"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. (John Keats - "Ode on a Grecian Urn, 1819)
We ache for true beauty. We are naturally, profoundly drawn to true beauty. That connection and desire is wired into our psyche, our DNA, our soul. After all, we are created in God's image and likeness, so it makes perfect sense to conclude that this need for beauty is a part of our very nature.
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, beauty includes three parts: integrity, proportion, and clarity. These together mean that something that is beautiful is honest, orderly, and true to its own nature. High Culture celebrates that in many ways - through artistic expression, through intellectual rigor and depth, and through education that encourages students of all ages to pursue ideas that are pure and which reach to the core of being and essence. This means that the wider culture should celebrate these pursuits, to encourage them, and to reward them.
Now let's look at our current culture - not just what is celebrated, but how high culture is regarded. First of all, in this age of YouTube, where gluttons like Trisha Paytas (pictured here) or Nikocado Avocado get tons of subscribers, or where the most popular topics include rap music, violent video games, or WWE, you have to wonder at the state of our culture. Taking a quick spin around YouTube, I find plenty of classical music and opera, but with relatively few subscribers - unless it's a "classical music for relaxation" channel - then, there's a lot!
I'm sure that Mozart's goal in writing music was not to give people a chance to chill out. Same for Bach, Beethoven, and others. OK, so do I sound like a snob? The fact that I might even have this question should tell you a lot about how high culture is regarded. Frankly, this is nothing new. WWE and violent video games have been popular for ages, and the Beatles are always going to be more popular than Puccini or Palestrina. People have always been drawn to pop culture, to the loud and obnoxious, the pink and sparkly. And that's OK. As much as I love classical music and lectures by Dr. Jordan Peterson and books by Jonah Goldberg, I need a break sometimes. After all, high culture gives so much to ponder, pushes the mind to such intense levels, so the occasional escape into Elvis the Alien or Alux.com is totally fine.
Naturally, there will always be some college-educated SJW crank coming along, just in time to ruin everything, so let's keep it real for a moment. Again, pop culture has always been a thing, for years and years, so that's nothing new - and there are a lot of great things about pop culture, so don't get me wrong. The change, however, is in some attitudes toward high culture, and specifically Western culture, with new accusations of it being branded as racist and white supremacist and sexist, along with heteronormative and cis-centric. Opera is racist and Shakespeare is a closeted homosexual and Milton is sexist and so on. No longer is it OK to listen to Wagner or Beethoven or anyone else who might somehow offend super sensitive modern sensibilities. Never mind that a lot of people love Wagner's Ring - Hitler liked him, and yeah, Wagner had some dodgy political views back in the day, but does that take away from his music? Should a non-Catholic reject Dante because of his devotion to the Church? Should we toss John Milton out of the literary canon because of his Puritan politics?
It's a similar conflict we see today - some artists and writers get criticized and boycotted for reasons other than the content they produce, so that instead of evaluating the quality of their work, we play this game of "I don't like you so I don't like your stuff." Frankly, if I did that, I would never be able to see a movie or watch a TV show or listen to most kinds of music, and that would include many classical composers. And I'd be missing out! If I gave a litmus test to every artist so that they had to align with my religion and my personal politics, I would have to boycott the poetry of Ezra Pound and the plays of Eugene O'Neill and the films of Dalton Trumbo.
There's a not so silent bullying campaign taking place in our wider culture these days, silencing those who might have an opinion that differs from what is "accepted" and what is politically correct. It must pass the Twitter Test, which basically means that no one would brand you as a hater or force you into an apology - if you can get through that, you're good to go! But is that any way to conduct a culture? It's no wonder that thinkers such as Jordan Peterson are ridiculed as woman-haters, "proved" by the fact that many in his audiences are male. Of course, Peterson has many defenders of both genders, but his defenders sometimes find themselves having to justify or apologize for their interest in him. This is anti-intellectual at its worst because it attempts to tell you what you can think and what ideas you can entertain.
This phenomenon has afflicted both conservatives and liberals alike. Everyone from Ben Shapiro and Heather MacDonald on the right, to Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying on the left, along with other people such as Ayan Hirsi Ali and Brigitte Gabriel and Sam Harris and Nicholas Christakis and so on, have been banned, silenced, insulted, fired, stalked, just for the crime of speaking their mind and introducing ideas into the culture that some find "harmful."
