Michael St. Amand: Slave to Vanity
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Who are the Slaves to Vanity? | Morris Zimmerman, PhD

Who are the Slaves to Vanity? We are really talking about slavery not imposed from the outside but but self-induced.. Thus, you are abdicating your freedom to achieve some goal other people define for you. Then we come to Vanity, a subject which has intrigued philosophers and writers of varying ilk for centuries. Samuel Johnson in his major dictionary does not see too much difference between Pride and Vanity. Religions have made Pride and/or Vanity a deadly sin. But many have separated the two.

Jane Austen whose works have recently gained more popularity than ever says, in Pride and Prejudice: Vanity and Pride are different things, though the words are used synonymously. A person may be Proud without being vain. Pride relates more to the opinion of ourselves; Vanity, to what we would have others think of us

Schopenhauer says: Pride is an established conviction of one's paramount worth in some particular respect while Vanity is the desire of rousing such a conviction in others.
Vanity thus needs the applause of the world to gain a high opinion of one's worth.

Adam Smith says; the proud man is happy with the knowledge of his own superiority whereas the vain man relies on the opinion of others.

Rousseau believes pride is more natural than Vanity since it consists in deriving self-esteem from estimable goods whereas Vanity gives value to that which is valueless. Thus a Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Jonas Salk would have some cause for being proud because they have created something of great value.

There seems to be agreement that Vanity requires us to listen to what others think we should be, dress, look like or purchase to gain self-esteem.

This brings us to the role of advertising in trying to convince those, subject to its' influence, what they should be. Our economy, if one looks at the totality of advertising, in various media, is based on the appeal to Vanity. Advertising to women is particular in this regard. But at the same time implying, that in some ways, women fall short. Redemption comes in the use of the particular product being advertised. The ideal that one must attain is the body of a teenager, the anorexic one. Rubens models would be ostracized today. Size 0 in clothing is the new ideal. Everything is surface, and the battle to attain this synthetic ideal image is life's primary battle.

What product will make us more desirable, beautiful etc.? Phillip Wylie in the 40's in the book Generation of Vipers' said that all advertising to women has the message that use of the particular product makes you a more desirable sexual object. Sadly,
this has not changed since then.

One can only look at television commercials for the mega-billion cosmetics industry. They are successful because they want you to believe that you can be someone different from the person you are. The fashion industry is less glaring in this regard, but suggests that a garment made by one third world sweatshop laborer is worth 10 or more times the product made by another because of a label. The same factory often makes both.

A recent car commercial shows a woman driving at excessive speed, suggesting that that make of car will turn you on. The interrelationship between the automobile and sexuality is a complete subject by itself and affects both women and men. The automobile you drive does not, by itself, define your worth as a person. In fact, when I went to graduate school it was said that you could always tell the faculty from the students, the students drove new cars.

The cosmetic surgery business is another one that caters to Vanity. Admittedly, there is a requirement for this specialty to repair severe injuries and other real medical problems, but the number of such practitioners in affluent areas brings us back to considering Vanity as a motive force again. The reports that in the business world, people who have had successful aesthetic surgery earn more than they would have without it is a poor comment on our society. The search for the Fountain of Youth goes through Medical School and not through St. Augustine

Back to the definition of Vanity including the requirement for approval by others for things of no intrinsic value. Self-esteem should be enhanced by the number of friends you have, and the admiration of others for who or what you are, and not by your appearance or acquisitions.

The constant message that in some way you are inadequate without Product X is the deadly sin of Vanity, not Vanity itself. So the hope is that by understanding what Vanity is, the Slaves to Vanity can be unshackled.

Morris Zimmerman, PhD





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