aside, everyone has the right to express their opinions on those law-regulated issues particularly when aiming to effect change so that the regulations reflect the desires of the society.

    Getting away from politics :).

    I do wonder how you deal with excessive religious pride, since that was one of my difficulties when I was growing up steeped in a Christian environment and attempting to absorb its values. Unless you believe yourself to be right, and everyone of a different faith wrong, you are not a good Christian (as your faith would not then be absolute). Now, I know it is optimal to keep this “right/wrong” thing as just that, without attaching further emotional weight to it, but I’m not convinced that’s at all possible. If I see a child struggling with a simple puzzle, I do feel superior to the child, even if the feeling is ultimately affectionate and my reaction is to provide support in the struggle. I’m not sure how you can be 100% sure your view is right, 100% sure another’s view is wrong, and yet attempt to see yourself and the other as standing on equal ground. However slight it is, I imagine a feeling of superiority must be born in such a relation.

    You mention Western followers of Eastern religions as particularly suspect to religious pride, but thankfully, Buddhist philosophy freed me from the above dilemma. I can now freely admit the possibility that another’s faith is “right” and respect their beliefs as I do my own, all without fear that my faith is weak and I’m displeasing God with an overly accepting (and thus disloyal) attitude.

    (BTW I think I’ve only ever seen one episode of Nadia on some German TV channel. The cast were in some caves/secret base, sneaking around and trying to avoid capture, I think. It was years ago, though xD.)

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    • Of course, all of the things I mentioned should be used temperately and lawfully. There exist moderate uses of tobacco and alcohol, then again some people are given to chain smoking and drunkenness. Some people use guns for hunting, target shooting, and self-defense; others for the commission of crimes. From this, it is apparent that alcohol, tobacco, and firearms are not evil, but that decent people use them well and that vicious people use them badly.

      There is no superiority involved in believing that these things ought to be regulated. There must be some regulation in order to prevent the criminal or harmful use of them. (For example, criminal background checks for firearms owners and age requirements for using or buying tobacco and alcohol.) However, a snob would say that drinkers, smokers, and firearms owners are predominately vicious people; hence, the government should either ban these things completely or exorbitantly increase the burdens of using these items. A snob would say that they’re better than these other people because they don’t drink, smoke, or own a gun.

      And, it seems to me that countries which have outright banned firearms or greatly restricted firearms have not benefited from doing so. Though Great Britain boasts of low gun crime, their murder rates skyrocketed after the ban, and Britons have started to talk about banning objects which it would never cross a citizen from another country’s mind–long kitchen knives, for example.

      Basically, it seems more useful to prevent people with criminal histories from obtaining firearms than regulating the firearms themselves. After all, guns tend to help weak citizens equal the playing field against much stronger thugs.

      Religious superiority tends to be held by people who refuse to recognize the complexity of reality. To use your analogy of the child struggling with a simple puzzle, I would change the scenario to the puzzle being incredibly complex with two children trying to solve it. Perhaps one child sees certain parts of it better than than the other, but that does not make the one in the right more than a child. If the child right in this instance becomes inflated over it, he might refuse the aid of the other child later and not be able to put other pieces of the puzzle together. Even St. Thomas Aquinas called his Summa Theologica straw when compared to a vision he had at the end of his life.

      But yes, a Catholic snob will say that the puzzle is easy and treat people of other faiths like children. You’ve probably experienced that. As for myself, I feel like the Faith is a gift and that my miniscule efforts to understand it better and enrich it don’t merit the gift. As St. Paul says, why boast of something as if I have not received it?

      As usual, a great comment! I’m sorry that you probably found the article irritating–at least to some extent. I merely wished to point out how pervasive vanity is expanding on the example of Nadia. And Nadia: Secret of the Blue Water is a splendid anime–sans the Lincoln Island episodes!

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      • Cytrus says:

        Thank you for another great article :)! Sorry if I came across as irritated, which is not the case. I found that one sentence startling, since it seemed to me to advocate an extremely liberal approach to all substances/weapons. (As mentioned above, there are no regulations whatsoever regarding tea. Should the same apply to drugs?) But I see now that was not your intent.

        On a side note, Poland has a pretty strict gun ban. The upside is, we don’t get shooting incidents like in the US, where one crazy man effortlessly kills dozens of innocents just for the heck of it. The Polish equivalent would be a stabbing incident with many fewer victims and often no fatalities at all. The downside is that common thugs have less to fear if they have the numbers. I don’t want to argue for or against guns here, though. I see the different gun policies across the globe as reflective of the different experiences societies had with firearms. Poland had gun abuse by the authorities when under the Soviet occupation and in the period of strong Soviet influence afterwards, for example, which means people will often frown even at police using guns.