What does this have to do with beauty? A lot, actually. If Keats is right that "beauty is truth," then what many of these social commentators say is moral and just when they speak truth. In addition, if what is beautiful invites us to do a deep dive into ideas that resonate with our core being, then to silence these people does a disservice to the culture and to humanity. You might not agree with everything these people say - for example, I would obviously disagree with Sam Harris on religion (he's an atheist), and with Bret Weinstein on politics (he's a progressive), but if they speak truths in other areas, and more importantly if they support the idea that all people should be free to explore what they like, then they are a part of what is objectively beautiful.
Beauty is not just visual or auditory. Beauty is also intellectual. It can be abstract, too, but whatever form it takes should lead the viewer or the consumer to a deeper place. It should cause you to find order and structure, and thus to develop your mind and your understanding of your own nature, of God, and the world around us all. That's a truth I can believe in.
The political climate has been a toxic cesspool for a very long time, and right after Thanksgiving, I'd had enough. All the news all the time was Trump as a racist, Trump as a liar, Trump as a sexist, Trump as a traitor, Trump as a victim, Trump as a saint, Trump as the Sacrificial Lamb, Trump as a dictator, Trump as a Nazi, and so on, ad nauseam.
I was done.
There are better things in this world to think about, better things to fill my mind than the constant barrage against the President. And I don't really blame Trump for this, or at least, not as much as the rest of the media. You'd think they would have figured out by now that Trump is a Class-A troll, but no. They take the bait and run with the smallest thing and fill the airwaves with their reactionary garbage. And then the Twitterverse piles on, and then it all just goes to hell.
Take the whole business regarding CNN's Jim Acosta. Now I'm sure there was a time when he was a legit reporter offering good analysis of the news, but these days, he's turned into a grandstanding narcissist who seems intent on #1: making himself the story, and #2: then using that story to bash the President further and characterize himself as a victim. The fact the the majority of the media ran with that story tells me that any hope of getting objectivity is nil at this point.
The fast, therefore, was long overdue, and in truth, these last couple of weeks have been amazing. I've learned about so many things, listened to podcasts by everyone from Joe Rogan to Fr. Robert Spitzer, I've learned about Cardinal Newman, the historicity of Jesus, the Intellectual Dark Web, the psychology of tribalism, and so on. I've listened to Jordan Peterson, Dan Bongino, to so many interesting people and ideas, and I've been able to refocus myself and my spirituality in a more intellectual foundation.
I also know that striking a balance is important. After all, there are plenty of really important things going on in the world right now, and that there's no excuse for ignorance. The other day, I turned on the news, just out of curiosity, and I quickly learned that nothing changed. Same bickering, same ad hominem attacks, same finger-pointing and baseless accusations on all sides, same same same.
But is that enough to stay away entirely? Of course, like anything else in history and culture, this too shall pass. What seems so critical now will soon diminish into the vague memory of history - I don't mean the critical issues such as abortion, the persecution of the Church, or other human rights abuses - I mean the other, day-to-day fighting over who said what to whom. The gossip. It actually does matter that the country is stable and it does matter that Congress is friendly to all human life and that means that we do need to pay attention, at least to what matters.
My solution is to find a balance so that I'm not so saturated with news and politics that I forget about the real, eternal things of importance. So my podcast-listening schedule will look something like this, at least for the present:
What it comes down to is that our minds need expansion and new knowledge, and that we thrive when we're challenged by different experiences and ideas. I'll see how I do with this, and I hope to update soon!
There's been something wonderful going on these days, even within the current toxic political atmosphere. Well, two things.
The #walkaway movement was the first thing, and then along came #blexit.
Earlier this year, a gay hairstylist, Brandon Straka, started the #walkaway movement in response to what perhaps some of us have called "Trump Derangement Sydrome," characterized, among many traits, by the strong tendency to shout down and shut down any speech that might be favorable of the President or of conservative points of view. Straka pinpoints his move toward conservatism after an incident in 2016 - he was assaulted by a homeless Hispanic man, and after venting about the incident on social media, he was criticized for his "white privilege" rather than getting the sympathy and support he sought.
