Monday 7 January 2013

Fashion, therapy, enhancement, self-mutiliation... the slippery slope.


It is obvious that in modern secular society there is a slippery slope by which people first modify their bodies simply to fit in with fashion; then justify further modifications in terms of self-therapy (e.g. enhancing their self-esteem, overcoming anxiety or misery due to some aspect of their appearance); and/or justify further modification enhancing their appearance (making themselves look better than otherwise they would have) - the process ending-up with grotesque (and, presumably deluded) self-mutilation in which there is either a psychotic indifference to the result (e.g. old women living behind the crude flesh mask of a younger woman), or even a deliberate self-infliction of ugliness.


The most obvious example is the path from use of make-up and hair dye; to cosmetic plastic surgery, to serial usage of 'enhancement' plastic surgery which tips-over from creating a fake youthfulness to varieties of repulsive grotesquerie; to forms of permanent self-inflicted uglification with piercings, tattoos, scarification... and the rest of it.

This slippery slope has been descended rapidly in Western societies - within a couple of generations - and accelerating as it goes.

These phenomena are now increasingly common, even among the (more-or-less) respectable people in society - and the extremity incrementally increases with (so far) no sign of reaching a plateau - a true slippery slope. 


Yet, among traditional and religious societies, the first stages of using make-up, hair dye, cosmetics and clothes fashion, therapy or self-enhancement do not lead down a slippery slope - but stop at a certain point that is socially sanctioned. Those who go beyond that point are met with significant explicit social sanctions, and therefore such transgressions are rare.


So this particular slope is not intrinsically slippery; but is slippery in a secular society in which there is no overall transcendental framework for evaluation.

Thus, a traditional and religious society evaluates all actions in terms of some overarching scheme - and the use of cosmetics, hair dye; fashions in clothes etc are all subordinated to larger aims and meanings.

By contrast, modern secular society is fragmented, and no fragment has primacy; so that cosmetics, fashions, styles in hair, plastic surgery, tribal self-marking... all are perceived as autonomous, and unconnected - developing under their own internal dynamics, regulated by a circular process of validation that whatever is - is good.

There is no overarching scheme under which such choices might be subordinated - thus these choices become taboo - especially in Leftist-privileged groups   


Is all this trivial?

No, not at all - these broadcast very strong and significant social signals, and these signals have an effect in first gaining acceptance for, then normalizing, then lending a positive evaluation to advanced self-manipulation of appearance.

In particular, the deliberate public display of 'extreme' cosmetics, forms of hair style and colour, clothes, types of body mutilations and modifications, cosmetic plastic surgery and the like make a highly reliable (although obviously not completely reliable) signal of being anti-traditional-religious in general, and anti-real-Christian in particular.

That this is true is obvious - but why? Although some people deploy their appearance in a way which is deliberately subversive of Christianity, this is not usual - most of those who subvert Christianity by their appearance are not motivated specifically to do this; and might hotly deny that subverting Christianity is in fact, objectively, what they are doing.


But the association between 'extreme' appearance and anti-Christianity most typically arises because it is evidence of a person's primary allegiance.

At its simplest, a person who follows every fashion wherever it leads, or a person who has face and body carved into that of a younger or different person, or a person who marks or mutilates himself and displays the result with pride... such a person is advertising their subordination to secular values. 

So these extreme pathologies of appearance are - as might be expected - a mark of enslavement.


Enslavement to what? Enslavement to the meaninglessness, purposelessness and nihilism of modern secular culture.

That is, enslavement to evil.

So many modern people are walking, talking acts of aggressive subversion of the good, and (mostly unwitting) advertisements of allegiance to values that are negative, destructive, short-termist, selfish.

They are living advertisments for wickedness; just as if they were covered in propaganda slogans or broadcasting slanders.


Simultaneously, the distorted 'kindness' ethic of modernity renders the whole phenomenon uncriticizable on the basis that it is mean and hurtful to point out what is going-on.

Thus, the proudly anti-Christian message infiltrates almost everywhere - into the mass media and news, into libraries, bookshops and other cultural centres, into schools and churches, into children's TV, movies and books... 

Fortunately, even though the damage to a body is often irreversible, the damage to a human soul is not - and although flesh cannot usually be wiped clean and restored to its natural state, the soul can - the soul may - with repentance - be washed clean and made new by Christ's forgiveness and love.

Then there would be no more proud and unchallenged display of the anti-Christian propaganda of the body



Daybreaker said...

Having tried in vain to talk a friend out of going ahead with this...