        Good analogy with the complex puzzle. I did think before commenting that a healthy dose of humility towards the Truth should help temper pride towards our brethren. I suppose Christianity is in a somewhat complex situation where the Bible is to be viewed as unquestionable truth, yet believers must keep in mind they have not yet fully internalized all of its deep meaning. (Nobody promised faith to be simple ;).)

        Of course I’ve met a lot of religious superiority among the Catholics in Poland, but I don’t view that as much of an issue right now. People who let hubris take over are obviously not being good Christians. I have plenty of positive evidence among my friends and acquaintances, both on-line and irl, to know that good Christians need not be close-minded, quite the contrary. Even the Pope, supposedly infallible, stresses the unfathomable complexity of faith rather than claiming he has it all sorted out.

        But the issue was a huge hurdle for me when growing up. The people around me (school more so than my family) would tell me: “We are believers, the rest are infidels.” Yet even my young mind could imagine that the Muslim kid was being told the exact same thing in reverse! I instinctively sensed the evil of this dead-end approach. It was, after all, little more than looking for an excuse to divide and look down on others, like the historical division between the white and black man. But for a kid, a conflict between their instinctive morality and the expectations of those around them obviously results in confusion and stress. I probably wouldn’t be as interested in philosophy and religion if not for this and similar conflicts of ideals I felt as I grew up. Had the solutions offered me felt satisfactory, I would have probably been satisfied with what they taught us at school and didn’t bother looking into the solutions offered by other cultures and systems.

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      • I did sound excessively libertarian there. As an American, I do advocate extending personal freedom as far as morality and prudence permit. Though, the issue of whether to legalize currently illegal drugs has always given me problems. My gut reaction is not to legalize any more recreational drugs, though proponents of marijuana legalization point out that it’s likely less addictive than tobacco or alcohol. Well, other states can test that theory out for a while, and we’ll see how harmless it is.

        Polish suspicion of armed government officials brings joy to my heart. 🙂 The ban on civilian firearm ownership doesn’t sound as good, but I can see that it might have benefits in eliminating mass shootings–especially if Poland can effectively curtail the black market. (The United States with its huge and poorly policed borders and gang wars pretty much can’t keep all illegal weapons off the street.) And, I have heard with regard to keeping crime at low levels the argument that nations should retain the status quo in terms of firearms laws.

        What you said about the Bible is exactly the case. All of it is true because God is the principle author, but because God’s thoughts are so much greater than our thoughts, we can’t understand them all. Heaven will be an eternity of surprises!

        In regard to other religions, I like to remember that the Catholic Church contains all the truth necessary for salvation, but that does not mean it contains all the truth that exists. And surely, all other religions must contain some of the truth, otherwise no one could believe in them. The Catholic Church, since it is universal, has a record of “baptizing” parts of other cultures in sync with Catholicism, and people from other cultures might even understand some parts of Catholic teaching better than Catholics themselves. For example, a priest told me that Chinese converts understand the dictum that it is necessary to lose one’s life in order to gain it much better than his other parishioners. In a sense, to claim a snobbish superiority over the rest of the world is to deny the catholicity of the Faith.

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  2. Foxfier says:

    never buying organic products

    We do try to do that, but mostly out of protest to being lied to and out of the same caution that has us avoid food related products from China. There’s a higher rate of harm and frequently a major lack of quality-for-the-price.

    As long as an organic fan doesn’t insist on falsehoods (such as that organic farming uses no pesticides or results in more harvest by acre– they use lower concentrations more often, and currently result in more cash per acre for far less food), it’s a fine preference.

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    • I agree that it’s a fine preference. As for myself, I don’t especially avoid or prefer organic products, unless its wine. Most vintners use organic methods in their growing and don’t boast of that fact. And wines labelled organic often don’t use sulfites. Everyone knows sulfites make wine taste better. (I am speaking seriously here, believe it or not!)

      But, you’ve pointed out the problems with the organic label. Sometimes I wonder whether it means anything.

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      • Foxfier says:

        From a practical standpoint: it means more pesticide resistance!

        I think it kind of points to why vanity is messed up– it takes something that results from a good (wine tastes better) and makes it a good in itself.

        Like my avoiding organics– which really do have a much higher rate of food poisoning– vs avoiding them because… well, those guys over there like them, and they’re jerks, so I’m an anti-jerk if I do the opposite of what they do.

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      • I agree. The most amusing thing about the vainest people is that they don’t realize their vanity. That’s what leads them to take initially good ideas to extremes.

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      • Foxfier says:

        *almost makes a joke about excessive moderation… but then again, being lukewarm is kinda famously a bad idea….*

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      • Definitely, “Would that you we hot or cold, but you are lukewarm; and so I shall spew you out of my mouth.” Though virtue is located between two extremes, apathy–as Charlton Heston says–is the true opposite of courage.

