A potential truth: A lot of people (most of us, most of the time) don’t really think for ourselves. We often confuse our father’s wisdom for timeless and universal truth, when our father’s wisdom may be wise in some situations, unwise in others (I don’t think we should aim to rationalize/clear the ground with every thought). We need a model for our hearts, minds and souls, especially while young.
In my experience: We’re often more interested in our own positions within our own relationships and status hierarchies, as self-interested rule-following punishers. Smart kids, of course, think through ideas quickly, bore easily, but are no less subject to youthful arrogance, over-confidence and lack of experience. A lot of people, a lot of the time, will subordinate truth, new ideas and new possibilities if it means a steady paycheck, or some praise, or continued influence or promise of future influence.
Or in the worse cases, if it means basic gratification of the desires (all manner of rationalization and self-delusion can accompany each of us)
We like to know where we stand, and we like rules, teams, and a royal ‘we’ to which to belong. Standing on principle is hard, especially if it requires steep costs.
Remember back to your middle-school days: Fitting-in for a thirteen year-old is serious business. Puberty has set-in. Some boys are fighting for status and rank. A lot of girls are gossiping and sometimes physically fighting for status and rank. Weaker kids, with fewer looks, muscles, skills, positive attributes etc. are scrambling for a foothold. Nature is kinda ruthless. It comes from without, and within, I suspect, and requires civilization to provide some ground rules.
In my generation, time and place, there were some basic ground rules and expectations, and these were usually enforced seriously. Back then, there was less anti-hero worship, less self-esteem talk and miscalibrated focus on the (S)elf, and less feminine sentimentalization of all problems (women=good, men=bad, freedom is next).
Don’t worry, it’ll all work out.
Again, a lot of people are not in the habit of thinking much, nor deeply, nor skeptically. Many people require a set of received opinions, beliefs, and commands to act upon, and will hold this bundle as gospel, especially when they sense their own abilities, value, and status is low.
Departments of education, and universities, attract both dull and quick minds. Both are especially subject to the modern hostility against tradition. I believe they are falling into the trap of rationality/irrationality, and into the postmodern, anything goes irrational response to most problems of ourselves and the world. I believe this helps explain the capture by much narrower ideologues, Left-radicalism, and arguably much worse ideas.
That’s all that’s required for action: True-belief, some money, influence and rank, and……endless promise of liberation. If you don’t water the trees of conservation, wisdom, speech and liberty…
‘Contemporary liberalism does not depreciate emotion in the abstract, and in the abstract it sets great store by variousness and possibility. Yet, as is true of any other human entity, the conscious and the unconscious life of liberalism are not always in accord. So far as liberalism is active and positive, so far, that is, as it moves toward organization, it tends to select the emotions and qualities that are most susceptible of organization. As it carries out its active and positive ends it unconsciously limits its view of the world to what it can deal with, and it unconsciously tends to develop theories and principles, particularly in relation to the nature of the human mind, that justify its limitation.’
It’s easy to believe that because you know one thing pretty well, or a few things reasonably well, that what you know is known by all, and that this knowledge is universal. What if what you can know is bound up with your experiences, and is acutely limited?
A 20th century address of such problems:
‘But my object is not to refute Rationalism: its errors are interesting only in so far as they reveal its character. We are considering not merely the truth of a doctrine, but the significance of an intellectual fashion in the history of post-Renaissance Europe. And the questions we must try to answer are: What is the generation of this belief in the sovereignty of technique? When springs this supreme confidence in human ‘reason’ thus interpreted? What is the provenance, the context of this intellectual character? And in what circumstances and with what effect did it come to invade European politics?’
Oakeshott, Michael. “Rationalism In Politics“. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. (Pg 17).
One of the more solid moral foundations for why you should be liberal still comes from J.S. Mill:
“The likings and dislikings of society, or of some powerful portion of it, are thus the main thing which has practically determined the rules laid down for general observance, under the penalties of law or opinion. And in general, those who have been in advance of society in thought and feeling, have left this condition of things unassailed in principle, however they may have come into conflict with it in some of its details. They have occupied themselves rather in inquiring what things society ought to like or dislike, than in questioning whether its likings or dislikings should be a law to individuals. They preferred endeavoring to alter the feelings of mankind on the particular points on which they were themselves heretical, rather than make common cause in defence of freedom, with heretics generally. The only case in which the higher ground has been taken on principle and maintained with consistency, by any but an individual here and there, is that of religious belief:…”
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2007), 8-9.
