My Scruffy But Noble Self

The purpose of grooming is partly to survive in one’s environment – as in a bird’s care of its flight feathers and an otter’s care of its pelt – but otherwise to demonstrate genetic health to the opposite sex. Health includes the surplus energy to attend to one’s fur and plumage. A scruffy animal, therefore, is one that is only barely making its living and looks set to fail at that in the near future. It does not seem much of a stretch to posit that an unwillingness to groom oneself may also signal an inner misery, as for example in bereaved cats and dogs, such misery being undesirable in a mate.

Grooming is, however, jolly hard work. If birds, otters and cats resent the time they are obliged to spend on maintenance of their interface with the world, they cannot tell us about it. Probably natural selection has arranged for grooming reliably to stimulate their pleasure centres. If so, it seems clear that this arrangement extends only unreliably to Homo sapiens. Some of us certainly enjoy our preening and “retail therapy”, and some of us enjoy nothing else. We can see a glance that some individuals exist only for display. But some of us do not enjoy it at all; and unlike the other animals, we have an abstract language in which to explain why, and to assert ourselves vis-à-vis the happy groomers. Indeed, there have been whole ideologies, whole movements (monastic and communist) that dreamed of a world without the “frivolity” of personal display. I do not understand why more attention is not paid to this remarkable human deviation from the rules of the rest of the animal kingdom.

I would suggest that one of the roots of the peculiar concept of the “soul” is that it enables the kosmophobe to set up his “beautiful” or “noble” soul in opposition to his shabby exterior. The same goes for the genesis of the concept of our “true self”, or being loved “for oneself”. If potential mates are not satisfied with our apparent self, which is all evolution has equipped them to care about, then an obvious counter-move is for us to conceptualise another and superior, more real, self with which they ought to be satisfied. This will not work in the sense of getting us laid or enhancing our objective social status, but it will most certainly work in the sense of enhancing our self-esteem; that is, our subjective feeling of social status – the chief motor of human endeavour.

It is also possible that the phenomenon is driven by an excessive dose of what we are pleased to call unconditional mother-love. That is, the mother tells the child that she loves him “just for himself”, which is a way of telling him that he does not need to exert himself to deserve her love – or, by extension, anything else. It is not so very remarkable that someone enjoying this cheap grace feels disinclined to leave the nest to face the appalling vicious competition of adulthood. In this way the entire existential position I have elsewhere labelled Defiance (of our own predatory nature) may be an artefact of the indulgent mother. That would mean that the only person who clearly sees what we are is the emotional cripple.

Posted on May 3, 2011 at 10:17 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Fine Feathers

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