Similarly, David Harris Jr., another former liberal, started the #blexit movement with the mission of encouraging other African-Americans to embrace freedom of thought rather than continue to feel as though they were obligated to vote and think in a certain way. Other notable former liberals have started to speak up more and more: Candace Owens, Stacey Dash, Brandon Tatum, among others, and all with the same message - no one should be able to tell you how to think, what words to use, or how to vote. Those belong to the individual, regardless of anything else.
As far as I'm concerned, a person should be able to think what they want, and if they want to disagree with me, that's fine. If they want to think terrible things, that's none of my business. If they want to say awful things, well, I wish they wouldn't, but that's also a part of freedom. There was a time when that sentiment was fairly mainstream - think what you want and leave me alone. These days, when many equate speech with actual violence, this sentiment has become radical, controversial, even dangerous...at least in popular culture.
In truth, though, I think that privately, most people would still agree with that, which is likely why #walkaway and #blexit are so popular. #walkaway even had a march this year, which was great because it gave people a public forum to emphasize that ones ability to think and speak as they wish is extremely important for the survival of our culture. If we allow the thought police to come down on free speech and start to limit that via legislation, that's when fascism arises. After all, who would the arbiter of what's acceptable speech? Who determines what's "bad" and what's "good"? In this post-Christian society, I wouldn't trust those judges as far as I could throw them, and even if I could, I wouldn't want the law to be able to make that determination for me.
We live in great peril right now. In the past we had wars and huge battles that killed many, but this war is different and more dangerous. This is the war for the mind, for the soul, for what we believe. If belief turns into what we're allowed to believe, then we're lost. Therefore, I hope that more free-thought movements continue to rise up - that is the true Resistance.
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson. Ben Shapiro. Stephen Pinker. Bret Weinstein. Eric Weinstein. Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Dave Rubin. Some of these names (or maybe none of them) may sound familiar to you. All of them are part of a movement called the "Intellectual Dark Web."
This term, coined by mathematician Eric Weinstein, describes a group of individuals of all political stripes who have come together to have the conversations that the rest of the culture is afraid to have, or which is too angry to have. These folks often disagree: you couldn't get any more diametrically opposed than Ben Shapiro, a die-hard Republican, and Bret Weinstein, a lifelong far-left liberal. The key is, that these guys can talk to each other and even disagree with each other and not resort to calling each other Nazis or HItler or evil. They just disagree. That's it! No one is called a racist, sexist, transphobe. No one is sent to the naughty stair. No one is pilloried or mocked. They just talk.
In recent weeks, I've become a huge fan of the Rubin Report, as seen on YouTube - Dave Rubin, formally of the very liberal show The Young Turks, has since handed in his Progressive Card in exchange for the self-imposed label, a "classical liberal." For the record, he is also married to his husband, yet he is able to have an extremely civilized and productive conversation with Bishop Robert Barron - they even talked about homosexuality, but in a way that was interesting, challenging, and enlightening. Rubin's show has been an incredibly important vehicle for the IDW to gather and talk - really talk things through.
Another huge figure in this movement is Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, a Canadian professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. Peterson found himself in trouble with his university and with the wider culture when he refused to comply with Canada's C-16 Bill, which criminalized the act of "misgendering" a trans person. His objection was based, not on transphobia, but on the basis of freedom of speech. Peterson said that he didn't want to be compelled by law to use specific words. For this, he found himself targeted by LGBT allies, and subjected to extremely harsh public scrutiny.
Here's a moment from his interview with British TV presenter, Cathy Newman. Take note of how often she says, "So you're saying..."
What is really shocking about the interview wasn't necessarily Newman's own point of view about political or cultural issues, but rather, her incessant drive to try to prove him to be what she thinks he is, rather than to let him be himself.
In fact, if you get a chance to watch the full interview, it should be plain as to why we need this Intellectual Dark Web. We've devolved into an increasingly shrill society driven by social media pathos to the extreme. Things have gotten so toxic that even a leftist can no longer express him/herself freely, for fear of accidentally saying something remotely positive about President Trump. Take the leftist backlash against Kanye West, for example. Kanye isn't exactly a paragon of wisdom by any stretch, and nor does he have a record of being conservative. But one nice thing to say about conservative activist Candace Owens, and suddenly he's Trump's lap dog and an Uncle Tom.
