Weird & Güd - When the Looking-Glass Breaks

How weird is too weird?

I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, no hermeticism required.

Fruits of Philosophy Knowlton Book

The Weird

This week’s Weird is a person — Charles Knowlton. Enshrined into medical history for the publication of one so-called “lewd, scandalous and obscene little printed book” in 1832, Knowlton was a physician, but more importantly, a strange, rebellious, slightly unnerving and admirable person (as most great people are).

File:Charles Knowlton.jpg

Knowlton spent his first 2 months in jail for grave-robbing and illegal dissection. Like a true academic, he had the last word via his dissertation on the value of dissection to studying anatomy. His most famous trip to jail was for that scandalous little book, The Fruits of Philosophy, an instructional pamphlet that set the stage for today’s activists arguing the value of contraception and family planning.

Knowlton didn’t care. Better yet, he seemed to enjoy the notoriety that followed what he believed to be his moral duty. An excerpt from his book is ripe with conviction:

I hold the following to be important and undeniable troths: That every man has a natural right both to receive and convey a knowledge of all the facts and discoveries of every art and science […] that a physical truth in its general effect cannot be a moral evil; that no fact in physics or in morals ought to be concealed from the inquiring mind.

Alas, society is a heavy boulder pulled slowly even by the fastest horses. He lost his case, but Knowlton saw the jury through the empathetic eyes of someone who knows they are too far ahead of culture to be understood (one of the jurors even asked for a copy of his book after the trial).

Charles Knowlton grave

Knowlton hit all the marks on 19th-century weirdness (much richer than our current quirky-jokes-and-neon-hair variety) — he was an atheist, was part of a group called the Friends of Mental Liberty whose constitution stated “Female members of this Society shall enjoy the same rights and privileges as male members,” he wore a piece of paper with the words “take care” fixed to his sleeve cuff, lectured at something called the National Infidels Convention (excellent resume highlight), and stayed home playing violin instead of going to church on Sunday mornings.

Charles Knowlton is a reminder to dig your heels in when society tries to pull you away from truth (or troth) in the service of misguided morality. Parents often warned their children that he secretly had horns, which is something we can all aspire to. #ForKnowlty, remember to stay Weird because it’s often what makes you Güd.

The Güd

City, 1990, Natalia Nesterova

We’ve never been more seen than we are now. To be seen, or more accurately, to be understood, is one of our deepest human desires. It drives our actions even without our awareness. Social media has given us the chance to be more seen (but understood?) than ever before possible. With tools that feed one of our deepest universal needs becoming ever more omnipresent, Thomas Cooley’s looking-glass self is a concept that’s more prescient than ever, though coined in 1902.

Original art by Luis Colina

Who are you, really? Who would you be if you were alone on this earth — would you have a name if there was no one to call it? Could you still measure your personality, your extraversion or introversion, your neuroticism or openness, without another person to contrast it against? In many ways, we are unique only because of the other people we deem ourselves unique from.

The looking-glass self is the process by which we understand and develop ourselves — we exist, others experience our existence and react, we react to the reactions of others (whether concrete or imagined). It is by looking at others that we see ourselves. Alternatively, the person who covers the looking-glass others hold up sees themselves only in their own mind — these are usually the people that make you stare at your shoes on the subway. Incorporating how others see us adds depth and detail to the picture that is our personality.

Reflection Eternal, 2020, original art by Supa Alien

Is social media the largest looking-glass in history? I know I’m not the only one who checks their own profiles to see how others see me. If we understand ourselves through the way others understand us, the looking-glass of social media distorts the process with algorithms and internet trends. When the looking-glass becomes fogged by social media’s metrics of approval, does our self-conception become warped as well?

I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.

I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.