“More recently Richard Rorty made an attractive attempt to reconcile the most avant-garde postmodern theory with a defence of the institutions of the Western liberal democracies, but the Mill of On Liberty still reigns supreme.”
Making the ‘personal political’ tends to politicize all aspects of life. It’s unsurprising that a few good artists will fall on more conservative sides of topical political discussion.
As I see the world: Radical doctrines weaponize personal confessions into political (C)auses. Envy is a deep and nearly constant human emotion, and when the green eyed monster appears, honest self-criticism is much harder than righteous indignation (maybe this guy is smarter/better than me…what can I learn from him?).
I should add: There are plenty of religious prigs who are, essentially, failures at life. More than a few have traced their bitterness into a God-shaped mold.
It’s no surprise the basics learned in youth sports (how to lose honorably, the long hours of toil and sacrifice, the daily practice) are eschewed by most ideologues. If you’re weak and/or losing, becoming anointed into an ideology plugs into one of the deepest human desires: Defining yourself by what you are not, and finding group membership and meaning. The thought that ‘they’ are winning, and thus, I’m (we’re) losing is powerful stuff.
I’m somebody. I can win. I’m less racist than you. I’m more deeply (H)uman than you. I feel more authentically than my enemies. Sister Nancy is the most God-fearing gal in the whole convent.
Human nature hasn’t changed all that much, as every revolutionary radical seems to find out the hard way.
For anyone not in dire straits (genuine need and/or actual oppression), inviting the clumsy hands of ideological (C)ause into the bedroom is a kind of lunacy. Liberation doctrines valorize anti-heroes, medicalize illnesses and glamorize vices into badges of authenticity.
This tends to lead to a lot more failure, and more ideology to fill the holes.
I’m pretty sure: Deep down, rebels and anti-heroes still have authoritarian tendencies and tragic flaws: See History. Most sane people don’t idealize sickness and disease. When it comes to drugs, alcohol and the Zubercocks of this world, what awaits is often just a sad lonely death and a whimper.
Word to the wise: Placing your eggs in the activist basket is a long-term losing game (gays/lesbians/actual minorities) as I see the world. Short- and mid-term gains gather into an ever-growing list of human ‘rights’ which normalize the marginalized and politicize the personal. But politics is a thing. It’s about distributing unequal resources and making decisions. It’s contentious and corruption is usually the rule, not the exception. Believing in politics won’t bring more ‘peace’. Bureaucracy is a large organization where power and authority accrue, but instead of corporate bureaucracies subject to market forces, they continue on with bad incentives and the same amount of inequality as before.
Individual eggs get scrambled into unrecognizable omelettes of mass justice. Many individuals find out too late there’s no real space for individuals in mass movements and passionate (C)auses.
This blog welcomes lenses with which to view works of modern art.
‘Clarity: As I’ve said, the movie abstracts from concrete reality certain general character types, purges from them the nuance and complexity in which we find these general patterns embedded in everyday life, and re-embodies them in extreme characters so that we might more carefully consider those types. Just as we know more clearly what it is to be a triangle by abstracting from particular triangles (red ones, green ones, triangles drawn in ink, triangles drawn in chalk, etc.) and considering the general pattern, so too does the movie allow us to see more clearly what it is to be a desperate man, a cruel man, a weak man, a dishonest man, a broken man, and so on, by way of its skillful caricatures.
So, in its integrity, proportion, and clarity, Glengarry has the marks of a beautiful thing, despite its grim subject matter. One need not admire and approve of Satan in order to admire and approve of Dante’s or Milton’s literary representations of Satan, and one need not admire or approve of the sorts of people represented in a film like Glengarry in order to admire and approve of the representation itself.’
‘You call yourself a salesman you son-of-a-bitch?:’
For those who’ve ever had a real job, and seen people at their best and worst, or been reasonably honest about their own motivations and willingness to be do right by others under duress, well, there’s a lot of truth to be found in this particular work of art.
Like boxing gyms and MMA matches, or call-centers full of debt collectors, or daily life on public city buses, the stuff of humanity is pretty much the same as anywhere else, just more raw and closer to the surface.
On fuller display, perhaps.
Feser provides some reasonable context, here, the kind that forms the backbone of a good Catholic education, and which this blog considers to have enriched the debate.
For those who didn’t ask!:
As this blog sees things, the modernist project is not explicitly ideological, but it is extremely ambitious: Make it new. Start from the ground up, or go back to the foundations and take a really good look, and have the individual genius start building his own, new foundations (alone or in contact with others, such as the Bloomsbury Group).
