Of Fear, Pride and Shame
The fear of pride is ancient. As the story of Prometheus reminds us, it isn’t confined to monotheists; virtually all religions warn that pride, a negation of the boundaries between human and divine worlds, will be severely punished. But even for those who have lost the concept of pride as a sin, the fear expressed in the saying that pride goes before a fall runs deep. Is this a relic of superstition, or is it rational to be wary of pride? A number of psychologists have interpreted concerns about hubris to be justified fears of envy, but there are other reasons to fear pride: in particular, its objects often make little sense. In individuals, pride seems related to accomplishment. In fact, pride is most often expressed toward things that have nothing to do with one’s own accomplishment: having aristocratic ancestry, cheering on the winning team, or belonging to a particular ethnic or national group. One explanation for this discrepancy is that many expressions of pride spring from experiences of shame. While the transformation of shame into pride can be initially liberating, it hides other dangers.
Susan Neiman is Director of the Einstein Forum. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Neiman studied philosophy at Harvard and the Free University of Berlin. She was Professor of Philosophy at Yale University and Tel Aviv University before coming to the Einstein Forum in 2000. Her works include Slow Fire. Jewish Notes from Berlin (1992); The Unity of Reason. Rereading Kant (1994); Evil in Modern Thought (2002); and Moral Clarity. A Guide for Grown-up Idealists (2008).