Jessica Tracy’s TAKE PRIDE: WHY THE DEADLILEST SIN HOLDS THE SECRET TO HUMAN SUCCESS (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) is a well-written, very interesting, and often humorous look at that mysterious aspect of our personality, pride. What is pride? How and why did human beings develop pride? What crucial role does pride play in shaping our lives? These are among the questions Ms. Tracy attempts to answer.
Before getting into a review of TAKE PRIDE, let me first admit to a brief love affair with the study of psychology. I took a two-semester course in general psychology as a sophomore in college way back in 1964-65, when literacy was still a requirement for admission to college. The first semester was a great experience. We studied theories by Freud, etc., learned what abnormal was in contrast to normal, and all sorts of interesting things about people’s behavior.
That abnormal vs. normal thing still eludes me, however. How can you classify some behavior as abnormal when no one seems to be able to define normal? Think about that for awhile.
I almost decided to major in psychology, but then came the second semester. It was all about the parts of eyes and ears, testing, and statistics. I was so bored. But I made it through the course having learned two lasting lessons. First, psychology is NOT a science. It is more like a group of late night patrons in a bar passionately expressing their personal opinions on subjects about which they know little. Second, having been taught by a practicing psychologist with a patch over one eye and an addiction to cigarettes, I am convinced that every psychologist is in need of a psychiatrist. But I wander. Back to Ms. Tracy’s TAKE PRIDE.
The French philosopher René Descartes is famous for saying, “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes was pointing out the simple truth that in order to reason one must begin with some assumption. In his case, his starting assumption was the fact that he could not doubt that he was sitting there thinking (i.e., doubting).
What the thinker must remember, however, is that the starting assumption determines the path one’s reasoning takes as well as the end or conclusion of the journey. I think it is important for the reader keep this in mind while reading TAKE PRIDE.
Ms. Tracy’s beginning assumption is the evolutionary theory of the origin and development of life. Human beings are but one animal species. What distinguishes a human from the other animal species that arose from the evolutionary process of, as one individual has put it, “from ooze to you by way of the zoo,” is what Ms. Tracy calls “our uniquely human sense of self.” “Without the human self,” writes Tracy, “our species would not have been able to do or become all the things that make us different from other animals.”
Pride is the emotion that enabled we of the human species “to do and become” all that we can as humans. Pride provides the “motivational kick” that enables human beings to be human. “Pride and self,” concludes Tracy, “are mutually reinforcing psychological phenomena, two adaptations that go hand in hand and whose joint evolutionary development has allowed our species to become what it is today.” Pride is not a negative emotion. It is rather a positive emotion. It leads to greatness, but can also lead to tragedy.
All of this is mere theory or speculative reasoning based upon theoretical assumptions. Ms. Tracy uses words and phrases like “self-evident,” “obviously,” “must be the result of,” etc. to give the appearance of scientific fact to what remains only speculation.
Various scholars have tried to explain what makes a human being different from other animals using the theory of evolution. All have failed. Beginning with the assumption that matter is the ultimate reality, one cannot arrive at a satisfactory explanation of what makes a human being human. Creationists beginning with the assumption that the ultimate reality is a personal, infinite creator do have an explanation for the” mannishness of man.” But both evolution and creation are theories, neither one of which can be tested and proven wrong.
A discussion among psychologists is much like a group of children playing in a sand box discussing their feelings about sand. The scene may be interesting, even entertaining, for the adults looking on, but little more than that. Because psychologists are trying to understand people, their books will always be, depending upon how well written they are, interesting. “People,” said Art Linklleter, “are interesting.”
I found Jessica Tracy’s TAKE PRIDE interesting and thought provoking. It was a welcome break from the lighter reading I have been doing of late. If you are considering reading it, I encourage you to do so. Just keep in mind that your response to what Tracy is saying will depend upon your answer to the question of what is the ultimate reality. All inquire must begin with the answer that question.
Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always live under the mercy.
Paul, I like your “mannishness of man.” It has echoes of Francis Schaeffer.
It is from Schaeffer. I should have put quotation marks around it.