The Substance Problem

Jan 21, 2014 by

One of the major problems which I find among people today is the lack of ability to produce or recognize substance over appearance.  The best example of this is the way people look at each other.  When you meet someone new, and they are dressed in a suit, with nice, clean cut hair, and are prim and proper in every way, we tend to think of these people as well to do, smart, and superior people.  When we compare them with the person who is wearing a t shirt, has messy hair, and is very relaxed in the way they speak, we think of them as not really trying and not too smart, by comparison.  However, this is merely a judgment of appearance, not of substance.  A judgement of substance would be to have a conversation with a person and find out the way in which their mind works.  The suit might be shallow and be only able to discuss numbers and probabilities, and has no idea about the world, or anything outside of numbers, and no care to learn either.  On the other hand, the person who is in the t shirt might be well versed on art, philosophy, politics, literature, and various other subjects as well as being an intellectual problem solver who can enter and field and figure out how it works as well as improve it because he has learned to make connections between problems, and not just solve them.  Yet, many times, we portray the best people as being finely dressed, clean cut people.

The problem extends to other aspects of life too.  Many times the academic world values degrees and schools over the people who they are talking to.  Take two people, a person who received a doctorate from Harvard compared to a person who received a bachelors from Arizona State.  Which person is superior.  Many people would value the former over the latter.  However, it may very well be the case that the former was a hard worker in studying facts, but never really learned how to use those facts.  While, on the other hand, the former was better skilled at making connections, and, while he may not know things like the periodic table off the top of his head, he knows how to use them and is able to look at documents and information and make connections with them.  Yet, many times, we portray intellectuals as being the ones with high degrees.

And, our valuing appearance over substance extends to words as well.  For instance, a person who walks into a room and starts using big, technical words is seen as smarter than the person who walks in and speaking in the way the average Joe speaks.  However, once again, this does not signify a better understanding of the subject being discussed.  I was once in a basic philosophy class where a person told me that her argument on the nature of ethics was true in an epistemic sense.  Epistemology (the root of the word) means the study of knowledge.  She had used the word incorrectly, but later I learned that students thought she had a better understanding because she knew the terminology whereas I used simple words and was going off the top of my head.  Thus, we tend to portray more knowledgeable people as being ones who know terminology.

The point is that many times, we allow appearances to dictate who we view as being better, in spite of substance.  We prefer a tool who holds a doctorate to a genius who holds a bachelors.  Yet, would you ever prefer an excellent-looking meal that tastes terrible to a meal that looks like slop but tastes incredibly good?

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1 Comment

  1. Na'auao

    Substance no longer exists. Because there is no longer any recognized metaphysical foundation where essence or even meaning can be broadly established, substance has become irrelevant.

    Substance has been replaced with production and consumption. Personae takes the place of personal depth. We create/construct ourselves/personalities from an accumulation of mostly pre-manufactured commodities: Associations; degrees; even our sexual experiences, are all consumable items/commodities which define our persona.

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