Let’s explore what vanity is and how it is important. Vanity is a label for an anxious pre-occupation with social validation. In simplest terms, vanity is a form of anxiety (distress).
As background, I consider anxiety to be a label for the inevitable biochemical effects of a deficiency of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, resulting in reduced supply of oxygen to the brain cells (“hypoxia”), further resulting in the behavioral / experiential effects called anxiety. In other words, anxiety “attacks” are when the brain is suffocating from chronic hyperventilation.
The remedy is breathing calmly (slowly). In severe acute hyperventilation, it is common for people to breath in and out of a paper bag in order to dramatically raise CO2 levels in the bloodstream and thus prevent the brain tissue from suffocating. Most people know about acute hyperventilation (sudden onset) but do not know how common and severe the effects are of chronic (slow onset) hyperventilation.
Most people know about O2 coming in through the lung tissue and then Hemoglobin (red blood cells) bonds with the O2 (as shown above). What they do not know is the mechanism of how the O2 gets released. Let’s review that quickly.
Here is an image of what happens during calm breathing. As we already referenced, O2 (in blue at top right) comes in through the lung tissue and then Hemoglobin (red blood cells) bond with the O2. That is in the center of the above image (shown as HbO2). What happens next is totally uncontroversial and well-established, but not widely known or used.
So, we just breathed in and then we have lots of HbO2 (oxygen-rich red blood cells). Those oxygenated blood cells are flowing around with lots of H2O (water), right? When the oxygen-rich blood reaches a part of the body that has been doing some work (which produces CO2), then there will be a higher concentration of CO2 in that “active” part of the bloodstream and the O2 will be released there near the activity.
Why? Exactly what happens in the presence of CO2 that produces the release of the O2?
What is happening is that where there has been cellular activity (such as physical exertion), there will be raised levels of CO2. Next, all of that CO2 in the bloodstream will electromagnetically “rip apart” water (H2O in the bottom center) in to a hydroxyl ion (OH-) and a free proton (which chemists call a positively charged molecule of hydrogen: H+). Each freed proton (AKA “positive hydrogen ion”) slightly alters the electromagnetic charge (as in the voltage or pH) of the blood in that area of cellular activity.
Because of the local cellular activity has raised local CO2 levels, that rips apart some of the water molecules in the blood, thus making HCO3- (“bicarbonate” at left center of image below) and releasing free protons (“positive hydrogen ions” / H+). Those free protons alter the electromagnetic charge of the water / the blood in that area. That electromagnetic charge is extremely important for the release of the O2 from the red blood cells.
When the charge of the blood is in the ideal range (not too low or too high), then an efficient transfer of O2 in to the surrounding cells can happen. The free proton (H+) electromagnetically rips the O2 from the HbO2 (the oxygen-rich red blood cell in the center above) and then the released O2 (in the top left in blue) can finally enter the surrounding tissue. This sequence was documented in 1904 by a researcher named Christian Bohr, so it is called the Bohr Effect.
Basically, more CO2 in a certain area of the bloodstream results in more H+ (protons) which is measurable as a lower pH which further results in O2 getting released (electromagnetically ripped) from the red blood cells. After CO2 has lowered the local pH of the blood, then the hemoglobin has less saturation or “affinity” for oxygen (as the chart below shows).
It is a good thing for the O2 to be released. It is a VERY bad thing for no O2 to be released.
So, keep in mind that we breathe “through” the internal waters of the bloodstream. Like a liquid cell in a car battery, we obviously must have water in the cell so that all of these water-soluble biochemical reactions can take place, plus we must have an appropriate electromagnetic charge (pH) to produce the red blood cell’s release of O2 across the medium of water (H20).
How is pH regulated? By CO2 levels. If CO2 levels are wrong, then pH is wrong, so oxygen does not get from the red blood cells to the tissues. That starves the brain tissue and causes effects known as attacks of anxiety and panic and asthma. That is bad.
When CO2 levels are high enough, that lowers blood pH, allowing for the proper release of O2 from the blood in to surrounding tissues. That is good.
What causes anxiety attacks, panic attacks, and asthma attacks? Insufficient oxygenation of tissues (“hypoxia”), such as due to bad pH levels (which typically is due to bad CO2 levels from excessive exhalation). Again, that is bad. In the case of extreme sleep apnea, the suffocation caused by hyperventilation is so bad that the brain must create a nightmare to wake up the body and prevent brain damage or death.
By the way, suffocation is bad for you. Hyperventilation eventually WILL produce suffocation. Anxiety is simply an effect of suffocation. So, slow down your breathing!
Vanity is a type of anxiety. Chronic vanity is not as bad as a severe apnea attack, but it is still “bad for you.”
So, when we have chronic physical tensions (or physical injuries) that inhibit proper breathing, the natural result is an increase in the rate and depth of inhalations and exhalations. The result on the blood chemistry is that rapid exhalations deplete the blood of CO2, preventing the CO2 from breaking water in to HO- and H+, thus preventing the local altering of the pH of the blood, finally preventing the release of the O2 from the red blood cell in to the surrounding tissue. In short, by exhaling too much, all tissues (including brain cells) are slowly suffocated. Again, “anxiety” is the natural result (including the specific form of anxiety that I call vanity).
Most modern adults breathe about twice as much (by volume) than is healthy. As babies and young children, most of us breathe much more calmly most of the time (before the maturing organism develops the typical chronic physical tensions of mainstream socialization / conditioning / traumatization).
What is the nature of the chronic physical tensions? They are to repress the display of normal human emotions such as fear, anger, distress, and shame.
Many cultures (or social institutions such as programming schools) target those emotions as “evil” and reward children for suppressing them and “being good” (being quiet / still / compliant). In some cases, children may be drugged to be promote behavioral “normalcy.”
