HOSTILITY, CONTEMPT, DERISION…

The first and most obvious thing to note about many of the most important forms of reticence is that they are not dishonest, because the conventions that govern them are generally known. If I don’t tell you everything I think and feel about you that is not a case of deception, since you don’t expect me to do so and would probably be appalled if I did. The same is true of many explicit expressions that are literally false. If I say, “How nice to see you,” you know perfectly well that this is not meant as a report of my true feelings — even if it happens to be true, I might very well say it even if you were the last person I wanted to see at just that moment, and that is something you know as well as I. The point of polite formulae and broad abstentions from expression is to leave a great range of potentially disruptive material unacknowledged and therefore out of play. It is material that everyone who has been around knows is there — feelings of hostility, contempt, derision, envy, vanity, boredom, fear, sexual desire or aversion, plus a great deal of simple self-absorption.

Thomas Nagel, Concealment and Exposure, via

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