the lost man chronicles
the daily chronicle
“What are my pretensions? “
Ah, what a splendid question!
Well, let’s begin with a definition, if only to ultimately curtail my enthusiasm a tad. Otherwise, I am liable to interpret the question as a license to run off upon wild tangents.
1. [adj] intended to attract notice and impress others; "an ostentatious sable coat"
2. [adj] making claim to or creating an appearance of (often undeserved) importance or distinction; "a pretentious country house"; "a pretentious fraud"; "a pretentious scholarly edition"
3. [adj] of a display that is tawdry or vulgar
Oh, good lord! I guess this means we are going to be here all night and day, for God knows I have too many pretensions to account for!
“Pride,” I believe, is one of our greatest motivations toward pretension. And to a certain extent I think it also boils down to our fear that others will pre-judge us for what we believe they believe we are or are not, and for what we may have perhaps worked quite hard at achieving. And once we have achieved something and we tout it by either displaying our degrees, our completion certificates, our award trophies and plaques and other tokens of acknowledgement —isn’t that somewhat a pretension?
For this very reason, I don’t display mine. I rather take the money that comes with the prize and run. Besides, why rest on one's laurels when you still possess the energy and time and the youthful lucidity and ability to achieve more?
Albeit, I will readily contradict my feelings on the matter by admitting that in the past, whenever coming into an office and seeing all the placards and awards and photos of others—for a moment I am “impressed,” and often thereafter motivated to “accomplish” somewhat the same.
And I also accept this affectation about people, because I realize it is all a game anyway. People are attracted to success and a way to gain support for further accomplishments is to win the support of others by purporting your talent and specialized knowledge, especially if these skills and acuity already been recognized by others. Its so much easier to buy upon referrals or recommendations from sources that you trust have had positive experiences or have done their own due diligence.
(see Hanging our Effigy)
But I suppose it is also far too simple and perilous to judge people based on the presumptions of merit and of beneficial behavior as well.
For example, let’s take the issue of pride. If someone rattles off the accomplishments of their children, they could very well be genuinely happy about their children’s achievements, but can’t that glee be kept to oneself? Why must we tell others about it as well? Do they want others to think they are vicariously better people through the younger versions of themselves? I would conclude that our behavior is often ultimately piqued by myriad motivations, that we often weigh many factors before making any single decision, and thus it would be wrong to judge people based on a single inference into their behavior and actions.
People, professors, scholars and intellects often ignore, weed out, hole themselves up in one point of view, one “ism” because it gives credibility to their work, when in reality there is usually many more ways than one to examine someone, a situation or phenomenon. I think that is what attracts me to science, the simplicity of empirical conclusions and the conclusions based on “hard facts.” Yet, I also well know that science cannot answer everything, especially when it comes to understanding the human mind.
(see The Beauty of the Brain (More Than You’ll Ever Know)
So, now that I am far off track, I’ll attempt return.
And how about what I am doing at this very moment? Is this self-examination somewhat of a pretension? Do I believe I am a “better” person because I can articulate and am aware and I am not afraid of turning myself inside out, exposing myself freely to the world? Yes. Or at least answering affirmatively makes me feel good about this exercise. But at the same time I realize that I must question what does “better” mean? Why can’t I just live, and not try to determine my course in life by constantly analyzing my Self and my motivations? Millions of others certainly do, so why must I feel there is a better way to living? And is it that I am just a victim of who I am? Meaning, do the environment and my genetic inclinations not already determine what I am becoming? Does my middle-‘upper’ class background not make me prone to being a “liberal minded” fellow who has a thing for science and new age practices and introspection and anything that makes me feel or seem “enlightened.”
And enlightened for what purpose? I am fairly convinced that there is inherently no base purpose or meaning to life, that the search for such an arcane ideal is merely a pretension of the well-educated and well-fed, that people come and go by the billions without ever realizing a common or even individual meaning to life. Ultimately, we make meaning as we go along, as we focus our energies on something that we feel confirms our existence, whether it be loving or being loved, affiliation with certain institutions, with certain lineages and traditions (pride) or following one’s own bliss.
“Making claim to or creating an appearance” —I have somewhat of a problem with this, or at least how society tends to advocate one appearance, that is “wholesomeness.”
(see The Perpetual Evolution of Truth ).
As I have written before, we are inherently apt to contradict ourselves. We are not one person. By interacting with a number of people we are practically obligated to perform each cartoon of a character in a puppet show with a hundred different personas.
