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.



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.


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

Be intentional about doing good.

Don’t lie.

Reflections on Aphorisms #39

I’ve been thinking a lot about success and productivity recently, and it’s time to get back to a more philosophical bent. Not that there’s no philosophy in that, but I’ve explored it about as well as I can with my current life experiences and I’ve found (to a small amount of surprise) that pretty much everyone I find myself studying has very similar ideas on those concepts, even if their particular expression of their ideas is different.

Aphorism 62

The majority of men are subjective toward themselves and objective toward all others, terribly objective sometimes, but the real task is in fact to be objective toward oneself and subjective toward all others.



When you look at a statement like this out of its original context, you run a risk of errors, but I’ve also vowed to myself not to go back and look up stuff while writing about aphorisms, so I’m going to work off of my half-remembered partial reading of The Sickness Unto Death, and hope I understand Kierkegaard’s ideas here.

You know things about yourself that you can’t really know about any other person. You can guess at other peoples’ motivations, interests, and so forth, but you can’t know them. You can know your own, to a degree.

This is where there’s dangerous self confidence. I don’t think anyone wakes up wanting to be bad unless they’re severely pathological, but yet most people tend toward moral error in at least one area.

For instance, I have to keep myself disciplined or I’ll slack off. Fortunately, writing blogs semi-regularly and having a boss in one form or another is usually enough to keep me accountable and avoid too much descent into sloth.

However, people often don’t perceive themselves as objectively as they’d perceive others. I know other peoples’ flaws, because they grate on me whenever I see them. If they’re loud, obnoxious, or lazy, I recognize it immediately. Of course, I am boisterous, gregarious, and optimal in my efforts when I evaluate the same tendencies in myself.

This is why it’s important to blunt some things in your perceptions of others, and to sharpen one’s perception of the self.

Carl Jung talks about the notion of the shadow: a space within the personality where people hide qualities of themselves they don’t want to recognize or don’t know how to identify.

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

The thing about the shadow is that it requires conscious observation and help from others to discover, essentially what Kierkegaard refers to as “objectivity” in this context.

By contrast, it’s really easy to judge other peoples’ flaws. They’re obvious to us, just as the physical shadow they cast is obvious to us. They may be flaws that don’t bother us, in which case anyone can find them tolerable, or they may require patience and moderation.

As a teacher, I saw this a lot with students. If you hold students to the same standards of behavior as adults (which you should in most ways) you will be disappointed by the fact that they almost always fail to meet those standards.

At the same time, you need to consider whether a student is trying to behave and failing–but simply lacks the impulse control, social skills, and reinforcement needed to stay on the right path–or whether they are not trying at all. You also need to consider whether students are actually trying to behave when they succeed: are they misbehaving in areas that you don’t consider problems, but which they should be held to higher standards in?

The point here is not to get on a high horse, but to consider everything from a perspective that accounts for the imperfection of people. What we perceive as flaws can have a benevolent genesis; someone who talks too much may simply be highly sociable, and want you to feel comfortable and welcomed. Their standards for what should go into a conversation are higher, and their lack of a social barrier may intended to show trust rather than reflecting arrogant self-importance.

This doesn’t mean that you have to take a strictly kind attitude toward people. Sometimes you’ll find someone who is actively dangerous to those around them, and you need to figure out what to do when that occurs. Sometimes that involves keeping them at a distance from those that they might hurt, or even ostracizing them until they reform their behavior and attitudes because you are the person who will get hurt.

In any case, it’s important to think about these things in a sophisticated fashion and avoid the first instinctual response.


Don’t assume something that is irritating is ill-intended.

Look at yourself in more than just a physical mirror.

Give people credit: they think they’re doing the right thing.