The only way we can expect to progress as a society and as a culture is for us to listen to each other, with our agendas left at the door. It's not about giving up what you think or believe, but rather, opening your mind to the other person's opinion. It's not even about agreement - it's about listening and building ideas together, or at least exploring them together, even if we come to different conclusions. But as long as we continue in these schoolyard, Mean Girls tactics where we say, "You can't sit with us," then nothing will happen. Dave Rubin recently commented to one of his guests that he was taking a risk with his career even for appearing on the Rubin Report - and he's right about that. The Intellectual Dark Web is the secular antidote to this toxic mindset.
Link to the Rubin Report on YouTube
Do you get this? I sure don't.
The culture has become so bizarre and so twisted, that I'm not sure what to say or how to comment on it. While I'm a huge advocate of calling out those individuals who have sexually harassed and assaulted people for years and years, I've got some concerns.
Personally, I have no problem with people losing their jobs because of chronic and until now, unchecked sexual misconduct. Hearing the sordid details about the secret button in Matt Lauer's office, for example, makes it clear to me that he deserved to get booted from NBC. I was equally happy to see the likes of pervs like Al Franken and John Conyers get tossed from Congress - honestly, the last thing we need is a Congress busy pinching pages and assaulting interns. I wish we had held the same standard for President back in the 90's.
Does anyone find it strange, however, that the new voice of morality and propriety are Hollywood celebrities? Any actress or any individual has every right to speak up about bad behavior, of course, so I don't mean to play the morally superior game or anything. But out of one side of their mouths, they call for respectful treatment and sexual restraint, whether in the workplace, at an event, or anywhere else. All of that is great, and I totally agree. But then these same individuals turn around, put on their p-hats, and advocate for the freedom to be as sexually promiscuous as they want, without being "slut-shamed." What's more, these same women militantly advocate for the freedom to have as many abortions as they want, for any reason, and at any time during pregnancy.
And what are people shouting? "Oprah for President!!!" Seriously.
What's astonishing to me is the failure of many in the general public to see that these two sides don't match up. On the one hand, the #MeToo movement has taken on almost a Puritanical attitude, in the Salem Witch Trials sense, that is. On the other hand, many in this same #TimesUp movement don't seem to recognize that they should also restrain their own sexual behavior and behave in the same way that they wish to be treated.
This isn't about victim-blaming or anything like that. Every person should feel perfectly free to move about in society and work and do whatever they want without worrying that someone's going to grab their backside or worse. But there's a consistency missing here, and as far as I've seen, no one is calling these women to task for representing themselves as sex objects in their own movies and shows. It's sort of like these anti-gun celebrities who make millions of dollars in movies and TV shows that glorify gun violence. It reminds me a bit of the Abigail Warren character in Arthur Miller's The Crucible, calling for so-called witches to be punished, all the while covering up her own immoral behavior. I guess it's just I don't believe that Hollywood should be the moral arbiter of anything, because they don't deserve that honor. They make their money by portraying themselves in disgraceful ways, so when the likes of Angelina Jolie or Meryl Streep turn around and try to proclaim what's good and what's not, I'm going to have to question that. Big time.
All of this confusion is the result of a culture that turned away from God long ago, and thus has become morally unmoored. Secular morality can only go so far, as we've seen these last 50+ years, and as younger generations are nurtured in this conflicted climate, the problem gets deeper and harder to resolve. Hollywood has always been a moral cesspool, but the larger culture that was still rooted in faith managed to hold them in check. But now, with the larger culture religiously ambiguous, there's nothing to hold Hollywood back from its own depravity, taking us in all the while. Now that they've literally been caught with their pants down, however, everyone's in a panic.
It shouldn't be a big surprise, though. The whole Hollywood climate is steeped in depravity, so when a lot of stars and producers start behaving badly, we shouldn't be shocked. Disgusted, yes, but shocked, no way. The same holds true for Washington. Take Kirsten Gillibrand, for example. On one hand, she came out strongly against sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace, which is great, but then again, this is the same woman who recently sent warm birthday greetings to Bill Clinton. This is also the same woman who is extremely pro-abortion. So she expects good behavior from her colleagues but she has no problem with a doctor killing a baby?
