Do Not Be Ashamed-Some Links On Mankind, Nature & God: Wendell Berry & Jeff Koons

Guilt and shame are the primary teaching tools of the old religion and the new, woke religion. If you don’t care, no one can make you care. This leaves many sociopaths with competitive advantage. For the rest of us, being an asshole to the ones you love and with whom you deal isn’t a laudable goal. As much as this is true, decent people have to strike a balance. Sometimes, when you think you have the truth, you must speak that truth, even to loved ones and even when it hurts.

You also need to hear the truth. This hurts, too. It’s really one of the only ways to make your life better and deal with the problems you have. Growth isn’t possible without it.

In the public square, I believe it’s necessary to fight against the true-belief of zealots and fools, while doing my best not to become either of these things myself. What truth I might have to tell, should be told. This [often] puts me on the side of religious liberty and tradition in the good old U.S. of A.

Sometimes it puts me on the side of (S)cience and (R)eason.

Such skepticism also recognizes the danger of bad ideas. A lot of people will find the framework of radical resentment to be sufficient in their lives.

Guilt and shame are also how ideologues make headway. This has consequences for all of us:

Below is a poem by Wendell Berry. Berry is chiefly agrarian, anti-technology and pro-environmental in his outlook. He’s also a traditionalist, who believes family and local associations come first.

For Berry, (M)an must return to family, traditional values and to the Earth. Technology corrupts and while business might scale, both create alienation and unrooted individuals.

Of course, a return to (Man) and (N)ature is not an uncommon view amongst poets, especially since the Romantic Poets in England. Around that time, (M)an, instead of God, became one of the highest things around. Serving the poor and dispossessed is the work of those who care about (H)umankind. Oh, how some people care.

One thing Berry seems to be saying: A route to truth lies in overcoming shame.

Do Not Be Ashamed

You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
and they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
“I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will rise
in his evening flight from the hilltop.

On that note, I am pretty pro-technology and science. While I have no particular quarrel with neuroscience on its own, pop-neuroscience is often a repository for the modern search for legitimate experiences and theories of the Self. In some quarters, this becomes the window-dressing to sell discredited ideologies.

Readers often come for the anti-woke sentiment, and stay for the personal charm and winning personality (kidding). I get complaints that I am too anti-woke. Or that I’m not anti-religious enough. Or that I’m too pro-religious.

A while ago, I wrote about Jeff Koons, and the removal of religious guilt and shame as a central idea in his work. I also frequently write about Marxism and neo-Marxism as relying on both liberation and revolutionary praxis for their survival. Such doctrines get nature and human nature horrifically wrong, but they get enough of both right, it seems.

Robert Hughes wasn’t a big fan of Koons, and looked at him with a skeptical, suspicious eye:

Celebrity, money, art and fame are mixed in a big bowl:

As posted, I think this except highlights the idea of liberating one’s Self from not only guilt and shame, but judgment. Artists and the avant-garde thrive in such space, but so do ideologues and the worst kinds of people, and a lot of what’s bad in people.

Many avant-garde have become avant-huitard.

Jeff Koons’ Made In Heaven blurred the line between art and porn, private experience and public show, innocence (so easily corrupted) and naive, narcissistic indulgence.

I suspect Made In Heaven explores previous themes of high and low that were already emerging in his kitsch work, fleshed out in pieces like Michael Jackson And Bubbles, Winter Bears and on this site: ‘St John The Baptist’.

Some quotes from Koons:

‘This type of dislocated imagery is what motivates people. They’re amused by it, but they have a lot of guilt and shame that they respond to it. I was trying to remove that guilt and shame.’

Another quote which highlights an idea of some import to the nation:

Coming from a suburban, middle-class background, as he did, he felt that there was something, if not dignified, at least, too easily discarded about this kind of imagery and this kind of sentiment.’

Roger Scruton says keep politics out of the arts, and political judgment apart from aesthetic judgment…this includes race studies/feminist departments/gay studies etc.: Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

Goya’s Fight With Cudgels and Goya’s Colossus. A very good Goya page here.

Joan Miro: WomanGoethe’s Color Theory: Artists And ThinkersSome Quotes From Kant And A Visual Exercise

A Reaction To Jeff Koons ‘St John The Baptist’

Denis Dutton suggests art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’ Two ways around postmodernism, nihilism?: One is Allan Bloom Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’…A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;..

The Flow Of Man & Nature In American Verse: Three Sunday Poems-Wendell Berry, T.S. Eliot & William Carlos Williams

The Porch over the River

In the dusk of the river, the wind
gone, the trees grow still–
the beautiful poise of lightness,
the heavy world pushing toward it.

