Beyond the Face
The Social Matter critique of the ‘Social Justice Industrial Complex’ (whose first stage has already been linked here), isolates the “tendency in human nature to over-attribute agency” as a prominent well-spring of error. In other words, people like to put a face on things — even the clouds — to such an extent that the very notion of a ‘person’ is always already fabricated. Etymologically (and not only etymologically) a ‘person’ is a mask.
As archaic hominids were selectively adapted to increasingly complicated social relations, they were facialized. The human eye acquired its white sclera, to accentuate expressivity, making the direction of attention directly communicative. With the arrival of language, gesture and expression was augmented by articulate messages. ‘Face management’ became a demanding sink for cognitive functionality, in its aspects of performance and interpretation. A new, instinctive, ‘theory of mind’ had begun to believe in persons, and — almost certainly simultaneously — to identify itself as one. This was a new kind of skin, or sensitive surface. From psychological sociality, a model of the self as a social being, self-scrutinized as an object of attention by others of its kind — which is to say, an ego — was born.
The ‘inner person’ corresponds to nothing real. The person, or socially-performed self, is essentially superficial. It is irreducibly theatrical. It exists only as the mode of insertion into a multi-player game.
However we ultimately come to make sense of agency and fate, it will not be in terms commensurate with the person (the face) unless by stubborn self-delusion. Personal freedom is an act, a performance within a play. It has no real depth. All questions addressed to it are doomed to confusion. The real — free or fated — thing wears a face, as an allotted role within the world.
The inanity of Facebook, and also its extreme popularity, follows almost immediately from this arrangement. The writer must assume a face. The stupidity of these portraits, adorning book jackets and news columns, is indistinguishable from their social necessity. Each is already a little conspiracy theory, a misattribution of agency, based on the preposterous monkey thesis that words come out of the face. Don’t take words seriously until you can see the whites of their eyes — evaluate the quality of the smile that accompanies the thought. Thus, everything goes missing.
It is beyond the face — outside it — that occurrence is decided, the plays written. If we do not start there, we are not starting at all.
ADDED: “Everybody’s losing their faces …” (Admin note: I cannot endorse these methods.)