Part 1 is here.
With all that theory out of the way we can address our current topic: self-representation, the way we represent ourselves to others. Whether we like it or not, we are constantly giving off information about ourselves to the world. This article is about how to control the way you represent yourself in order to help in our interactions with other people. There seem to me to be five ways we represent ourselves to the world: our vocal tonality, body language, facial expressions, emotional displays, and attire. I covered vocal tonality in Part 1.
Section 5: Body Language
One way we produce self-representation is in our body language. What we are representing in the case of body language is our current inner state. We don’t have direct access to another person’s inner state, or a way to grant access to our own inner state. We can only do this by producing representations of this inner state for our audience to interpret. Saying “I am hungry” is one way we have to representing an inner state to our audience. Likewise with body language, we all know that someone who is afraid to make eye contact, slouching, or fidgeting is doing so because they are nervous or scared. The inner-state of nervousness and fear is represented by slouching, fidgeting, stammering, and the like.
These outward behaviors map onto and represent one’s inner emotional state and anyone perceiving this behavior will be interpreting it that way. We are all aware of body language because it is literally a language in that its representations have meaning; they map onto some state of the environment, in this case one’s inner emotional state, just as a bee dance maps the location of nectar. On the other hand, think of the way artists draw Superman with his legs apart, fists on hips, chest out, ready for bullets to bounce off his chest. We know without having been specifically told that this indicates a mocking confidence, fearlessness.
But what’s more, body language is a pushmi-pullyu. The indicative side represents our current inner state, so then what is the imperative side? Imagine someone approaching you with open arms. We know that this gesture is supposed to get the intended audience to hug back. Holding out your hand is supposed to produce a handshake. Thugs produce threat displays designed to get their antagonists to back down in a fight, and so on. Why would evolution allow us to slouch, hang our heads, and mumble if these behaviors represent us negatively? You may think that evolution would produce a creature that could only produce signs of confidence if this is so advantageous, and see to it that one could never produce signs of weakness such as that one is frightened or unsure. The answer must be that presenting yourself as weak can aid us in certain situations. Remember, external representations are designed for their effect on the perceiver. Slumping and bowing one’s head is likewise designed to produce a behavior in the perceiver. It is designed to say “I am not a threat to you.” It is designed to benefit the producer so as to get the perceiver to not harm it.
In general, confidence/self-esteem is the most attractive thing a man can project (see The Moral Animal, p. 85). We know that a man who stands up to his full height, chin up, eyes forward, is expressing confidence. But just as a bee dance may fail to represent the actual location of nectar if the swivels and turns of the dance don’t map onto the location by the rules of the dance, we mail fail to accurately represent ourselves in our body language. Someone who is arrogant might be trying to convey confidence in their walk and posture, but overshoot the mark in an exaggerated way and come across as “try-hard” and needy. Real confidence is relaxed, non-needy; Cary Grant being the epitome of relaxed confidence.
Section 6: Facial Expressions
Facial expressions are probably just a subset of body language, but I wanted to give them their own section. Smiles, frowns, surprise are all representations of one’s inner emotional state. Women typically show more facial expressions than men. My wife constantly expresses herself through facial expressions whereas I’m more typically stony faced. I used to just assume that was just the way we naturally were and that’s that. But if public representations are designed to produce an effect in the perceiver, what effect are facial expressions supposed to produce? Like in the infomercial example from Part I, facial expressions are emotional expressions. They are ways of emotionally pinging off of people looking to produce a reply sign that they have created a corresponding emotion in the perceiver. I now make sure to reply to facial expressions with my own as a sign that the expression has been received and effective.
Section 7: Emotional Displays
Putting this all together, emotional displays are a combination of vocal tonality, facial expressions, and body language. Observe in this video the use of emotional displays and how vocal tonality, facial expression, and body language are all employed.