If this culture is to heal, we have to embrace consistency. We have to behave as we wish to be treated, and we really need to raise our standards regarding what we would regard as entertainment. If we don't want sexual harassment, then we should not permit sexually explicit material in our homes. That's the stuff that teaches kids, both boys and girls, that open sexuality is just fine, which thus creates the confusion. People are naturally modest, regardless of what the culture teaches us. How often do you see a girl in a super-short skirt constantly tugging it down a bit? That's her natural modesty at play.
This is what makes the Hollywood culture so pernicious and vile. It makes our own instincts our enemies and it tears at our self-confidence. Not so long ago, girls would be embarrassed if anyone knew they'd had sex before marriage. These days, people are laughed at if they're "still a virgin." Again, this goes against our own nature to be monogamous with one special person, and it certainly explains so much anxiety, depression, and dissatisfaction with self.
Maybe we need a new Hays Code, let entertainment and entertainers focus on just that: entertainment. Of course, that might sound silly, to return to a restrictive code of what can and can't be depicted in a movie, and of course, I wouldn't want the government getting involved with that. I do, however, believe that we all need to ask ourselves some big questions about what we allow ourselves to see, and how that can affect us, even subconsciously. Unless you're a regular viewer of pornography, do you really need to see people going at it in bed? Do you need to see their tongues slurping on each other? Isn't there more to a story than just sex? And not, shouldn't there be?
Hollywood has gotten lazy, but so have viewers. Part of it is that technology is so advanced that movie-makers want to take full advantage, and viewers want to see that. No problem there. But that's also led to stories fueled by action, violence, sexuality, and shallow dialogue. Stories are regurgitated again and again, and most big movies are either about superheroes or emojis or they're based on a TV show or a cartoon or even a commercial. Then again, our schools don't exactly demand that we think deeply about anything, so I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that writers are equally shallow.
So where is this all leading? The more I write this, the more I realize how much we need to fix in this society if we are to get back to a place of true virtue and respect, starting with each of us taking a hard look at ourselves. What do we, as children of God, deserve? How should we truly be treated? To what are we willing expose ourselves? Are we letting ourselves down by falling prey to Hollywood depravity? Are we ready to behave the same way we demand others treat us? Will we respect every human life?
Those are all big questions, Are we ready for the answers?
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Here are just a few fun facts about the Thanksgiving holiday:
I hope and pray that all of you will have a beautiful Thanksgiving holiday, and that you will find peace and strength in all areas of your life, your family, and your work.
Yeah, sort of...
Sad but true.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not giving a free pass to men who decide to act like pigs. They are responsible for their own piggishness. Now to be clear, I'm not including rape or sexual assault in this article--that's a very different thing. What I'm talking about is the more common instances of sexually inappropriate behavior, the nasty, icky stuff that people have been getting away with for decades, that is, until now.
And I'm glad for it, that we're finally shining a light on this bad behavior and treating it as the garbage that it is. No one should have to fear entering a work environment or even just an elevator fearing that they might be in danger of being groped or harassed or treated like a commodity.
Why are women to blame? Aren't we perpetual victims of male boorishness and toxic masculinity?
Well, women aren't not fully to blame, so don't get it twisted. Ultimately, men (and other women) have a responsibility to act appropriately and respectfully toward all people they encounter, of both genders. The problem is that society will only fall so far morally as women allow. Yes, women, not men. Even in age when men behaved badly, they still acted to protect and (ideally) cherish women, and sometimes, they actually meant it. Frankly, men behaved badly toward each other, too, not just toward women--they were busy hacking each other to death or taking power away from each other, and while women sometimes got caught in the middle of that Game of Thrones, other men also got caught in the middle.
It used to be, back in the old days that most of us don't remember, that a man would stand when a woman entered the room or approached a dining table or an office. He would tip his hat in respect, and (gasp!) he might even hold open a door for her to pass through first. And women say they have no privilege? Seriously? OK, that's a serious oversimplification, so let me clarify myself.
