By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Getting The Inside Edge: A Contemporary Social Commentary

Many Catholics are familiar with the word "concupiscence"--the fancy, Latinate word for the various lusts that can dominate our behavior (certainly, not limited to the notorious sexual dimension--in many cases, it almost seems that, if we look more deeply, sexual pitfalls are merely the means used to fulfill bigger "lusts" such as the desire for status, affirmation, control, security, and power in our personal lives; any cure for those pitfalls requires looking more deeply). One aspect of concupiscence is the desire to be part of the "in crowd," the crowd "in the know." I recall C.S. Lewis describing this reality, in his usually effective way, in one of his books.

I was reminded of this dimension while speaking to a friend about my confusion when I see people obsessed with organic this or organic that and yet stuffing their bodies with highly intrusive or damaging chemicals, whether for birth control or to get a transient "high" (or painting their bodies with those chemicals in the form of tattoos). That contradictory reality among some raises the question about what is at stake in the desire,  just to take one example, for the best organic foods among those who also use damaging or highly disruptive chemicals. Is the desire for healthy food manifesting a consistent concern for health, or really something else? If it were a true health concern, we should be seeing a consistent rejection of chemicals in other areas--contraception and substance abuse. Many do not take that consistent route.

The root of various inconsistent behaviors may simply be the elitist "I know better than you" compulsion. You eat that, I eat this. You went to that school, I went to this school. You live in that neighborhood, I live here. The consistent, logical thread running through many, often contradictory patterns of behavior may simply be the quest to feed our prideful desire to be above others in some way, even while being painfully aware that we are below others in other ways. The lesson from these observations may be this conclusion: do not necessarily take someone's rhetoric about this or that at face value, whether it's about healthy food or something else. The contradictions point to something deeper going on-- our well-known friend, the prideful, insecure ego peeping out behind the "I am smarter than you" veils we artfully put up for the world.