It takes really talentedindividuals to pull this off; often individuals with previous exposure to tradition; young practitioners with enough talent and perseverance, as well as enough of a pedagogy to inherit and rebel against should they choose.
As this blog has noted, it’s not hard to witness a string of causation between high modernist aims and a lot of the modern and postmodern aimlessness we see all around us. There sure are a lot of poseurs and would-be artists bobbing in the postmodern stew, left to sort out the entire world and their relation to it alone, or upon a stage (as alone and not alone as one can be).
They write these f**king art blurbs before they have any art! What the f**k is this lady doing?:
‘The most useful definition of modernist fiction I’ve encountered comes from Brian McHale’s Postmodernist Fiction. He says modernist fiction tends to “foreground epistemological questions” such as “How can I interpret the world I’m part of? What is there to be known? Who knows it? What are the limits of that knowledge?” In contrast, postmodernist fiction tends to “foreground ontological questions” such as “What is a world? What kinds of worlds are there and how are they constituted? What happens when…boundaries between worlds are violated?’
The above can invite all manner of despair and isolation, and perhaps a deeper cynicism we see in upcoming generations’ rather pervasive desire for fame and recognition.
The above can also exacerbate the spiritual and meaning-making demands individuals place upon the Marketplace, the Church, and in The Media and The Academy (where an authoritarian/totalitarian radical Left seeks to control institutions, institutions where a kind of Western secular humanism and standard-issue political idealism often dominates).
As I see it, I cannot call myself a believer in the questions the Catholic Church claims to to be able to answer, but many modern political and politico-philsophical movements are incomplete at best, and dangerously wrong at worst.
Ah well…there’s my two cents.
There’s good art to be found, of course, but like most well-made things, good art is relatively rare, its ultimate value and quality endlessly disputed, but perhaps, enduring.
–Born and raised in Chicago, Mamet seems pretty old-school and pretty tough. He reminds me a bit of Norman Mailer, verbally pugilistic and combative, though unlike Mailer he’s taken a different turn into ju-jitsu, instead of boxing, as well as into a different set of motivating principles. Alec Baldwin’s Death-Of-A-Salesman-on-steroids speech from Glengarry Glen Ross is a well-known example of Mamet’s work (demonstrating the kind of balls-out truth-telling dialogue from which Baldwin has possibly not recovered). I’m guessing Mamet grew-up back before anti-bullying campaigns and excessive political correctness became the norm.
***As I understand it, Thomas Sowell, after becoming a young Marxist eventually became a young ex-Marxist, embracing a hard-bitten empiricism regarding outcomes and results, not the intentions, of economic and social policies. See him discuss his later vision of human nature and political organization in a Conflict Of Visions.
–Mamet cites the Bible, but mainly the Talmud as a source of wisdom and knowledge to draw upon as a guide for flawed human nature. Jewish folks in the U.S. have traditionally formed a reliably liberal/Democratic voting bloc, so unlike many Christian religious conservatives, they aren’t necessarily voting Republican. There are no doubt many reasons for this, but to be sure, there are also many tales of neoconservatives ‘mugged’ out of the social sciences and policy-making halls of the liberal establishment into doubt and skepticism, some chased away by the New Left. There is also a conservative Christian/Jewish pro-Israel alliance which has traditionally been strong on national defense (some fundamentals of that American/Israeli relationship may be changing).
Religious belief can ground one in a kind of traditional and tragic view of human nature. This, say, as opposed to human nature understood as simply a blank slate or existentialist absurdity, or by some political movements as human clay to be molded with the right knowledge and right people in charge of our social institutions (they always seem to nominate themselves). As Mamet discusses in the video, there are distinctions to be made between Talmudic justice and social justice.
I’m guessing he might agree there are distinctions to be made between abstract equality and equality under the law (the exception of Civil Rights and black folks held under the civil laws is discussed). I’m also guessing he’d argue there are distinctions to be made between life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness on one hand, and liberation theology and/or individual freedom granted by a rights-based cohort in charge of government on the other.
–Mamet also touches on the fact that the arts aren’t a political endeavor. If writing a play is simply a didactic enterprise and/or a vehicle for deploying a political philosophy (Ayn Rand?), then I think the artist has probably failed in some fundamental way to show the audience/reader a unique truth which only that work of art has to show. Didactic art can come across as clunky at best, pure propaganda at worst.
Personally, I tend to believe that politics, religion, convention and popular thinking all have trouble with the arts.
