The subject of elites most opportunely appeared in your last post.
I had intended to begin my response by scoping in on or at least winging a few shots at a book by an elite guy about an elite subject. And the subject is elitist. It’s elitism! But I had no intention of speaking of, to, or even about elitism directly. That might have seemed presumptuous, or even uppity.
But now I’ll rise to the occasion and bullseye the business.
The elite fellow I’m referring to is Claude Levi-Strauss. Given Strauss’s fame and reputation, I’m sure he was heavily acclaimed by his nation in ways France does such things — and America doesn’t.
The temporally great get state-appointed in France — and even nation-anointed — to one or more Official Academies. That means something class-socially in France, including special costumes for important dinner events. In America, such academies exist, but they don’t socially mean much except as an additional dribble to the flood of any successful vita.
Furthermore, in France, such a person can win a Legion d’Honneur or some such breast giblet ragouted with ribbon and gilt. Again, that means something in France. In America, you can earn a Medal of Freedom. That means a free dinner at the White House for those willing to travel the distance for free hot food. Some award recipients have declined the travail for such consequential nourishment, and they dined at home instead.
As before — as alluded to in an earlier post — I’ve been reading a Levi-Strauss work. It’s a little book: Look, Listen, Read. The volume is a hodge-podge of thoughts on fond assorted subjects — especially the arts — which personally exercised and entertained Strauss during a long scientific and scholarly career. The collection could be called Reflections and Affections. It’s a title I should use on my own accumulation of maxims and remarks which I’ve recently written to 500 manuscript pages.
What caught my attention yesterday in Strauss’s book was an analysis of music in which he distinguished between the high-brow and the popular.
The analysis need hardly distract us.
What set off the conceptual intruder sensors in my mind was the characterization “highbrow.” You see, my mind isn’t only a gated community. It’s a secured palace. Or, even more likely, it’s a fortified church like the great bishopric edifice at Albi, the old home grounds of Toulouse-Lautrec.
I love classical music. It’s the only kind of music I ever listen to. You might even call me faithful to the classics. But that’s only a verbal appearance. I’m faithful not from some high moral integrity and a golden oath, but from obsession and its satisfactions. Philosophically I’m like that, too, with the universe and myself.
I don’t listen to classical music because it’s highbrow, or because it’s elite, or because of any other such designation, haughty or haute. I listen to it because I prefer it. And I prefer it because for every minute of listening I get more response to my affections than from any other form of music.
I was gratified, then, when I read Strauss’s observation concerning how little actually happens in non-classical music. In other words, Strauss says, it mainly consists of the recurrent patterns of the repetitions of simple elements.
I suspect he’s right.
I’ve had an experience several times lately in which I’ve heard a song or two from my teenage or college years. I was exposed to this music because of friends and family and fellow students, and by just being contemporary with the times. Nor is this some after-the-fact affectation of taste displayed. When I was thirteen and my brother loved Morrison. I rocked with Chopin. And then came Brahms.
And notice that Jim Morrison wrote ballads if not ballades. I once referred my thesis advisor to one of them. He’d mistaken a portrait of Morrison — with his arms extended and his chest bare — that was posted over the front chalkboard. My advisor thought he was the crucified Christ. Morrison probably did too — when he wasn’t posing as Alexander the Great. This Doors ballad is an emotional synopsis of spiritual decline and recovery following the collapse of the Roman Empire. It’s the piece that begins with solo harpsichord and vocal lamentation. My advisor never listened to it, even after I lent him a copy. He was more concerned with demonstrating to his Eat Coast colleagues that he was current on the middle Schoenberg. Here might be a musical case of Levi-Strauss — or worse.
Upon re-hearing these old pieces — these famous not-so-long-ago contemporary songs — I marveled not so much at their familiarity, but at what Strauss had observed: how little music is actually in most of them. Indeed, most successful songs consist of a good eight-bar melody regularly repeated as the refrain. Around this interlude of music, a padding of filler, filler both musical and verbal, of figures and clichés, is constructed to space out and delay the recurrent return to the anticipated expectations of the lyrical refrain. In short, most good songs are eight-bars of actual music. And the indifferent songs aren’t even that.
