Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Judging Books etc.

First a little hypocrisy for you:

Does she have the right to wear what she likes without comment?

Well, that depends. Does everyone have that same right?

Oh dear, no, she criticizes what they wear.

I suggest this is six of one and half a dozen of the other. You can't have it both ways.

But what do we have here? More of the same. More people telling others what to do, more people setting themselves up as fashion police. Self-appointed experts. More "shoulding".

The problem is that we all do it. Rarely for the best of reasons, either. Why do we do it?

There are many reasons, but I think the most powerful one is best described as "a sense of occasion". Now, that doesn't just mean the king must wear a crown. It means we are going to stare at the people wearing PJs to Walmart. We have decided, among ourselves, that certain items of clothing are chiefly designed to be worn in bed, and while relaxing within one's home in them is OK, going out is not.

Recently however, many people have decided to ignore that "rule". It's really not uncommon to see people shopping in PJs. 30 years ago it would probably have caused such a stir that only real eccentrics would have dared do it. But now, it's not a big deal.

There are still those who would never do it, and there are plenty of people who disapprove of it, but it's generally not considered the done thing to say anything.

Let's pretend you did say something. What would you say? That's not appropriate?

We don't stop and ask ourselves why we feel the way we do about such sartorial rebellion, and we may learn something if we did.

So, if 30 years ago people simply didn't wear PJs to go shopping, and now they do, what changed?

Attitudes are not as individual as we think. We are influenced by others, and one of the things that influences us are the questions that make us think. Where's the harm in wearing PJs to go shopping? Seriously, who does it hurt?

And in this way, the rebels, those who cause us to examine our reactions, serve a wonderful purpose. Because if we can release all our old notions about PJs, we are on the way to ridding ourselves of many other attitudes that actually make no sense.

I'm quite sure some of you saying "we have to draw the line somewhere". Well, no, we don't have to. There is nothing that compels us to do anything of the sort, other than climate, and peer pressure. There is no good, solid, rational reason why we can't wear our PJs everywhere. There are only agreements that we make.

PJs, as we know them, a loose fitting pair of pants and a top, did not begin life as sleepwear. They were, and often still are, the everyday clothing for millions of people in many parts of Asia. The word pyjama or pajama simply meant "trousers". Traditionally they had a drawstring in the waist and this is common, but not essential, in the modern western sleepwear version.

A similar outfit is the scrubs worn by many in the healthcare profession. That is to say, the working garment of professionals. It is very practical, and has become normal and expected. When you are attended to by an ER doctor wearing scrubs you don't say "Ye Gods, he's out in his PJs".

Yes, we can tell the difference, but let's be honest, it's a trivial difference. It's all based on details and expectations. Without experience, we'd not be able to tell the difference.

Once you have started down the road of awareness, these things become very obvious, and it becomes harder and harder to convince oneself that we have GOOD reasons to accept one and reject the other, and I think that is why some are afraid of it. Where will it all end? They cry.

Actually, it's all very easy. This is where etiquette comes in.

If I wear my PJs to the shops it doesn't do any harm. But if I wear them to somebody's wedding, they just may feel slighted. They may feel that I care so little about them, that I didn't bother getting dressed. I think they'd be right.

Getting dressed more formally than we are used to is a lot of bother. Some people enjoy it, some not so much. But most of us are willing to do it to make somebody happy. Children grin and bear it when their parents clean them up for photos. Men who never normally wear ties will put one on if their wife asks them to, when they go out. These are gestures we make. Now we look at it the other way round - there's no harm in it. It won't kill me to dress up now and again. It's a compromise. We make the effort to show we care.

Who is harmed if we don't dress up to go to a lecture? Who is harmed if we do? Nobody. So wear what you like.

Of course, I didn't get up early to write about PJs or judgemental students. You know me better than that. These are just symptoms of a much bigger area of interest, one that I've discussed many times, and no doubt will as long as I live.

How long ago was the saying "Don't judge a book by its cover" written? Well, it was a phrase known in 1860, whether it was original then or not, we don't know, but there surely can't be any adult in the English-speaking world who has not heard it.

Yet we still do it. Why do we do it? It is so obviously wrong, it is stupid.

