Everything bottlenecks with appearances

by Suspended Reason

The basic idea behind opticracy (or opticratics”) is that humans must—necessarily, inevitably, and unavoidably— proxy for reality with appearances. Metaphysically, this is as banal as it gets. The brain knows only its sensory inputs. But by extension, opticracy points out that all, in a non-trivial way, all our decisions, judgments, assessments, and theories rest on appearances. Because of this, appearances are the thing that really matter” in social life (which includes professional, institutional, romantic, etc life). We are hired on the basis of optics; we make friends through optics; we are chosen as reproductive mates through optics. Reality matters, in social games, only insofar as it makes certain appearances more robust to interrogation. Nothing more, nothing less. Truth is regularly suspected on the basis of not looking right”; falsehood is regularly accepted because it does.

One way I’ve illustrated this in the past is to say: imagine if an employer required that you look productive in order to stay employed. (Easy to imagine.) For a while, actually being productive is the best way to look productive, and most employees are actually productive in turn. But something strange happens with the oversight system, and pretty soon, actually being productive has little to no effect on whether an employee appears productive. What happens to employee behavior? Do they keep being Actually Productive, at penalty, for the sake of their employer’s bottom line? (Or some internalized sense of integrity”?) Do they switch to merely appearing, because it’s what rewarded? It seems clear to me the latter is far more likely, especially given that any high-integrity” holdouts will be systematically fired and replaced by people who appear. In other words, whatever incentives doesn’t take care of, selection will.

(The only exception I can think involves areas like charitable and volunteer work, where individuals are in it for” the organizational mission, and not a paycheck. But even here, what are individuals optimizing for? The appearance of impact, not impact itself.)

But another tact is to cite Karen Horney’s wonderful Neurosis & Human Growth, where she argues that there are two basic routes available to the narcissist, seeking to validate his ego-ideal. He can actually strive towards accomplishment, as a means of securing validation. Or he can enter a world of delusion à la Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy. What is crucial is that these are, in some sense, fungible solutions. Both are means of securing the same end. That end is self-image, proxy for real status (because all we have are appearances…). The deluded narcissist wireheads his way to the same pleasures the accomplished man earns properly.” But wireheading is a teleological misnomer, and our sense of propriety is strictly social.

This explains part of why I emphasize, in ACiM exegesis, that communication is best described as the manipulation of recipient (”reader”) behavior by the communicator (”writer”). For one, natural selection means that only communicative tendencies which cash out in real effects are selected for, and for communication to cash out” it must do so via an agent, whose behavior changes through the communication. But perhaps more importantly, in the cybernetic training process by which we all culturally learn how to communicate, we can only receive feedback through others’ expressions. That is, even if we think we are attempting to create a cognitive effect (e.g. remorse) in a recipient—and not a behavioral effect—we only know if we are successful by the changes in the recipient’s outward expression. Moreover, the techniques we have learned to use, to create these cognitive effects, have been learned through the feedback of previous interactants’ outward expression.