That the main and even exclusive form of music of many and even most Americans consists of three-minute units the better part of which is figured filler is certainly a subject for social consideration and emotional contemplation.
Of course, exceptions to this general characterization of contemporary songs exist. For example, the Beatles were great creators of short vocal pieces through their melodic inventiveness, diverse orchestrations, and cheerful wit. Similar observations could be made concerning certain kinds of jazz, although by way of different musical metrics.
Nonetheless, when I compare even these better songs with the coda of the first movement of Brahms’ Double Concerto — just the coda — its abundant variety, generous wealth, prodigious rhythm, grand passion, and world interiority cannot be compared.
I then returned to Strauss’s phrase “highbrow.” And I began to wonder if any lover of music — a lover: one who is impassioned, entranced, and rhapsodic — would ever characterize the affections of themselves in that way. I wouldn’t. But I can think of two types of people who would. One, people who listen to such music out of obligation would — and that includes the obligation of scholarship. And two, people who listen to such music as a part of their social station also would. This latter perhaps my thesis advisor engaged in. Meanwhile, the first type would perhaps seem applicable to Strauss. Even now I say “perhaps” because I’ve no reason to think Strauss disliked classical music given the topics of his book. But if he really loved such music, why would he describe his affections for the musical arts — the eros of lyrical hearing — with a disparaging appellation?
On the other hand, Strauss’s book includes an extended rhapsody on a three-note modulation in Rameau’s opera Castor and Pollux the performance of which, in 1991 in Aix-en-Provence, produced such rave reviews from classical aficionados as “boring.” Furthermore, almost everyone who’s mentioned in Strauss’s book is French — with the exception of some extinct basket weavers. Here we have intimations of a French obbligato: of great obligations for la grande France et le grand! Meanwhile, my intellectual obligations aren’t to America, but to excellence wherever I find it. Intellectual excellence: that means effort, integrity, intelligence, emotion, and effect. And then there’s emotional and spiritual excellence, too. They’re all too rare to restrict the world search for humanity to just some one part of the universe.
And then further, from my reading of Strauss, I had another thought — about so-called popular music. Notice the equally conceptual defectiveness of that antipodal word: “popular” music. Beethoven is popular, isn’t he? And they play Orff at football games these days. Who says that what’s great must be tedious, and what’s easy must be trash? The turgid and the barren, the glib and the ungracious.
The ephemeral fame of so much contemporary art of all kinds — most things are ephemeral — isn’t due to the fickleness of the audience. Rather, history changes. What the art users had listened to a few decades earlier were the times and their temporal emotions.
And then the times changed.
And those temporal emotions became temporary in lieu of the new.
Many people have this same experience with their autobiographical selves when they come upon old records and peruse their past affections and their affectations.
In contrast, what is classical isn’t a temporary emotion, a current fad of feeling floating on the waves of an ephemeral now. What is classical are the emotions that pertain to all humans everywhere. These emotions aren’t glints on the waves of the present, they are the sea of human feeling.
Meanwhile, the styles or the formalities of these works are not universal. Think of the invariant representation of the sideway eyes in Egyptian paintings. There are always such stylizations. The human universal unavoidably appears through contemporary fashions.
But even that isn’t a correct taxonomy of the human condition.
That which is contemporary completes the universal with its cultural conventions.
Some people might now be shocked. “O Plato! O geometry! O veritable veritas verily! Doth eternity admix its higher self with the sloth of time and the sludge of space? Egads!”
Depending on your concepts, yes. For example, according to Plato’s Symposium, the universe is the slutting of eternity.
But consider how refreshing it is if the universal isn’t always the same. Indeed, it’ll never be the same — like every next kiss of an interminably original love. And even geometry now has options. Tired of the same old Platonic triangles that are always the One, the True, and the Absolute Triangle? Try a Riemannian triangle instead today. Einstein did!
