Most people don’t like admitting it because it works against the conceit that they have mysterious, complex characters, but the fact is that most people are what they seem. It is that simple. For every time that the people around you feel with certainty that the sociopath working on the docks is really a teddy bear underneath, or that the teetotal family man next door is really a wife-beater, one would only be fair to consider each and every case in which it is precisely the most suspicious characters who committed the crimes in question.
What good does it really do us to say that every one is precisely the opposite of what he seems? All it does is rob us of the distinction to make the judgments and quick assessments we require to, not only feel safe, but to survive. Let me call this way of sizing people up by their opposites the ‘psychology of manners.’ In the ‘psychology of manners’ it’s absolutely necessary that everyone gets a chance at seeming just as capable of injustice, selfishness, greed, vice, virtue, trust, love and sincerity as anyone else. It is a democratic science.
Moreover, psychology itself is an ethic of western manners. The ‘subconscious’ as it was conceived by Freud could only have come from a bourgeois society. Bourgeois sexuality was something done behind closed doors. Because the ‘subconscious mind’ is largely an ontological interpretation of the mind by way of sexual aberration, and because that interpretation is performed by westerners in a world of sciences governed by utilitarian, bourgeois aims, the sexual aberrations will be defined within the realm of bourgeois sexuality. If there exists a house in which sexuality occurs strictly behind closed doors, it is going to mean something very different to the child who happens upon his parents in the sexual act than it would for another child who witnesses the same but lives in a single-room mudhut with his parents and the whole family sleeps in one large bed together.
Psychology finds a correlation between the present behavior of a person and sexually aberrant instances of his past. But these correlations are symbolic, in other words, they occur strictly in the world of language, as Lacan said. There is no magical realm called ‘the unconscious,’ nor is there one specific place in the brain that can be said to be responsible for ‘the mind.’ Nevertheless, once psychology reaches the masses, armchair psychologists and people who go to (or sit in on) classes and lectures on the subject but who don’t read the source material, or just people who watch too many movies and read too many novels feel free to talk about the unconscious mind without any general sense of nuance or intuition—as though the unconscious mind is, in fact, a magical realm or a place in the brain with definite dos and donts and rules.
Think of every dramatic parody of psychology that finds its way into popular comedy today—the image of the Austrian shrink linking completely arbitrary patterns of human behavior to neurotic sexual obsessions with one’s mother.
When armchair psychologists start trying to ‘figure people out,’ there is absolutely no end to the string of tautologies that issue from their lips. People who have no concern for psychology as a developing science will turn the world into a dualistic game of masked and unmasked, no matter how secular the person claims to be. The result is that everyone, in the mind of the armchair psychologists, has an apparent character and a true character. They believe that what matters is on the inside, that is to say, the soul, or at least, their conception of it. This is not to say that we should necessarily rule out the soul altogether, but it becomes a problem when it is so divorced from the body that people see it capable of taking on its own personality which may manifest in someone at the right time.
It doesn’t simply end with this philosophically dualistic premises as an intellectual possibility. When the idea becomes popular, things start being parroted from one side of the culture to the other, such as, ‘People are never what they seem.’ Nowadays, people throw around words like ‘never’ and ‘always’ too flippantly.
How often do you hear someone saying, as though they are terrifically original for coming up with the hypothesis, ‘I think that all homophobes are secretly homosexuals themselves.’ While this may be the case for some homophobes, it is absolutely ludicrous to say that this is true of all homophobes, and when reason and observation alone would tell us that this hypothesis cannot possibly be true in even most cases. How often do you hear it said that unsocial, shy people are more likely to be psychopaths or sociopaths? Not only will reason alone tell us that this cannot possibly be true in the majority of cases, but even our prime examples of psychopaths and sociopaths contradict this. Were not Charles Manson and Ted Bundy highly social people in their own ways? Has the charge of unsociability also been branded on the artist and the genius? The moment that the rule is broken, the rule cannot be used as a measuring rod to predict anyone’s future behavior. 'The exception proves the rule,' simple people love to utter, and never bother to establish on what premise a 'ruler can even be constituted or established, and likewise, how an aberration is constituted or established.
Where do you play your part in the psychology of manners? It’s quite simple. So long as you’re hard-headed and criminal in comportment, you are more likely to be treated fairly if you will concede to the theory that you are a teddy-bear ‘deep down inside.’ If you are dating someone who has a well-rounded view of the world and good at putting everything in order, you must concede that the person is ‘too good to be true.’ The mistake is that everyone gets a ‘fair shot’ to be judged the same by society. But this is not the case. All it does is create a society of false negatives and positives, in which the roles are completely inverted. Society loses its energy, if you will, because it’s not plugged in correctly. You are being asked by society to belong to an acceptable type, or to at least pretend that you belong if you know that you don’t.
This is not to say that if you take one look at someone, you will be able to accurately judge them. People will go on misjudging people as long as there are people and as long as they have eyes and ears. However, when people operate in their essential functions, there is nothing you can do to make them ‘reveal’ some ‘truer’ self. Real psychology is that which tries to understand why someone is the way they are, if at all possible, rather than armchair psychology, which seeks to neutralize all social judgments so that the ‘sanest’ person has the potential to be just as ‘sick’ as the sickest, and the sickest can be seen in terms of perfectly sane motives and functions. This kind of thinking is itself insane.