Masks and the Game of Hide & Seek We Play with Ourselves


Masks. There are women who have no inner life wherever one looks for it, being nothing but masks. That man is to be pitied who lets himself in with such ghostly, necessarily unsatisfying creatures; but just these women are able to stimulate man’s desire most intensely: he searches for their souls–and searches on and on.
– Nietzsche

And this is how I read/interpret this:

Masks. There are women (and perhaps this may hold true for men as well. What do you think?) who have no real identity or core self wherever one looks for it and so ultimately are nothing but masks. And it’s thought that perhaps a man ought to be pitied who lets himself caught up with and beguiled by such a ghostly and inconsistent creature, such a chameleon. Yet perhaps he ought not be pitied; because it is just this type of woman who is able to stimulate a poetic and philosophic man’s desire most intensely: he searches for their soul–and he does so on and on and on. Such a woman is perhaps the ultimate form of stimulation for some men who are by nature philosophic, poetic, in other words, psychologists.

The excerpt from Nietzsche also reminded me of something I had read many years ago in “People of the Lie” by M. Scott Peck—

The essential component of evil is not the absence of a sense of sin or imperfection but the unwillingness to tolerate that sense. The evil are aware of their evil and desperately trying to avoid the awareness, continually sweeping the evidence of their badness under the rug of their own consciousness. The problem is not a defect of conscience but the effort to deny the conscience its due.

We become evil by attempting to hide from ourselves.

Evil originates not in the absence of guilt and shame but in the effort to escape from these. Evil may be recognized by its very disguise. The lie can be perceived ahead of the misdeed that it is designed to hide—the cover-up that is being created before the fact. We see the false smile that covers over the hatred and anger, the smooth and oily manner and the false laughter that masks the hidden fury or resentment, the velvet glove that covers the fist. The disguise is often impenetrable. But what we can catch are glimpses of that “uncanny game of hide-and-seek in the obscurity of the soul, in which it, the single human soul, evades itself, avoids itself, hides from itself.” (Martin Buber, Good and Evil).

The words “image,” “appearance,” and “outwardly” are crucial to understanding the morality of evil. While those who are evil or morally bad seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. But their “goodness” is all on a level of pretense. It is, in effect, a lie. Which is why they are the “people of the lie.”

What are some of the characteristics of those who are evil, or who are on the way to becoming evil?

– Consistent destructive, scapegoating behavior (blaming others) and abdication of personal responsibility, which may often be quite subtle.

– Excessive, albeit usually quite covert, intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury.

– Pronounced concern with a public image and self-image of respectability.

– Intellectual deviousness, with an increased likelihood of a mild schizophrenic-like or dissociative disturbance of thinking at times of stress.

People are more willing to change their circumstances rather than change themselves, because they are so attached to their self. Yet this is the ultimate attachment that we must overcome in order to truly grow and heal—the attachment to the self, to our persona, self-image, our masks, our false or pseudo-selves.

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