The essence of the triangle is of immediate interest here. I can’t imagine Plato admitting to the existence of elliptical triangles — triangles containing more than 180o. And even that figure is variable. Desperate insistency pervades Plato’s programs, and subordinates his intellectual integrity to his political proclivities. In this way, Plato reminds me of Freud and Lenin. By way of contrast, I can easily imagine Aristotle acknowledging such triangles after careful argumentation, due analysis, and ardent inference all in accordance with a world hermeneutic, the conclusion then saluted however unexpected but wonderful. Given his Platonic affiliations, Aristotle may not have liked alternative triangles. But Aristotle’s dedication to the integrity of reality — which in any regime is a difficult honesty requiring incessant forthrightness ever sustainable only by inexhaustible love: Aristotle fled for his life from the democrats of Athens — was greater than any ideological allegiance he owed to any package system of spiritual concepts. But even that integrity flourished only when Aristotle recognized his acquired allegiance to the Platonic ideology deep in his soul which he then overcame with power and sorrow.
The matter your latest post raises is that of taxonomy.
In particular, we’re talking about a taxonomy of America specified into classes. Since we’re both agreed that classes of some kind exist in America, there’s no need to discuss or dispute the concept of classes either descriptively or prescriptively. In contrast, anarchists would dispute the issue. And nomenklatura communists also would when chanting their catechism.
Insofar as I assume you’ve read my book, Reality 101, I presume you’re familiar with my argument and also perhaps its aptness. For our fellow shooters here ready on the firing line of Reality Range, the situation is briefly this. The universe, whatever it is and why ever it is, isn’t made of or in accordance with language. It’s a stuff somehow somewhere sometime full stop. Meanwhile, humans’ knowledge of the universe predominantly occurs with, in, and through language. Humans’ several languages aren’t only the ordinary languages of the nations — English, German, Japanese — but also various mathematics and logics.
Meanwhile, the universe doesn’t speak. It doesn’t listen. It doesn’t write. And it doesn’t read.
In short, the universe doesn’t think.
The incommensurable gap between universe and language accordingly can never be bridged or closed. Language isn’t a transparent portal of knowledge to a God- or geometry-made universe. Language is a set of tools with which to operate and repair the universe. And they can also help to make the universe more.
For example, is Pluto a planet? According to my view, there’s no answer to that question anywhere in the universe. The universe wasn’t constructed out of or according to words such that the answer will always be Yes or No. Furthermore, the universe doesn’t answer questions. All such taxonomical categories and their questions are produced by humans. Such categories fit or don’t fit according to humans’ metrics of fitness, which themselves are measures humans make according to their standards, which they themselves set and measure.
Personally, I think Pluto is cold and lonely. Pluto is the runt of the solar system. Denying Pluto the solace of being included in the family of the big and warm planets is a mean-hearted thing for the international association of astronomic taxonomists to do. As do some taxonomically active astronomers, I look forward to the correction of this shameful and unfortunate scientific lapse of sympathy and judgement, and hail in advance the return of Pluto to planethood!
Consider, now, the matter of classes.
If it’s impossible to reach a final, obvious, and effortlessly transparent accord on what constitutes a planet, imagine how much greater the impossibility of reaching an accord on what constitutes a class is! Furthermore, the matter of planets is a distant thing good for kiddie books and cosmology papers. In contrast, the matter of classes reaches deep into people’s lives, effecting their tribal sensibilities and their private wallets. Even moreso, the planets have been stable these many centuries and millennia, even for billenia. The stuff of classes continually shifts, dramatically and even quickly.
For example, consider a point I alluded to in my previous post. As recently as few decades ago, it was uniformly understood — as in a koine of concepts — that there’s a working class. The working class consists of the factory workers of a country — or the world. Both capitalists and communists understood this, and they built significant launch systems to prove the truth of their interpreted version of the fact. Kim is apparently still trying to do this somewhat belatedly. But then as a third generation communist king, clearly the clan is retarded.
Meanwhile, it’s clear that that classification “working class” is no longer as current as it once was. I attribute this change to the massive disappearance of factory jobs in the United States. I also attribute it to the general cessation of communist clap-trap mouthed so often in New York and other foreign access ports to America’s bullhorns.