Beyond, on the face of the water,
lies the reflection of another tree,
inverted, pulsing with the short strokes
of waves the wind has stopped driving.

In a time when men no longer
can imagine the lives of their sons
this is still the world–
the world of my time, the grind

of engines marking the country
like an audible map, the high dark
marked by the flight of men,
lights stranger than stars.

The phoebes cross and re-cross
the openings, alert
for what may still be earned
from the light. The whippoorwills

begin, and the frogs. And the dark
falls, again, as it must.
The look of the world withdraws
into the vein of memory.

The mirrored tree, darkening, stirs
with the water’s inward life. What has
made it so? –a quietness in it
no question can be asked in.

Wendell Berry

THE DRY SALVAGES
(No. 3 of ‘Four Quartets’)

I

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable.
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.
His rhythm was present in the nursery bedroom,
In the rank ailanthus of the April dooryard,
In the smell of grapes on the autumn table,
And the evening circle in the winter gaslight.

T.S. Eliot

Paterson
(Book 1)

“Paterson lies in the valley under the Passaic Falls
its spent waters forming the outline of his back. He
lies on his right side, head near the thunder
of the waters filling his dreams! Eternally asleep,
his dreams walk about the city where he persists
incognito. Butterflies settle on his stone ear.
Immortal he neither moves nor rouses and is seldom
seen, though he breathes and the subtleties of his machinations
drawing their substance from the noise of the pouring river
animate a thousand automations. Who because they
neither know their sources nor the sills of their
disappointments walk outside their bodies aimlessly
for the most part,
locked and forgot in their desires-unroused.

William Carlos Williams

You Don’t Get To Speak For All The People, Nor Treat Main Street As Your Apocalyptic Battleground

People have been warning against this stuff for awhile.

The levers used to drive change within the West come with many destructive and destabilizing consequences. I’m generally sympathetic to the lenses Douglas Murray uses to view current events:

Many mainstream publications and outlets now help to promote an ideological vision which justifies violence, upheaval, and radical change. You’re either part of the problem, or part of the solution. You’re either for today’s righteous moral crusaders or against today’s righteous moral crusaders.

Violence is justified against you, by individuals swarming in a mob, because you’re preventing (M)an from moving towards his (H)istorical ends, the (P)eople rising up against the (O)pressor and (F)ascism, creating the utopia (no place) to come.

The authorities won’t necessarily protect life and property, so Main Street could become lawless:

Many universities and foundations, governmental and corporarate bureaucracies, now harbor similar ideas within them. Policies, programs, novels and articles are spun out of knowledge claims which generally don’t hold up, drowning out the pursuit of truth.

Many tech platforms are following similar logic (Youtube is mainstreaming and monetizing).

A ‘Unity‘-making American Left cohort has splintered away, in order to defend freedom of speech, a more working-man Left, and the pursuit of truth through the mathematical sciences. I don’t share in these political views, but I’m guessing a decent middle could be built here.

Ted Cruz is a Constitutional Conservative (U.S. Senator) and Eric Weinstein is what I’m calling a New, New Left independent thinker (pro speech, pro-mathematical sciences, pro-change, anti-identity).

A classically liberal cohort, to which I’m more sympathetic, is also pushing against the collectivist, identitarian politickers, and will remain prime targets for radicals. Liberals often didn’t stand up to the ’68 radicals in American universities, and often don’t now, but there’s always hope.

I’m guessing Great Britain, with it’s more entrenched class structure and particular history, is further Left than the U.S. on many of these issues, but as to how to push back against the ideological capture within institutions, this isn’t a bad example:

And if you have any small ‘c’ conservative political views…bless your heart:

This Wendell Berry quote, from on “tolerance and multiculturalism,” from his essay “The Joy of Sales Resistance”, has stayed with me:

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.’

And…:

Here our account of the disposition to be conservative and its current fortunes might be expected to end, with the man in whom this disposition is strong, last seen swimming against the tide, disregarded not because what he has to say is necessarily false but because it has become irrelevant; outmanoeuvred, not on account of any intrinsic demerit but merely by the flow of circumstance; a faded, timid, nostalgic character, provoking pity as an outcast and contempt as a reactionary.  Nevertheless, I think there is something more to be said. Even in these circumstances, when a conservative disposition in respect of things in general is unmistakably at a discount, there are occasions when this disposition remains not only appropriate, but supremely so; and there are connections in which we are unavoidably disposed in a conservative direction.’

Oakeshott, Michael.  Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print.

“Those who speak most of progress measure it by quantity and not by quality.”

George Santayana

‘The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.’