Anyways, this is just a brief summary. Any thoughts or comments are welcome.
Predictions are hard, especially about the future. Thanks for reading, and for stopping by.
My two cents:
Technological dislocation is still going strong, and the recent developments in chat AI offer some predictive power. Labor costs, for most companies, are among the highest. Many smart and not-so-smart people never learn how to write well, nor persuasively. But they have other skills. The technology is here to utilize software prosthetics to do a lot of writing for us, instead of paying a writer. Writing well is a practical, creative and mind-changing journey, and will continue to influence entire civilizations, but paying for labor is an even tougher sell. This makes me wonder: How many specialized, well-educated 135 IQ thought-leaders will fall into a kind of resentful, punitive criticism? It’s tough to say, but, there will be many (writing well requires understanding and synthesis, but quickly surpasses knowledge and experience). This is why journalism generally loses money, with activists and deeper billionaire pockets funding most outlets.
An older American order, with aristocratic W.A.S.P. gatekeepers, more private religious belief and public square rule-making has eroded considerably. I view this set-up as having corrected many excesses of the market and maintained a lot of trust required between personal behavior and public office. Rules, rule-makers and maintaining legitimate authority can be tricky, but are found among the most important things. So, too, is maintaining a government of the people, by the people and for the people. I’d argue that a secular, technocratic humanism more common in Europe is now a likely majority in American life. Whether or not this is driven by a default, watered-down Marxism in the ‘collective-mind’ is debatable, but challenging the ideal requires wounding an idealist in the place where belief lives. It can even become deadly or disqualifying when a person challenges considerable power. This has lots of implications for speech, rules, and dissent. It will probably even affect what’s ‘cool.’ It’s tough to say what the new personal behavior and public office connection is going to be, but, as mentioned, I think it matters more than most things.
The postmodern pull is still very strong, and deep, as currents go. This blog has discussed Schopenhauer’s Will to Nietzsche’s ‘Will to Power’ nihilism, the Straussian response, and various downstream consequences. There are some pretty good reasons to be liberal, but in America, I’d like to stop the lurch leftward towards true-believing, anti-speech activism and predictably stodgy, out-of-touch liberal idealism. That way lies disorder and potential violence. This blog, at least, has offered a nod to David Hume’s empiricism, J.S. Mill’s utilitarianism, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s self-reliant gnosticism, and Isaiah Berlin’s positive and negative freedoms. At the very least, I’m realistically hoping these could become brighter lights in the nihilist fog. We’ll see…
How might this translate into American politics? While I reject even Conrad’s ‘Heart Of Darkness’ existential nihilism (say…the craziness of Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’), which Gray has espoused in the past, I often fall into tragic realism. I’ve called it ‘depressive realism’ but it’s actually full of optimism. There’s a lot to be optimistic about, accounting for reality and human nature, and how mostly local and personal the good things in our lives are.
But, you’ve got to aim to be good, especially to your loved ones. I think life has a mystery to it, beyond most of our conceptions of life. That said, I view human nature as generally fixed in many ways (religious belief, traditions, the arts and many sciences are simply reflections of what we are, what the truth is, and how we interact with the world). But I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t necessarily know what’s right for you. I support the creative arts and the penetrating truths of the natural sciences and independent thinkers.
Personally, I look for the optimism found in home and hearth where love lives, and promises are made. I look for the looking-out for each other generally found in town and country, in friendships, and in some reasonable, capable talented people found in functional at-scale institutions within cities.
To be vulgar: There are dicks, pussies and assholes everywhere, so try not to be any one of these things, nor for very long. There are decent people everywhere, expanding their skills, talents and including others, with right aims and good minds, while generally avoiding too much f**king around.
In the public square: I favor a free-speech, no-nonsense skepticism, casting a cold eye on life and how institutional incentives actually work. I think Natural Law offers something of a lockbox to keep some of the true-believers and politicians from trying to engineer all parts of our lives (bound for failure…just as are most attempts to make a theology of ‘Man’). Unfortunately, Nautral Law is being replaced with a lot of (S)elf-centered therapeutics, the ‘personal-is-political’ empathy abstractions, anti-human movements, ‘-Isms’ and various flavors of ideology.
Like Gray, I see a lot of political contention ahead, and even dangerous instability because of these misalignments. I’m something of an optimist, BUT, within a depressive realism and a certain tragic view of life.
Of course, take me and my views with a grain of salt.
I’ve heard few liberals really accounting for these increasingly obvious failures of liberal ideas and leadership, but a few have, and a few older-school Lefties (change-first, injustice-focused) are actually the new civil libertarians and defenders of speech.
