I have been thinking a lot about rationality and utilitarianism, as well as where I, as someone who craves beauty, fit into those intellectual sectors. Let me tell you a secret: I used to be deeply ascetic. When I was 14 and fancied myself the World’s Youngest Buddhist, I wore giveaway t-shirts and practical shoes and tried to see how long I could go without eating. Finding the proportions of starvation vs. pure fuel was my utilitarian fetish drawn to its (possibly il)logical conclusion. Because I was 14 and therefore Practically an Adult, I decided sensory pursuits were best left to the plebes.
Now I’m actually an adult, and I’ve grown into an unapologetic hedonist. I am polyamorous. I never turn down a cocktail. I love a pretty dress, a thick burger, and a lushly textured painting. I am also a rationalist whose love of logic borders fetishistic at times. I read Less Wrong and Slate Star Codex. And I still sometimes find myself informed by guilt: perhaps my love of frippery is, ultimately, jamming the metaphorical cogs. Perhaps it makes me less rational than I could be.
I’ve written before on the misogyny in deeming only feminine-coded things frivolous or demeaning, and I still believe that. To claim minimalism or utilitarianism to justify such a bias – well, let’s call a bigoted spade a spade. But I’m not talking about specifically feminine things here. I’m talking food and sex and art and heady, hoppy booze: things experienced mostly, or entirely, in the realm of subjectivity. I’m talking about what it means to be human with your whole body, not just your brain.
It used to bother me constantly, simmering beneath any pleasure I mustered: how can I justify giving in to arbitrary chemical cravings? How can I, for instance, spend money on a bombshell dress when Walmart sweatpants accomplish the same objective (covering my ass) for less fiscal cost? Why should I cook an elaborate meal when bread and water will do? I ruminate this way much less than I used to, but I’ve always felt guilty indulging in silly pleasures while attempting to maximize rationality. I felt like the worst kind of hypocrite, and I’m not even Catholic. I felt powerless ceding even one mote of logic to something that made me happy: if I’m so irrational on the surface, imagine all the subconscious biases I can’t control for!
There it is, though. I’ve grown up and learned to placate my neuroses, and I no longer wish to deny the necessity of happiness in the rationality movement. The urgent need to balance nonsensical joys with more balance pursuits. We forget – or at least I did – that even the most refined logic doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Refusing to balance human needs and desires with colder pursuits isn’t only lacking empathy – it’s also, dare I say, illogical. How can any version of utilitarianism possibly flourish when we ignore the elements, psychological or not, that help us reach full utility?
Wearing pretty dresses and having lots of partners doesn’t further my pursuit of reason. But it furthers me. It puts some beauty on my back and some fire in my belly, without which I could not hope to pursue, well, anything.
This is the kind of stuff I want to be writing about. These are the implications of fashion that I wish to explore. As I mentioned in my last post, it’s easy to fall into the groove of what gets you hits. But I’ve never been drawn to body-image affirmations and shallow, platitudinal feminism. Other women can do it justice, I’m sure. But in me it feels hollow. I’m a devil’s advocate in a pinup’s body, and I think I’ve always known that.