This is in response to your post “The liberal cult of ugliness,” and also your post “Liberalism and dignity.”
I’ve been trying to understand for a while now why “ugliness rules” in our modern world.
I think it is to do with equality. Even the most beautiful dress and make-up cannot make us as beautiful as a beautiful person. We might resemble what could possibly be beautiful, but next to a beautiful person, our lack of beauty can immediately be discerned.
So, in the liberal world, the idea is to make everyone aspire to ugliness, which is much easier to achieve than beauty.
Ugliness is deconstructive, and ultimately nihilistic. It can be obtained by elimination or subtraction. So we can all become equally ugly with ungroomed hair, coarse make-up, swollen eyes, style-less dress, etc., and generally removing or covering good qualities from our appearance.
Whereas beauty is constructive, it adds on. I think this works in many ways even with people who are born beautiful. Since they can turn ugly, through aging, illness, mannerism, behavior, etc., they have to keep improving on their beauty. Also, there are degrees of beauty. Prettiness, for example, is a lower level of beauty, perhaps one which is more reachable by the “ugly” person who is trying to improve. An ugly person (I mean someone who has unlikable features, etc.) can try to look less ugly with the right clothes, manners and presentation, but can never look beautiful. Such a person’s strategy is immediately obvious, and “camouflaged” unattractiveness is easily discernible.
There is something holy about beauty. We react to it in a reverential manner. We attribute it, at our best, to God. We realize when we see someone beautiful, it is not necessarily what the person did, but some preferred state he is in. A truly beautiful person, or thing, is a little frightening, a little other-worldly. Beautiful works of art are also hard to achieve. It takes time, training, skill, talent and some mysterious spirit to create a beautiful work of art. Not any ordinary person can create something beautiful. An ugly painting is immediately recognized for its slovenly quality. Also artists can create beautifully ugly pieces, but the beauty is a channel to alleviate the ugly story, incident, or place. That is why people have such a hard time with beautifully made horror films, for example. A beautifully made horror film is like the work of the devil (i.e. it is evil), as though the devil is using the tools of beauty to lure us into his world.
I think liberals wish ugliness to rule in order to eliminate this hierarchy. You write that it is about the self being free. Well, since everyone cannot be beautiful, then everyone can be free to be equally ugly. Perhaps at the base of liberal ideas is the desire to be equally free, not just to be free. I think equality is strong in the world view of liberals, perhaps as strong as freedom. Everyone is equally free to be ugly. Only a few can be beautiful.
Ordinary people still admire beauty. Although the standards have fallen somewhat, for all the reasons I described above, people generally have no antagonism or envy toward beautiful movie stars. They somewhat fear beauty when it is closer to home. The beautiful girl in the neighborhood will never have as many friends, partly because she is separate and elite, and partly because there is a base human nature of envy that exists, but she is still somewhat revered.
I think this is the state of our modern world we are in now.
Robert B. writes: