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Phony Self Esteem

January 1st, 2013 by Mike N · 7 Comments · Education, Uncategorized

The Dec 28th 2012 Detroit News carried two opeds on gun control, one by Charles Krauthammer and one by Clarence Page. While Mr. Page blames the NRA and Mr. Krauthammer blames Hollywood, neither gentlemen focus on a mindless injustice that certainly contributed to such horrific events as Sandy Hook. I’m talking about the absurd practice of putting up signs that read ‘gun free zone.’The existence of such signs I contend, stems from modern progressive educations’ focus on trying to develop students’ self esteem in the wrong way. Instead of teaching kids that self esteem must be earned through productive effort and the achievement of goals, many teachers take a shortcut around such effort and attempt to instill self esteem directly by telling youngsters that they are automatically and causelessly special, great, good, awesome etc.

But what happens to a child taught to believe his self esteem–which is how humans experience their moral worth–doesn’t have to be earned, that it comes from the smiling faces and approval of others without any effort on his part? What happens if that sanction is not forthcoming? What is he to think of a reality that is supposed to make him happy but doesn’t? Will he withdraw from it or strike out at it?

A third and proper option would be to check his premises but Prog Ed makes sure no one develops that ability. Several generations of adults have gone through Prog Ed. Many have survived this aspect of today’s public schools having learned that true self esteem must be earned. Others will be affected in some way but few will be totally unscathed. Some of these will get together and decide to declare their schools to be gun free zones. This they think will show others how much they care about children and thus how morally good and noble they are. Some such people will find posting such attention getting signs to be nearly irresistible.

There is of course, nothing wrong with enjoying the approval of others between rational people as long as said approval is based on some earned values. But I want to urge that we purge from our schools the insane practice of instilling in children a false sense of self worth. It’s my understanding that a push in this direction has already started. Recently a teacher gave a commencement address to a graduating class telling them “No, you are not special.” This is a baby step in the right direction.

But the real solution is easy enough to see. All we have to do is look at the constantly rising quality and falling prices of Information Technology like cell phones and I-Pads and so on. We should all want this paradigm for our kids’ education. So, lets place education on the free market by taking it out of the hands of government, getting rid of regulations while retaining rights protecting laws and watch the ensuing explosion in quality and plummeting costs affordable to everyone.

7 Comments so far ↓

  • Neil Parille

    Nathaniel Branden once wrote that crime and child abuse are caused by low self esteem. Well, if you do a study of inmates, you find that their self esteem is at the meeter busting level.

    Most people think they are better drivers than average. Most people think they are smarter than average. People need a realistic appraisal of themselves.

    As someone put it, the idea that high self esteem is good is like arguing that even if your car is empty, you’ve got a full tank of gas if you set the needle on high.

    Whatever benefit the concept of self esteem had, it has outlived its usefulness.

  • Andrew Dalton

    “Well, if you do a study of inmates, you find that their self esteem is at the meeter busting level.”

    Who did this study, and what was their definition of “self esteem”?

  • Drew

    Stanton Samenow has done lots of research on the nature of a criminal’s ego (“self-esteem”) and the dynamics of prison inmates. As I recall, this phony self-esteem is really high among criminals. Criminality seems to require the ability to partition the mind and feel convinced that one is entitled to violate the rights of others (e.g., gun them down) and that doing so is perfectly right (for the criminal).

    The politicians mindset is that one is entitled to violate the rights of others because it (allegedly) serves society, the collective, etc.

    Hmm…criminals and politicians — two sides of the same coin. Neither of them have genuine self-esteem, objectively earned.

  • Neil Parille


    I don’t remember and I’m sure his definition of self esteem was not the same as Objectivism’s.

    But I think my point is still valid. Given that humans have an apparently innate tendency to think too highly of themselves, encouraging people to feel good about themselves is unnecessary and unwise.

    I’m all in favor of having pride in a job well done and all that, but I don’t think self esteem is a virtue.

  • Inspector

    “I don’t remember and I’m sure his definition of self esteem was not the same as Objectivism’s.”

    “I’m all in favor of having pride in a job well done and all that, but I don’t think self esteem is a virtue.”


    See, you’ve made a good point and then missed that very same point.

    You can’t have a meaningful discussion if you’re using terms to mean different things. If you already know that Objectivism uses a different definition of self-esteem than you are, then it’s not much use to declare that you don’t think self esteem is a virtue. You’re just encouraging a discussion in which people argue past each other. Which doesn’t help anything.

  • Neil Parille

    Since human beings have a natural tendency to think too highly of themselves, there is no need to encourage them to have “reality based” self esteem.

    There is nothing wrong with such self esteem, but there is no need to cultivate self esteem, or whatever Nathaniel Branden titled one of his books.

  • Inspector

    Again, what you’re saying is worse than useless if you just throw the term “self-esteem” around without accounting for the different definitions present.

    In case it isn’t clear, what I’m suggesting is that you stop using that term altogether in this company, and instead actually state the full meaning of what you are intending to communicate.

    Don’t say this:

    “There is no need to cultivate self esteem”

    Say this:

    “There is no need to cultivate [whatever it is you are intending the definition of that term – as used in this sentence – to be]”

    I’d have written in the brackets what I thought you intended to mean there, but I can’t, because I honestly have no idea what you intended to go there. Because, like I said, conflicting definitions are causing confusion here.

    So stop beating your head against that brick wall already and do what you have to do to communicate effectively!