Global technocracy and authoritarianism will become a default for many idealists when human nature and reality bear down.
On that note: I’ve heard few conservatives really admit that the older tent has mostly fallen down, and the neo-cons, Bushies, Reaganites, religious folks, unmodern folks, war-hawks (when attached to home and hearth) are now in disarray while attacking each other. Most people I know live in-between personal reality, populist anger and a kind of institutional malaise and dysfunction.
Blame is all around. I see Trump as a kind of untrustworthy, narcissistic standard-bearer for ideas which few conservative thinking types will actually defend, given the currents in our lives and politics.
I don’t think this is a healthy situation.
Meanwhile, a lot of obvious realities go unsaid for ALL citizens, and such problems aren’t merely local, but many of the solutions probably will be.
Arguably, American aristocratic elements (older money, older institutions) are becoming much less religious; the older W.A.S.P. habits and networks less rooted in Church teaching. This has implications for engagement with the market (love, lust, sex, technology, booze, money, work), where a zealous progressivism rules the day.
Where gather the influential true-believers? Can the market and the individual bear that much weight?
If it isn’t a sad-eyed Christ, endlessly bearing the suffering of your sins, around which hope-giving subjects do spinsters gather?
‘But in the year 2000, with Fascism and Communism both discredited, why, I wondered, were so many turning back toward Rousseau? What was the attraction of romantic primitivism? How had ethnic culture become a beau ideal? Cities certainly have their problems, but why did New Yorkers see tribal societies as exemplary and tribespeople as paragons of social virtue?’
If it isn’t their own families and challenges at which to aim their compassion and energy, is it the W.H.O? Is it the latest raft of policy ideas to address early childhood education (sure to transcend the hard choices/failures and realities of this world)?
It’s unclear to me if this lady fancies herself a member of an artistic aristocracy (museum-docent avant-garde), or is more the humorless, Quaker scold-type. If what you regard as beyond reproach are your political ideals…and political activism is where to find your true-belief (hopes)…don’t be surprised when other people have other ideas, and your (C)ause wins or loses in the bare-knuckled bruising of politics-on-the-ground.
(Can I stay out of the Trump/anti-Trump ridiculousness? I earn my money elsewhere, and while I don’t really consider myself above the fray…this fray is really dumb).
From a few years ago.
If we imagine an individual, late into the night, tossing and turning during a crisis of faith, identity, or some regular tragedy, such an individual will likely find the world anew within the habits and networks of majority liberal idealisms (environmentalism, feminism, anti-racism etc.). I’d argue a secular humanism and various flavors Left-leaning progressivism have become closer to a majority (Dear Reader, we can talk about the postmodern well of the (S)elf later, and the Will/Will to Power later).
Freedom is next. Activism is generally a moral good.
‘…aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…‘
We’ve got a lot of free-market dynamism within the latest wave of genuine technological progress (Musk, Bezos, Gates et al.); men of scope scaling to build empires generally within the law, or with a nod to the laws. The more lawgivers there are, the more unholy unions of public sentiment and private empires gather into authority.
To whom the institutions they’ve created must tithe, tells us quite a bit about beliefs, habits and institutions.
‘…if I understand your thesis correctly, you argue that the beliefs, mindsets and manners that animated earlier Protestantism have not been abandoned, but instead have been projected on to the political realm.’
‘The Mainline churches helped define American culture in several ways. First of all, the churches were mostly apolitical, which has had a profound effect on American culture. For instance, there’s never been a great American political novel. The average French streetwalker in a novel by Zola knows more about politics than the heroes of the greatest American novels. What is it to be an American? At the highest artistic level, it is to be concerned about the cosmos and the self. Politics is incidental to Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter and Huckleberry Finn. And that’s because Mainline Protestantism rendered politics secondary to what it deems is most important — namely, salvation and the self.’
How did money actually work among those in America’s elite?:
But the old monopoly of power had gone, and the country was the poorer for it. “The tragedy of American civilization,” Auchincloss wrote in 1980, “is that it has swept away WASP morality and put nothing in its place.”
