From the perspective of a college student, I can say without a doubt that our culture is dominated by one thing. Something students on campus show during every interaction and every moment in the spotlight… and I’m not immune to this dominating force either.
The world we live in today is dominated by an overarching social pressure, one stronger than any period in our culture’s recent history. With social media use soaring and conversational skills on a steep decline, both the college and real world are completely shackled to the opinions of the masses. To put it in more blunt terms, social pressure is a bitch… one that is impossible to get rid of. Since it’s impossible to completely disregard, what’s the point of reading the rest of this post? It’s only through learning about the pressure that we can adapt, changing the effect it has us.
No matter who and no matter where everyone wears a mask. It is a way of keeping things from spiraling into anarchy and both a subconscious and unavoidable byproduct of social pressure. Just look at any friend group in a high school or college setting… all members in the group put the masks up to keep from hurting each other. If they were to put anything but their best foot forward when in a group, it would risk splitting apart over the slightest disagreement. However, by keeping the masks fully on, that risk almost drops to zero.
There is a concept in psychology known as the hedgehog’s (or porcupine) dilemma that was coined by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, and later mentioned by Freud. The dilemma details a group of hedgehogs in the cold and has caused a few existential crises. Basically, the hedgehogs are all freezing on their own and want to do nothing but huddle together for warmth… but as we know, hedgehogs have points. When the group tries to huddle as close as possible, their pricks puncture each other, and they back away. The main idea behind the dilemma is that the hedgehogs have to find a comfortable distance from each other, a middle ground where they can minimize the pain of them and their peers, but as a result aren’t as warm as they could be.
The same applies to humans… to follow Freud’s quote before his trip to the United States, “I am going to the USA to catch sight of a wild porcupine and to give some lectures”. Freud’s quote shows us that human society has been as a group of hedgehogs since the 20s. One important note here is that Schopenhauer was a pessimist to his dying breath. The man saw poverty early in life as a traveling merchant, lost his father at the age of 14, was cut off by his mother at the age of 30, and never married or had kids… despite this, his philosophies offer a unique look at the world that few are brave enough to take… which brings us back to the masks.
The hedgehog’s dilemma is the masks we construct. To return to the example of the friend group, they would never allow themselves to drop the mask because the culture pressures them into minimizing pain… they would never want to risk getting hurt or hurt those they care about so they wear a persona. The tradeoff here is that a genuine connection between this group will always be impossible. Now just imagine this but overarching an entire culture; people are afraid of letting down their masks because they know they’ll hurt themselves and those they love, so we keep the persona on with no chance of society ever letting us take it down. In that way, it may be impossible to completely lose the mask, but there is some silver lining… by being conscious of it, you can control the intensity of the mask, and how much of your “real self” can shine through the persona.
“It is always best to just be yourself. Following trends and putting out false images is lame. Just be unique and allow people and life to get drawn to who you truly are.”