At the same time, there were now factual reasons to include the highly compensated factory workers of America in the middle class, especially after WWII. Factory workers owned houses. They owned cars. They had pensions. They went on vacations. They could retire after 40 or even 30 years of work to live comfortable lives of leisure forever after or until smoking felled them. I wonder how many of our readers today are planning on retiring at the age of 48 or even 58 with a fixed pension and full health insurance!
As a result of such historic and even histrionic forces, the concept of the working class has been significantly reduced in cognitive and emotive force. Now, when Republicans and even Democrats talk about the working middle class and its reputed need for tax code changes and health care reorganization, both intellectual and mechanical job holders are collectively referred to.
Given this read of contemporary economic taxonomy, you’re right in wanting to divide America first into a middle class which includes anyone who is self-significantly working with viable compensation.
Then the exclusion from the middle class at the lower end is a class that isn’t working, or which is merely menially working. It’s a class that’s working — when it works — at sub-subsistent wages. It’s a class whose unskilled labor is subsidized with tax relief and welfare transfers.
In counter-balance, you then taxonomize the remainder of America into a rich class.
As a result, you have three classes: upper, middle and lower. With more conceptual aggression or precision, I’d call your classes the rich class, the middling class, and the poor class. And, indeed, you indicate that the middle class occupies something of a social station of economic impairment. I might note, though, that my professional neighbors are all middle class — or bourgeois as the New York ideologists were once so fond of saying with resentment and spite. And yet my neighbors don’t seem impaired. Nor do the MDs, the PhDs, and the JDs in my extended family.
In a sidebar, let me recapitulate a recent exchange I had with my Fulbright language student from Germany. She’s planning on a career teaching biology and English in Germany.
The subject of affluent civility arose in class, in reference to Aristotle’s theory of ethics. In that theory, the happiness of the moderation of the mean is sustained by an appropriate lifestyle. In classical Athens, that required an amount of leisure available only to those rich enough to have servants or slaves. In other words, the aristocracy.
Whereupon Lisa replied uttered a lamentation not ungraced with irony, “I chose the wrong career!”
Meine liebe Lisa!
Whereupon I discoursed on stoves.
A few students had had the experience of cooking full-course dinners over wood fires. These are your campers and Scouts and such. I myself am an Eagle Scout. But now, in contrast, I said, I go to my kitchen, turn a dial, and Whoosh! The gas flame comes up instantly. It’s burns evenly. And, with the twist of a dial, I can instantly regulate the degree of heat along a continuum of infinite culinary nuance. Who needs a kitchen slave to be food affluent when you have such technology! And, I added, you gain the great advantage of not having people — slaves and servants — continually in your presence observing your innermost domestic life — even if they pretend not to notice.
Thereupon I polled the class as to how many like their present style of exclusive privacy. The vote was unanimous. In other words, the kitchen machines that have replaced kitchen servants haven’t only liberated the rich from such domestic intruders. They’ve made the benefits of wealth available to the middle class and, indeed, everyone else, even down to the dwellers of the meanest rental units in America. Personal wealth is no longer required to enjoy the domestic leisure once available only to the wealthy few. Machinery has made the many wealthy by every measure of every previous civilization.
I should note that when your personal all-house computer with its kitchen camera app starts watching you in a few years, it’ll be time to get out the duct tape. And remember to put some chewing gum over the microphone! The friends of my book angel at Otto’s — Alyssa — already do this with their intelligence technology.
In my last post as well as in my Republic, I explain the elimination in America of what had been an upper class in the past: royalty, aristocracy, church.
Whether it was then replaced by the middle class is an interesting question.
On the one hand, insofar as the middle class is now the highest class, you could call the middle class the upper or even uppermost class. Why be humble when you’re at the top? Your own personal ambitions are Harvard high, right? Well, mine are superlative!