It worked and had the effect intended as the President of Yale caved in to the student demands. Just as we instinctually believe what we are told, we instinctually and viscerally react to emotional displays. It takes an extra effort of will to not act as the emotional display dictates, to realize that they are just representations, just as there is evidence that people naturally believe what they are told. We seem to instinctually believe that if someone is producing an emotional display they must have good reason to do so, and we take it at face value and react accordingly. Of course manipulators will use that fact to their advantage. Here’s Humphrey Bogart remaining unaffected by the display and seeing through the representations to the reality:
7a: A Lengthy Aside about Why Women Cry More Than Men
There has been a mini debate in our corner of the internet concerning the nature of crying (see here and here ). I think the key to understanding why women cry more than men lies in understanding that emotional displays are pushmi-pullyus. In crying an individual is communicating an inner state of sorrow, and trying to produce behavior in the perceiver. Nature would have kept emotions purely internal if they weren’t meant for public consumption. But what behavior is supposed to be produced by crying? That depends on who is the particular audience at the time. If we see someone crying we are of course supposed to comfort and console them, and usually it is appropriate to do so. That is the behavior crying is designed to produce in the perceiver. There can be lots of reasons for doing this. Perhaps it will invoke pity and forgiveness, or get someone to give in and let them have their way. Sometimes it is an admission of powerlessness or defeat and a plea for assistance or protection. If she is crying to her girlfriends it is probably to invoke sympathy and rally allies.
So why do women cry more than men? I’ve got to think that for most of human history, women had very limited ability to influence men’s behavior. If a man didn’t want to do what a woman wanted him to do, he wouldn’t, and being physically weaker she had no way to influence him. Crying, nagging, and emotional displays became ways of influencing men in the absence of physical strength. This seems to me to be the best explanation if you accept that women cry more easily than men, and that crying is a pushmi-pullyu, and so designed to produce behavior in the perceiver. Why else would women need to influence behavior through crying more than men do?
Section 8: The Meaning of Attire
Styles of attire replicate. First, some fashion designer might draw a sketch. For example, these shoes I’m wearing were designed by some designer. This design probably had to compete with other designs in a conference room where Timberland was deciding which models to send to manufacturing. This particular design probably had some features that were selected for over the competing designs presented by other designers. That sketch survived the selection process and was probably copied into a computer and then copied over and over again as it rolled off the assembly line. When you’re a Darwinist and you notice something replicates, you naturally wonder what effect it is producing that is being selected for replication. It’s whatcha do. The answer is extremely complicated and involves issues of sex, class, culture, climate, and who knows what else. I can’t claim to have all the answers, but I can make a few easy points.
Artistic genres such as architectural, musical, clothing, and literary styles are what Millikan calls “historical kinds.” See here. Preppies, goths, punks, hippies, cowboys, samurai, et al., are all historical kinds. I’ve always been a jeans and t-shirt kinda guy, but after thinking about how style represents oneself I’ve tried to class it up a bit. We are familiar with the idea that people dress a certain way because of what it “says” about us. Thus clothing becomes a way of self-representation. To take a couple of examples, there are certain places in the Islamic world where if a woman goes into public without wearing her hijab she will be stoned to death. In such places the hijab possesses extremely strong imperative and indicative force: it indicates that a woman is contemptible, and carries the prescriptive force to produce stoning it its perceivers. Another example would be the stripes that are worn as a sign of rank in the military. The stripes are a pushmi-pullyu; they indicate who bears what rank and so proscribe appropriate duties to perceivers.
Now, most attire does not possess descriptive and prescriptive force to the extent of these examples, but it does still have it to a degree. We all know that dressing as a punk or hippie means that the wearer is expressing certain social attitudes. Even something as seemingly bland as “business casual” is chock full of meanings. To see this, check out a description of a business casual dress code from here (http://humanresources.about.com/od/workrelationships/a/dress_code.htm) :
–Clothing that reveals too much cleavage, your back, your chest, your feet, your stomach or your underwear is not appropriate…
Translation: I am of no sexual interest; do not behave in a sexual way towards me.
— Torn, dirty, or frayed clothing is unacceptable. All seams must be finished. Any clothing that has words, terms, or pictures that may be offensive to other employees is unacceptable. Clothing that has the company logo is encouraged.
Translation: I am inoffensive; do not react emotionally to me
— Inappropriate slacks or pants include jeans, sweatpants, exercise pants, Bermuda shorts, short shorts, shorts, bib overalls, leggings, and any spandex or other form-fitting pants such as people wear for biking.