I want you to try this.

How did you do? Not an easy test. Now ask yourself what criteria you used to try to decide.

When more complex versions of this test are done, real conclusions can be drawn from our prejudices. For a start, the better looking they are, the less chance they'll be suspected. I don't need to tell you what happens when race is thrown in.

And we've all heard "You could just tell he was no good". But you can't. The young thug that just got arrested for slipping a wallet out of an old lady's bag probably looks like a young thug. But the banker that took the old lady's savings probably looks very "nice". And he's far, far worse. But we're fooled by business suits and haircuts every time.

It is really hard to get past that. We profile people as we walk down the street. We choose who is safe and who looks dodgy. How do we choose? Hunch? Instinct? 

Apparently we're not that bad at this. Results from the test above were pretty promising; most people got scores above 50%. One answer then, as to why we judge by appearances is that, more often than not we are right. But even if we are right 70% of the time, that means we are wrong one time in three. And that's just not good enough for it to be fair. You may as well judge a man with phrenology.

So, despite our skills in this area being limited, we still do it. And it's wrong. It doesn't matter that we've always done it, it doesn't matter that it's "human nature", or that we are stuck not having anything better to go on.

It is none of your business what other people wear. You don't have to like it. Nobody is asking you to wear it. "Dressing up" does not make you a bad student, or a bad person, and nor does "dressing down". And it doesn't make you a good person either. It's all just a matter of taste and priorities.

It is such an easy trap to fall into. But it makes no sense. Your own personal preferences are absolutely not a way to judge other people. Remember, "I'm right, you're wrong, I'm better than you, and you're no good because you are not like me" is bigotry. We have enough of that in the world, over much harder matters. For pity's sake don't be a fashion bigot.


  1. So...clothes make the man? ;) The photo drew me in, sorry. ;) Got 6/10 on the quiz, too. More fun later - thanks! ~ Blessings! :)

  2. I didn't do very well on the quiz: 60%. I think I was using their eyes to decide. So basically just wildass guessing it.

    This topic hits close to home right now. My husband's nephew, who has had every material thing he has ever needed or wanted handed to him on a silver platter, including a college education (I have read things he has written. I seriously believe that as long as you pay tuition and do the time, they just hand you a diploma.)

    What he didn't learn was common sense. He is in his mid-twenties, has a crappy job, lives in his grandmother's house along with his mother, doesn't know how to balance a checking account, do his own laundry, or cook. He is completely self-absorbed and feels entitled to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants.

    He resents that his grandmother makes him pay her $500 a month to live in her house with all of the stuff that was bought for him since he was an infant, maid service, meals, Wi-Fi, cable TV, utilities, a checking account that mysteriously always has money in it... Yet he doesn't know how to change a light bulb. I'm completely serious. A. LIGHT. BULB.

    But how can you blame him? No one has ever taught him any life skills. He learned morals from sleeping through Catholic mass. He learned politics from a batshit crazy father and two very old American Republicans. The only sport he ever played was T-ball when he was a child. He wasn't circumcised as a child and his parents didn't teach him how to bathe. His penis was so infected when he was eight-years-old that they had to do the procedure then. His grandmother was furious with the DOCTOR for yelling at them for letting the infection fester for so long!

    And what does his grandmother yell about all the time? "Cut your hair! Shave your face! Wear nice clothes! (And by "nice" she means what an eighty-year-old, rich, white, southern American Republican considers nice clothes). That's what she thinks is wrong. If he would just get his hair cut, shave his face, and dress nice... all his problems would just go poof.

    At the same time my husband and I (we live over 2000 miles away) try to explain to him that while WE know he is a good person, has skills, is capable of working, and that he gets to choose how he dresses and grooms because he is a grown-ass man... EMPLOYERS do not know that by just looking at him and that he should make an effort to fit in with the people he wants to work for. I tell him, "Err on the side of caution. Get a haircut, shave, and dress nice for a job interview. Once you have the job and you notice that no one cares what you look like at work, and that everyone else looks like your grandmother's nightmare from hell, then BE YOURSELF. It means you have a job where you will be happy! Or at least happy-ish."

    Anyway... yeah.