For after a mere few interactions, we often realize that most people only have certain tolerances, that they feel compelled to judge you or feel a certain way about you should you reveal something that they have been taught not to agree with or to condone. And so it follows that we hedge the funds, we decide that we need not reveal all of ourselves to everyone. We pretend to be merely one part of ourselves, and thus we are apt to be “pretentious” on a daily basis, just to avoid prejudicial over-simplifications like seeming “two-faced,” “conniving,” unstable, psychotic or fickle.
And how about omission? When someone does not disclose certain aspects of their personality: their dreams, their beliefs, their avid interests—is there pretension involved? Some would say that we are pretending not to be something that we are. And who ultimately determines what we are anyway? Shouldn’t it be the individual herself? Society is so obsessed with classification sometimes that is often perturbing, considering that we are not esoteric absolutes: black, white, Asian, Latin, male, female, poor, rich, etc.
And yet, I will concede that it is so much easier to deal with people in terms of generalizations, to make decisions based on these innocuous prejudices, rather than trying to over-analyze everything as a unique situation with individual players, rather than succumbing to the truth of ambiguity.
Ten years ago I wrote a piece which I am still proud of and that I feel articulates “who I am” fairly well because it differentiates (distinguishes) myself form the hoi-polloi—an exercise which I realize is a pretension in and of itself. Nonetheless, I feel it is one of my first literary-poetic attempts to truly understand myself.
Following is the online, trimmed down version: As I age and its follow-up, five years later: As I age again
Rife with sincere predilections, these pieces are overflowing with what one might interpret to be pretensions as well.
For example, it is quite true that I am not a “sports fan” and “I do not watch TV”– much, primarily because I believe that is more important to be active, physically and mentally, and that it is far more important to make one’s own life more interesting, as opposed to simply being a spectator of others’ “exciting” lives. However, that said, I also understand that touting these principles can sound or rather “is” quite pretentious.
(see Nothing Happening Here and the conversationalists)
It is for this reason that I like reading The Onion fairly regularly because it makes fun of our culture, of our human tendencies and of who I often feign to be. I once read an article about liberals who make a big deal about “not watching TV” and had a wonderful laugh at myself.
But there is something positive to be said for pretensions, especially when one is making an earnest effort to become that something that they are not.
In my senior year in college I read Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince and I was irreparably influenced thereafter. Here are some of the more important excerpts in that regard:
...a prince should must not worry about the reproach of cruelty when it is a matter of keeping his subjects united and loyal; for with a very few examples of cruelty he will be more compassionate than those who, out of excessive mercy, permit disorders to continue, from which arise murders and plundering...the princes who have accomplished great deeds are those who have cared little for keeping their promises and who have known how to manipulate the minds of men by shrewdness; and in the end they have surpassed those who have laid their foundations upon honesty. ~ Chapter XVII
...merciful, faithful, humane, forthright, and religious...it is not necessary for a prince to have all of the above-mentioned qualities, but it is very necessary for him to appear to have them...having them and practicing them at all times is harmful; and appearing to have them is useful. ~ Chapter XVIII
...men in general judge more by their eyes than their hands; for everyone can see but few can feel. Everyone sees what you seem to be, few perceive what you are, and those few do not dare to contradict the opinion of the many who have the majesty of the state to defend them.
What I see here, as I have briefly mentioned before, is that leaders, people who strive extra ordinarily, are at the behest of the masses and their peers, because they must constantly manage their perceptions and maintain their support through the manipulation of that perception. Otherwise they would not have the opportunity to excel, they would not have the resources: time, access, and money to create and accomplish and fulfill one’s awesome potential.
And what people often misinterpret as “evil” or “cunning” is a lack of understanding. For underlying these principles is the fact that resources are limited, that some will have an advantage over others, that albeit it is honorable to strive for equality and justice for all, there is not enough justice to go around for everyone —legislators do not have the power make “loaves and fishes” so they must choose to support one cause or other, and sometimes to the short run detriment of “the environment” or special interests. Sometimes their choices also make the rich richer because without the support of the elite, one cannot have the power to change or determine the law in the long run. Try to change the law for the greater good in the short run and lo and behold you’re liable to pay the price before your time (JFK, MLK, Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Ghandi —all martyred men who I deeply admire).
But even these revered figures were merely men—the first two were not only well known for their philanthropy, that is sacrifices made for the greater good, but they were also known to be rampant philanderers.
