09 October 2008

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Do we have to wear masks in our world? + News

2 essays Richard + Lawrence

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Dear friends,

This week we have two essays one by Richard, who also proposed the subject for Sunday’s meeting, and the other short essay by me. The subject is: Do we have to wear masks in our world? I did not read Richard’s essay before I finished mine to make sure I won’t be influenced by his essay. Although I was slightly influenced by something Richard told me earlier in the week.

Richard also uses a number of words with different accents in his essay. This might be a problem since I send the emails in text format. If you have a problem I can send you a Word document.

I hope you will enjoy both essays.

Take care and see you Sunday



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===================Essay by Richard=======================
==== There are some words in Richard’s essay that have accents. If you have problems reading these words let me know and I’ll send you a Word Document.

Why do we wear masks?

A human being is a gregarious animal. This fact has been rammed down our throats for quite a long time. But is he really? There is no doubt that some people love being with others but most of us living in the so-called highly developed societies have become weary and are not so keen on being gregarious for long. A good example is Stockholm, whose almost 50% of inhabitants live on their own. The Swedes even say: Bra karl reder sig själv (A good fellow deals with everything by himself) or Ensam är stark (Be on one’s own means being strong).

Are we really so happy with staying with others? Especially in the West we have become extremely selfish and extremely individualistic. Obviously it does not mean that from time to time we would love to spend some time with our friends and relations.

On daily basis a lot of voices are heard especially from those in their 40s and older that it is nice to get away from it all whenever it is possible. Who can stand crowded streets and traffic jams? You have to for the simple reason that you participate in this modern rat race. No wonder, those who have an opportunity to escape for a weekend from the hurly-burly of big cities do so, especially during the summer. The Spanish and the Portuguese build their “bridges” to extend their days off.

But we must not forget that we have another face (perhaps because of that we are gregarious): homo homini lupus est (wolves are also gregarious) : I am sorry to bring up this not very pleasant feature in this short essay with this optimistic statement, which is nothing else but an old Latin saying. And it is still holding and holding very fast.

Although we may have a feeling that this attitude is a product of modern society, the result of a cut-throat competition in practically all walks of life, in point of fact this human behaviour is as old as hills. The sentence was coined by the Roman playwright Plautus living at the turn of 3rd-2nd century BC, although it was popularized by Thomas Hobbes a 17th century British philosopher (in Leviathan)

But this is only an excuse to wear masks. Why do we have to construct this world based on the lack of confidence because by wearing masks we make people understand that we are weary and do not trust others.

Those who try not to wear masks make themselves ridiculous. They are like a bunch of ingenuous individuals who are not mature enough.

What would happen if we just out of the blue pull down our masks?

All this boils down to the simple fact that we are rarely authentic. We are like actors and their audience at the same time. We act in front of ourselves. It is a real masquerade, because we all know that we act. Why do we do that? We hide our emotions, we also don’t want to show our skeleton in the cupboard that we keep under lock and key. We are afraid of showing our weak points in this competitive world. And what is sad enough: this state of affairs has already been transmitted from our professional lives into our private lives. And it has a lot of bearing on the life within the couple.

What is strange that we don’t even call it hypocrisy or schizophrenia. We accept it as normal. Is this normality?

And it seems that we are on this slippery slope and nobody is able to find a solution which could prevent the human race from a disaster.

Only with love and confidence towards other human beings can we do this about-face or a U-turn that could save us.

It is not only because of Homo homini… Carl Jung coined and explained the term persona meaning mask. It is not part and parcel of a human authentic personality, but something that covers it. It is a kind of self-regulator in different social, professional or private situations. So persona is an intermediary between our ego and the external world. As we interact in many different situations, we adopt different masks. If your authentic personality feels affinity with the persona, you are “more aware” of your role you must play and not your true feelings and in today’s world appearance is more important than essence, contrary to the proverb:

UK Don't judge by appearances.
PT As aparências iludem. "The appearances elude"
ES Las apariencias engañan "The appearances deceive"
DE Der Schein trügt. "The shine deceives"
SE Skenet bedrar "Shine-the deceives"
PL Pozory mylą "Appearances elude"
RU Vneshnost' obmantchiva "Appearance [is] illusory"

But life in spite of everything makes us

UK keep up appearances
PT salvar as aparências "save the appearances"
ES salvar / guardar las apariencias. "save / keep the appearances"
DE Schein wahren "shine (noun) defend"
SE bevara skenet "preserve appearance"
hålla färgen "hold colour-the"
PL zachować pozory "keep appearances"
RU ne pokazat' vida "not show aspect”
sobljusti prilitchja "keep decency"


UK The coat makes the man / Clothes make the man / Fine feathers make fine birds
PT O hábito faz o monge "The habit makes the monk"
ES El hábito hace al monje. ."The habit makes the monk"
Hombre bien vestido en todas partes bien recibido
"Man well dressed in all parts (=everywhere) well received"
DE Kleider machen Leute. "Clothes make people"
Das Kleid macht den Mann "The clothes make the man"
Das Kleid ziert den Mann, wer es hat, der zieh' es an
"The clothes decorate the man, who them has that-one puts them on"
SE Kläderna gör mannen "The clothes make man-the"
PL Jak cię widzą, tak cię piszą. "As you (Acc) they see, thus you (Acc) they describe"
RU Bez xvosta i vrona ne krasna "Without tail even crow not beautiful"


