Beauty: A Conversation
Bryn Mawr College
April 5, 2005

Liking What We See...

Christine Koggel : The question for whether these choices are morally right... should choices be made in terms of what makes me feel good or what is good for me?...we should...think critically about the choices we make that support a system that has a differantial impact on members of particular groups --even if and when it is beneficial to some individuals....a moral philosopher...wants to maintain the distinction between the descriptive and the normative--between describing what society and individuals are like with beauty norms in place and what society and individuals could/should be like in challenging and thinking critically about those norms.

A test case ( via Brittany):
Who Let the Dogs Out?

A second test case:
cali-: a non-etymological spelling of calli- in words formed from Gr. -beauty;
confused with calo- from Gr. - beautiful. See CALLI-.

Several of us praised Chiang for such a wide-ranging, even-handed presentation:

Malorie : it was set up like a documentary...That way, we were able to hear opinions from multiple charters with out a bias...

Tanya : He presented all sides of the issue and the idea seemed so plausible that I initially thought it all real.

Alice S: ...the author presented every side of the debate.

Catie : Chiang does an amazing job organizing the beauty debate by presenting both sides around this sci-fi condition.

But only one of us was willing to choose calliagnosia:

Kat : I hope that nothing like calli ever becomes comercially available. But I also kow that if it did, I would want to try it.

Four of us were undecided:

marissa: I found myself twisting back and forth during the story, pro or con calli....I could see that it was taking away a vital choice...but then I also understood the benefits it could have. I dont know if after reading it I have any final belief about whether calli would be a good idea.

Liz: I'm not sure which way I would stand on the issue.... I think I'll play devil's advocate.... "Maturity means seeing the differences, but realizing they don't matter" human being could ever be that mature....natural selection... thwarts us from ever having 'equality'.... How effective is it for your parents/teachers to tell you that 'beauty is on the inside', and then lead you out into the world where these standards are clearly -not- being met?....we are addicted to beauty.

Katy : I don't know whether I endorse calli or oppose it. I probably fall somewhere between....calli is p.c.-ness at the very extreme. Educating people is a natural way to expose people to the unfairness of beauty...but messing with people's neurological systems?...There is undeniably an Orwellian aspect to calliagnosia that I find unsettling, even though...I can also see a positive side to calli....people are able to look beyond the surface of each other's appearances and see each other for who they really are.

Catie : Its a tough call and I guess I like the idea of being able to switch calli on or off at will.... Does it make it fair to take away someone's asset to compensate for another's weakness?... fighting to take away peoples' rights to create their own experience, and taking away a natural gift to those who are physically attractive...? We are the artists of the beauty around us.

We also seem to be the ethicists in the world around us.

By far the greatest majority of us --
including those of us who clearly prefer NOT to be in the majority--
were convinced that calliagnosia was a BAD idea, for two related reasons
(some emphasized the first, some the second):
because it would deny us the responsibility of choosing,
as well as the freedom to choose.

Rachel: "Calli" is not a resolution to the problem. It merely masks the issue....If we took away human beauty, the current key to power, we would leave behind the door to discrimination and power. And people are cunning locksmiths; with the beauty key gone we would simply find a new file to pry open the door.

Brittany: I spent most of "Liking What You See" ping-ponging back and forth between approval and disapproval of calli. But by the end...I found myself...pretty solidly on the side of the anti-calli camp....calli is a form of moral laziness....Calli would not eliminate "lookism".... because it wouldn't do anything proactive to combat the attitudes that lie at the heart of the prejudice. It would just ignore them. Ignorance is not bliss!

Liz : ....the beauty response is likely evolutionary, if any element was removed or altered likely it would make people mentally unstable. We use beauty to make us happy. I would keep all parts of me unaltered. I disliked the notion of building a world without something that is intrinsically human....We have the choice to care about beauty, we have the choice to create our own standards when we dislike the convention....I like the notion that I can shock and defy, without the convention I would lose that ability. I would also lose my power to break with the education that has been thrust upon me, making me feel like some of my free will has faded.

Alanna : tweaking our brains in order to not judge people by physical appearances scares me quite a bit....I strongly feel that to have calli would be denying ourselves of a basic human feature --the ability to appreciate differentiate ....would it take away from the loving bond?...having calli would somehow stunt people's mental development....The answer isn't trying to get rid of beauty altogether. The answer should lie in changing our attitudes towards beauty....we shouldn't obsess over it....all of the issues...aren't really about the is an issue of CONFIDENCE.

Amy : I would also be calli opposed.... I just found myself continually terrifed with the notion of playing G-d and changing our everyday receptors of reality....the change is what is really frightening....

Meera : This callignosia topic is ridiculous, to think that people can "numb" their judgements to become a better and more aware human is a total contradiction....differences dont matter but personality and education do....Calli is a cover for people who cannot handle the real world and are in constant fear that others might judge....But it's those judgements that make your decisions's more important to come to terms with the beauty problem than hide from it.

??: I really cannot ever imagine a society in which people have willingly agreed to screen out the ability to perceive physical attractiveness in others....what would be the point?.... Given the choice between seeing as I do now and altering my thought process so that my ability to perceive beauty is in ANY way weakened, I would definately refuse the opportunity.

