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Monday, January 10, 2005

Appearances and Perceptions

I was going to make my first post a really long article on language and the brain, but I realized when I was almost done that I'd made a fundamental mistake in my descriptions, so I have to rewrite that. So I'll start off with something a bit shorter. I never wanted this blog to be only about politics or current events, so this is going to stray a little from what Michael's been writing on.

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We live our lives in a world of judgement. Day by day, we are judged by every person that sees us. Sometimes they're lighting quick judgements that don't generally stay in mind for longer than a second or two. Sometimes they're more in-depth judgements by people who have seen us many times before. It all depends on context. While you're walking down the street, you make instantaneous judgements without even thinking about it. When you're sitting in class, bored, you may look at someone and make a longer judgement, much more consciously. And when you meet someone for the first time, you automatically take in their clothes, their mannerisms, their accent, and any more of a million other things and pass judgement on them right then and there.

The problem with this is the innaccuracy of these judgements. Don't judge a book by its cover did not become cliché because it wasn't true. It became cliché because it was. Our initial judgements, however accurate they may end up being, cannot give us an accurate portrayal of someone. Yet sometimes these judgements are so strong that we end up paying attention to them anyway.

It is here that appearance and perception come into play. One of the key complaints some put forth about today's society is that it is materialistic, that women try to do everything they can to be pretty, that many men either will do anything to look good or will spend their time miserable with the fact that they are not perfect. The accusation naturally falls onto the media for helping with this, what with the advertisements that use perfection as their selling point and imply that by using a certain product you, too, can be perfect.

Society, both now and for the past thousands of years, is enamoured with popularity. A popular person is a lucky person. I myself am guilty of thinking this. The truly admirable ones, we think, are those who manage to be both popular and to not compromise on their own ideals and their kindness. And those do exist, to a certain extent, and they are admirable, to a certain extent. The problem is that they are very few and far between.

In the end, most of us strive for popularity. Which community we strive for popularity in is of no consequence. Few are those who simply decide that they will be the best person they can be without caring about popularity. Few are those who are willing to take their appearance and their self, really, and simply live with it.

But the reason for this is that there is something missing in society, and that is the admiration of the individual. In recent years, there has been more of a move to encourage and embrace this, but it still has not happened. Even if we can admire a famous scientist or a famous actor, what we are admiring is their position, not them. We are admiring the fact that they are intelligent (in the case of a scientist) or that they are good-looking or good actors (in the case of an actor)1, but not much further than that. Is this person good with his or her family? We don't particularly care.

In American society especially, there is still a homophobia of the highest proportions. This is partially planted in the extreme religious nature of the US, but it is also a frame of mind that develops from childhood from the society. That is slowly disappearing, fortunately, but that is yet another aspect of individuality that is difficult to accept. And that needs to change.

Bertrand Russell said, "Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines." It's an interesting thought. There is no evidence of its actually occurring, but the problem is the immediacy of our point of view. We look at a scope of a day, a week, a month, maybe a year. We cannot truly look out over a decade, a century, a millenium. Just as religion will supposedly fade away, so, I believe, will this aversion to individuality. It has already begun to fade in certain places, in the last two decades. Time will change it further. In the meantime, we can only try to change our own view and wait for the next fascinating person to come along.
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I was going to write a bit more, but it's already a bit long for a single blog post, so maybe in a few days. The article on language, I now realize, will have to be cut up in several different sections, as it is far longer than this. Oh well.


1 - That's not to say that actors cannot be intelligent, nor is it to say that scientists cannot be good-looking.

1 Comments:

Blogger Michael Belinsky said...

I have noticed that, to a certain extent, ours is a culture of conformity. I do not mean conformity in the extreme sense of the word where the individual immitates the majority. I mean that in our culture, as in many others (if not humanity as a whole), like is attracted to like. We befriend those of similar interests and beliefs. A recent study showed that people are likely to chose those who speak like them to be their significant others. Overall, we associate with people who are like us.

How does this relate to your post? I think that a culture that promotes similarity in such a way is not a culture that is hospitable to uniqueness. We value those who are like us, not those who are different from us. Can this change? Certainly. As the battle for homosexual rights has showed, even traditions deeply rooted in our moral fabric are susceptible to change. In this reply, I only point out the roots of the phenomenon that Antonio described.

3:08 PM  

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