Liberal Snobbery: I know, I know...

I read this on www.Autoblog.com (yes, I dig cars) today:

You've probably heard the Toyota Prius referred to as the "Pious." The joke is that Prius owners feel driving a hybrid means they are holier than thou... If you ask Canadian psychologists Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, they'll say that environmentally conscious types are liars, cheats, thieves and just plain mean...

The Detroit Bureau reports that a Mazar and Zhong study published in
Psychological Science focused on the social behaviors of green consumers, and the results were surprising... Their results show that people who buy green products may amass a stock pile of moral capital that ultimately encourages deviant behavior like lying and stealing... The psychologists conclude that "acting upon one's values establishes moral credentials that can subsequently license deviating behavior." We think that means green buyers feel holier than thou.
Click here to read the whole article.

So this sort of validates a lot of insults I hear hurled at liberals: arrogant, pseudo-intellectual snobs who don't care about people, only causes. Those are the sort of insults I used to hurl at liberals. And to be honest with you (I hate to say this) a lot of it rings true. This article bears credence. Idealism does not automatically equate to goodness in any meaningful, substantive way.

But doesn't that come right back at a lot of other groups too? I mean, you want to talk about "acting upon one's values" to "license deviating behavior"?! The same article could be written about Evangelicals (a group I still identify myself with): arrogant, self-righteous exclusivists who don't care about the world, only about self-justification. Or something like that.

There's a theological term I keep reading about called "kenosis." It means "emptying" or "empty" in Greek. It's the idea that we must constantly strive to empty ourselves of all those things people cling to for identity: ideology, material things, money, power, ego, success, whatever... by remaining empty, we may be filled with God. Or with goodness or love or transcendent awareness. The model really does hold up outside of a Christian context because all of us - regardless of religious status - fall into the trap of being "filled" by something else. I like the model of Jesus not only because I'm a Christian, but because Jesus' life typified kenosis. He emptied himself to the point of death. It wasn't self-mortification. He had good friends, he ate and he drank and he lived a human life. But ultimately, he died - and not only for the sake of his friends, but I would argue he allowed himself to be martyred out of love for his enemies. He emptied himself.

I don't know many liberals willing to empty themselves or sacrifice themselves for the sake of gas-guzzlers and fundamentalists.

I don't know many Evangelicals willing to empty themselves or sacrifice themselves for the sake of unbelievers, atheists or Muslims.


We all have agendas. We all have some "tipping point" where we say, "enough is enough. I shouldn't have to do more than..." or "I should be able to get away with..."

So snobbery is the condition of being filled with sh... all the stuff we care about. Kenosis is the process of being emptied of all that shit.


There was a prince named Siddhārtha Gautama who did something like this too. His life was characterized by compassion and asceticism, and he found something called "enlightenment." That's better than 55 miles per gallon...



10 comments:

Eruesso said...

Is it bad that I associate a Prius with the South Park Smug Alert episode?

Darn you Matt Stone and Trey Parker and your mind-controlling cartoon!

Country Parson said...

What a shame that I drive a Prius and love it. Good dependable car. Great mileage. Fill the tank with 8 gallons. Lots of storage space. Comfortable enough to drive on long trips. And for what reason would one want to make fun of that? Reverse smugness is smugness just the same. Oh, and by the way, my wife drives a hybrid Highlander.

Peter said...

Country Parson, more power to you! I absolutely would encourage ANYONE to drive fuel-efficient vehicles!! Hopefully "anti-Prius" was not the gist you gathered from the post ;)

Euresso, I agree - great episode. I prefer Brian the Dog on Family Guy - diehard liberal, Utne reader, and animated-Prius driver!

mwp said...

Whenever some people in society call for a change, and then they in fact do change, the people who don't change are going to feel judged by the ones who do. I'm a priest in the Episcopal Church, and 30 years ago we introduced a new prayer book. One of the changes was that people were encouraged to stand during a part of the service where we'd always knelt before. The people pushing this change talked about rediscovering the earliest Christian practice, which was to stand for prayer. So, 30 years later, most churches have some people standing and some kneeling at this point. If you talk to the people who kneel, many of them will say the people who stand are self-righteous and "holier than thou" -- many see it as a slap in the face. But most of the people I've talked to who stand aren't thinking about the other people at all. (I can go either way on this debate).

My point is people don't like to be told to change and, if they decide not to change, they, may hold onto their resentment. There are some obnoxious and pious greens, of course, but I'd bet that most of the phenomenon you describe is in the eye of the beholder.

Josh Mueller said...

I'm looking forward to the day when the "kenosis" will include the shedding of all the labels (theological, political, sexist etc.) and of the stereotypes that come with it!

Brent said...

Great post Pete! I totally agree :) ... so is it pious or kenosis if I like the smell of my own farts?? I'm emptying myself... lol

Anthony said...

I haven't looked at this blog for about 6-8 months. How did you know just what I needed to read when I clicked on it on an impulse out of nowhere? I have learned this way of emptying from the inside out several times, always painful and more or less forced into it, then profoundly grateful to whomever or whatever forced me. With time and the pressure of society the insight fades, then I am brought back to it with a jolt. I hope I have enough remaining years to solidify it. Your post puts it in a nutshell, touching all the touchstones. Rare at 30. You must have good ascetical training. It took me till I was old and grey despite years in seminary and subsequent years of Buddhist training. I could see it, like Mt. Shasta from afar, but couldn't grasp its immensity and indispensability for any path to truth and authenticity. I'm going to read your post every day for a while. BTW I like your new format. But I liked the old format too. Keep up the good work. I am very appreciative of this post and grateful to the daimon who pointed me to it today. Anthony

Peter said...

Anthony, I'm blessed by your words of encouragement and connection. Thank you very much, I hope you'll keep in touch,
Peter

Lutestring said...

Man I LOVE this post! As a bitter, burned out agnostic who still yearns for some real bond with Jesus - I can't say how much this helps.

One thing that a good writer does is to perpetually wipe the fogging window of our flawed perceptions clear. It takes constant work and means seeing beyond what we can now bear or desire. But oh, are those moments of vision worth it.

We can't step out of our agendas, prejudices, hatreds for long. But there is such a crazy beauty in your words and all words like them. I have to believe this means something.

Peter said...

Thanks, Lute!

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