George Santayana

Four Thursday Quotations

This Wendell Berry quote, from on “tolerance and multiculturalism,” from his essay “The Joy of Sales Resistance”, has stayed with me:

‘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.’

And…:

‘Here our account of the disposition to be conservative and its current fortunes might be expected to end, with the man in whom this disposition is strong, last seen swimming against the tide, disregarded not because what he has to say is necessarily false but because it has become irrelevant; outmanoeuvred, not on account of any intrinsic demerit but merely by the flow of circumstance; a faded, timid, nostalgic character, provoking pity as an outcast and contempt as a reactionary.  Nevertheless, I think there is something more to be said. Even in these circumstances, when a conservative disposition in respect of things in general is unmistakably at a discount, there are occasions when this disposition remains not only appropriate, but supremely so; and there are connections in which we are unavoidably disposed in a conservative direction.’

Oakeshott, Michael.  Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print.

“Those who speak most of progress measure it by quantity and not by quality.”

George Santayana

‘The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.’

George Santayana

Journey To The Center Of The Navel

This Wendell Berry quote, from on “tolerance and multiculturalism,” from his essay “The Joy of Sales Resistance”, has stayed with me:

‘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.’

Please do keep in mind Wendell Berry is NOT going to buy a computer.

My discount predictions (buy 2 get 1 FREE): Radical campus politics will continue to settle into newsroom malaise and an increasingly fevered search for meaning, identity and the Self in the culture-at-large.  Folks already committed to particular doctrines will continue seeking solidarity with other Selves through identity collectivism and group-belonging while making [elements of] politics, the humanities and the social sciences something like an exclusionary religion (the pathway to a better world).

Down below the radicals and up-top some high minded idealists, free-thinkers and all manner of others in-between, a bit like folks in a church, which is why there might be so much hatred and potential overlap with religious belief (to say nothing of the relentless focus on authoritarian/totalitarian impulses).

I’m pretty sure publicly taking the mildest ‘bourgeois’ stance on marriage, kids, work etc. will continue to make one an enemy, political and otherwise, to those gathered around such nodes.

The Boston Evening Transcript

The readers of the Boston Evening Transcript
Sway in the wind like a field of ripe corn.


When evening quickens faintly in the street,
Wakening the appetites of life in some
And to others bringing the Boston Evening Transcript,
I mount the steps and ring the bell, turning
Wearily, as one would turn to nod good-bye to Rochefoucauld,
If the street were time and he at the end of the street,
And I say, “Cousin Harriet, here is the Boston Evening Transcript.”

T.S. Eliot

The best kinds of clubs tend to be those whose members aren’t even sure they’re in a club.

The most interesting kinds of people can be free-thinkers, maintaining their humility, kindling a flame of quiet moral courage when called-upon.

Some of these people are quite traditional, others, not so much.

Theodore Dalrymple on Banksy:

‘The enormous interest his work arouses, disproportionate to its artistic merit, shows not that there is fashion in art, but that an adolescent sensibility is firmly entrenched in our culture. The New York Times reports that a lawyer, Ilyssa Fuchs, rushed from her desk the moment she heard about Banksy’s latest work and ran more than half a mile to see it. Would she have done so if a delicate fresco by Peiro della Francesca had been discovered in Grand Central Terminal? In the modern world, art and celebrity are one. And we are all Peter Pan now: We don’t want to grow up.’

Well, I certainly hadn’t noticed an adolescent sensibility at the NY Times. Certainly not.

An image of one of those Peiro della Francesca frescoes here.

Perhaps it’s worthwhile to view Banksy as a kind of poor man’s Damien Hirst: A ‘working-class’ British guy with some native talent but not too much in the way of formal training nor arguably lasting artistic achievement (perhaps in the ‘graffiti’ world). Instead of working as a gallery, mixed-media modern installation artist like Hirst, he’s followed the street-graffiti path leaving ‘transgressive’ messages on politics and ethics scrawled across the cityscape in anonymity. For all his irony, and the fact that he’s likely in on the joke, Banksy still finds himself subject to the larger forces at work where art, money, & fame are meeting.

As a girl in Seattle here mentioned to me at a party: ‘His work is a meta-commentary on art, commerce, greed, creativity and all that. His becoming a commodity is the ultimate irony.’

Deep, man, deep.

Yet, as to Dalrymple’s point, I could imagine an adult sneaking off to check out a Michaelangelo fresco with childlike anticipation, and maybe even a little childish or adolescent delight at being the first to arrive. Of course, I think that fresco tends to engender a much deeper and complex response than that of Banksy’s work and ‘social commentary’, but the desire for beauty, hope, and brief bursts of transcendence aren’t going anywhere. This reminds me of Richard Wilbur’s poem: ‘First Snow In Alsace.‘ which evokes the grim realities of war and suffering covered up by a beautiful snowfall.

