As I was writing a response to a political post the other day, a question flashed through my mind (or maybe someone actually said it, I can’t tell you which). I had to push it to the side until I completed writing, but now I’m going to consider it.
Am I arrogant?
One of the things that is easy to do in our language (I don’t know about in any others), is that we confuse pride and arrogance. We say, “don’t be arrogant” when what we’re really referring to is pride. “Don’t be so prideful.” We do the same thing with jealousy and envy — there he is, lusting after someone else’s new car, and we say he being jealous, when really he’s envious. So, we need to start with some clear definitions.
To arrogate: attribute unto one’s self merit, value, skill, attainment of any sort that one does not actually possess or has not achieved. Any amount of arrogance is inordinate, although there’s something in the back of my mind that is saying some dose of arrogance (the state of having arrogated) is useful for something, I just haven’t yet pinned anything definitive down. I also don’t want to spin a vice as a virtue simply because there might be some tangential benefit to someone somehow at some point.
Pride: satisfaction with your achievements; a feeling of self-respect and personal worth; a feeling generated by a dislike of falling below your standards; and finally, an unreasonable and inordinate self-esteem. There appears to be a progression from healthy to non-healthy in the listing of the various definitions. And there’s that word again: inordinate, combined with unreasonable. Definitions of both those words include the notion of excessive. If one’s pride is unreasonable and inordinate, then it’s like you have arrogated pride! Or maybe it’s the excessive and inappropriate amount of pride that causes arrogance because, in that state, one may attribute attributes commensurate with the inordinate pride one already has in oneself.
So, there I am, typing away, and I wonder: have I attributed unto myself knowledge of a topic (pick one) that I don’t really possess? I think I might have wondered that when writing a thought as though it were fact. And then that same wondering appears when considering the totality of a composition that attempts to draw these heavy conclusions as though my thesis were a forgone conclusion and I’m just writing to convince the reader of the truth of it.
Am I doing that now?
Solid Building Blocks
One of my favorite things to say is: my opinion is only as strong as the weakest bit of information it rests on. My opinions reflect my ownership (substantiated or investigated knowledge) of the topic at hand, and they can change upon encountering any data that successfully refutes any premise. I say “successfully” because merely casting doubt on a premise with another opinion is not enough to refute it, which gives rise to my even more-favorite expression: Without data, it’s just another opinion. Casting reasonable doubt, however, propels me to Google to investigate…if the topic matters to me.
When it comes to opinions, I think they should be only as weighted as the amount of true consideration one has given the topic. (‘True’ = intellectually honest)
I just made a ‘should’ statement. Should I be afraid to make a statement like that lest I risk being thought of unfavorably? I look at it this way: I think that if we were afraid to share what it is we think we know, then we would be intellectually timid indeed, afraid of the shadows our thoughts cast on our audience. I make the following assumption: We have to accumulate bits of strong understanding before knowledge, and then wisdom, can ever happen. The stronger the bits, the stronger the basis; and the stronger what you have to share is, the more comfortable you can be in asserting it as fact … until you learn otherwise.
When it comes to thinking through a topic, I try to be as logical as possible — logical as in the “study of reasoning” type of logic. So even if I don’t know a lot about a topic, I can explore it given my reasoning faculties and degree of interest. I don’t think it can be unreasonable to treat a thought as though it were fact for the purposes of making an argument given a substantiating amount of credible information to support it. Establish a plausible premise based on the strength of support you have to present and that is strong enough to build other conclusions upon. This is the nature of knowledge-building.
The other day, a non-native speaker of English asked me: “What is the difference between ‘incredible’ and ‘unbelievable’?” Truth be told, I’d never thought about it.
in- cred -ible (Latin-based)
un-believ -able (mostly Germanic-based, the ending is Latin)
The exact same word with essentially the same meaning — there must be a nuance in the difference in mode. But how to arrive at an answer?
Like tasting a great wine, I swirled the words around my mind, mentally placing the them in different scenarios and contexts in order to pick up on the nuances in texture, aroma … well, emotion and nuance in meaning, etc. In doing this, I arrived at the following:
- We use ‘incredible’ in positive situations (mostly), and
- We use ‘unbelievable’ in negative situations (mostly).
“That’s incredible!” vs. “That’s unbelievable!” In a less exclamatory tone, “I find that incredible.” vs. “I find that unbelievable.” One can envision times when both words are negative or positive. But, when jostled — when a sudden compulsion hits you to exclaim something that is beyond belief — which one pops out when the situation is negative, and which one when positive? ‘Incredible’ seems to hold a node of extraordinary, hard to believe; whereas ‘unbelievable’ seems to hold a node of dubious or improbable.