Let's talk culture, and how women have allowed themselves to be depicted, particularly in this age of Harvey Weinstein, though he didn't start this smarmy culture. All you have to do is look at the picture of Miley Cyrus twerking with Robin Thicke to see what I'm talking about. Miley wasn't doing anything new when she did that performance. Twerking has been around for ages, but it's only recently that it's been mainstreamed, in part thanks to Miley's pop star status. It may not originally have been a hyper-sexualized dance, but thanks to people like Miley, it became that (cultural appropriation anyone?), so that's what we've got.
Why is this considered cool by so many women and girls? Is this some sort of feminist statement that women can be just as overtly sexual as men? Seriously? I've even heard of feminist porn, made by women for women. Is this really what feminism has devolved into? Hey there's nothing wrong with women empowering themselves and beating men at their own game, whether in business, in relationships, or elsewhere. But look at the dozens of sexual encounters in shows like HBO's "Girls" or "Sex and the City," where promiscuity is normalized and even encouraged, all for female empowerment.
On these shows, it inevitably works out somehow. Miranda Hobbs, for example, not only ends up with her Baby Daddy, but it ends up being a mostly supportive, if sometimes fractious marriage. Hannah Horvath also ends well, taking a nice job and raising her baby on her own. Of course, that's on TV, but it's TV that normalizes everything. Miranda and Hannah are educated, upper class, privileged, and thus, they manage to keep their lives relatively in order, even if the critics don't agree or understand. That doesn't translate into the real world, by a long shot.
Once that's been normalized, as it has been now for years, that kind of behavior trickles down to the rest of us hoi polloi, but how has rampant promiscuity treated everyday women? Do we end up with the nice guy (or girl) at the end of the day? Do we end up in our high-priced New York condo, with a nanny and high-paying job, all the while juggling the busy life of a single mom? When the greatest predictor of generational poverty includes dropping out of high school, having a baby outside of marriage, and unemployment, then depictions of this kind of promiscuity graduate from inappropriate to inexcusable.
Women do not benefit from cultural approval of promiscuity, and neither do men. With abortion and contraception so readily available, all a guy has to do is bail on her and blame her for her failure to use birth control properly--after all, don't we believe in freedom of choice? But it's not just the guy's fault. He may acted like a jerk and bailed, but she opened her legs for him in the first place. So is it a shock when she ends up pregnant or with a disease? Does a woman have to fill her body with chemicals just to avoid the burden of parenthood? Add a little free government housing to the mix, and the guy never has to step up. That's not good for women or their children...or their men.
I'm so tired of these excuses of "she didn't know" and "she wasn't sure what to do" and every other excuse under the sun, as if she's some damsel in distress who doesn't know a thing and can't seem to help herself, poor petal. Isn't that ironic, in this age of feminism? How about the word "no"? How about "show me the ring, buddy"? How about "my body is a temple and you are not worthy of entry"? How about women showing some backbone instead of caving to male pressure and then making excuses later on, or crying "rape culture"? How about if women lived up to the feminist promise of real empowerment and independence?
Enter Harvey Weinstein and Al Franken and others (I'm not including Roy Moore, as the allegations involve teens, not adult women), who now have a cultural expectation that any woman who wants to get ahead won't mind a little action. She'll just find a guy groping her oh so hilarious, won't she? But guess what? Yeah, these men are pigs and their behavior is inexcusable, but women have allowed themselves to be treated like this for a very long time, again, to the point where it's normalized. If we think nothing of a woman who has three kids with three guys, then isn't there a cultural expectation of consent? It's not fair and it's definitely not moral, but it's real.
Don't get me wrong, this isn't "slut-shaming." This doesn't mean that a woman deserves what she gets, because she doesn't. But it does mean that women need to collectively expect more from men, and it means that they shouldn't permit themselves to be treated like a sex toy, especially when they're in a position to say "no." Again, I'm not talking about rape or sexual assault or harassment. If women are to do better in the world and really live out the feminist dream, then they need to lay down some new rules for men, to hold men accountable for their behavior, and to hold themselves accountable for how they allow themselves to be treated.
I want all women to cherish themselves and to see their own God-given beauty and grace. Women deserve better than what they've allowed themselves to receive, both from men and from the culture. Let's take that "I'm offended" culture and point it in a healthier direction, and let's call out the culture when it seeks to make the exploitation of women no big deal. But in the end, that means that women have to stop participating in their own oppression.