UK All that glitters is not gold. / It is not all gold that glitters.
PT Nem tudo que luz é ouro. "Not all that glitters is gold"
ES No es oro todo lo que reluce. "Not is gold all it that glitters"
DE Es ist nicht alles Gold, was glänzt. "It is not all gold that glitters"
SE Allt som glittrar är inte guld "All that glitters is not gold"
Allt är inte guld som glimmar "All is not gold that glitters"
PL Nie wszystko złoto, co się świeci z góry.
"Not all gold that itself (Refl.) glitters from above"
RU Ne vsjo to zoloto shto blesít. "Not all this gold that glitters"

As we see, everything we are talking about refers not only to Spanish or British reality but has a wider scope. How wide? I would like to know whether the so-called primitive societies are affected by something similar.

So we have stopped being ourselves, because we have had to alienate ourselves from our true selves becoming only our own imitation. It seems we have more respect for all kinds of norms than for our own dignity. Our behaviour is not cricket, because it reflects rather the etiquette than our true selves. Where are we heading for?

The subject cannot be finished without mentioning an extraordinary film, a masterpiece by … please, make a guess. The plot is relatively simple but it is full of powerful psychological scenes, which is typical of the film director.

An actress starring in Electra suddenly becomes mute. She is sent by her hospital psychiatrist to have some rest at the seaside. She goes there accompanied by a hospital nurse who admires her as an actress. A close rapport develops. The nurse after a while feels deep friendship towards the mute actress telling her about her intimate secrets of her private life: about her successful abortion (the parallel was the actress’ unsuccessful attempt to abort and the result was giving birth to her son whom she hated).The actress reacts only by nodding or shaking her head. This unilateral friendship abruptly ends when the nurse discovers a letter written by the actress to the hospital in which she reveals her own intentional clinical study of the nurse who feels betrayed and being used. We are a bit confused who an actual patient is: the actress or the nurse, because in any psychoanalytic session the person who talks is the patient. Besides, the actress’ husband visits her and talks to the nurse as if he talked to his wife and the nurse responds the way the mute actress has been doing so far. The nurse finally asks her patient to say a word “nothing”. And she hears the word in reply. In a beautiful scene the two women’s faces merge.

Are we really condemned to wear masks?
Stay healthy,

============Essay by Lawrence======================

Do we have to wear masks in our world?

In the context of our question I would compare wearing masks to our desire to fly. Flight has been an objective of the human race since time immemorial and then some more. Fight gives us the ability and the liberty of mobility and transit between two locations at a relatively short time. Of course, aeroplanes are quite an inadequate alternative to growing winds and fly to one’s desire. However, I do not think we are going to start growing wings very soon, so aeroplanes have to do.

Another more mundane but probably more important objective humans have had is to be invisible. There are enormous advantages in being invisible. Sabre tooth tigers won’t be able to see us and chase us for lunch. Our enemies won’t be able to see us and maybe strike us with that fatal blow. Likewise we can creep upon some unsuspecting deer in the forest and have it for lunch. Or it would be us who creep upon our enemy and strike the fatal blow. Surely, this is quite a desirable objective even if it would probably make life more complicated than it actually is. Unfortunately, I don’t think we are going to be able to turn invisible very soon now. But then consider the work done by Jason Valentine et al from the University of California, Berkeley, on the invention of an invisible material that promises to make objects invisible to the eye(1).

Masks are a weak and rudimentary alternative to being invisible. I won’t be discussing masks which are used in rituals, drama or even carnival. I will therefore consider masks to be metaphorical here and mean two things. First, facial expressions that are behaviours very much integrated in our non-verbal communication. And second, general physical or personality posturing.

We are familiar with facial expressions: anger, fear, delight, sadness, puzzlement, and so on. These expressions may be described as conspicuous expressions of our inner emotions. By posturing I mean adopting mannerisms or behaviours to express a public image or persona we want to convey. For example, adopting postures of aggression, reserved, aloofness and so on.

A very important difference between real masks and facial/physical expressions is that masks are put on for the occasion and then removed to get on with our lives. Once the ritual or the carnival is over we put away the masks until the next ritual or carnival. Facial and physical expressions or postures are our lives. We don’t put away our facial expressions once the ritual has finished.

A further difference is that when someone wears a physical mask we know that this is part of a role-play even though the occasion might be a very serious ritual. In other words, we distinguish, because there is a real distinction, between the role the mask plays and the person who is wearing the mask.

However, with facial expressions or physical posturing we do not retreat away from what or who we are expressing. Nor do we have the distinction between what the mask represents and the person themselves. A sad mask in a Greek tragedy is just a representation of sadness in the character. However, someone who is sad is not representing anything, we say that the person is sad. Thus, an expression of fear is an unconscious act in a real situation we judge to be threatening. Of course, one can always adopt a certain facial expression to give the impression that one is expressing a certain emotion when in reality they are trying to deceive others. But this issue is not that relevant to my discussion because what matters is the expression itself, whether genuine or not.