On the other hand, I suggest both here as well as in my book that the middle class isn’t the highest class as in a haute or haughty class. The middle class evacuated the highest class, and then it left that top slot empty. Such a superior class position is incompatible with republican civilization and democratic civility. As an illustration, consider what happened when the middle class caused the aristocracy to evacuate its castles, thence to fall into ruins for quarrying and romance. They weren’t replaced by another set of armed seats of high domestic power. And, of course, there’s that affectation, the Biltmore in Asheville, and the weird bad Spanish Hearst museum of purchased European spoils. The Heart reminds me Romans collecting Greece.
Meanwhile, my heart is an aristocracy of accomplishment. And my mind is a consciousness of astonishment. But I provide for this in my Republic. (See Ch. 15.) Plato does, too. But he’s more discreet, even reticent and possibly esoteric. I am not. America is an open republic, not a concentration camp for the advancement of excellence.
Now I want to observe your taxonomy from another point of view.
According to your metric of social citizenship, the distinction between the classes is one of wealth and income. Wealth and income aren’t the same, of course. But for our purposes here we’ll equate stocks and flows, and consider them to be a single measure of money power.
Marx would completely agree.
According to Marx, the difference between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is that bourgeoisie have nearly all the money, which affords them comfortable and even flamboyant lives, and the poor have the rest, which allows them short lives of drab misery.
Marx’s solution to this problem is famously two-fold and infamously misunderstood. And the almost universal ignorance — an ignorance shared by of communists and capitalists alike — is as remarkable as the commonplace thought that communism is a specter. This thought is alluded to in almost every Bond movie I’ve ever seen and every scholarly book that alludes to the subject of communism.
First, according to Marx, all previous history has been the history of class struggle. This is solely due to the state of nature. Nature is no one’s fault, not even its own. Nature is without intentionality. And nature has no ethics. Therefore nature is faultless whatever its flaws. And that even assumes the possibility of the attributive condemnation.
Whatever nature’s intrinsic resource abundance in terms of food and shelter — assuming that phrase is even meaningful — nature always reproduces to the point of starvation and beyond. Therefore, there’s never been enough of the stuff of human survival, let alone the leisure love of life.
Meanwhile, a minority of humans — the few — found ways to make others — the many — work harder than their own needs required. And then the few collected the small surpluses from the many, and concentrated them for themselves, thereby to enjoy it greatly. These ways of the greatness of the few included military force, legal enforcement, social persuasion, and religious interrogation.
That is called class oppression.
According to Marx, this is bad.
But Marx, who was no sentimentalist, was fully aware that the few — the few who collected the surplus — didn’t use it exclusively for their engrossment: literally for their obesity. Part of that surplus went into creating civilization. Cities. Writing. Philosophy. Science. Significant self-consciousness.
Surmise for a moment the most important point of that great creation, writing. It’s not for tax collection records and pharaoh’s granary stocks that writing is so paramount. Rather, writing creates a memory that extends for centuries and millennia, a memory reliably invariant and insusceptible to the vagaries of human recollection. Before writing, the past was a tribal artefact — itself a great creation. With writing, the past becomes eternally available now. And humans possess it.
With writing, humanity acquires an invariant metric of itself in concepts.
Meanwhile, in Marx’s universal history, amidst the endless conjoined class oppressions and servile submissions — remember: it takes two to do it dialectically — one superior oppressor class found the solution to the problem of scarcity: the niggardliness of nature. (See the Introduction McWhorter’s Losing the Race for an adventure in etymology.)
That class is the capitalists.
The capitalist solution to nature’s scarcity was to find the energy hidden within humans which the capitalists then released, first from within themselves, and then from within all others by their capitalist drive and their capitalist organization. When this transformation of human relations was combined with the technological revolution of coal-fired steam power, the face of the earth was transformed. And humanity was phase-changed from a strange creature of astronomical chance to a player of nature.
Capitalists solved — and they continue to solve — the problem of scarcity, thereby liberating humans from the unintended oppressions of nature: food, clothing, and shelter.
According to Marx, this is good.