Here are the last stanzas and line:

…You think: beyond the town a mile
Or two, this snowfall fills the eyes
Of soldiers dead a little while.

Persons and persons in disguise,
Walking the new air white and fine,
Trade glances quick with shared surprise.

At children’s windows, heaped, benign,
As always, winter shines the most,
And frost makes marvelous designs.

The night guard coming from his post,
Ten first-snows back in thought, walks slow
And warms him with a boyish boast:

He was the first to see the snow.

The worst war can bring is juxtaposed against our simple childlike wonder (and possibly childish) delight at that which is beautiful and mysterious in nature. Of course, such desires can help cause the destruction of war, too, but…hey. People love to be the first and the coolest. As Dalrymple argues above, these childish impulses are the ones that should not be so easily encouraged nor celebrated, especially by Banksy nor his reviewers at the NY Times. I pretty much agree.

On that note, Dear Reader, I’d like to leave you these words from Slate’s review of that hot new motion picture-film, Joker:

‘The opening scene, in which Arthur, who’s peacefully but unhappily twirling a sign for a discount store, is taunted and then beaten by a gang of Latino-coded thugs, draws directly on the narrative of white persecution so effectively weaponized by Donald Trump.’

Glorious!

Via Rod Dreher: ‘Rednecks And The Two Randys’-Selfhood Tribalism And The Same Old Human Nature?

Via Rod Dreher, ‘Rednecks And The Two Randys’

‘That’s how I felt listening to Terry Gross and the other NPR show after listening to Jackie talk briefly about the Squad. Our media elites will fall all over themselves to defend and celebrate people like Ilhan Omar and Randy Rainbow, but guys like the middle-aged man who came down from my attic today dripping sweat, and who can’t bear people like Ilhan Omar — in the eyes of our liberal elites, they’re what’s wrong with this country.’

I’d rather not have to choose between ‘Jackie’ and ‘Randy Rainbow, ‘ personally.

Unfortunately, however, choices can be very real when it comes to people, coalitions and politics.  Often these choices boil down to the lesser of evils, or certainly, compromises and more compromises.  When a lot of change overwhelms our instititutions, at a time when those institutions are arguably seriously over-built and over-leveraged, well, arguably, here we are.

Where did I put that hobby horse? Beneath the appeal to experts (some ‘studies’ professors, some social scientists, and some scientists) is a constant showcasing of activist concerns at NPR (the assumption of moral rightness and truthfulness of activist causes, mostly, the vague moral suspicion of religious belief, conservation of established traditions, corporations etc).

I find myself disagreeing often, despite the high production value.

As I choose to see the world, when it comes to politics, much activist logic is, well, radical and revolutionary, the truths activists have to tell coming with destabilizing dangers and deadly serious risks (they can be important truths).  Not only change but maybe even violent change.  Certainly liberatory.

If I go looking for ignorance, in-group/out-group dynamics, a desire to believe, I can look no further than myself, frankly.  Such urges never really go away, though they can be channeled better; mediated and expressed through love, family, friendships, work and some attention and care with one’s own mind through deeper reasoning and ‘big ideas.’

Looking for and working hard to get at the truth really matters.

What I’m pretty sure of:  Such impulses certainly can’t be directed towards what I see as modern Selfhood tribalism (from tattoos to Romantic Primitivism to political idealism and identity coalition-building) without consequences for everyone.

What is true of religious organizations, traditions and corporations, of course, is also true of political orgs and missionary secular humanists.

Also from the American Conservative, ‘Wendell Berry Goes To Indiana:’

Wendell Berry, on “tolerance and multiculturalism,” from his essay “The Joy of Sales Resistance”:

‘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.’

Addition:  The search for religious purity through a relationship with God, purity of the spoken word, and purity of of the perfectibility of Man and the Human could have some serious overlap, here, folks.

Sunday Poem-Wendall Berry

A Purification

At start of spring I open a trench
in the ground. I put into it
the winter’s accumulation of paper,
pages I do not want to read
again, useless words, fragments,
errors. And I put into it
the contents of the outhouse:
light of the sun, growth of the ground,
finished with one of their journeys.
To the sky, to the wind, then,
and to the faithful trees, I confess
my sins: that I have not been happy
enough, considering my good luck;
have listened to too much noise;
have been inattentive to wonders;
have lusted after praise.
And then upon the gathered refuse
of mind and body, I close the trench,
folding shut again the dark,
the deathless earth. Beneath that seal
the old escapes into the new.

Wendell Berry