Translation: I have no relative class status; do not behave towards me as such
— Casual dresses and skirts, and skirts that are split at or below the knee are acceptable. Dress and skirt length should be at a length at which you can sit comfortably in public. Short, tight skirts that ride halfway up the thigh are inappropriate for work. Mini-skirts, skorts, sun dresses, beach dresses, and spaghetti-strap dresses are inappropriate for the office.
It is interesting that so much of business casual is about controlling how women dress. My guess is that this is to not produce jealousy among other women by showing oneself to have a higher SMV than the other women as well as producing attraction in men.
All of these mandatory imperatives in the dress code are there for a reason, to prevent some interpersonal problem in the office, and so the clothing then acquires the imperative content to get perceivers to not behave in the way the policy is designed to prevent. (Business casual is what the raceless, sexless, classless, history-less, disembodied souls in Rawls’ original position wear.) Although I am poking fun it is a good idea to create a conflict-free working environment (even though it is as much of a uniform as someone working at McDonalds). But I still have enough of an old punk in me to want to rebel. When I look around my city and see the male office workers in their emasculated baby blue shirts and khakis it is clear they are dressing to do the minimum to please the HR Department.
In body language, and facial and emotional expressions, we are representing our current inner emotional state. But since clothing can’t transform moment-to-moment with changes in our inner state the way these other ways of self-representation can, in clothing we represent relatively unchanging things about ourselves such as sex, class, age, status, and character. I say “relatively” unchanging because as we change through life, as we move up or down in class, age, wealth, or culture our style does transform as a reflection. Often the content can be purely negative as in “I’m not an X, don’t treat me the way you treat Xs.”
It is interesting how attire very quickly changes from conveying natural information to being reproduced because it conveys this information and thus becomes a representation. For example, if gold corresponds with wealth, then gold jewelry may be reproduced and displayed because it corresponds with wealth, and so become a representation of wealth. Baggy pants in the African-American community might have started in prisons, and so conveyed the information that one was tough, but then they stared to be replicated because of this association, and so became representations.
In order for attire’s meaning function to succeed producer and consumer need to be co-adapted by learning in order to react to the representation in the appropriate way. This can produce alienation and destroy social capital when they are not co-adapted. See “Alienation and Diversity” and “Why Diversity Destroys Social Capital” for details.
It can make for interesting people watching to wonder why a particular style has been replicated, what it is trying to convey. For the most part, what the man on the street is conveying isn’t all that interesting. Most people are just displaying a kind of camouflage saying “I am of no interest, do not pay any attention to me.” This is a wise policy as almost always unasked-for attention is going to be negative. I once saw a stunning fashion model in a mall dressed to the nines. She was there to promote some product or other. I felt bad for her as she was being trailed by a mob of leering Mexicans. Why we can’t have nice things. Thus, the rich and beautiful have always had to insulate themselves from the riff-raff in displays of status. When the man on the street expresses “I am of no interest” it is usually an accurate representation. High fashion is almost always the domain of the rich and famous who represent their higher status truthfully.
There was a progressive movement in the early part of the 20th century to extend the trappings of the wealthy to the middle classes. And for a few decades the middle classes would get gussied up to go ballroom dancing and the like. But the middle class quickly decided it didn’t enjoy it and now getting decked out for balls and Oscar parties is once again the domain of the elites. Even though expressing “I am of no interest, do not pay attention to me” may be useful in many situations, it might also be useful in some situations to convey more about oneself. For example, young people still do get dressed up when going out to bars and clubs as they advertise their mating value.
Section 8a: A Lengthy Aside Concerning Asking For It.
Feminists have long railed against any claim that a women dressing a certain way is “asking for it.” This is because they subscribe to a subjectivist semantics where an individual’s intentions determine meaning. They do not understand, and which biosemantics explains, that the clothes themselves have meaning aside from any intentions of the wearer. Biosemantics explains how bee dances, stop signs, smoke signals, body language, and yes, attire can have meaning themselves. Remember, on biosemantics, an item’s public meaning has to due with the reasons for its past reproduction, and this is entirely independent from any current individual’s intentions. (Dear Millikan nerds, yes, clothing can have a derived proper function from the wearer’s intentions as well as a direct.) And so maybe a woman dressing provocatively isn’t “asking for it,” but the clothes themselves are (“it” being to be approached by a man with the intentions of short term sexual activity, not, obviously, to be raped.)