Masks, however, are all about pretence and make believe. Posturing might be a good example of wearing a mask in a metaphorical sense. We want to give an impression or pretend to have a certain conspicuous personality. But it is not clear whether this impression is something different from what we really are or whether it is an impression because we cannot be what we want to be.

If someone adopts a posture of a high flyer executive, do they do this because in their private life they are very insecure, if not timid, or do they adopt such a posture because they will never be a genuine high flyer? Notice the difference between pretending or behaving like a high flyer and being a high flier. Presumably, being a higher flyer does not entail pretending to be a high flyer and therefore no mask is needed. We might say they are being natural.

If we have to wear masks, then why do we need to participate in this behaviour of pretence or make believe? Why should we want to pretend to be someone we are not? Wouldn’t this just be deception with all the implications it entails?

I have already suggested that masks are part of our non-verbal communication. And in my opinion through non-verbal communication we transmit information about us that is more universal than a natural language. Facial expressions, for example of fear or joy, transcend the capabilities of ordinary language. We can recognise a sad face on a person whatever the culture or native language of that person. Maybe Chomsky missed his mark with his idea of universal grammar, but that is another story. By definition (and according to R Dawkins see e.g. The Selfish Gene) communication involves other people (me) and we want to influence them or “manipulate” them with our communication (Dawkins).

Furthermore, facial expressions and posturing might suggest two important implications. Firstly, that first impressions play an import role in our relationships with others. If this was not the case we would not pay so much attention to appearances and hence masks/posturing. Secondly, the fact that we have evolved such a complex non-verbal facial communication system suggest that our face plays a very pivotal role in our communications and relationships with others.

But what confirms Dawkins’s idea of manipulation is that we have these non-verbal communications so that people can immediately react to our circumstance; for example, a sad face elicits sympathy, an angry face should elicit fear in others etc. Sometimes we even pretend to have these emotion just to attract other people’s attention.

Posturing, which I am considering as a form of non-verbal communication, has the same function as communicating with others to convey things about us that can be universally understood. If we adopt an aggressive posture of an extremist militant we are saying to others, I belong to a certain radical group and I want you to fear me and cower when you see me. On the other hand, if we wear a blue suit, bearing an exclusive label, and maybe matching brown shoes, we are communicating to others that we belong to an exclusive group of business people and, here is the punch line (Dawkins’s manipulation), that we expect others to revere us and grovel should they ever need anything from us.

Posturing and masks are also gadgets by which we convey information about our identity, apart from seeking to influence others in the way they think of us. In other words, masks/postures give us that unique feature of belonging to a group; even if sometimes that group is made up of only one person, us. Thus masks help to belong.

Of course, our idea of freedom also plays a part in our discussion. There is a difference between non-verbal expressions, such as fear because we judge a situation to be threatening, and adopting a posture such as extremist militant. With posturing we quite rightly assume that an element of intention is involved even though there are many factors that can determine our behaviour.

Intention is a central issue to our discussion. By questioning whether we have to put on masks (Do we have to...) we are asking whether we want to pretend we are someone or something we are not. In other words, should we be free to decide what posture we want to adopt, if any, or do we have to adopt a particular posture simply to conform to a group?

For example, does it matter what we wear at the office as long as we do our work correctly? Maybe or maybe not. What is important for our discussion is why do we have to introduce these postures in our life? We mustn’t forget Dawkins’s idea that communication is to manipulate others. Thus, dress codes are themselves a form of manipulation: that is, if you want to work for me, you have to wear what I tell you to wear! (Plus many other conditions, of course.) Most probably, those who tell us what posture to adopt, were themselves told what to do.

The advantage of adopting the posture or mask of the group we want to belong to or actually belong to, is that we become conformists. And nothing blends better than a conformist within a group. Ironically, for practical purposes, conformity is as good as being invisible. In English we have such expressions as, “don’t rock the boat,” or “to stand out like a sore thumb” to describe various aspects of this very situation.

But the price for not wearing a mask, or the price of freedom, is that we are no longer as invisible as we would like to be. And some people may take umbrage to our lack of conformity or our sense of freedom or both.

However, if we want to creep upon someone and take advantage of the situation, the best option, it seems to me, is to wear the mask they are wearing. On the other hand, if we want to protect ourselves against false pretenders, then surely the best option is for us not to wear any masks at all. Our sense of freedom, I submit, ought to give us a better advantage by being able to judge others objectively and without prejudice. In other words we are being natural whilst they are being uncomfortable.

Of course, whether we wear or not wear masks, it would still be prudent to also develop a good pair of legs just in case we need to run away quickly from a sticky situation. After all, even sabre tooth tigers can wear innocently looking masks.

Take care


(1) http://www.livescience.com/technology/080810-cloaking-device.html
New Material Could Make Objects Invisible
By Robert Roy Britt, LiveScience Managing Editor
posted: 10 August 2008 02:19 pm ET


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from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Do we have to wear masks in our world? + News

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