One thing does lead to another, so if the first tattoo seems regrettable but not as bad as you feared, don't get too used to the new status quo. Another tattoo and another and piercings and then more piercings, new hairstyles and even new rites may follow.

One problem is that for some people the un-modified state, that is blankness, has become a symbol of conformity. To what? To nothing. To a status quo without a reason. To an antique taboo without any (accessible) sacred opposite state. To the spiritual content of a Rowan Williams sermon.

Sustained blankness in solidarity with the customs of no particular people (as "we are all multicultural now"), in deference to departed and nonexistent authorities ("did you know so-and-so used to be a nun?"), and as a continuing symbol of being owned and acknowledged by no particular god, can seem humiliating in the presence of other people who glory in powerful attachments. And it is useless.

In that hollowed-out and disconnected frame of mind, the idea of external bracing, like a symbolic exoskeleton or a suit of armor, can seem attractive and useful. Symbols of anger and bitterness on one's skin can externalize and help control the real anger within. (Martial arts and meditation can help too.) Tattoos might bring luck, love or a new sense of something sacred that won't go away. Who knows? What have you got to lose? Your body is going to deteriorate into a wreck and you're going to die anyway.

Bruce Charlton said...

@D - Good analysis of the psychology of the thing. Without a real, lived transcendental religion, backed-up by sanctions - there never can be any *compelling* answer to that universal acid of nihilism: the question 'why not?'.

Bruce B. said...

We’ve thought a lot about piercing and my wife decided to remove her earrings and we decided not to allow it for daughters because you place yourself on the modern-secular slippery-slope. If one earring in the earlobe is ok, why not two? If two in the earlobe, why not one in the upper ear? If one in the upper ear, why not one in the eyebrow, tongue, etc.? Best to just avoid them.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - I agree that this is the safest - although devout adherents of orthodox religions can apparently hold the line at single ear piercings for women:

Perhaps an analogy is with alcohol - as I know from experience, in a culture of excessive drinking it is much harder to be a moderate drinker than an abstainer.

JP said...

One problem is that for some people the un-modified state, that is blankness, has become a symbol of conformity.

At this point, having tattoos is a symbol of conformity.

The other day in the dentist's waiting room I watched the Food Channel for a bit. One would think they would feel no need to be "transgressive" during a completely innocuous cooking show. Yet the chefs had freakish sleeve tattoos, neck tattoos, and in one case, a mohawk. There just is no escaping the self-inflicted ugliness...

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - I think you are being a bit too clever about 'conformity' - the real conformity is to the reality of the real.

People have being saying for decades that youth rebellion is the new conformity - yet the rebellion against Christianity and transcendental values (truth, beauty and virtue) - and in favour of supposed relativism, self-development, subjectivism etc - is genuine, and has vastly expanded generation by generation.

So, there is no real 'conformity' to nihilism - it is a recipe for spiritual isolation.

Ugh said...

I believe there are societal sanctions for those following the extreme fashions of the day. A few years back there were two pretty young ladies at my office - working behind the scenes out of the public eye - that had the tattoos, piercings and ridiculous clothes. Both complained bitterly that they were being passed over for promotions.

One eventually toned it down, removed the metal from her face and put on some appropriate clothes and moved up in the organization. The other left the company and sponged off her boyfriends for years never really "getting" why she was failing.

You see very few successful people (outside of celebrity) that do this to themselves. I believe that is a form societal sanction against self-mutilation and self-disrespect.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MSN - That was a few years back - things have changed *very* rapidly. What astonishes is that things which were only seen in circuses or penal institutions a generation ago are now a matter of daily observation. Also, modern tattooing is increasingly a female/ epicene phenomenon.

Samson J. said...

I roared with laughter when commenters at Lawrence Auster's avowed that they would never want to be cared for in hospital by nurses with tattoos. You're not going to have much choice, I thought!

CorkyAgain said...

What amuses me is that these outrageous fashions and self-mutilations are applauded for being "daring" or "courageous".

But really it's more like the bored woman or girl who looks at herself in the mirror one day, picks up the scissors and hacks off most of her hair.

It's not courage, it's a lack of impulse control.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Corky - certainly that's part of it - yet such things did not used to happen.

New factors include the perversion of the female 'peer group' as it has become instatiated in the mass media, and taken over by the forces of darkness.

So nowadays, a yielding to bored impulse is validated by the mass media, and (passively) by real-life peer groups; so that a person does not repent their stupidity, but interprets the failure of impulse control as revealing of their 'real' (and more 'interesting') self, and progress towards self-realization (blah blah) - and therefore continues down that path.

Screwtape must be ROTFL.