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  3. Everyone is a snob at something. My roommate and I are all “PC Master Race” folks, while the others are “Xbox FTW!”. I would rather drive a Ford or Nissan while my roommte is Chevy or GM.

    The thing I find is we’re still friends and roommates. We don’t force our views on the other or decry it.

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    • Exactly! For the article, I mostly picked on favorite stereotypes and some snobbery I’ve noticed in myself. (I have been called “the Beverage Snob.” 🙂 ) In a way, vanities can make the people in our lives more endearing. Heck, even despite the violent excesses Nadia takes her vanity, she’s still a likable character.

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  4. dmdutcher says:

    I think that snobbery comes from defensiveness. For Christians, I think people overestimate how friendly the culture is to us, and the more devout you are the more isolated you can be at times. Snobbery becomes a porcupine’s quills, to avoid hurt. Maybe it’s different in areas with a strong sense of Christian nationalism, like Cyrtrus says, but usually the “people are infidels” in the states comes from a sense of inferiority.

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    • That’s very true. The thought just occurred to me that there is also snobbery between Catholics. Catholics who cast aspersions on Vatican II and consider the Latin Mass the only real Mass vs. Catholics who wish to throw away every vestige o Pre-Vatican II culture away and have apoplectic fits if you say something in Latin. (“Pax Tecum” has the very opposite effect I what one intends. 🙂 ) It’s nice to be in the middle of these two camps.

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  5. TWWK says:

    I’m quite the teetotaler, but somehow, I think we would get along fine! (no snobbery included in my own abstaining from alcohol)

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  6. […] Finally, he explores Nadia’s vanity in Nadia: Secret of the Blue Water, and discusses snobbery in a number of different groups, including that of the religious. [3] […]

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  7. 18 gallons a head, per year, is only a little over 3 ounces of alcohol a day. Considering the extensive use of beer and wine for cooking, and of all alcohols for medicinal purposes or in solution, this isn’t much. Now, if you get children out of the per capita, considering that children usually didn’t drink much, you could raise the gallons a bit for adults. But this is really very moderate drinking, it would seem.

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    • Foxfier says:

      A shot is 1.5 oz,

      most highballs have one or two shots in them

      a martini has (from a quick look-around) two to three ounces of gin

      40% alcohol is the most common level of distilled I see these days, but obviously the stuff for medical use would be as close to 100proof as they could get it, and my mom STILL uses that stuff (98.something pure alcohol) as a pain killer when she has to operate on a cow– it actually deadens the skin. For a cow. I doubt they’d actually be able to tell what was used for animals and what was used for people, since they’re both food grade….

      Wine is about 8% abv, and beer is five or six on average, with some outliers in the 2s or 10s. (more 2 and threes than 8 and up, that I’ve seen)
      . Small beer– still sold in modern times as “near beer” or non alcoholic beer– is .5% alcohol by volume.

      Folks can mix and match that to their best estimate of what folks consumed.

      A quick figure in my head has just a glass of wine with meals accounting for one and a quarter ounces of pure alcohol, and that’s not usually considered drinking.

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      • You must drink mostly German wine to place it at 8% ABV on average! I usually see between 12 and 14%.

        I wrote an article to show how much hard liquor, wine, or beer would equal 18 gallons of pure alcohol. I hope that you enjoy it!

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      • Foxfier says:

        I thought it was pretty neat.

        For the wine, I usually look at the neat bottles, especially the new “ecologically sound” paper ones. Guess they could be German style, but I believe they’re from California…. It could be a Washington State alcohol law thing involved.

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      • I have a fondness for German Riesling and Gewürztraminer, which are usually low on the alcohol spectrum. (I find myself suspicious of those which aren’t low in alcohol unless they hail from Rheingaü.) The reason for this lies in the shorter growing season there, which leads to less sugar in the grapes and less sugar for the yeast to metabolize.

        Some parts of California might have the same phenomenon. Washington state probably does not outlaw higher ABVs. After all, their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot routinely have around 12% ABV and are often as good as anything from California.

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      • Foxfier says:

        Don’t have to outlaw it, just not sell it in the grocery isle.

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      • True, very true.

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    • I think the drinking rate was calculated from the age of fifteen. Three ounces of pure alcohol per day might be a little low–even if one can be sure that all the alcohol was not consumed as a drink. I’m making a post with my own calculations. It will be up soon, and you can tell me if I err.

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  8. […] have a couple of comments on my recent article On Vanity about the per capita drinking rate of early nineteenth century America.  According to their […]

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  9. […] Three) for a more in-depth take on the series.  On this blog, the show managed to inspire a post on vanity and another on unlikely animal lovers.  The greatest problem with rating Nadia overall is that the […]

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