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01
Thursday
01 April 2021

The allure of being mean

Jean Dubuffet, Art Brut, Self Portrait II, 1966

Troubling times vanquish beauty and bring out the ugly in us. Mean behaviour is nothing new and yet I feel as though, recently, deforming our behaviour and language has a certain appeal? A modern-day Narcissus, meanness walks around as though it owns the place, enjoying the sight of its own reflection. Uncouth mannerisms, coarse language, rough behaviour are unbecoming but certainly not illegal – it is not easy to write about the situation with levity because there is a chasm between those who choose to live a like this and those who are forced to. Without a say in the matter. The road to hell is not always paved with good intentions, and a slippery road just means people walking on this path reach their destination a lot sooner. In other words, the allure of meanness and nastiness is not just lack of self-restraint or mental integrity – it is all about giving in to prime, simplistic needs. Mediocrity is self-serving, while studying and developing beauty and kindness is hard work requiring dedication. Everyone can become a saint, but the road to divine beauty is steeper. And yet, is there any other option? If we know of this choice, is the mere fact of not being committed to studying beauty a sin? A sin which goes beyond the scope of moral debates and, rather, speaks to our incompetence and lack of knowledge.

One great philosopher said, ‘There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.’

Mankind has survived mammoths because of its flexibility, its skill to adapt systems, something animals can emulate at a much slower pace. Now, using our brain and sharpening our senses? That is an achievement worth celebrating. Using language correctly requires structured thoughts and senses open to inputs, an interest in culture, and well-thought actions. As a child, my mother never allowed us to place our elbow on the table while eating, and I only placed a knife in my mouth twice: the first and last time. If we did not ask for permission to leave the table, all that was needed was a quick, sharp glance from our father Ernesto, and the three of us would drop down without a moment’s hesitation. We were lucky enough to receive this kind of education – and were lucky enough to be brought up in this corner of the world. Ipso facto, we are responsible for what we say, what we read, how we behave and, partially, for what we watch. We have to select what we see, not because we are cultural elitists, but to survive. We should pursue a better life and, therefore, not use (filler) words at random – what a commendable choice! Words are divine by nature and, in the past, poets were demigods, their words a message from gods. And yet in this day and age, language has become trivialised, simplified, a tendency bolstered mostly by populists (I shudder to think about a former President across the ocean inciting violence, and even some Italian politicians…). A tendency which will result in newspeak. But unlike newspeak in Orwell’s masterpiece, 1984, nobody is forcing us to replace higher register with banal words, words full of hot air, hackneyed sentences that only strangle free thought. We are all people, so we have to work together to ensure this subculture does not prevail. Trockij believed in a permanent revolution – we have to practise permanent regeneration, because

civilisation is not definite, and what is not regenerated, degenerates.

Life is full of ups and down, and yet we have to aspire for the peaks of life or are doomed to fall. Fall into a place swarming with people and yet oh so desolate and lonely.

Welcome to our modern times. And as we cannot go anywhere else, let us live with dignity. Let us fight against meanness and thrive on beauty. They all have their allure, but it is up to us to decide to what extent.

Maybe beauty will not save the world. But meanness most definitely will not. Quite the opposite.

michil costa