“But then, even in the most insignificant details of our daily life, none of us can be said to constitute a material whole, which is identical for everyone, and need only be turned up like a page in an account-book or the record of a will; our social personality is created by the thoughts of other people. Even the simple act which we describe as “seeing some one we know” is, to some extent, an intellectual process. We pack the physical outline of the creature we see with all the ideas we have already formed about him, and in the complete picture of him which we compose in our minds those ideas have certainly the principal place. In the end they come to fill out so completely the curve of his cheeks, to follow so exactly the line of his nose, they blend so harmoniously in the sound of his voice that these seem to be no more than a transparent envelope, so that each time we see the face or hear the voice it is our own ideas of him which we recognise and to which we listen. ”
Excerpt From: Marcel Proust. “Swann’s Way.”
Generally speaking the word “deceit” inspires a negative violation. The complaint is however charitably modified by its characterization as self-deception as opposed to outright trickery. Misrepresenting the truth is not quite the same as concealing the truth. And in the case of self-deception the action or practice of allowing oneself to believe that a false or unvalidated feeling, idea, or situation is true is far more tolerable than the commission of calculated fraud. Take for example the innocent act of editing a photograph to saturate the colours – including even the transubstantiation to black and white.
Each of us has a view of the world and of oneself (though the dissimilarity may be moot). I patently cling to the philosophy that the world appears as we see it, not particularly as it is. Without completely poisoning the concept of reality I think it is fair to say – as one so often hears in casual utterance – that “it all depends upon how you see it”; or, “upon how you look at it”. I think we can agree that there is a digestible sense to that adage, trifling though it is. It may even dilute a far greater insight captured by the likes of David Hume.
David Hume (/hjuːm/; born David Home; 7 May 1711 NS (26 April 1711 OS) – 25 August 1776) was a Scottish Enlightenment philosopher, historian, economist, librarian and essayist, who is best known today for his highly influential system of philosophical empiricism, skepticism, and naturalism. Beginning with A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40), Hume strove to create a naturalistic science of man that examined the psychological basis of human nature. Hume argued against the existence of innate ideas, positing that all human knowledge derives solely from experience. This places him with Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and George Berkeley as a British Empiricist.
My perception of the universe has never been to hoodwink others – at least in the assessment of my own reliability. Indeed my discernment is more devoted to my private awareness. I am guided in these matters of interpretation by identifiable and elemental “truths” such as have been advanced by esteemed theologians.
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
An issue with the word “vanity” like that of “deceit” is that it has undesirable connotations. It’s like saying “Everything is fake!”. But the actual meaning of the word vanity (based on the Hebrew, hevel, “mere breath”) is a more subtle – “insubstantial” might be the best way of phrasing it. Things that are full of “vanity” aren’t bad; they’re just ephemeral, fleeting: not worth getting attached to. There is a bit of absurdity and futility mixed up in it, but it’s not the same as what “vanity” implies, even though that’s the classic translation. I hasten to add that I do not extend the decoding to the biblical denial of the importance of life as compared to the more sought-after hope for eternity. Let me put it this way, as callous and insubstantial as it may be, I’m not saving it for the funeral! I make no bones of the fact that I am hopelessly dedicated to life – whether the devotion is epicurean or otherwise, and no matter how skilfully accommodated by reason or balance of probabilities. In short, this is all there is in my humble opinion. I have for example willingly dedicated my mortal remains to the students of the local medical school; or, failing that conscription, to a green garbage bag with a twist tie. This doesn’t diminish my current irresolute materialism any more than I avoid the allure of a silk rug.
Consider the subject of jewellery – perhaps historically no greater metaphor of spiritual dalliance and depravity. Lest this is appraised a challenge to one’s manhood I am reminded of the comic appearance of adult men traipsing about in so-called “all terrain vehicles” bordered in extraordinary jackets and helmets upon public walkways. It is all ornamentation of one description or another. Personally I derive enormous satisfaction in the absorption of what I consider the gems of nature and the artistry of mankind.
Arising from this hedonism – itself often a calculated deceit designed no more than to illustrate a preferred ambition or gloss – is the greater peril of inadequacy (read: incompleteness) and its collateral miserliness and gluttony. As has so often been said, “Enough already!” It is this recognition of limitation which – more than the prospect of eternity – ensures the pitfalls of deceit and deception do not lapse into an unforgivable state. This is perhaps yet another brookable deceit; namely, the capacity to be happy with what one has – which doesn’t mean defering to an otherwise formulated assessment of things such as whether your house is big enough or your have enough money in the bank or even feel like a teenager. Herein lies the very palpable appeal of deceit and its assuagement (itself based on Latin ad– ‘to’ expressing change + suavis ‘sweet)’. It literally sweetens the pot! How better to console one’s appetite! And if by other measures you may at times secretly dilute your view of yourself and the world, then call upon the value of deceit to set the world aright! It won’t change anything, not you, not the world. And if you happen to see things more favourably as a result, then by what entitlement have others to mock you in such harmless deceit?