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The Power of Aesthetics
4 min read
Back in the day, I used to be a pretty naive fella (I would like to believe I'm a bit more shrewd now). I used to think the world and the people in it were, at their core, very simple and straightforward, and that human relations and understanding were not far for anyone to comprehend and master. I used to think in very black-and-white terms, in many areas of life. And although I still have deep convictions and beliefs about the world, human nature and relationships, I often time tread more carefully and with more nuance than in the past concerning certain topics.
As an example, I am a firm believer that no-fault divorce is a sin. In my days as a bible school student, I used to wonder why people would think otherwise being a topic that is so clearly and unequivocally expounded in the bible. So I used to think that all I needed to convince people that divorce was wrong, was to memorize a few verses here and there and compellingly present them, asking whether they believed them or not. It was a purely logical approach that one could call "classical apologetics". The premise is that by merely presenting solid evidence, you can convince people of a certain idea or point of view.
I used to think being a minister or a teacher was something simple: you present people the truth, lie down the evidence, and people will believe it. I became an argument machine of some sort: I was interested to know which argument I could present to a given occasion or conflict so I could convince people of what I believed. I would like to believe that my intentions were not founded in just mere argument-winning, but in a genuine interest of leading people to a path I considered to be true and good, despite using a flawed method born of flawed assumptions.
The lethal assumption that classical apologetics makes (or of any other logical approach for that matter) is that humans act primarily in a rational way and that they make decisions and inform their beliefs by the use of reason. Nothing, though, could be farther from the truth.
It is a fact of life that you and I believe and do things sometimes based on intuition, on based on how nice, good or well something feels or looks. It is not just a matter of reason and logic, it is much more a matter of taste and aesthetics.
For example, what logic or reason powers the repulsion we would feel to use the same toothbrush as the person we have no problem kissing many times? Where is the logic in that? Isn't just kissing someone passionately a more risky activity in terms of germs exchange than sharing a tool used to clean? I'm inclined to believe this is a purely aesthetical construct, but it is however very much embedded in our behaviour.
In the same way, people that believe that divorce is not a sin, do so for more aesthetic reasons than they would like to admit. We could say the same about gay marriage or transgenderism. It is not that these issues have a logical cause. People did not believe them because they were convinced by a logical argument, but rather because in their brains, they came to be plausible, nice and even desirable things. They started to look good, in comparison to the stigma they carried in the past. They became worthy of defence and pursuit. They are believed in and accepted because of aesthetics.
Nowadays, it does not look okay to oppose gay marriage, divorce or transgenderism. J.K. Rowling is a perfect example of the clash between logic and aesthetics. She speaks a logical language to a population that is not interested in logical arguments because something beyond logic is invested into creating the conviction: to be against transgenderism would be ugly, even if that opposition comes from logical concerns for woman's rights.
The bottom of the matter is that society's recognition frameworks do not function logically: they are very much aesthetical. And the massive shape in traditional western cultures and values we have experienced in the last 6 decades has not been caused by a shift in arguments and logic. Quite the opposite: it is the product of a society in which how something looks or feels has profound value.
Aesthetics have tremendous power in shaping a culture. If you manage to present a good story, a sugar-coated narrative that appeals to people's emotions, you can shape the culture in unimaginable ways. It does not matter anymore if God said "you shall not eat of the fruit of the tree", the serpent will always find a way to show you that "the fruit of the tree [is ...] pleasing to the eye", so then it can convince you to eat it.
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