In fact, in scarce one hundred years, capitalism released more energy than all previous civilizations combined. That’s what The Communist Manifesto says. And Marx and Engels are reliable on rationally reputable facts. Indeed, they’re always cogently analytical and superbly informed. That is, as long as they don’t get religious and start flying around on the holy dope hope of the communist end time. Then they sound like small-soul enthusiasts bombastically big with chapel happiness. “The world will end next January 17 at 3 pm! Stay tuned for doom! Or join today for your personal redemption exemption!” And then there’s Jonestown, which isn’t amusing. Communism did a global body-count Jonestown on all the people killed for communism’s end time.
Meanwhile, other oppressions of nature — emotional and perceptual — which can’t be addressed by capitalism are for the liberators of other energies.
I mean philosophers, and the best artists in all forms and materials.
Given this analytical recollection, I discern two problems with your American class taxonomy that are of considerable concern to me.
The first problem is your monetization of the American classes. Of course, this is precisely what Marx does. According to Marx, the foundation or essence of human reality is economics. All other things human — all cultural and social relations and engagements — form a construct that sustains the current economic forces and relations. But given that your first presidential choice was Sanders, your money metaphysics, upon reflection, isn’t surprising.
Of course, Marx’s humanitarian views are well known. Humans are their economics. If present human social relations are defective, that’s because their economic relations are defective. Fortunately, the capitalists solved the natural problem of scarcity. But the social problem with the capitalists — and the only fundamental problem with their humanity-liberating accomplishments — is that they hold their victory over nature as a piece of property, a possession they monopolistically keep in class antagonism above the rest of humanity.
Fortunately, the solution to this problem is just one step away. After one last rather brief revolution — the communist revolution — all human accomplishments will be liberated from personal ownership, and made available to everyone freely and equally. Thereby all economic antagonisms will end, and all social antagonisms will cease. And humanity will live happily ever after in humanity happiness. The end. Amen.
Of course, in practice, it didn’t work out quite that nicely. The 20th century ran a set of communist experiments on humanity in a laboratory that covered much of the earth, and which resulted in the termination of at least 100,000,000 experimental subjects. Call them dialectical lab rats. Since that time, international standards for social experimentation on humans have been established if not always enforced. Contact your local SPCH chapter for details.
In the recent past, honest if hope-doped communists would say, “Well, yes, Stalin was a bad tomato. But Lenin was a nice guy! He would have led humanity to the garden of consumption!”
First, historians no longer tolerate the opiation of the intellectuals in the face of facts.
And, second, communism didn’t fail in the 20th century because its leaders — Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Ceauşescu — were despicable monsters. Communism failed because its fairy land psychology is impossible even in Psych 101. And communism is derisory in any philosophical observation of the human nature. Indeed, the Federalists made such observations. Humans love power. They form groups. They lord themselves over others for substantive and trivial purposes. And they exult in their exaltations. As psychologists now say — at least in private if not to the media — genetics matter. Humans are hard-wired for factions and conquest. And they love dominion.
Welcome to Nietzsche 101.
Nietzsche knew all this a hundred years before the lab guys started experiments on the matter. And unlike Machiavelli’s observations of political behavior, Nietzsche observed human nature with depth psychology.
In other words, my problem with the economization of class taxonomy is this. Its reductive and schematic simplicity conveniently disregards the complex social and emotional efforts of the imponderable inputs of talent and genius that produce the accomplishments of culture: the arts and the sciences, the philosophies and the religions, the loves and the leisures.
Such a reductive world view invariably suggests the following: If only humans accumulate enough money, they’ll be happy because they’ll be able to buy happiness, and that’s because happiness is a matter of economic satisfaction. Everything else is just the appearance of money.
Children in America learn this from the earliest age. “How much is it worth?” my son still asks me, immediately adding, “How much could you sell it for?” Notice the conjunction of value and cash, and of meaning and money. Significance is just a synonym for income.
At the heart of how most Americans evaluate the universe is Marx. After all, America has been the most gung ho money-making nation in all history. And Marx loved capitalism. The only objection Marx could philosophically tender to America’s crass materialism is that the crassness isn’t available to everyone. Of course, Marx was a man of learned scholarship and classical taste. He wouldn’t admit to such a view personally. But that’s what his philosophy would provide the world with: the crassness of mere capitalism for everyone.
