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.
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.
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?