In order to adapt to all that social pressure to identify certain behaviors and emotions as evil and then suppress them, all children typically develop chronic physical tensions to maintain their social persona of “being good” (never displaying the punished emotions of fear, anger, and shame). Those chronic physical tensions inhibit the normal healthy breathing process, resulting in open-mouthed over-breathing. In other words, they dull their brains and emotional responsiveness by starving their brains of oxygen (by slowly suffocating / exhausting themselves).
Now, what exactly is vanity? Fundamentally, it corresponds to an interpretation of “I am not safe.” In particular, vanity is an organism’s normal healthy coping mechanism for the presence of social threats and especially institutions of intimidation. To compensate for the lack of safety and the presence of perceived social threats (such as potential critics / antagonists / assailants), a persona is formed to compensate for the perceived lack of safety.
In other words, the persona is a behavioral coping mechanism to increase safety. The personality (patterns of behavior) will settle in to whatever patterns promote survival and safety within the life circumstances and social setting of the organism. In situations of sufficient social stress, personality breakdowns (like PTSD or schizophrenia) may predictably rise in frequency.
So, what exactly is the behavior pattern of vanity? It is a pre-occupation with social approval / disapproval (validation/ invalidation). It corresponds to dilemmas and paranoid agonizing about “how can I best preserve my favorite social preferences?”
In religious terms, vanity is the worship of social validation and the neglecting of attention to God (and the activities of God). The ancient Hebrew prophet Isaiah warned about it and Jesus quoted Isaiah directly on the subject, such as in Mark, chapter 7, verses 6-8 (see below).
In vanity, people “corrupt” traditions by conforming blindly (and hysterically) to their familiar traditions. With absolutely no respect for the actual function of the tradition and total pre-occupation with perfectionist vanity (social validation), many people copy traditions with their tongues and their lips, but completely miss the spirit of the traditions. Here is what Isaiah and Jesus are recorded to have taught:
From Isaiah chapter 29: http://biblehub.com/isv/isaiah/29.htm
10For the LORD has poured out upon you
a spirit of deep sleep—
he has closed your eyes, you [so-called] prophets,
he has covered your [ears], you [so-called] seers!”
11“And this entire vision has become for you like the words of a sealed book. When people give it to someone who can read, and say, ‘Read this, please,’ he answers, ‘I cannot, because it is sealed.’ 12 Or when they give the book to someone who cannot read, and say, ‘Read this, please,’ he answers, ‘I don’t know how to read.’”
13 Then the LORD [?Isaiah, whose title within the community of Hebrews would be Massioch or Messiah or Annointed Lord] said:
“Because these people draw near with their mouths
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me,
worship of men has become
merely like rules taught by human beings.
14 Therefore, watch out!”
Jesus as recorded in Mark, Chapter 7:
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders….?”
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“ ‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!
13 you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
In a related chapter (Matthew 15), Jesus added these famous lines:
14 “Leave them [stop concerning yourself with the teachings of hysterical leaders like the Pharisees]; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
What is the nature of vanity? It involves craving for a set of ideals to worship in hysterical perfectionism.
Mere concern for social reputation or perceptions is not vanity. Vanity is a chronic, hysterical over-emphasis on social validation. Drawing attention to one’s self is generally not vanity. Vanity is actually about distracting attention away from the “evil” aspects of one’s self.
“I will reject the voice of God within me and look outside of me for the way that I should be and should not be. Based on familiar social traditions, I will identify certain aspects of God’s creation to condemn as mistakes that God would not have been so dumb to make if I had just been consulted with the appropriate amount of humility on God’s part. Maybe I can discover my intuition simply by frequently listening to the sounds of the words of an ancient oral tradition (probably while rigidly resisting the meaning of the lessons therein). I already am an expert on everything important so I do not need all of the trouble of constant alertness and occasional introspection, for instead what I do need is some external authority (and social rituals) to provide me a constant source of validation (to compensate for my lack of inner clarity and confidence). Perhaps I can even achieve intuitive clarity by memorizing the words of the ancient oral tradition that was later written down and then however poorly translated and then printed with very fancy lettering. Let me cling to the familiar in terror and reject all that is unfamiliar, or confusing, or might be contrary to the presumptions that I blindly worship as idols while desperately pretending to have spiritual maturity. Of course, I will gather with others who cushion me from recognizing my idiocy by encouraging me in it.”
Vanity is hiding from humiliation in shame (in terrified anxiety). It is a hysterical paranoia about criticism. Some vain people will even condemn all criticism (even rebukes and calm corrections).
How do they condemn criticism? With intense antagonism and criticism, they rage in their terrified contempt for any possible threat to their pretenses of confidence and competence.
They are delirious. They are hysterical. Their brain cells are suffocating from a lack of calm breathing.
As Isaiah said, they are as if in a deep sleep. They have ears, but do not see hear with discernment. They have eyes, but they do not see with understanding. They trumpet so-called understanding in order to attempt to distract from their lack of understanding. We can also call this vanity arrogance or self-righteousness.
What are the solutions to vanity? I think of only two. First is the least common but the best: breathing calmly while “turning away” from triggers of distress and trivial controversies.
The second is humiliation. Humiliation reliably leads to humility, which is the interruption of habits of vanity. Again, humility can also be cultivated through breathing calmly and other practices. Or, humility can be delivered even more suddenly through intense social humiliation.
There are also moderate (even relaxing) doses of humility called humor. The root of the words humility and humor are the same as the root of the word humus (for dirt or earth). Humility means being grounded, as in “grounded in reality” as well as grounded socially (with an interruption to privileged luxuries that can spoil a child’s respect for their elders and for themselves).