One of the things that inspires a deep concern in the utilitarian is witnessing the person who appears to invest a great deal in looking beautiful.
Broadly speaking, the utilitarian believes those who give much care to their appearance must be one, or all, of three ugly things: narcissistic, vain, and/or inauthentic. Behind their unease lies an idea that expression fuelled by genuine confidence doesn’t harbour a need to prove itself; a deep sense of diffidence must be the propellant driving the person who pursues the purposeless aim of beauty.
But it’s possible to hold a more generous impression towards chasers of beauty, chiefly because the utilitarian bias is misguided. Beauty serves in more ways than meets the eyes.
An often proclaimed idea about beauty is that no one knows what it is. It is a subjective matter: what John calls beautiful can be the exact thing George calls ugly. The unintentional consequence of this mindset has been a pervasive weariness towards defining beauty – if no one knows what beauty is, we reason, it’s pointless to invest oneself to defining it. The person who asks what is beautiful and why do we like beautiful things is either mad or engaged in a fool’s quest reserved for weird geniuses in the apex rankings of the fashion industry. Our weariness begets a culture where what gets applauded as beauty fall under narrow descriptions, pulled from within the restrictive oasis of familiarity: the girl with falling hair is beautiful because the hair makes her look like Beyoncé; the one with the woolly hair looks strange because… Well, because she just looks strange. Our minds remain closed to potential representations of beauty.
We are at liberty to nurse ideas of beauty and not reject them because they fail to fit into familiar definitions of what’s beautiful. It’s easy to forget/dismiss this liberty; to remain subject to subtle limiting dictations of culture. We need not. We can nurse healthy courage to celebrate our definitions of beauty, honouring them until they are deserved of the label, beautiful.
The utilitarian bias misleads us in that it points to what really isn’t our business: the motivations of other people. It matters less whether a lack of confidence lies at the root of the person who surrounds himself with beautiful things. We need place our focus on the effects chasers of beauty impact, rather than hold on to theories about the inner workings of their minds. It’s difficult enough to know and understand oneself but most of us make it point of our lives to try to understand persons who exist independent of us. It is more worthwhile to engage what the person represents rather than invest mental resources on why the person represents what he represents, because we cannot truly know. This isn’t a negation to the fact that understanding the human mind offers route to tremendous source of information about our species. It points to how we, as individuals, need arrest our inclinations to investigating the inner workings of those who exist outside of us, because most of us lack the psychological and ethical tools to do so correctly.
One person who embodies a courageous bend towards a pursuit of beauty is Denola Grey. In the wisdom of Mark Mason, he is one of few who doesn’t responds to the things he cares about by being indifferent but pursues them with the comfort of being different. From this chaser of beauty we learn three things:
1. Conformity isn’t always a good thing.
The way we come to understand the world carries with it a method which rests, during the earliest moments of our lives, completely in the hands of other people. All the impressions we hold exist because we were able to sense inputs accorded us by our priests, our teachers, and our parents. We grow into adulthood fortified with concrete-like preconceptions representing models of the world. And sensitive to our duty to behave according to the models. However, in our interface with the world some of us come to realize the impressions and models we came to hold of the world are, at best, ill-informed, and at worst, dangerous.
Fortunately, as humans, we are, in addition to being capable of astonishing feats of understanding, we are unsurpassed in our creativity. This remarkable ability dictates that sense inputs we take in be synthesized to bring forth the new.
It’s a given some of our creations will clash with existing definitions from old. Our place is to give no fuckery about ideas that fail to seat beautifully with our values; to harbour a healthy heterodox disposition in our negotiation with the world in our efforts to make it a better place.
2. Appearance is important.
Plato was an Athenian philosopher. He is considered one of the founding fathers of civilization. One question he engaged in his quest for wisdom was this: why do we like beautiful things? Plato came to an interesting conclusion: we like beautiful things because we recognize in them part of “the good”.
As far as most of us are concerned, only humans can be said to possess “good” qualities. Plato disagreed. He thought objects too possessed good qualities. A lot of good we aspire to be – kind, balanced, gentle, dignified, peaceful – are qualities in people; but they are qualities in objects too.
Chasers of beauty know that our plans for reform and influence rest in how adept we are at informing others. They know it is possible to offer others a brief description of who we are while using minimal amount of words. They are able, through the use of objects, to communicate their values, inviting us to evolve in the direction of these values.
3. Beauty and familiarity aren’t so disparate.
We are quick to disarm the usefulness of charm. But it’s useful to know charm is indispensable to winning over the hearts of others. We might be tempted to engage their intellect through reasoning, or to shout while pointing out the stupidity of their position. But it is possible to get a person to see an idea he holds dear as stupid without leaving him with feelings that suggests his stupidity: this is the role of charm. And a part of it involves using what a person knows to inform him about things he doesn’t know.
The connection between familiarity and beauty lies in the idea that a lot of the things that surround us are already imbued with beauty. Our awareness of them rests on how well we are able to become attuned to this reality. Those with sufficient skill to arrest our attention to things we’ve seen a thousand times deserve our respect in that they are able to seduce us into thinking about things we already know in new ways.
In all, authentic expression has to do with how well we able to honor our values, and how adept we are at communicating the importance of these values to the world. We need not be suspicious of the charm of attractiveness. A healthy curiosity towards the qualities that delight our senses can be placed in our plans for reform and much needed change. The practicality in this, the concern of the utilitarian, rests in the reality that cooperation is what progresses the world.
This, of course, encompasses “taboos” disceleberated by the world. Regardless of our values – truth, wisdom, beauty – our place is to celebrate our truest selves; stand testament to the truth that we are representations of what is beautiful.
You are Awesome.