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Camouflage and Invisibility as super powers

July 18, 2016

My dreams frequently share a consistent plot line, universe, and characters. In one series of dreams, I have the power to become hidden or invisible by holding my breath. I cannot do much from this state (because I can still expose myself by making too much noise, and if I exert myself too much, I will have to breathe, thus becoming visible again), but I have come to believe that hiddenness, camouflage, and invisibility is a tremendous super power.

Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison Invisible Man

When I was in 10th grade, my English teacher split the class into a three or four groups, so that each group would read a different American novel and then present to the class about the plot, themes, and so on. (It was a great way to cover 3-4 novels in the same time frame as 1, haha). I was assigned Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

I devoured that book (and this was an accomplishment for me as I was not known for being on top of reading in high school. In the same class’s continuation in 11th grade we took an AP English practice test that had a section on Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life: the passage about the written word being weak spoke out so much to me. It would only be years later that I learned that not everyone has as poor mental visualization as I do.)

Invisible Man was one of my favorite novels in that class, but then again, with competition like Moby Dick and Scarlet Letter, maybe my expectations weren’t very high. (Just kidding — I have come to really love The Scarlet Letter.)

For those who aren’t familiar with the Ellison novel, the protagonist of Invisible Man isn’t actually invisible. He is not actually a super hero, and the protagonist is upfront about this. This is not fantasy or sci fi. He’s just a black dude who gets shuffled around society in the 20s and 30s. His invisibility actually represents the others’ preference to broadcast their own perception onto him rather than seeing him.

He uses this to his advantage, though. In the prologue, the protagonist discusses:

Most of the time (although I do not choose as I once did to deny the violence of my days by ignoring it) I am not so overtly violent. I remember that I am invisible and walk softly so as not to awaken the sleeping ones. Sometimes it is best not to awaken them; there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers. I learned in time though that it is possible to carry on a fight against them without their realizing it. For instance, I have been carrying on a fight with Monopolated Light & Power for some time now. I use their service and pay them nothing at all, and they don’t know it. Oh, they suspect that power is being drained off, but they don’t know where.

…several years ago (before I discovered the advantage of being invisible) I went through the routine process of buying service and paying their outrageous rates. But no more. I gave up all that, along with my apartment, and my old way of life: That way based upon the fallacious assumption that I, like other men, was visible. Now, aware of my invisibility, I live rent-free in a building rented strictly to whites, in a section of the basement that was shut off and forgotten during the nineteenth century…

(Hmm, that quote about sleeping ones reminds me of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s discussion of dreamers in Between the World and Me, which I also discussed in my cover of Chrono Trigger’s Corridors of Time. Remind me to write a full article about that:


OK, I’ll try to cut out the parenthetical asides.

What I wanted to say though is that I’ve never been the most popular person. I know that part of this is because of my own choices — I don’t do self-promotion very well for any of the endeavors that I engage in, and I also can say that I’m not the best person at any of the endeavors that I engage in (which is why I often don’t like to self-promote). I also tend to be more of a loner and introvert — I’m not usually interested in networking and building connections.

In some ways, this difference is one thing I admire in my brother — he is much better at networking and accomplishing much bigger things as a consequence.

…But I am not complaining, and I’m not totally envious. I also like my style, and think of it as a quiet strength. I think that working from relative obscurity isn’t a bad thing. It’s a much more peaceful way to live, at the very least. I’ve also come to realize that sometimes, the most important and vital things occur behind the scenes. I think that is why my father identifies as the Janitor, as I wrote about in a previous post.

People say it’s lonely at the top…everyone’s trying to shoot you down. I think there’s something to that, and by avoiding part of that competition, you can de-stress a lot in your life.

I think there’s also something to the other aspect of Invisible Man‘s invisibility, however. The protagonist doesn’t say that people just do not see him at all, but rather, they see a distorted image, that he can then use in his favor.

All things to all people

I have found it amusing that I apparently am very difficult to read online. On several occasions and on several venues (Facebook, Twitter, this very blog), people have written comments in response to things I’ve written that have interpreted my position completely incorrectly.

I can’t remember the first time it happened, but one of the most notable experiences was when a commenter (who happened to be white) responded to one of my Facebook posts by saying that he hoped I would “overcome the limitations of my vantage point as a straight white privileged male.” He then suggested that I should read Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail to assist in my getting over my white privilege.

That has since become a big inside joke on Facebook, but things like this keep happening.

I frequently have commenters assuming that I am straight, or assuming that I am a theistic Christian, or assuming that I’m white.

In a Facebook group I moderate and on my more Mormon blog posts at Wheat & Tares, I used to frequently hear complaints that I was biased because I was a “true believing Mormon” apologist.

While these things are funny to a certain extent, I actually view this as something of a strength. If I am presenting myself in such a way that I can be confused for having positions I do not actually hold, then I think that means that I am doing justice to those other positions. I can ideologically “pass”.

I think that this is a temperamental strength of mine. I know that many others can get really worn down by hearing perspectives that they disagree with (especially if and when those perspectives hurt them indirectly or directly), but I have found that I have an ability to remain unaffected. I still think there are some positions that are just outrageous, but when I can, I try to understand why people believe what they do, even if I don’t agree.

I am reminded of a passage that Paul wrote in in 1st Corinthians 9:

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

I think that this is a gift, but probably (and unfortunately) an uncommon one.


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One Comment
  1. Agellius permalink

    Yes! I agree with you. You’re very good at giving views you don’t agree with a fair hearing and description.

    And yes, I have seen people completely misread you. It must be very funny from your point of view, if not frustrating.

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