Jul. 24th, 2009

eirias: (Default)
I've never done anything really different with my hair. No perms, no dyes. It's not that I love the color I was born with, an unassuming medium brown. The texture isn't the one I would've chosen, either, and while I imagine chemical treatments wouldn't improve that in the long run, that's not the real reason I've stuck with what I've got. The real reason is that perms and dyes feel like cheating.

What does that reaction say? I actually think it says something pretty awful, something I don't want to endorse: that what we deserve is what we got in the birth lottery; that using human capacities like planning, social interaction, and technology to improve our position is an alteration of the natural order of things. That people are supposed to know their place, and redheadedness ain't mine.

I think this hair dye example (trivial though it is) is a good way to illustrate the tension between two ideals of my culture: self-determination and authenticity. You can be anything you want to be! But only losers try to be something they aren't!

And I think this sort of tension is everywhere in modern society. Everywhere! It's in the outrage about steroids (chemical differences are cheating; genetic differences are not). It's in the outrage about test prep (a high score counts if your parents' genes, wealth, and culture gave you good g, and not if they just gave you good strategy). It's in the outrage about Botox, and breast implants, and liposuction. Hell, it's in people's deep discomfort with transsexuals, too.

This isn't just a philosophical problem. It's also a measurement problem, which is deeper than philosophy, and this is why it comes up so much: very few things in life are immune from the constraints of what you can measure. If the raven in the office is really dyeing her hair black every morning, and her roots never show -- unless I put cameras in her bathroom, how am I going to know? And suppose it's not just that I don't know -- suppose that at bottom, I can't know. In that case, on what grounds do I retain the theoretical distinction? All we can trust is what we can observe.

If I were Dorothy Gambrell I would find a way to turn this into a comic, and then I would frame it and put it on my wall. But I still wouldn't dye my hair.

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