March 30, 2010

Profiles and Appearences

In proposing his transcendental idealism philosophy Immanuel Kant, had come to face with a small little realisation: Our minds do not in fact simply present us with what it receives through the senses, but rather places it in a neat framework so we better understand. Many philosophers before and after Kant have agreed with this, perhaps our mind is ill equipped to deal with reality without this framework, perhaps we can never see reality without this censor in the way, some still believe that with reason and thought we can however, experience reality for what it is, and see beyond the frameworks of our minds.

The truth of the matter is, anyone who has thought about this even a little bit will start to realise that our minds DO tend to put things into a framework, the most obvious one is categories. Leibniz and Kant themselves dealt with this, and so did many others, "categories". It simplifies things, and helps us go about our daily routine without so much as an extra thought for the discrepancies in these categories. We all do it; "all chinese are bad drivers", "all fat people are unhealthy", I've even heard "all teenagers do drugs" and "all boys are sex addicts". The greatest minds of our age have struggled with the fact that all our minds tends to work categorically, divide things into generic categories and deal with the categories, whenever there are large number of things to deal with.

In fact this is a common tactic used in video games or computer animation where one has to animate a lot of objects (say a large army) in one screen, of course the need to do this rather than animate every object singularly dies down as computers get more and more capable and powerful, but it is still done. The objects are divided into types, you have the "guys on a horse" the "archers" the "foot soldiers" and all the objects of the type are animated singularly with one script, there are usually 4 or 5 types in a small group so you wont notice, and most of the time one would expect a large army to move as a singular group, so this gives you that illusion as well.

But where does this get us? I mean sure this is useful for animation, but should we carry this to other aspects of life? Most of us do without even realising, we call it by different names "racism", "sexism", "stereotyping", "discrimination" or more officially "profiling"; the latter word is used officially since the other ones have a bad connotation, but let me tell you my dad is an expert on this and I've seen him do it since I was a child, it is nothing but an educated form of "judge a book by its cover" (do you remember being told very specifically by your mother to *not* do precisely that? I definitely do... I wonder what happened!?!)

Personally I try to avoid people who do this for a living, who judge by appearance. There is a very subtle difference between reading visual cues to ones personality (such as what you would read about in Sherlock Holmes, or see Dr. House doing) and actually basing your treatment of an individual wholly upon how he looked the first time you saw him. Most educated people I know things love at first sight is BS, so why should hate at first sight be a true thing?

I'm not sure if any of you readers have seen my pictures, I tend to look a little, shabby (for a lack of a better word). I am really not, in fact my computer is exceedingly ordered, and so is my desk in its own way, if even a single thing is misplaced in my desk I will know it (yes it looks like a jungle, but everything is nevertheless in a specific place, at least as long as I don't absent mindedly misplace them). My roomies joke around telling me that when I grow my hair I look like a terrorist. Most people ask me, why it is that i don't cut my hair, why it is that I almost intentionally look shabby, after all, I am told by many, I clean up good. I usually tell people that its because i dont like having my haircut, or because my hair keeps me warm. The real reason is that I don't care for people who judge by appearance, my shabby appearance ensures that those who I interact with are at least mature enough to speak to me before they judge me as a druggie or a homeless guy or a terrorist.

The strange thing is people are so fake, You can never tell if they are indeed OK with the way you look and are dressed, for their entire lives people here have been taught to smile and nod politely, that it is rude to point and stare, or tell people off simply because of how they look. However all they are taught is not to 'not judge people' but to judge people but keep it to themselves and never let the person know. So I can never really say with certainty that most people my age and my colleagues don't have a problem with my appearance or attire, but as far as I can tell the only ones that Do seem to are my people from my parents' generation, the generation who are at the top of the ladder today, the CEO's of companies, the 35 year old who interviews you for a job. Of course the lowly worker will have no problems, he probably has seen worse, he's probably done some occasional drugs and has some buddies that are pretty rotten, but they are his buddies, and he cannot afford to push people away due to his social status.

But again where does this leave us? It leaves us with a society of people who judge solely by appearance who are so hypocritical as to profess deep meaningful relationships and conversations, but judge without straying their eyes away from a face. We live in a society where the those in power have all the power to make or break a new comer, but they are not wise as you would hope from someone in such a position. We live in a society where everyone is forced to wear pretences, forced to hide their true selves under masks of uniformity for the fear that one little hair out of place might get them judged forever as a sinner, as an outcast. We live in a society where a perfectly happy middle aged woman trying to get to her children in time for the holidays is made to wait in a small room at the airport with no communication for 1 hour, simply because of her skin tone and the perhaps the fact that she got up on the wrong side of bed that day. We live in a society where, the petty and shallow have the power to make it so you have to pay 700 of your hard earned dollars to simply take a valid flight out to see your own parents simply because you were too busy with studies to remember to cut your hair. We live in a society where materialism and corporate greed is second to none and the idiots are the ones who answer to none, while the ones with experience and wisdom know better than to meddle in the affairs of a dying age, and thus they disappear into meaningless jobs, into jobs where they do not have to worry about such things as the state of humanity and of people, we live in a place where those that can make a difference are either so tired trying to, or have basically started to ignore the issues of the world at large and live out their meager lives as far away from societies grander problems as possible, shoving everything under some carpet somewhere knowing that they only have to bear with this nonsense once in a while for 50 years or so, and after that they will have the sweet victory of death. Those of us that are philosophically inclined enough to be unable to ignore these issues either go insane and kill ourselves, kill others, or in some way become anti social, perhaps psychopathic.

I once talked about this to my step sister, and she told me something that has struck me as a rather interesting train of thought that seems to permeate all of society; "yea I recognise that its fucked up, but there is not much one person can do, and besides there is no other way for society to function". I guess most people are drilled to accept societies unreasonable rules and function just like everybody else, riduculing the different, so much so that, as we grow up it becomes an inseperable part of our natures.

This world is a rather beautiful place, sadly we as a society tend to complicate it, and corrupt it in a manner of speaking, we have unnecesarry institutions, unneeded stereotypes and oversimplifications which only make things more complex, we have an education system that teaches a child to be an unquestioning robot for society. Ever notice how philosophy - the discipline know to be one that raises radical questions and fosters creativity and critical analysis of everything, is rather dead?

I ask those of you to read this to realise this and other flaws in our system, every system has flaws, it is something you learn as a programmer, the job of a systems admin or a programmer is to maintain the system, and fix any flaws that crop up, keep it to the minimum. But there will always be flaws, always be ways to better the system. Realise this, and stand up. The next time you see someone being unjustly stereotyped, explain why it is wrong, don't just accept it is a part of life and move on. The next time you have to stand in line for 3 hours to fill out a form for something you should have to begin with, do not think of it part of life, but question it. Maybe just maybe, if enough people realise, we can change before it is too late for us or our future generations.

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All works on this site by Tejas (Tj) Hariharan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.