Civilized Masks

One of the striking aspects of humanity is that we all to some extent, wear masks. These masks are worn for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we wear masks to protect ourselves, to present ourselves as being less vulnerable than we are, or to disguise our flaws and shortcomings from public scrutiny. Sometimes we wear masks to protect others from ourselves. Sometimes it amounts to the same thing. There is always a tension between openness and masking, and it is hard to strike the right balance between restraining and sublimating what we must restrain and sublimate and showing ourselves to others. Traditionally, of course, this has been viewed as something that has only been the case for various subaltern groups, but it is in contrast something that has always been the case, it is simply that the restraint that ordinary people have to undergo has not attracted the same sort of sympathy as those who have found it intolerable to hide and disguise themselves so as to avoid abuse and ridicule, and who do not recognize that their celebration of their own lack of restraint and their demand that other people who disapprove of them hide it behind a mask is a lamentable aspect of human hypocrisy.

It is said that civility is right-wing political correctness, as if that was a bad thing. The only difference between different political worldviews is not a belief in authenticity or a belief in civility but rather a disagreement of who is allowed to be open and public about one’s beliefs and practices and who is forced to keep things undercover for fear of negative repercussions. To the extent that we have just standards, we do not demand of others what we are not willing to do ourselves. It ought not to surprise us that this level of justice is uncommon in humanity. It is routine that we demand that other people put up with our criticism but where we resent the criticism that others give us. This is hypocritical. It is routine that we demand to be respected and honored but we are unwilling to return the favor. This is also hypocrisy. It is routine that we expect to be free to say whatever we feel on whatever pretext, but that others must bite their tongue to respect our feelings even if we care nothing for theirs. This is also hypocrisy.

What turns ordinary human hypocrisy into injustice is the question of power. To the extent that we have the power to make life unpleasant and to extract penalties for others failing to respect our feelings and honor our wishes, we have power to enact injustice when we fail, as we so often do, to be consistent and just in our standards. If we can enact a price to someone’s economic well-being or their public reputation if they refuse to play along with our double standards and our polite hypocrisies, we are unjust people, regardless of what group we wish to treat unjustly or what label and identity we claim for ourselves. As human beings, it feels a lot better for us to be in power and to be inflicting injustice that suits our own biases and perspectives and preferences on others, and it feels far worse to be on the receiving end of such injustice. This only reminds us, if we needed to be reminded, that we are fallen beings with a natural bend and inclination towards evil in our natures and that we require drastic reformation by God so that we can behave justly and equitably with others, or even to recognize that we need to be more just in the first place, and that this justice depends not on our identity but on our conduct.

It is perhaps some dim recognition of this moral problem that led Plato to record a debate about whether it was better to suffer or to inflict tyranny of others in the dialogue Glaucon. Socrates, as might be expected, argued that it was better to suffer abuse rather than to inflict it, something our age of victimization has done its best to forget. To be sure, there are a great many evils that we suffer as a result of being subjected to tyranny and injustice, but these evils bring with them a fire for divine justice and a longing for a better world than we have experienced, and these are compensating benefits that should not be dismissed because of the unpleasant nature of being treated unjustly. It is far worse if we inflict injustice upon others while we labor under the self-deception that we are in fact just people because we falsely believe ourselves to be on the right side of history and thus immune for suffering repayment for the wrongs we inflict on others. Those who feel themselves to be just while acting unjustly, who whine about their victim status while acting as oppressors and bullies and tyrants, are the worst sort of bullies and tyrants and abusers of all. And I am not charitable enough to deny that I will rejoice at their inevitable fall and condemnation, for I still have enough of my own uncharitable human nature that I have yet to entire subdue within me.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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