Alice K: I don't want calli....I like the idea of being able to turn off my inborn prejudices wired in my brain....I just wouldn't want to never see beauty.

eebs : people (in the US) evolved into thinking that equality is the best answer....but...ignoring the entire aspect of appearance and beauty is never going to solve anything. ...calli might be a temporary escape, but in truth, the problem will come up is...a game we cant really win is human nature to judge isnt the culpit...everyone's goal in life is to be happy.. why take that away from them?

Malorie : I realized that...using a machine is not the answer...."Maturity means seeing the differences, but not realizing they don't matter. There's no technological shortcut"....forcing our mines to not notice it is not the way.

Tanya : I find myself siding with the group against it...having that ability revoked would make my life dull and a little empty. It would be a disability not an improvement....humans are meant to have discriminating tastes.... Technology reaching the point where it tells us how to react or think is a little scary....parents ... are so overprotective that...there not have the opportunity to learn from experience....People need to deal with these issues....They'll have to face it eventually.

Krystal : Kubrick's 'Clockwork Orange'...dealt with issues of altering the mind and whether or not good behavior is still laudable if it is not do you fight something if you are blind to it....the very use of calli does not seem to allow for people to recognize beauty and choose like mature people harmful....other qualities, like intelligence and athletic skill...can cause discrimination or harm people unintentionally....

Alice S : I don't see a problem with being able to see a beautiful is education that needs to be changed...."if you want to fight discrimination, keep your eyes open"...not just ignore it.

Kara : I was really annoyed in last weeks discussion at the suggestion that women have a responsibility for others' feelings about their own beauty....that women feel negatively about what needs to be addressed and remedied, not catered to. The standards of beauty themselves are not what needs to be changed....the problem with the concept of physical beauty in women is that its importance is grossly exaggerated....That is when "beauty" becomes harmful.

Jaya : I couldn't help but think that the whole idea was outrageous....Even if calli is turned off...society will instill [a beauty ideal] in problem is...keeping the children away from the sad facts... that people.... judge by appearance....why is no one trying to or attempting to figure out ways to fix society?...turning off a localized area of your brain steam will [not] get rid of this problem, but would instead cover it up/give people a false sense of reality....

Mo : I did not struggle with any internal debate over the subject. I found the concept of calli and other agnosias completely ridiculous....calli would dull everything...a big chunk of experience lost....anything that would inhibit individual agency and capacity to choose/experience/judge is not beneficial and limiting....All calli does is take away the rights of the individual while it stunts their growth as a moral human who makes decisions....Calli shortcuts the individual's creation of his/her own ethics and sense of right and wrong....if there is something wrong with the standard...then education and the individual's agency to the only fair and ultimately effective way to instill social and personal change. There cannot be any shortcut....

Megan : would be unwise do dismiss the category of beauty. We have evolved this way and there must have been some reason for it.... it seems like an overreaction to want to not use beuaty as a discriminating quality.... it would just be most beneficial to everyone if we could learn to see more things as beautiful....

Annabella : What a loss that would be!...Why would I want to give that up?.... If we really find beauty to be such a distraction, Good for Us! I couldn't imaging anything I would rather be distracted with.... With the overwhelming majority of the students speaking out against the idea of calli, I wanted to stand up for it, but I just couldn't find it in myself to do so. I can't find ANY reason to want to do such a thing....

In response to such an "unbiased" story, do we really have a consensus?
That this is a hard task--even a religious task--that we cannot/will not shirk?

Tanya : From a religion standpoint, we were created to sin, the sin in this case - judge by appearances. We cannot forcibly change that with technology.

That this is an opportunity--
while not discriminating against the un-beautiful--
while expanding the spectrum of what we find beautiful--
to distinguish ourselves?

Annabella : Life simply isn't fair.... the navigation of the unfairness...each of us has the opportunity to show off and use to our advantage that which we are unfairly endowed with, whatever that may be. Long live the unfair, unequal playing field of life!

Or, but, and...?
What are the practical details of enacting such a complicated ethical position?
For instance--

Katy: Chiang's story ...really is a wake-up call for those of us who build our lives around the concept of superficial beauty....perhaps the way that Madison Avenue...has forced the concept of beauty onto women is every bit as absurd and potentially catastrophic as calliagnosia?

Alice K: I want legal restrictions on are getting more and more sophisticated at manipulation....

Mo : banning ads undemocratic...freedom of like freedom to advertise....

And what about the beauty of symmetry?

Catie : Redistributing power...allows a sort of beautiful equation to exist...[not]...too far to the power side ...not too far to the powerless side....

How much DO we value the physical?

Rachel: ... relating to the competition between the spirit and physical beauty and the political implications of this....I don't think Chiang has got this completely accurate. Take for example the Pope's deteriorating physical condition. The Catholic culture...has applauded his physical suffering. This is not, in my opinion, an example of "following the...tradition of deprecating the physical." The same argument can be applied to the Terry Schiavo case...fighting for the physical, that is Terry's life....This is not the monotheistic tradition "which devalues the body in favor of the soul"....I see the ...political implications of beauty...playing out in two of the hottest news stories right now. Are we a culture that celebrates physical beauty and the body?

Come back on Thursday, for a review-and-further consideration of what
Mark Lord, Susan Levine, Christine Koggel, Paul Grobstein might say about such questions:
What is the importance of beauty?
And what are its social and political implications?

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