Furthermore, it is entirely reasonable to suppose that someone brought up in a culture knows the public meaning of its styles of attire, and so it is entirely reasonable to suppose that a woman dressed provocatively is interested in short term sexual activity with a man she desires. Again, this does not mean she is asking to be raped, only that she is producing signs indicating the possibility of near-term sexual activity, producing sexual desire in perceiving males, with said desire having the function to produce behavior in the pursuit of sex. This does not excuse any males for violating her consent, but it is perfectly reasonable for males interested in short term mating to approach her to see if she is attracted to them, and it is likewise perfectly reasonable to expect a women who is not interested in attracting sexual attention to not produce signs that indicate that she is interested in such attention.
On the other hand, it is also possible to indicate that one is a good long-term mating prospect. Here is a portrait of a Regency woman.
Upper-class women during the Regency were famously on the hunt for rich husbands, and everything in this portrait is designed to represent a good long-term mating prospect. The white dress clearly is a sign of virginal purity, and yet it is not a burka. Even though the dress isn’t particularly provocative, the neckline is still low cut revealing the outline of her bust, and the waist is drawn in revealing her figure. It reveals that she is physically attractive, rather than concealing everything as in the case of a burka, and will make an attractive mate long term. Her body language and facial expression is all relaxation and calm, representing an inner feminine serenity in order to convey that her inner state is not an emotional maelstrom, and so will be not be an annoying harridan as a wife.
Unless you are a total fashionista, I can pretty much guarantee that in their heart of hearts your boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife wishes you dressed better. Make them happy. We are always dressing from some audience so it might as well be the person you care most about. The feminist view that if a women dresses to please her man she has somehow violated her sacred autonomy is ridiculous and toxic to relationships. There is a prisoner’s dilemma in relationships where both parties wish they were with someone who dressed more attractively, but neither wants to cooperate, leaving both parties dissatisfied. As always in prisoner’s dilemmas, we wish to defect and have the benefit of cooperation. Feminists urge defect/defect. This is what defect/defect looks like:
Isn’t it wonderful that they were supportive, non-judgmental, tolerant, and respectful of each other’s autonomy? I have to believe that somewhere deep down in their souls there still smolders a dying ember of youthful romantic optimism that they would end up with a dashing or jolí mate. That this isn’t how they imagined things would turn out. Switch to cooperate/cooperate so as to both produce and receive greater satisfaction in your relationship.
Section 9: Phonies
Just as in the case of body language and emotional displays, it is possible to misrepresent oneself through attire. Imagine a poor or working-class neighborhood where someone decides to don the style of the upper class. Very frequently this person will be set upon by the people in their neighborhood and mocked. They know this person and so can see the misrepresentation taking place. They know how style represents status and rightfully see the misrepresentation as a slap in the face.
It is a universal experience that people feel awkward and alienated when wearing styles that “just ain’t me.” A blue collar worker might feel awkward in a suit, a nerd might feel awkward wearing football gear, an urbanite might feel awkward dressing like a cowboy, and so on. This subjective feeling has been designed to alert us that we are misrepresenting ourselves, that representation does not equal reality. It is usually a good idea to listen to this feeling as perceivers might detect the misrepresentation with negative social consequences as in the working-class neighborhood example.
On the other hand, there are of course phonies and con artists who specifically misrepresent themselves so as to gain the benefits from portraying themselves in a certain way. Here is Woody Allen:
The comedy comes from the disconnection between the representation as suave and that the audience knows the reality is quite different.
Here is another phony:
Why does one of the richest men on the planet dress like a college slob? Because of the imperative content: “I am not a billionaire, do not think or act towards me as such.” But of course he is a billionaire but is seeking the advantages of not being thought of as one. These phonies aren’t the phonies from Cather in the Rye. Cather in the Rye is all seething resentment at people who are actually experts at accurately controlling their self-representation. Trump at least unapologetically accurately represents himself as a billionaire nouveau riche huckster.
Section 10: Conclusion
When it all comes together, when members of society learn to be sensitive to the meanings of vocal tonality, body language, facial expression, and attire, and come to master the art of controlling their self-representations to produce a positive effect on their audience, the result can be sublime: