Monday, August 31, 2009

Modesty, Humility, Understatement

In my recent post Modesty II I discussed the cultural value of understatement being confused with Christian humility. They are not unrelated, but the overlap is not so great as some (okay, liberals) suppose. It occurs to me that this was one of the things happening in the library discussion I had about the book True Patriot, which I reviewed here. My main disputant, who is also a friend, kept insisting that the common displays of patriotism are not true patriotism. This is obvious enough, but he seemed to be going further, insinuating that they were a mark of shallow patriotism. He told a story about a previous co-worker who displayed Christian symbols quite obviously, but was a known womanizer. He was haranguing me a bit about how such applied to displays of patriotism as well.

That wolves can hide in sheep's clothing is fairly widely known. What would be the point of hiding in wolves' clothing, after all? But I can't see any point to bringing in his story unless he were claiming that characters in sheep's clothing are usually wolves. If he meant something milder, he would have told a different story. People eventually say what they mean if you let them go on long enough, don't they? Depending on the strength of the prejudice, there is a type of mind which leaps to the conclusion that sheep's clothing is anything from frequently to infallibly evidence of wolfishness. Which is insane, because real sheep do actually exist. Most creatures in sheep's clothing are, in strict point of fact, ovine.

Without trying to add to my Origins Of Liberalism series, I think I stumbled upon this additional bit. The deterioration of Christian humility into a cultural preference for understatement has been taken on by the Arts & Humanities clan as an indicator of virtue. Display equals hypocrisy. It's a tough idea to defend when you look at it out in the open like that.


karrde said...

It is true that patriotism can be used as a refuge by scoundrels.

But it is not true that every man claiming patriotism as his reason for disagreeing with you is in fact a scoundrel hiding behind a patriotic veneer.

Here is where I wish I could give basic knowledge of Set Theory to any disputants in pill form, to simplify discussion. As you mention, it is easy to find people who will argue the fallacy that A ⊂ B implies B ⊂ A. Most likely, if stated in another form (all coins are money, therefore if someone gave you money, he must have given you coins), the assertion will be seen as ridiculous.

But when applied in defense of a cherished belief, or pillar of a worldview, such an assertion is given as if it had been carved into stone tablets by the finger of God.

Donna B. said...

In defense of your friend, I have to say that I came to a similar conclusion about doing business with shops that displayed obvious Christian symbols. After three bad experiences, I decided that a sign in the window saying "This is a Christian business" was more of a warning than a promotion.

I can certainly see where the idea comes from. Where I live, car dealerships fly the biggest flags and sometimes they fly dozens of them.

It's a marketing tool, and I feel justified in questioning the sincerity behind it.

I don't apply that kind of judgment to individuals. The flag my neighbor flies is sincere. The sign in their yard about the church they attend is sincere.

They attend that church every Sunday and try, as best they know how, to be good neighbors, which sometimes results in their annoying the dickens out of us (as I'm sure we do to them also), but they are sincere.

They have a flag in their yard for the same reason about half the people on this street do -- they are a military family, as are we.

Christianity and patriotism when used as marketing tools -- even by politicians -- should be viewed critically.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Donna B - a wise distinction

karrde - do you think they don't understand Venn Diagrams, or don't want to?

Gringo said...

Their understanding of Venn Diagrams: "Venn there, done that."

karrde said...

I suspect that they've never intuited how Venn diagrams can be used to do anything more than pass a test.

Or that they never thought of Venn diagrams as anything more than a weird picture used in a strange subject.