And that’s why we have spin doctors and personal photographers and Photoshop and marketing and PR and law firms, because people in power, people with privileges, people in trouble, people who want to keep what others want to take away, must effect with affectation—they must make the masses believe, they must make-believe.
Manners are nothing but refined pretensions aren’t they? I mean (rolling my eyes), how often do we tolerate others simply out of courtesy, not parting company as soon as possible as we’d prefer or ask them to stop talking because they are babbling on or making no sense? How often do we ask “how are you” when we really don’t care how they are or answer “fine” when we really are not feeling all that well?
Despite my devil’s advocacy, I do believe in civility, in calm debates, in keeping public places clean, (especially when it abets my own sanity and serenity) but at the same time I will seem to contradict my general sentiments by suggesting that I also believe in being heard at the price of other’s discomfort, in ignoring other’s insensitivities at times, in not being “PC” all the time, in being innovative and taking risks, in upheaving traditions some times, all of which ultimately might offend someone and thus be considered “ill-mannered.”
I also strongly believe in the use of foul language, not the smelly or uncouth kind, but the kind that might be considered impudent when it comes to grammar, when it comes to using cases correctly, or the kind where I make up words freely. Shakespeare was notorious for the latter—and look where it got him.
Also, I say I’m a polyglot, yet I really am not, and yet I really am. I’ve studied many languages and yet I am master of none. Alas, to the chagrin of man,y I am not afraid to fire up my tongues, the happier people in life tolerate my mistakes rather well, the anal and asinine are apt to correct me and worst than that—rarely ever use the language themselves—that is one of my greatest pet peeves—hypocrisy when it comes to preaching and not putting into practice.
Action is tantamount to integrity; otherwise I think people are being pretentious. For unless you are at least attempting to be what you say you are or advocate that others be, you are being false and affectatious (affected + pretentious).
Following is something I wrote to describe myself, but which have made not made public because it makes me sound all the more effusive that I already am, as well as perhaps a little too effeminate than I want to project myself to be, even if all that I write is true:
apparel: i’m fond of dark, 3-piece, pinstripe, single-breasted suits. tritely amused by those who purport ‘i’m as comfortable in a black cocktail dress as i am in blue jeans.” jesus. save me. i once subscribed to W – and, no, i’m not gay. i know how to put a divot in a windsor knot, as well as wrangle a a taut black bow. bought a beautiful dark blue and carrot-orange butterfly-tie in firenze once. i’ve worn it twice. i’ve recently been called dapper, dashing, elegant, and “spiffy’ even. i wear wingtips, as every man should. i own a pair of summer brown and spring white saddle shoes. prefer french cuffs and collar tabs to buttons. find that monograms are splendid pretensions to class-alas, i had all my dress shirts done once a decade ago, even embroidered the initial of my made-up middle name just to seem the same as those executives and emissaries i was aspiring to emulate. don’t do the haughty letter thing anymore – i have too many other wanna-be schemes to keep up with otherwise. i like skinny dipping and sleeping a la nude. my favorite suit is imperial, and i don’t wait to wear it once a year. i’ve recently fallen in love with fitted dress shirts from F&H. my waist size is one size bigger than it was in high school, and that’s without holding in my belly – like i often did back then. i wear a size 10EE shoe, and what they say is true…i have a long drawer full of new ties. i choose what to wear for the morrow - the night before. partial to boxers and v-necks. i’ve never worn women’s underwear (really), nor have i ever wanted to (really). no tattoos, no piercings, no gold chains.
So, as you might see, what seems like a preoccupation with clothes or appearance can come off as rather pretentious. And I think garments are essentially that, since I would agree that “sleeping in the buff” is perhaps the least pretentious we ever get.
See (The Naked Truth )
Books. Anyone who readily displays all their books is being somewhat pretentious. For it means, “Hey look at me, I’m erudite, I’m supposedly intelligent.” I do it and I’ve done it for a long time.
However, I do read my books, and I am genuinely interested in what I read, if not passionate about the subject matters I choose to dive into: genius, the mind, philosophy, psychology, physics, space.
Of course, admittedly I am merely skimming the top of all these great subjects, for unless I make any of them my life’s work, I can hardly say I am an expert or that I will ever contribute to the field of knowledge (although, I plan to!).
This is why I try sell those books that are absolutely not worth keeping as soon possible. Or at least I am apt to pass them on to others who might get something out of them.
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