by Radcliffe Bent
I am outside. A friend arrives and shoots me in the head.
With a camera.
I stare at the photos in dismay: “Who is this abomination?”
My preceding days had been spent reveling in my being appraised as “aesthetically appealing” by total strangers. But here I stood, facing the camera. “What the devil were these women looking at?”
I stared at the photos. “My natural color palette, my shirt — it’s all off. Natural lighting? This is gross man, this is 101. I stare at the photos in shock and horror. “Am I hideous?”
The above scene is an analogue for all intelligence or civility. Self-consciousness, in other words, is the image of all human progress. To explain, the possibility that we are hideous and have been confused our entire life is analogous to skepticism toward our most basic beliefs.
To clarify, we cannot see ourselves. Ever. We can, however, see representations of ourselves, reflections, and pictures. Both of which are filtered through lenses that are inequivalent to the human eye. As such, your pictures do not accurately represent you. Your mirror flips the North and South poles, thus giving you an image where left is right. Your mirror is skewed at the most elemental level. As such, you possess a gross, warped idea of your own person. Furthermore, we must consider lighting. Where is your primary mirror? The lighting around it can hardly represent the myriad types of lighting schema you will pass through in a day.
To the outside eye, you may be hideous. You, yes, you, have no idea what you look like. Compounding our dismay, the science states we consider ourselves to be more attractive than we are to outside observers.
Our conception of our own selves, on a physical level, is deranged.
Now, the self-conscious mind most accurately reflects the above reality. The self-conscious are grossly unsure of themselves, to the point where they cannot function as does the average man.
The average man and his lack of self-doubt causes all terror, all barbarity, and all destruction. He is “sure” of himself. If we are to be intelligent, we must refuse to be sure of anything, most of all ourselves. To give an example from authority, Ludwig Wittgenstein, arguably the most important philosopher of the twentieth century, doubted himself. So much so that he explicitly asked his mentor if he was fool. If we were, he continued, he’d consider doing astrophysics. He also had an extraordinary ego. It is impossible to be self-conscious without an extraordinary ego.
We must be the prime focus of our attentions. If we are to keep ourselves from vicious bias; wicked assumptions; and barbarous conduct, we must be obsessed with ourselves. We must be keenly aware of our actions. The problem with being oneself is one tends to agree with oneself.
So, then, how do we know that what we are doing is, in fact, rape? To us, it is surely consensual. But is it?
We must consider the possibility that our “surely” is delusion. We must consider the possibility that we are, beyond belief, wrong. We must doubt ourselves at the most elemental level. As the grossly self-conscious consider lighting, myriad perspectives, and camera quality, so must we consider context.
Context decides whether an act is sanctioned, or barbarous. Context defines whether one is pretty, or hideous. To explain, to us, we are giving a basic compliment. But what are we, in fact, saying? Nice legs? Okay. Legs for what?
Is there a possibility that your unconscious drive toward mating at all cost, is making you pester a woman? Wow, you’re eloquent. Eloquent? For what? A slur?
To contextualize is to think in the abstract. We, as a self-conscious man or woman, picture ourselves in the minds of others. This takes incredible effort.
We think, what could this “hot” woman be thinking? Could she really be thinking about sex? In Intro to Medieval Lit? What could this black kid be thinking? Would he really be thinking about rape and robbery? At the Chinese buffet?How likely do these things, when made explicit, sound to us? We cannot contextualize without considering that our most ingrained perceptions and beliefs may be hideously skewed. We must consider the possibility that ourselves, whom we instinctively defend at all costs, may be brutes. We must consider that society’s most dominant beliefs, as our beloved mirrors, may be totally out of order.
We must be, in a word, self-conscious.
Enjoy Radcliffe’s Weekly Unusual Thought columns posted every Thursday!