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The philosophy of shaving off my long beard

Yesterday I almost suffered a major injury. My beard caught fire as I was about to put my sourdough bread in the oven. I managed to extinguish it quickly, but had already lost a good portion of its left side. I could still trim it to about the length of my neck (was up to my chest before), but decided to shave it off completely. Now I am even uglier than before, which is quite the accomplishment!1 Though I am not here to write about hair, but to use this event as a reminder of one of the themes I have been writing about for the last few months on the matter on non-ownership. Some publications that come to mind:

A beard is an attribute of a person’s appearance. By extension, it is a factor of identification. We can say that Protesilaos is the person with the long black beard (ceteris paribus). In this formulation, the beard is inseparable from the person which, in turn, influences the perceptions of others but also the self-image of the person.

Identification of this sort creates attachments. The person grows fond of the attribute, perhaps by thinking that it flatters their figure or otherwise adds to their personality. Long beard and philosophy: the stereotypes write themselves! Similarly, others develop an association between the underlying person and their appearance encapsulated in the phrase “you look like a philosopher!”

Attachments engender a false sense of security and ownership. Those involved believe that the identity hitherto established is necessary and shall remain constant. In truth, the presence or absence of an attribute is ephemeral, coincidental, or otherwise contingent on factors beyond the scope of the person’s personhood. Put simply, an accident takes away that which was never truly ours.

We may think that hair is not a big deal, anyway, as it can always grow back for as long as the hair follicles are in place. This too is a false sense of ownership. The accident could have just as easily burnt my face and caused irreparable damage to that area. We would still be dealing with a case of actual non-ownership, of not having what we think is ours.

Appearances are all alienable. By “alienable” I mean that they can be separated from us. Everything we think we have, everything we consider “ours” is alienable. Not just hair. I even think that our sense of self is alienable, as demonstrated by cases of amnesia or dementia. Our consciousness is alienable as well. Ultimately, the “I” construct is predicated on the assumption that some underlying qualities are fixed.

There is no “I” as a standalone presence; there is no “I” which is independent from the mechanics of the system of systems we call “human organism”. As there is no human organism as a standalone presence, the “I” is always a function of the case’s constitution. By the “case’s constitution”, I mean the interplay of relevant factors which together contribute to the prevailing states of affairs.

In terms of selfhood, this is why I think we are variables and that our sense of self is a subjective narrative. There is no “true self”, strictly speaking. There can be honesty, which leads to an approximation of what likely is the case, but there still is no natural constant to speak of.

[ Read/watch: On selfhood (2022-05-31) ]

We then come to the realisation that it is misguided to be dismayed by the loss of something we never actually owned. By admitting to non-ownership we develop the disposition of tranquillity, where we take life for what it is, not how we would want it to be. We accept what appears to us as a loss, for it is how things work and, in the same way, we do not get disturbed (excited or disappointed) by what comes our way, be it seemingly good or bad. We never become invested in anything: not a beard, not some social status, not another presence, nothing! We remain aloof from the fray.

This is not say that we grow emotionless and disinterested. Emotions are an integral part of our humanity. We cannot turn into non-humans while remaining decisively human. What we need instead is to couch our behaviour in terms of the understanding that there is no permanence in our life. For example, I love my dog and kiss him every time I get the chance, but I know full well that he will die one day just as I will and the same for everybody else.

[ Read/watch: Ataraxia, moderation, and mysticism (2022-02-16) and note that “mysticism” is not the occult or anything weird. I explain it in detail. ]

I balance my emotions with the requisite mysticism about the workings of the cosmos. I admit to the ephemeral nature of my self and all of its underpinnings or predicates. I acknowledge my multifaceted humanity, meaning that I have emotions, reason, and a body. I try to strike a virtuous balance that grants me tranquillity (ataraxia) by aligning me with the world: we are one.

[ Read/watch: Cosmos, Logos, and the living universe (2022-02-05) ]

The beard is no more. So will everything else be gone. Yet the cosmos is ever-lasting, ever-present. There is no existence from nothing, in nothing, and towards nothing. There will always be transfiguration. Learn this and you will remain undisturbed in the lightness of your being.

  1. Update 2022-07-31 18:33 +0300: On rare occasions I raise secondary points without explaining them: they don’t really matter. Though here I need to elaborate, otherwise there may be a misunderstanding. It is inferred from my writings—or stated outright—that I have no interest in social standards and, as such, the point about me being “uglier” is just part of my cynicism. People would tell me that a long beard is not attractive and that I should keep it trimmed, do this, do that… To them, a natural long beard is “ugly”, otherwise their exhortations to improve my looks would be meaningless. Then, there is the other view which holds that facial hair is attractive only when it is a stubble. As I had just shaved, I had none. There is a slur that people use, but I will save you the trouble. So again, per this inane standard, I am “ugly”. Then, if I were to just do what it takes to be “pretty” with the facial hair, people would have more opinions about my hair, clothing, accessories, and, and, and… The gist is that either I should ignore them by being confident and by letting them entertain whatever notion they want (what I do), or yield to their pressure and become an avatar of their expectations. This is how things stand. Sometimes this cynic teases people to test their reflexes. [^]