Pretentiousness is a difficult subject to talk about, because quite honestly, few of us can see our own pretentiousness, and even fewer are likely to admit to it. It’s like asking a fish what it’s like to live and breathe in a liquid environment. I mean, it’s obvious to us that the fish lives in this deadly (to humans) environment, but the fish simply doesn’t understand the question. Living underwater is so fundamental to the fish that the fish would never even think about it. It’s kinda like us not giving much thought to the idea that humans aren’t “oxygen breathers”. We are, in actuality, nitrogen breathers… with a small amount of oxygen mixed in. Most of us just don’t give it much, if any, thought.
But we are all pretentious in our own way. We like to think that we are somehow more unique and special than others, and here in America, that unique specialness is most commonly expressed by the things we purchase… the commodities that we can own… commodities that others can’t own.
For some, that commodity might be a high-level degree from a top school. And once we become accepted into that subculture (the highly educated), the question becomes one of which degree from which school. Education becomes a commodity. It doesn’t matter if your education has anything to do with how you make your living. What’s important is that you own that commodity.
We can’t move much further here without talking about function, because when rationalizing the commodities we own, we have to assign a plausible function to the commodity.
No single thing has an inherent single function. For instance, when we think of a hammer, we generally think of a tool that drives nails into wood. We say that driving nails is the function of the hammer. But hammers have so many other functions… it can be a handy tool for dispatching unwanted pets, children, or irritating friends and relatives. Its function then becomes that of a murder weapon. If gold-plated and engraved, its function becomes that of being an award. If that award is used to keep a door open, then its function becomes that of a door stop. You’re getting the drift. A thing only has the function that we assign to it.
(As a side note, philosophers love to argue about this subject, because the endgame is the question, “What is the function of a human being?”. The obvious and painful answer is, “Human beings have no assigned function.” This answer, of course, leads us down that dark rat hole of existential thought. But we’re not going there. You’re welcome.)
I give pretentiousness some thought because of the pictures that I see on the interwebs. There are pictures of hip-hop stars with piles of cash, fancy guns, cigars, expensive cars, and a group of young, beautiful, scantily-clad women. He’s showing us the commodities that he can own… and you can’t.
I see pictures of fat middle-aged famous actors… frolicking on a super yacht… smoking big cigars… drinking expensive alcohol, and surrounded by a group of young, beautiful, scantily-clad women.
I see pictures of young beautiful pop stars… surrounded by a “squad” of young, beautiful, scantily-clad women.
Oh, wait! That took us down a different rabbit hole, didn’t it? It looks like I was implying that young, beautiful, scantily-clad women are nothing more that commodities to be owned. As if their assigned function was only that of providing status to their owners. Obviously, that’s not what I was implying. What I meant to say was “surrounded by a group of empowered human beings”. Their assigned function is to be empowered human beings. That’s a hell of a thing, and I almost couldn’t back away from my own implications.
Facebook is a great place to detect those who would be pretentious. Probably not as much as you’d like to think, but still there. Full disclosure here, I like Facebook. It gives me my daily dose of what folks in the world are up to. Sure, some of it might be a little hyped, but most of the folks just like to share things about their life, and that’s okay. Humans like to be acknowledged by other humans.
Not that we’re all not a little pretentious. Any society that is driven by consumption (conspicuous or otherwise) is bound to have left a thin dusting of pretentiousness on each of us. It’s just the nature of the thing. But there are some people who like to think that they’re free (or above it all) of such cultural norms, and for those, I would propose a small test….
… look at each thing that you own, control, or consume. Take a close look at it, and then describe its function. There are two simple categories… There are those things have the assigned function of making your life more comfortable and happy, and there are those things that have the assigned function of being seen by others.
If you are free of this cultural norm, then all of your commodities will fall in the first category.
If not? Don’t worry about it. But don’t be surprised if someone looks at your Facebook posts and mutters… “What a pretentious ass!”
Have a day.
primum vivere, deinde philosophari.