Here’s another Auchincloss quote from a reader (haven’t checked this one out…probably a quote site). The prose strikes me as kind of post-Wharton, mannered and dull:
“I used to go to church. I even went through a rather intense religious period when I was sixteen. But the idea of an everlasting life — a never-ending banquet, as a stupid visiting minister to our church once appallingly described it — filled me with a greater terror than the concept of extinction…”
In fact, what will you do with your own blandness, dear reader, entombing the flaming desire to be woke within; the little half-opened doors of ecstasy and ‘environmental justice’?:
Earth Quaker Action Team is ON IT. (I’m not sure the Quakers ever had much institutional authority…so this could well be a marketing ploy to start more Quaking)
“Democratic and aristocratic states are not in their own nature free. Political liberty is to be found only in moderate governments; and even in these it is not always found. It is there only when there is no abuse of power. But constant experience shows us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it, and to carry his authority as far as it will go.”
“That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
A longer-term, skeptical position held by this blog: Attaching one’s sentiments and beliefs to certain ideological doctrines (Marxism, Socialism, Communism), leads toward violent revolution.
Many (H)istorical truth and knowledge claims, with an Enlightened elite claiming to possess knowledge of (M)an’s ends, have proven disastrous.
Attaching one’s sentiments and beliefs to socially liberal political ideals, claiming the mantle of moral progress (environmentalism, feminism, identitarianism, racism/non-racism), leads toward competing political factions. Politics is, by its nature, coalitional and factional.
Universal truth and knowledge claims, coming from the (S)ciences and Social (S)ciences, or simply from many political idealists, unite some and divide others.
This can often lead to pretty bad outcomes for poor folks.
Dear Reader, what am I missing?
Here’s Theodore Dalrymple on using the social sciences as imprimatur, turning George Floyd into something like a grafitti saint. There’s always an ‘expert’ to be found, ready to justify the activist cause as virtuous and ‘normative’, reagrdless of the actual person and events.
‘Blood does not boil without moral judgment, whether right or wrong. In other words, the passage I have quoted about prejudice and stigma is at best self-delusion; the author, unintentionally no doubt, for he is probably a kindly and well-intentioned man, is a corrupter of morals.
He presents himself as a man free of prejudice, but no one is, could or should be, free of prejudice. He clearly has a prejudice himself against prejudice and stigma, as if these were wholly bad and never good; but surely the most cursory self-examination would demonstrate to him that this is not so. One of the reasons one tries to be good, for example, is to avoid the stigma of being bad, and one avoids such stigma because man is a social creature. No one is a Kantian saint, pursuing the good only for its own sake, and if we met such a saint, he would not be very attractive. It is unexamined and rigid prejudice and stigma, impermeable to all evidence and human feeling, that are bad.’
Apparently graffiti art does have a price, and it may be much more than $$$:
Ruling that graffiti — a typically transient form of art — was of sufficient stature to be protected by the law, a federal judge in Brooklyn awarded a judgment of $6.7 million on Monday to 21 graffiti artists whose works were destroyed in 2013 at the 5Pointz complex in Long Island City, Queens.
Would you be willing to undermine property-rights and the rule-of-law?
A NY Times beat reporter shared in the suffering of those graffiti artists whose 5pointz canvas was whitewashed in preparation for demolition by owner Jerry Wolkoff.
‘One street artist, who would give his name only as Just, had at least two works painted over. He spent hours early Tuesday gazing at the whitewashed buildings, leaning against a red-brick wall across the street. Then he bought himself a tall glass of beer, which he sipped slowly from a brown paper bag.
“Heartbreaking,” he said. “This is not just about graffiti — it’s about the unity of people who met here from all over the world.” He paused and took a drink. “That’s what really hurts.”
Once the real-estate market began heating-up in NYC, Wolkoff decided to whitewash his building overnight..
Every bit of graffiti scrawled there over 40-years was at his discretion.
Personally, I don’t take pleasure in the erasing of people’s hard work and creativity, nor in the breaking-up of a graffiti-collective which traveled far and wide to get to 5pointz, nor even in the iconic stature they gave the place, but David Thompson sums it up pretty well:
‘The moral of the story, gentlemen, is buy your own canvas’
The pathos in the Times article stops short of a familiar ‘art will unite all races, classes, & genders,’ type of Leftist political ideology.
I”m getting a sense that even should graffiti become a longer-lasting vehicle for artistic expression, beyond the street, it likely began for many non-taggers possibly in affect, driven by ideology, or the boredom and rebellion of the suburbs and people looking for some meaning in their lives.
What are they overlooking? What are they looking for? What do the people looking at the work might think they’re looking at?
Or perhaps it would have been better to celebrate the way street-culture and graffiti has interacted with money and market forces through tourism. 5pointz arguably was a tourism draw.