But because of the time I took to evaluate the two words, I will respond to this person: ‘incredible’ is usually positive, and ‘unbelievable’ is negative. (Have I arrogated my ability to parse subtleties in English word usage?)
What Kant said about reflecting on oneself seems to me to fall in the same genre [Emphasis added]:
“Through observation and analysis of appearances we penetrate to nature’s inner recesses, and no one can say how far this knowledge may in time extend. But with all this knowledge, and even if the whole of nature were revealed to us, we should still never be able to answer those transcendental questions which go beyond nature. The reason of this is that it is not given to us to observe our own mind with any other intuition than that of inner sense; and that it is yet precisely in the mind that the secret of the source of our sensibility is located. The relation of sensibility to an object and what the transcendental ground of this [objective] unity may be, are matters undoubtedly so deeply concealed that we, who after all know even ourselves only through inner sense and therefore as appearance, can never be justified in treating sensibility as being a suitable instrument of investigation for discovering anything save always still other appearances — eager as we yet are to explore their non-sensible cause.”
I’m absolutely sure that his (italicized) statement is either preceded or followed by exposition in support of this sentence as a premise for other conclusions, but in just this context, it seems like a statement of “fact” derived from mental swirling. (Have I arrogated understanding?)
So, not nearly on the heels of someone who can think at Kant’s level, I posited the following about Bias:
To retain concepts longer, we work them into structures in our heads where they become part of the machinery that accepts new information based on how well it fits. Think ‘assimilation’. We pattern our minds to process information based on the types of information we incorporated before. This, in some ways, establishes our bias or filter or whatever other word there is out there to characterize how we arrive at perceiving the world and its events, and their components’ relationships.
Bias is a pattern we consciously or unconsciously use to steer our thinking or filter the content our minds accept, both of which we inaccurately refer to as “prejudice.” It is a mechanism we use to give ourselves integrity: an undivided or unbroken completeness or totality of being, judged positively or negatively by its consistency. It’s what we use to create and maintain an image of the “self.” As a trajectory, it maintains the course; as a filter, it assures that nothing corrupts the course.
Bias as a trajectory is a course, an inclination (think incline, or lean), a tendency (think extend toward or stretch). Trajectories are created by maintaining a direction; and one maintains a direction by keeping things (speed, effort, input) within certain bounds. Bounds are structures that contain or constrain other things — in this discussion, thoughts and concepts. With all the forgoing concepts (of metonymy, etc.), the walls or constraints are built by having amassed the same type of building materials (input) into the structure of the walls, which is reinforced (strengthened) by incorporating more of the same compatible structural materials. The sameness of the materials is accomplished by the bias-filter. You can also think of these bounds as being merely accumulations of the same type of materials until it forms boundaries high enough to enclose your mind. The filter merely assures that you sift out incompatible materials.
This can be done if you define your terms before or as you use them in order to mitigate ambiguity. Previously, I had defined a bunch of terms, given them context, and then built on that to arrive here. So, to differ with this postulation, one would have to fairly question those definitions and contexts.
I’m swirling ideas, establishing premises as solid as I can, progressing incrementally in steps small enough to expose assumptions, and arriving at conclusions that I can be proud to call “my opinions.” But, am I being arrogant — Am I ascribing unto myself knowledge I don’t actually possess about, say, bias? Have I over-estimated my skills in reasoning?
It may be that I have argued into existence a cloud to explain away any arrogance I might have. It could be exaggerated pride has emboldened me to talk on the think before the whole world. (Gawd knows I wouldn’t be alone!) But, even after some mental swirling of the Kantian variety (“intuition … of inner sense”), I don’t think that I am arrogant. My sense is that my pride and presentation of “knowledge” is reasonable, as in: the satisfaction I get from expounding on a topic that interests me is commensurate with the amount of effort I put into attaining knowledge of the topic.
As I wrote this post, I went back and challenged and scoured most every word, looking for evidences of arrogance. Perhaps I have arrogated unto myself the ability to detect arrogance; so I must look beyond myself for evidence just in case. From monitoring others’ reactions to my everyday efforts, I have confidence — not the same as pride — that I can think at a decent level. From their reactions, I see that I can make people uncomfortable with my insistence on relentless rigor (or is that “relentless insistence”?). I can be harsh on shallow thinking … aHA!.
I inserted the “harsh on shallow thinking” line after writing these next two sentences:
And perhaps I project an attitude of superiority, which I don’t mean to do. And maybe that attitude is what others label arrogance.
I am judgmental. I do think others can/do think shallowly. If I consider my thinking to be not shallow, and if shallow is inferior, then if I project that, I am displaying an attitude of superiority. I guess my next post will have to explore how one can arrogate position above/below anyone in anything! (That is, making value comparisons where good or bad is part of the conclusion.)
I may be arrogant.