Friday, February 26, 2010

vlog on self image, Facebook

vlog February 25 2010 from Freddie deBoer on Vimeo.

I should say, if the title of this blog doesn't make it clear, I say "part of the problem with the French existentialism" in a context where they represent perhaps my most enduring and important intellectual influence.

When I say that people have an idealized view of themselves that is expressed online, I don't so much mean idealized in the sense of being unrealistically positive, but merely idealistic in that it operates on the level of ideas. That is, they don't necessarily or usually think of themselves as looking better than they do, they simply have a vision of themselves which they have developed a certain level of pained comfort with. Or, anyway, this is the way it works with me. I could be projecting this on to other people, although in my experience if you want to make a group of people really unhappy rather quickly, just show them a video of themselves. I mean, most of us know someone who legitimately thinks of him or herself as less attractive than the consensus view. When someone sees a picture or video of herself and recoils, it probably isn't because the picture looks significantly less attractive than the self image. It's likely just because it doesn't look quite like the self image, whether attractive or not, that he or she has become comfortable with.

Anyhow... you do have to give yourself a break, and for me, adulthood has been a struggle to at once give myself a break, and to simultaneously recognize that the internal forces that compel me to be easier on myself are worthwhile primarily to the degree that they enable me to be easier on those around me. One of the insights that I think I appreciate most about self-esteem is the notion that people with the highest self-esteem aren't necessarily or even usually the people we think of as good people. (This idea might be gaining a little ground, but even cursory Googling suggests self-esteem is still the dominant orthodoxy.) I think, ideally, the urge to be happy with yourself should be symbiotic with an urge to be better towards other people, and in part this should involve being more forgiving of their faults, while you ask for more forgiveness of your own.

Life isn't that clean, I'm afraid. Personally, I agree with those who argue that there are many various levels of self-evaluation going on in any person, and some tend to be too harsh, and some too conceited. Also, I agree with the idea that there is both level of self-esteem and durability of self-esteem, so some people (ahem) have high visions of themselves in certain areas, but those visions are easily hurt by others or by failing to meet expectations. It's all a confused soup.

I imagine I'll get some snide emails about this. Some will tell me that all this stuff probably is best not being thought about. They might be right!


Dara said...

"The internal forces that compel me to be easier on myself are worthwhile primarily to the degree that they enable me to be easier on those around me."

I think I need this tattooed on the inside of my eyelids.

paul said...

That was a pretty meta-meta-post ... perhaps TMI, etc.

Anyway, it was somewhat insightful --- but I don't think untagging FB photos is "lying about ourselves" or really any of this complexity that you're reading into it ... I think it's just that we notice our flaws way more consciously than flaws of others. (This is particularly true if you've ever lectured or delivered a paper at a conference ... my friends and I find that we always thought thta we did far less well than we actually did.) I certainly don't have the sense of "that's not me," or "I've idealized my self and thus this image shatters this idealization," but just, "ugh, I look silly in this picture."

Primeau said...

Personae are meant to mediate and interpret reality. They are hermeneutic devices that we often confuse with our actual personhoods. (Which is like confusing your eyes with your contacts -- 'contact' being actually a very intriguing choice of word given the discussion.)

The problem is that, in 'real life,' that is, in the physical world, personae are always under threat of compromise because others can look past the act and at the actor, and thus one's personae is, to everyone's frustration, significantly shaped by the reactions of others, i.e. by forces outside your control.

Online, where the threat level is substantially reduced due to the natures of the media and technologies, personae are more easily 'perfected.'

Not necessarily a good thing! It just means that our interpretive powers are unleashed, that we may determine how we encounter social space without worrying about the potentially yawning gap between person and persona.

The need to reconcile these often disparate entities -- who we are and who we want to be -- is the basis our psychological duress. Given the relative lack of restraints during the online persona creation, given the absence of genuine friction and that need for reconciliation, e-idealization often produces, uh, 'surprising,' if revealing, results.


Freddie said...

I agree with you in a lot of ways, Phil, with the caveat that these personae aren't masks of some true persona but are rather all we have, dueling, interlocking personae which we create spontaneously and which cannot be removed to find some real self. It's an onion, not an orange.

Also, you know, while I think the same thing too, it's important that we remember that "guy who says personae are hermeneutic devices to interrogate reality" is itself a persona. Often enough, a useful one, but no more real than any alternative.

Dara said...

The logic that it's easier to "see through" a persona in person than online is based on a (very Internet-era) notion that personae are largely created through words/ideas. In person, the personae we create aren't just in our words but in the way we manipulate our appearances, the way we move and inhabit our bodies.

Freddie said...

Indeed. The thing about personae is that they are intentional. My face isn't the product of my intentions, it's the product of my genetics and the 500 pound chest of lockers that fell on it when I was 19. Some of the ways I manipulate my face are intentional, some not. The parts that are intentional are the parts that are persona.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm just trying to get laid by cute, paper-weary, PBR-sloshed post-grad post-structuralists. "CALL ME DERRIDA!!! CALL ME DERRIDA!!!"


Freddie said...

Aren't we all.

Primeau said...

More seriously, I maintain that all knowledge is subject to doubt, and that even the firmest convictions, those that have suffered the most extensive empirical figuring, are mere products of human cognition. And human cognition, well, let's just say it has given us such wunderkind as Mohammed and Jesus Christ. Grr.


Ersatz Bling said...

How is this problem different from the inaccuracies of any self-conception?

All vanity is a misperception of what is, in favor of a conception. The conception is a static mirror that prevents us from looking - and modifying - our precious self-concepts. We experience anxiety that our concepts will be modified, that our illusions won't be confirmed by what we would see, if we simply accepted ourselves, accepted what we were witnessing.

Our self-concepts can be either positive or negative, they're equally vain either way.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if you've heard this already, but this week's Philosophy Bites podcast with Galen Strawson is focused on this issue.