From The Times piece:
‘Though street art is meant to be temporary, 5Pointz became known as a graffiti museum. And the medium itself, once considered a symbol of urban unraveling, became a sought after gallery-worthy commodity, with work from street artists like Banksy commanding millions of dollars. Which is one of the reasons the whitewashing of 5Pointz’s walls was greeted with such vociferous dismay. “What?! What did they do?!” cried a tour guide named Hans Von Rittern, as he raced out of a tour bus early Tuesday, his arms wide, his face crumpling as soon as he caught sight of Ms. Flaguel. They embraced tightly and wept.’
I can think of some possible messages being sent by the law:
–You don’t have to work and own something to have ownership in it (normalizing a collectivism which rejects the property-rights of others…thus your property rights as well…for what’s to stop the next guy from tagging over your tag?). Someone else owns all this building anyways, so screw him, and screw the guy who came before me too.
–The value of artistic creation is yet again associated with money in the modern world (partially out of guilt, I suspect), and not so much with self-expression, technique, craft, freedom, and moments which can elevate and expand, offering meaning within a process.
–The criminality associated with graffiti is also tactily rewarded/overlooked by a court of law (there are real victims to the kinds of activity that can accompany tagging). I would much rather have lawmakers and law enforcers hold a simple line, rather than set the wrong incentives.
It can’t have been a good day for those who lost something. It’s hard out there.
Here’s a video:
More broadly, romanticizing the logic of the street, and taggers, comes with its own risks. Celebrate the spirit of creative lawlessness and turf warfare with the full acceptance that there ain’t much law involved. I’m sure 5pointz served as an escape, and a positive environment for many, but all the other things going on in these neighborhoods aren’t so uplifting, hence, it’s importance.
Francis Fukuyama and his influential essay are mentioned, as well as Immanuel Kant, Marx, and Isaiah Berlin.
Ideas matter, obviously, and the piece attempts to re-contextualize many ideological struggles which keep shaping our day-to-day lives (I have it on good intel that the guys down at the docks say ‘quotidian struggles’).
‘Who, then, are ideologists? They are people needy of purpose in life, not in a mundane sense (earning enough to eat or to pay the mortgage, for example) but in the sense of transcendence of the personal, of reassurance that there is something more to existence than existence itself. The desire for transcendence does not occur to many people struggling for a livelihood. Avoiding material failure gives quite sufficient meaning to their lives. By contrast, ideologists have few fears about finding their daily bread. Their difficulty with life is less concrete. Their security gives them the leisure, their education the need, and no doubt their temperament the inclination, to find something above and beyond the flux of daily life.’
***Why so many Britons on this site?(J.S. Mill, Isaiah Berlin by way of Riga, Michael Oakeshott, Roger Scruton, Bryan Magee, Theodore Dalrymple, John Gray etc.?)
I don’t know all the reasons, but there’s definitely an Anglophilia at work, our division by a common language, and perhaps an overall ideological predilection towards an Anglo-sphere alliance. I think there is mutual benefit, security and leverage to be had in working for a more closely united English-speaking ‘liberal’ world order. There are many sacrifices and risks, dangers and blind-spots, too.
Many of these writers/thinkers have had to face a more institutional and entrenched Left. They can know intimately whereof they speak. It’s easy to feel vaguely good about our relationship, but let’s not forget moments like these:
This is a depiction (thanks to impiousdigest.com) of British troops burning the White House.
My past predictions regarding NPR (dear reader, these are hardly groundbreaking): I expect further Leftward political partisanship and general moral suspicion of the laws, civic nationalism and patriotism. There will be ebbs and flows surrounding ‘-Ism’ righteousness and the latest political (C)ause. There will be tactical advances in politics and ‘culture’, followed by retreats into a kind of existential despair of the (S)elf, usually cured by the balm of collectivist and identity-driven movements, fortified by hatred of anything traditional and religious. Sometimes Democrat, sometimes activist, NPR readers will continue to be dully predictable, but now dully predictable, mostly from the Left.
The rapid curve of current technological change will continue apace.
I think it’s pretty obvious what’s happened in universities is happening on a delay throughout many American media institutions.
Just as the ‘Hitler-year-zero-fight-fascism-now’ Left has been co-opting language and many positions within existing institutions and hierarchies, the ‘New Right’ will no longer accept the civility, ‘work-within-the-system’ tactics of the old establishment. I see Donald Trump merely as a vote against that system and those rules, and a signpost on the way into the postmodern landscape.
