Criminals—the destroyers of civilized order—are psychologically all of a piece. The individual who engages in a life of petty crime has, in a certain sense, more in common with the criminal element, comprising both the petty wrongdoer and the great felon, than with the law-abiding non-criminal. This is true despite the fact that, in a quantitative sense, the misdeeds of the petty criminal may never approach the “awful horribleness” of the acts of the truly great crime. The petty criminal, no less than the great criminal, however, will be of interest to, though perhaps not intrigue, the criminologist.
In a certain limited sense, from a psychological perspective, the creator of a metaphor has more in common with Shakespeare than with the non-creative.
The psychologist treats artistic creations--both the most meager and the most sublime--as the gastroenterologist treats fecal specimens: simply as evidence of a particular type of functioning.
1) Dissembling by thing evaluated:
Person says of a rhinestone, "That's nothing but a piece of glass pretending to be something it's not."
2) Dissembling by evaluator:
Person says of a diamond, "That's nothing but a piece of coal pretending to be something it's not." (How does the diamond defend against that appraisal?)
The creative person among the noncreative
May resemble a badly tarnished silver place setting among immaculately clean and shining stainless steel place settings. Which would you rather eat from, but which is more valuable? Stainless steel doesn't tarnish, but it never shines as brightly as polished silver.
May resemble a spokesperson for Three-Mile Island among a group of lobbyists for the coal industry. Why do people react to reactors the way they do? Maybe it's the plutonium, or maybe the nuclear fission. People fear the reactor will explode as though it were a nuclear bomb. But unlike the nuclear bomb, the nuclear fission reaction in the reactor is controlled. The reactor is designed to fuel a city, not destroy it.
By the way, few people like nuclear reactors; but why are the coal lobbyists particularly persistent and harsh in their condemnation?
Sometimes pretentiousness is in the eye of the beholder: a problem in miscategorization.
A man sets up an easel in front of a nuclear reactor. He takes out his palette and paints a depiction of the reactor on his canvas. A passerby, envious of the man's work and eager to devalue the man's accomplishment, says: "What kind of idiot do you think I am? Who are you trying to fool? What do you know about a nuclear reactors?" Did the man with the easel ever claim to be a nuclear physicist? He is, in fact, an artist.
* * *
A 350-pound man is walking in the snow. His footprints leave deep impressions in the snow. A passerby sees the deep footprints and says, "I notice that you seem to walk very hard. (With the unstated question, "Why? Who are you trying to impress?") The morbidly-obese man replies, "It's part of my pathology." The man will have serious problems among those who consider the depth of one's footprints in the snow to be a measure of virtue, and especially those who are also not obese.
* * *
Metaphor drawn from life:
Imagine what it might have been like for Joseph to share company with someone who never recalled his dreams. What would it have been like for the non-dreamer to be in the company of Joseph? Pity them both!
A man walks into a department store. He is disheveled and apparently destitute, but has never stolen anything. He wishes to make a lawful purchase like all the other shoppers. He is characterized as a shoplifter. All eyes are on him. He is here to steal, they say; why else would someone like him be here? Every motion the man makes is scrutinized. Every action the man undertakes, consistent with his being an honest shopper, will be taken as proof-positive he is a thief. The man leaves, wary of returning to that store or any store. Is this fear of rejection, my friends?
* * *
Someone once said, "Perhaps the greatest pianist who ever lived was a caveman living in a cave in Europe 15,000 years ago. But we will never know because there were no pianos." Can a man with an unexpressed talent still be said to be average? Will there not be other aspects of the man, even though they may go unnoticed, that in some way betray that talent? And if certain unique qualities are noticed, won't people be tempted to view them as odd, superfluous, and perhaps pretentious?
A man has an animal phobia—a fear of alligators. The fear expressed itself on only one occasion. During a trip to the everglades, when the man was 5 years old. He suffered a panic attack when he saw an alligator surface from the swamp. The man has lived his entire life in Omaha where he has never encountered, and probably will never encounter, an alligator. He has never suffered a panic attack before. His life is normal. But can a man with an unexpressed phobia still be said to be normal? Will there not be other aspects of the man, though they may go unnoticed, that in some way betray his uniqueness? Perhaps what appears to be a problem is in some way insidiously related to the most sublime in him, such as a special sensitivity.
* * *
If you have a black and white television receiver, how will you ever know that the local television station is broadcasting in color? You'll have to rely on someone with a color receiver to tell you. If you happen to drive by the local television station, which you think broadcasts in black and white, the special apparatus for color transmission will seem odd, superfluous, and perhaps pretentious.
* * *
Lesson in narcissism. From what city or country should I claim provenance? Perhaps I am "composite and cosmopolitan.”
Vienna was once the capital of an empire. The Austro-Hungarian empire no longer exists, but the magnificent boulevards, buildings, and institutions of Vienna remain. Today Vienna is the capital of no more than a small European state. The grandeur of Vienna is curiously inconsistent with the size and status of the country of which it is capital.
In the late eighteenth century, the newly-independent United States set out to create a grand national capital in Washington. Compared with the great European states, the United States was not much more than a colonial outpost on the edge of a barren continent. The grandeur planned for Washington was curiously inconsistent with the size and status of the country of which it was capital.
Societies, of course, play down their problems, put their best foot forward and try to make a good impression on visitors, but Soviet society, with the special vanity of its Utopian ideology, takes this tendency to extremes. No more dramatic example of staging a show to impress foreigners took place during my stay in Russia than than the face lifting given to Moscow just before President Nixon's visit in the summer of 1972. Entire blocks of old buildings were burned down and carted away. Hundreds of people were moved out. Streets were widened and repaved, buildings repainted, trees and lawns planted, fringed with fresh flowerbeds put in practically on the eve of his arrival. Even our building, far from the Kremlin, was spruced up a bit on the off chance that Nixon might show up. Under the Czars this was called “Potemkinizing,” after the prince who erected fake villages along the highway used by Catherine the Great to impress her with the wealth of his region. Nowadays, Russians call it pokazukha, for show.
--Hedrick Smith, The Russians
We cannot entirely ignore the legends, current throughout history, of civilizations once great and cultured, destroyed by some catastrophe of nature or war, and leaving not a wrack behind. . . . The Pacific contains the ruins of at least one of these lost civilizations. The gigantic statuary of Easter Island, the Polynesian tradition of powerful nations and heroic warriors once ennobling Samoa and Tahiti, the artistic nobility and poetic sensitivity of their present inhabitants, indicates a glory departed, a people not rising to civilization, but fallen from a high estate.
--Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage
At least one city—Rome--is simultaneously he former capital of an empire, once a small village whose future greatness was foretold in myth, whose present city fathers engage in touristy displays to cater to foreign visitors, and which is a repository of artifacts from successive stages of development.