That’s my first of structural concern.
My second concern is rather more local.
I worry about what’s going on behind the walls of those gated communities in those overly large vanity-acquisition houses euphemistically called “homes” by the real estate trade. Remember, bake cookies in your home before a showing. Directions are on the package.
I infer from your post that wonderful things are occurring there, elite things inaccessible to taxonomic inferiors.
Alas, I fear this isn’t the case.
If in those package mansions — those junk construction versions of Tuxedo Park — the next Beethoven was being commissioned to produce more innermost peevish-profound sublime quartets, and the next Chopin was playing to the tennis club ladies association with sublime effusions of sweet extemporization, I’d be delighted. After all, I now possess Beethoven and Chopin virtually complete. Soon I‘d possess and embrace the new great works as well. Excellence will out, you know. Even me. Despite the American resistances. But you this situation yourself.
But I doubt spiritual greatness is happening in Gated Happiness Estates.
In fact, I know it isn’t.
Should you enter these houses and sometimes even homes, you’ll find very large and even extreme flat screen TVs. On these screens the same channels everyone else gets will be running. Of course, it could be that there’s a deluxe service — Elite TV! — that only elites can get, or are even allowed know about. Send in your last three tax returns for qualification and approval! And Big Foot hasn’t been caught yet because he’s been migrating north into the impenetrable forests to escape the heat of global warming.
The other thing you’ll find in these domestic megaboxes are various web-access gadgets. But whatever the gizmos of the technology, the web content is the same. Again, there might a golden web out there accessible only to the upper class. I hear that Trump has golden showers. Maybe faucets, too. Contact the NRO for details. Include a recent eye scan.
In other words, the rich are doing what everyone else is doing. They might have more gild on their gutters or marble in their kitchens, but the content of their souls — the significance of their world-historical hearts — looks the same because everyone’s taking in the same content. This isn’t Paris in 1820 where Chopin only performed for the rich, or Vienna where the royalty commissioned new chamber works from Beethoven for performance in their palaces. In these gated communities, Americans not only aren’t sustaining the next Mozart, they mostly aren’t even listening to Mozart! They’re listening to what everyone else is listening to today. And it won’t be listened to tomorrow.
That doesn’t really bother me.
I don’t expect most people — past, present, or future — to be interested in the spiritual best. Only a small portion of humanity has ever concerned itself with great cultural accomplishments. And there’s every reason to decide that it’s not a matter of economic opportunity, but of fundamental world affection. World love is rare. Plato knew a few things about that. (And now for once I’m happy to say, see The Republic — of Plato!)
What concerns me here is the sly ideology that’s metastasizing in the locked minds of gated America.
Gramsci famously concluded that Marx had made a tactically wrong. The revolution wouldn’t begin in the economic foundations of Europe and America. Capitalism was too cunning to be outfoxed by its own workers. Starting as early as Bismarck, the capitalists had found ways for their political functionaries to deflect workers from the revolution by buying them off. For example, Bismarck introduced in the 1880s the workers’ perk of social security. That was fifty years before America employed such a cunning diversion of the proletariat.
Gramsci’s solution was completely contrary to the iron laws of monetary dialectics. It proposed an attack on the Western superstructure. The proletariat were incapable of rising up against the forces and relations of production to nationalize all property preparatory to global communism and property dispossession in lieu of universal human use. Therefore, the only possible attack must take place in the superstructure. When the possible is impossible, the impossible becomes a possibility. The Americans did this with Aristotle’s list of possible governments. (See my Republic, Ch. 6.)
This proletarian attack wouldn’t be on the factories and the banks of the bourgeoisie. It would be on their beliefs and their ideas. The attack would be on the hearts and minds of the ruling class. And the ruling class would do it to themselves.
Without knowing the grand tactical idea they’re working for like marionettes on the march, I fear that the liberals in these gated communities are atrophying their historical wills by undermining the justifications for their vitalities and the valedictions of their successes. Indeed, publicized celebration of most success is shunned these days. The losers might feel injured. “You’ve hurt my self-esteem! Moral tort!!!” To succeed to acclaimed colleges and great jobs and powerful positions with lucrative compensations and tremendous recognitions is a matter for public shame. It’s better celebrated in public with humble quiet. “We’re rich and we’re successful. We apologize.” Sports and the arts are the permitted exceptions.
