Reflections on Aphorisms #62

A customarily short Sunday post. Took the day off as a rest day, and it was really good, but I’ve also gone past my bed time to write this. Oops!

Aphorism 99

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell the truth.

Wilde

Interpretation

There’s a powerful social force that drives us to be something other than ourselves.

I don’t necessarily mean this to say that there’s any conscious intent or malice, but it’s a sort of intersection of conscious and unconscious factors.

We want to look good at all times, and we’re keenly aware that we don’t always look good. At the very least, we know we could look better than we do, even if we have the (over-)confidence to not feel insufficient.

So I think there’s a hesitancy to associate who you are with your own public face. I certainly put off writing about any philosophical matters for far too long (after being more bold about it in my youth) because of this.

Internet anonymity creates a sort of dark mirror of this. Because people are freed from any risk of getting in trouble, they have a willingness to show the worse parts of themselves. Sometimes they don’t even realize it, the sides of their personality that are coming out to play aren’t the ones that they associate themselves with.

I read an article the other day about racists that leave racist organizations, and one of the things that’s interesting is that they’ll relapse not into rejoining those organizations but back into hate, even after they make the conscious effort to try to put it behind them.

Taking an uneducated guess, I’d wager that this has to do with the part of the psyche that we don’t know. Carl Jung calls this the shadow, but we can think of it more specifically in this sense as a weakness or injury that has impeded the individual.

Now, I can’t claim to be an expert on hate. It’s not something I’ve had the misfortune to be around first-hand, at least in the more narrow sense (I’ve definitely been around some spiteful, malicious people, though) that we would define as a hate group.

But the internet has a lot of people on it who revel in chaos and destruction, and one of the things that doubtless feeds into this is the lack of any solid value structure. Without a foundation, a person cannot build a shelter against the pain and uncertainty of the world.

You can reject everything, or you can accept the toxicity. In a way both are the same; you can’t reject everything without becoming a sort of archetypal Serpent, and you can’t become toxic without devaluing existence itself.

We look down on people who behave this way, who hold these views and attitudes. It’s not a matter of elitism, it’s a matter of survival. If we do not condemn them, at least in the sense that we keep them at arm’s length for our own safety, their ideas are infections and their actions are poisonous.

The internet provides a mask, and lets these people hide their nature (or, at least, show it selectively without risking too much of their own person).

However, it also gives freedom for the noble to rise up. The masks that we wear can allow even a timid person to speak with freedom, and the power of interconnection allows them to be a force for good.

It’s just important to be intentional about it.

I’ve entered a lifestyle where I depend on radical honesty. I say what I think much more than previously (to be fair, an improvement on the bare minimum is not necessarily much of an improvement, and I need to get better about that), and I try never to lie or evade.

Of course, the really important thing about this is that you need to get out of the habit of doing the expedient thing. Being honest hurts a lot more if you do things you don’t want to be honest about.

Fortunately, generally people are good spirited about dealing with open and honest people. I’ve never had anyone use my honesty against me, even when they could easily do so. Some of that comes down to luck and a habit of carefully associating with those I consider virtuous, but it’s also a matter of trust.

If people know you’re honest and that you proffer information that is significant, they don’t look the gift horse in the mouth.

That, or maybe it’s that honesty is so rare that people don’t bother asking the questions that would entrap the truthful.

Resolution

Don’t do the things that lead to having secrets.

Be intentional about doing good.

Don’t lie.

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