The Sin of Pretentiousness

WHAT IS PRETENSE?

I see two principal forms of pretentiousness (or pretense):

One: When you say, “Well, the answer to your question is actually quite complicated and nuanced,” but the answer isn’t actually complicated or nuanced.

Two: When you say, “We all know what happens when both greed AND disillusionment enter the equation . . .” but we don’t know actually know what happens when greed and disillusionment enter the equation.

In others words, pretense is 1) intentionally concealing information, usually to make oneself seem mysterious or cultured, or 2) fabricating an axiom and pretending as if this axiom were obvious to everyone.

ONE, CONCEALMENT

Do you ever Google something, expecting a quick answer, and find out the search isn’t so quick? You find a link that might hold the information you want, but it leads you to a 3,000-word blog post when you suspect a 100-word answer would do. People bury their 100-word answer in a 3,000-word one because a 100-word post doesn’t look very difficult to write.

We often only have a small truth to share. Not wanting to feel naked, we coat it in many layers. But a small truth is better than one buried too far to find.

TWO, FABRICATION

Some of us fabricate a more refined version of ourselves. We say our goal is to read Spinoza, Sartre, and Seneca, although we’re much more likely to read Koontz, Clancy, and Christie (Agatha, not Chris). Why play pretend? We don’t have to glorify reality, but we should recognize it.

Prepare yourself for a broad statement: Philosophy and religion help billions of people decide which actions to take. Pretentious people eschew both of these things, unless the religion is wishy-washy or the philosophy is arcane. They only summon up silly axioms when they serve their purposes or when they want to look cultured. Beware!

AN ODD FORM OF PRETENSE

A form of pretense I find clever yet deplorable is reverse pretense. Reverse pretense is acting like something most people consider pretty normal is actually high and mighty. Like if your friend is about to go on a run and asks if you want to come, it would be reversely pretentious to say, “No thanks, I’m not a fitness nut like you are. I’ll just stay home and watch TV like a normal person.” I’ve exaggerated for effect, obviously. This attitude comes across not as self-deprecating, but as spiteful.

ALTERNATIVES TO PRETENSE

Wabi sabi is unpretentious (though I suspect if you walked around saying, “Well, that certainly is wabi sabi!” then you might come across as pretentious). If anyone asks about wabi sabi, share your knowledge, as opposed to acting shocked or baffled when someone claims they haven’t heard of this obscure Japanese term. That would be pretentious.

Be honest about your interests, even if they aren’t refined. That’s part of shedding pretense. I’ll start. I like mad libs, cheesy Christmas movies, and a certain computer game, played mostly by high schoolers (I’m 24), called Town of Salem.

What about you?

22 thoughts on “The Sin of Pretentiousness

  1. I like Agatha Christie. No, scratch that, I LOVE Agatha Christie, and the other great ladies of the Golden Age. I like Mad Libs too, although I have yet to try combining that with my love of Agatha Christie (and thus, the great idea is born…) I also like tea, and knitting, and other things associated with little old ladies.
    Related to pretentiousness is something like facetiousness – the habit of assuming a mocking, cynical attitude to everything. Someone (and I wish I could remember who) said that facetiousness presumes the joke has already been made – so there’s no need to give (or have) a reason for one’s sneering ironical laughter.

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  2. I have no idea what Wabi Sabi is, or Mad Libs for that matter. I think I’d be doing much more writing by now if I wasn’t scared to sound pretentious. And yet some of the best writers I know keep telling me that’s exactly what they are.

    I find you very refreshing, though, and always love to come around.

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  3. No “like” button so that we’re compelled to engage, huh? Neat trick. I may have to try it. It’s just, if you have a “like” button, then I don’t have to say something inarticulate along the lines of “I love your post” with nothing to back it up because it’s close to midnight and I’m half asleep. (It’s true though.)

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  4. Haven’t read Koontz (yet) but I’ve read a lot of Clancy and love Agatha Christie. I’ve never read Spinoza, Sartre, and Seneca and have no desire to. When I was a kid, my dad bought me a new book every two weeks – books that he said were great kids books. They included Ivanhoe, Children of New Forrest, Swiss Family Robinson, Black Beauty and Gulliver’s Travels.
    I’ve never heard of Mad Libs, but it sounds like a fun game. I’m almost 70 and I love computer games. I have learnt something from this post, before I read it I’d never heard of Wabi Sabi. LOL I don’t think I’ll be using it anytime soon though.

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  5. I’m what they call…. down to earth, we Australians like to think we all are but every country has that elite group of people who feel the need to bend the truth to make themselves look better. Honesty wins for me every time. Pretentiousness has no where to hide in a small country town. Everyone knows everyone’s business.

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  6. wabi sabi is the underlying reason why i love all things japanese. why i enjoyed past visits to japan and look forward to returning for more. why i’m now an avid tea drinker and appreciate the act of drinking in silence. why i’m such a sucker for all things rustic, earthy, and natural.

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