By identifying a class superior to the middle class based solely on economic performance and possession is to undermine half of the top of the middle class — the Democratic half — and to enervate it from its historical accomplishments of republican civil society productivity. Meanwhile, the Republican half is still emotionally captive and reactive to liberation ideology. Therefore it either mutes the pride of its accomplishments, or it bangs a drum and sounds like an old snake oil drummer. In his previous private incarnation as a billionaire blowhard, Trump was the self-appointed clown of capitalist power pride.
Nietzsche addressed precisely this generic subject when he analyzed with particular concern how the life-diminishing Christians undermined the proud vitality of the Romans by causing them to feel shame for their superior accomplishments. Nietzsche is notorious for his attacks on Christianity, including his book, The Antichrist. But it’s clear that he realized that the fault for the failure of Rome’s nerves must lie at least as much with the world-great Romans. They allowed themselves to be diminished. How did this happen? Did the Christians overthrow the Roman state? No. The Christians overthrew the Roman soul. Then they took possession of Rome and witlessly destroyed it. St. Augustine was amazed at the effect and had no clue as to the cause.
The greatness of Euro-American civilization isn’t the result of money, but of many things of which money is only a lubricant and an all-too-common accountancy. To undermine the confidence and the continuity — the world-view pride — of all those other aspects by reducing them to money isn’t to leave money in power, but only the appearance of real cultural power. Money by itself can’t do anything. Indeed, if the only thing to be bought in real time is current junk culture, then having more money will only mean the ability to acquire and enjoy more contemporary junk. The Soviet Union liquidated itself because life there was so intolerantly inferior in terms of consumer goods compared with the West. The West could liquidate itself because it becomes so intolerantly inferior in terms of spiritual goods. This is precisely what Radical Islam promises.
Meanwhile, the Democrats say that we can’t discuss this because that would be to profile a religion.
That’s Gramsci at work.
If the religious cult of early Christianity could take over the Roman Empire via its internal spiritual decay, why shouldn’t Radical Islam be able to do the same with the West? Much of the West isn’t even replacing itself biologically let alone intellectually and aesthetically! As for all the great Western technology being invented and proliferated, technology doesn’t have a soul. That’s why Radical Islam can employ it without any spiritual problem. Except when a Hellfire missile tracks a phone.
An ever bigger TV with ever more resolution in an ever bigger house with ever less family resolution will only hasten cultural decline and civilization decay, not bring people bigger lives of haughtier happiness. But, of course, the advertised happiness will produce much diversionary vanity and factional satisfaction.
Finally, as an illustration of just how hard it can be to see the world aright when your concepts are askew, consider Levi-Strauss once again. The first chapter of Strauss’s book is about Poussin’s painting “Et in Arcadia ego.” This is Poussin’s most famous work. After Strauss analyzes an earlier painting on the subject by Guercino, and then a first version by Poussin, Strauss then addresses the relationships in the great Poussin between the subject of death, the now missing skull, and the appearance of the woman. Strauss’s conclusion is that the woman has replaced the skull. And the expressive and poignant rustic on the right, while looking at her while simultaneously pointing to the morbid advisory on the sarcophagus — “even in gated communities death happens” — links the woman with death.
The woman is death!
Even one brief look at the woman renders such a judgement derisory. Furthermore, the assessment is graphic impossible in any western iconographic scheme concerning death.
Who then, pray, is the woman?
It’s the Renaissance, stupid!
The classical woman is Momma Roma!
She is Life!
And she’s advising the poignant local — passionate but bewildered: humanity in its most educable sensibility — while her hand reassuringly rests on his shoulder as she offers him the calm and stoic accord on her face thus:
“Yes, even you must die. Don’t I know something about that! Don’t I, Life, know Death! But don’t despair. It works. Life works out.”