Thursday, February 12, 2009

"'I have done that," says my memory.

'I cannot have done that' -- says my pride, and remains adamant. At last -- memory yields."
--Friedrich Nietzsche

I can't decide if I have just the right amount of humility. I wonder, because sometimes no matter how hard I try, I am unable to suppress the feeling of my superiority. At other times, I recoil from unnecessary displays of pride, even to the point where I frown at the sentence I wrote just before this one.

First, I should establish that I don't think I'm alone. No doubt many people struggle with their own pride, so I don't wish to give the impression that I'm experiencing something that no one else has. That being said, few people my age seem to talk about it, so when I go cycling back through memories on the subject, I couldn't think any conversations to draw from.

It's perfectly natural to be proud of one's accomplishments. What I'm talking about goes beyond that, however: I feel superior, pure and simple, in some circumstances. Once again, the grandmother voice in my head purses her lips and says, "What an ugly thing to say."

For example: I was driving in moderate traffic the other day and our traffic lump stopped at a red light. There was a large black pickup truck who zoomed up behind me as we were slowing down. As I slowed to a stop behind the traffic, he accelerated as he passed me on the right, into a right-turn lane at the light. He zoomed up to the stoplight, touched the brakes long enough to determine the cross-traffic, then gunned the engine and dashed through the intersection, against the still-red light.

Obviously, that's illegal. Beyond that, it's also unsafe and is asshole-level stupid. But sitting in my car, my primarily reaction to watching this incident was "I'm a better person than they are."

I'm not sure why that's my gut reaction. Perhaps it's a latent defense mechanism from junior high and dealing with bullies: they do things that are against the rules and get away with it, so the only recourse is to turn inward. Or perhaps it has more to with feelings of disconnection from the society at large, allowing me an opportunity to apply my own evaluative overlay.

Or perhaps I'm just a killjoy who doesn't enjoy other people having fun. Or perhaps I'm a stickler for rules, ignoring the fact that blind obedience is no virtue.

Any of these (or [gulp] all!) could be true. I'm not really good at differential diagnosis of completely self-accepted behavior; there's no room to start peeling it back. It's not that I'm a jealously prideful person. There are some issues that I feel like I'm in the right, but many others where I happily cede all judgment to someone else. I have no pretensions towards any knowledge of fashion or quality of clothing, for example. Very expensive or inexpensive items are usually lost on me, and I can't remember the last time I judged anyone's personality based on their clothing. Well, except when someone wears black Crocs with a concert-black outfit, thinking "it's all black!": that's just gauche.

I thought about this in the wake of that traffic incident a few days ago. I had such a smarmy feeling of self-satisfaction in my own righteousness that even *I* couldn't fail to miss it. It didn't matter that I thought afterwards of things that could possibly have brought that behavior about: rushing to the hospital with a bleeding son or something. I still felt superior, in addition to ten kinds of smug.

As long as it's kept under good regulation, I suppose it's not much of a problem. I certainly don't have the power to enforce my superiority over anybody. I can't take away his undeserving driver's license with a wave of my hand, or silence the chatty movie patrons with an eyeblink. However, it remains one of those parts of my personality that always gives me pause: the so-called "darker elements". Perhaps ethnobiologists would describe it as a "selfish gene" or the fading echoes of my "reptillian brain center".

Mostly, it just worries me that it's some symptom of a larger intolerance of people who don't agree with me.

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