Arguably the most dangerous of the seven deadly sins, pride acts like the invisible center of the wheel of transgression in which the other six revolve. Inextricably entwined in cases of wrath, lust, greed, sloth, envy and gluttony, humanity’s boastful nature has forced commentators to say plenty about this ‘love of self.’ As C.S. Lewis wrote of it,
There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people…ever imagine they are guilty themselves.
For Dante Alighieri, pride is the
love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one’s neighbour.
In his Divine Comedy, those guilty of pride were forced to wear stone slabs through the afterlife as a sign of humility. Yet in this life, pride plays an odd and contradictory role in both the religious and social life of Americans. While admonished in churches and yoga studios as an unnecessary and toxic additive, the notion of Manifest Destiny, for one, relies entirely on pride.
In order to believe that you live in the greatest country the world has ever known (and that God has a special place for it in history books), pride has to be turned up to a volume so loud as to block out any static suggesting otherwise. You must also, as Dante suggests, hold contempt for neighbors, which in this case is the rest of the planet.
This type of pride has sustained religious traditions for eons: the idea that because you were born into a certain family or region, you are endowed with some special juju others are not privy to. This pride is deeply engrained and not easily overcome, requiring a serious dose of humility, not to mention humanity.
Yet an even stranger usage of the word has been prominently circulating: pride in gun ownership. Being proud of something you purchased instead of an ineffable quality planted inside of you is a clear indication of how integrated spiritual understanding and the market economy have become.
Taking pride in material ownership is, of course, nothing new. The elite custom of purchasing the latest device at the highest price is indicative of this, whether the first Victrola or the Tesla Model S. That one is rich enough to do so is class pride. The pride in owning a gun, an object one can afford with relatively little inconvenience at any income level, is qualitatively different.
It’s challenging to understand what pride could be taken in owning something that could so quickly end life. Having practiced martial arts, I can comprehend the mounting dignity of becoming stronger and more knowledgeable of your body. While I wouldn’t advocate purposefully harming another, one must work diligently and devotedly to master any martial art. An associated hubris is not uncommon, even if the teachings explicitly warn against it.
But a gun? Certainly there’s skill in shooting well, but that does not seem to be the pride related to discussions of gun reform—‘I’m a proud gun owner’ does not translate to ‘I consistently hit the bullseye.’ This pride is visceral, nearly palpable, as if a great wound would be inflicted if ever the invented fear tactics of guns being ‘taken away’ were to manifest.
This sense of hubris seems to stem not from having attained a form of power, but rather a lack of it. As our weaponry has become more reliant upon the weapon and less the person wielding it, we are able to replace skill with hyper-emotionalized lethargy. Swordsmanship, for example, requires rigorous training, while even a serious gun enthusiast admits that a fully automatic AR-15 is referred to as ‘spray and pray.’
This is not a case against gun ownership. What interests me is understanding why someone would be proud to own something that you can operate by, effectively, closing your eyes, pulling a trigger and hoping for the best? What has one accomplished in purchasing such a thing, so as to gratify some partial sense of their identity?
Pride does not have to be a completely bad thing. Having pride in creating such a vastly integrated, multicultural nation is something to stand behind. While I think the concept of Manifest Destiny is nonsense, I appreciate the strides forward America has taken in my lifetime in civil, gender and marriage rights. Every time we celebrate thwarting an old paradigm that limited the rights of citizens, a certain level of pride is healthy.
Thinking yourself above another for your spiritual or religious outlook—believing yourself endowed with some supernatural quality simply due to your being born—is plain silly, an arrogance we can do without. This is what Dante warned of, yet followers of his and all faiths have rushed into the same trap.
The pride associated with ownership is ancient as it is tragic. This inability to find satisfaction with your own being manifests in strange and potentially dangerous ways. As Piers Morgan noted in the video linked to above, most Texans he talked to displayed an irrational fear of the government storming in and taking their guns.
Unexplored fear must outwardly boast to be stronger than it really is. Hence, a percentage of gun owners avoid their fear of shadows through a hubris purchased at Wal-Mart, remaining blinded to the reality that both this fear and its pride are paranoid inventions. As long as we remain a scared nation, we’ll continue to be a proud one, in all the wrong places.
Image: Aaron Amat/shutterstock.com