By Michael Gorman, Ph.D., IHE Fellow and Ordinary Professor of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America
Thinking about human ecology means thinking about the environment humans need. This includes air quality and so on, but more importantly, it includes our moral and spiritual environment. And just as there are toxins to worry about in the physical environment, so too are there spiritual toxins. One of the worst is disregard for truth.
Sometimes the source of this toxin is greed. We promote the product we are selling by saying things we believe to be false, or by saying things without concern for whether they are true or not—a form of phony talk that the philosopher Harry Frankfurt has analyzed with some care. But greed is not the only source, and maybe not the most important.
Consider pride. We say things not to inform people of truths they need to hear, but to impress our hearers—to make them think we are knowledgeable and important. And if speaking in a deceptive or truth-indifferent way doesn’t work, there are other strategies. Sometimes a conversational non sequitur happens because someone shifts the conversation away from a topic where he’s unable to prevail to one where he is.
Pride, as Augustine taught, is the inordinate appetite for exaltation. Becoming humble involves giving up this appetite—giving up the desire to be the smartest person in the room, the person who won the argument, the person who had the last word. In principle, being a tenured academic makes it easier to arrive at such a purgation, because it makes one less subject to the pressures of politics and public opinion. On the other hand, academics are not particularly known for their humility. It’s a complicated issue, but in a fallen world, the only thing we can really count on for environmental clean-up is God’s grace.