I’m not counting on the way stations of liberal idealism to necessarily contain points further Left, either. My problem with many elements of the Left are well-established problems. There is justification and rationalization of violence in pursuit of the (C)ause. There is incomplete and utopian conceptualization of human nature, political and economic realities, along with a ‘change-first’ worldview. There is a well-documented focus on collectivist and class-identity politics which squash the individual, backing us into new forms of Statist authority and control.
There will be a liberal stiffening of spines, at times, of course. But, many on the Left harbor a particular hatred for liberal idealists.
Behold my mighty tweet, which mocks and mocks the weakness of many liberal hopes. Of course, this is all the more reason to dig deep in the Humanities! You’ve got to get at the weaknesses, the hatreds, and the foibles of your own heart to realize what is lovable, noble, and possible with your own life.
It’s tough to have much sympathy for those who dig shallow, make the personal political, and help our politics become a jumbled mess, riding the current university model into many an over-leveraged loan mill.
What if their duty was not merely to collect a salary and keep the cruise-members happy, but to try and look from the crow’s nest and keep the ship afloat?
I get it, the Beatles were an excellent band. Dance Hall boys from Liverpool made globally successful and good, with remarkable depth for the popular appeal. ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Yesterday,’ for me, strike deep and stay there (I prefer McCartney as songwriter).
But please stop being such losers!
I couldn’t even type ‘suckling’ correctly, or else it auto-corrected. Further proof that maybe I’m the loser.
‘Quit talking bad about women, homosexuals, and preferred social minorities, and you can say anything you want about people who haven’t been to college, manual workers, country people, peasants, religious people, unmodern people, old people, and so on.’
Here are some of the pressures to which NPR is subject:
1. Market pressures-It’s easy to go for the lowest common denominator in the marketplace (sex sells). Resisting such tactics requires sticking to principles. NPR does a pretty good job at this, though my problem is with the judgment and principles they’re using; subject to the capture of liberatory radicalism (free your ‘Self’ politically, morally and sexually, replacing beliefs with overwhelmingly Democrat political allegiance, New-Age/Political idealism and State-funded Sex Education). There’s a combination of stiff moralism and weird license at NPR.
2. Technological pressures-I have many bookish and well-read friends who are terrified of technology. They have some good reasons and some ridiculously bad ones for this. NPR is not exactly cutting-edge though they are pretty mainstream. Success requires manipulating the latest technology.
3. The Problems Of Ideological Capture-What you think tends to become who you become regarding habit and character. Where your thoughts go, so go your moral sentiments, beliefs and actions. Liberal idealists argue for some pretty scalable post-Enlightenment ideals (universal humanism, open markets, free speech).
Problems tend to start, however, regarding a deeper base of Selves living in relative isolation; flirting with nihilism, existentialism, anarchy, and Communism/Socialism. Liberal idealists can easily become caught between a tradition or law they personally uphold, while simultaneously supporting the activist who may have no regard whatsoever for any particulary existing tradition or law.
This quote has stuck with me over the last few months:
‘They are, in fact, idealists: and idealism is a cast of mind that Conrad questions even more than he questions radicalism. The logical end of radicalism, in his view, is terrorism; but idealism is the mental aberration that allows terrorism to be brought about. Conrad’s originality was to see that a new tyranny could be generated by people who thought that their rebellion against the old tyranny was rational. Thus his writings seem prescient about what was to happen in the Soviet Union. He didn’t predict the Nazi tyranny because he had underestimated the power of the irrational to organise itself into a state. But then, nobody predicted that except its perpetrators; and anyway, mere prediction was not his business. His business was the psychological analysis made possible by an acute historical awareness. Under Western Eyes is valuable not because it came true but because it rang true even at the time, only now we can better hear the deep, sad note.’
Personally, I am persuaded such pressures orginate in insufficiently deep maps of human nature, Nature, and how hard it can be to maintain legitimate authority.
(S)cience, Social (S)cience and Free Speech & Assembly: As we can see with true radicals and revolutionaries, the ideological capture within our institutions comes from a presumed moral authority; a moral authority drafting off of the truth and knowledge claims made by the Sciences, the Social Sciences, and ‘The Expert.’
Listening to the Beatles, watching episodes of Nature with David Attenborough, and supporting the latest moral cause may placate radicals for a while, but only for a while. Often such habits make liberals easier targets.
This is, I believe, how we’ve arrived at many conservatives, libertarians, some broader disaffected moderates and a Newer Left (the Weinsteins, much of the ‘Dark Web’) suddenly having to defend the truth and knowledge claims of the Sciences, the Social Sciences, free assembly and free speech.