I'm going to leave this with the feminist anthem, "I Am Woman," by Helen Reddy, because unlike the feminists of today, this song from the 1970s shows a woman's strength and her ability to survive.
Fifty-four years later, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 still rings true, perhaps even more so today, in this atmosphere of political correctness and criticism of freedom of speech.
I can remember clearly that back in high school, Guy Montag's story was one of my favorite books--I can recall being intrigued by Clarisse McClellan and appalled at the shallow, entertainment-driven society, and thrilled and anxious as Montag attempted to run to freedom. I don't recall how many times I ended up reading the novel, but each time, I felt the exact same way. Clarisse felt like a friend, and Montag seemed like so many lost, wandering souls just trying to understand life.
This past week, I reread the novel for the first time since I was in high school, and once again, I felt all the same things--horrified at the Mechanical Hound and troubled by Millie and her silly girlfriends, and mournful for the society as a whole as they faced intellectual, physical, and spiritual obliteration. When I first read it, Al Gore hadn't yet invented the Internet (jk), and there was no Reality TV--there was barely MTV when I first read it, to be honest! And of course, when Bradbury first wrote it in 1953, TV was in its nascent stages.
One of the most fascinating characters is Captain Beatty--in many ways, he's an archetype, not unlike 1984's O'Brien, or Brave New World's Mustapha Mond. While he's a brutal enforcer of the status quo, he has a knowledge of the past, though with an evil, self-serving twist. What makes Beatty particularly interesting to me is just how much he captures the zeitgeist of the 21st century. In his epic speech to Montag, he says:
Sound familiar? Doesn't this sound so much like much of what passes for culture these days? Back in the 70's, when the news and entertainment departments at the networks merged, news became a show, one more piece of entertainment, but now for an audience with a shrinking attention span. The killing of the fake Montag toward the end of the book is, in a real way, a prefiguring of so-called "fake news," manufactured for ratings by the thrill. Don't think too much--just watch, enjoy, buy the advertised products, and don't ask questions.
That attitude over the last few decades has spoiled us an an American culture, made us lazy and attention-seeking and eternally unsatisfied with what is simple and deep. Part of that isn't our fault, because media outlets and apps have bombarded us now for ages, weakening our resistance. At the same time, of course, they may have sold it, but we bought it. But what has that done to us but made us overly sensitive "snowflakes"? We have become so used to being able to curate our own news, our own Tweets, our own shows on our own schedules that we live in our own separate bubbles--if someone dares to burst the bubble, we freak out.
Beatty's "solution" is harrowing:
Take a look at this explanation of "intersectional feminism" by Christina Hoff Sommers (it's about 8 minutes):
One of the issues she raises is that, within each group seeking justice and respect, the various groups within the group become more and more divided (see the video around 4:30), each vying for victim status. One can see, therefore, why Beatty's explanation of the solution makes a certain, twisted sense. Take away controversy, shut down speech, brand words as hate, and erase any bad feelings as a result. Condemn anyone who speaks these forbidden words as bigots, marginalize them, but then deny them victim status because of their pre-existing "privilege," and thus demonize them.
In 2004, author Natan Sharansky identified a "3D Test of Anti-Semitism," though I think it can be expanded beyond criticism and hatred of Israel, especially in this politically explosive environment. His 3Ds were: demonize, double-standard, delegitimize, which is exactly what is happening in our culture today. Anyone who violates the dictates of intersectionality is quickly demonized, subjected to a double standard, and then delegitimized, just as we saw with Professor Bret Weinstein earlier this year. Weinstein, a lifelong liberal, found himself in the crosshairs of the SJWs, who staged protests in his classes, attempted to trap him in his office, and ultimately attempted to brand him as a racist, alt-right Nazi, tainting his reputation forever.
But Captain Beatty and the society in Fahrenheit 451 don't put up with that. How to solve it?
But serenity at what cost? We all say the same things, love the same shows, hate the same politicians, refrain from saying anything that might possibly offend the victimized citizens of a hateful America, or watch out. Here we are in this age where we embrace diversity, yet we want sameness. No controversy, no challenge, no tears, no laughing at the "wrong" thing, and in some places, no applause (because that might trigger someone). There have even been calls at prestigious universities, such as Harvard Law School, to allow students to avoid learning about rape law, so that they don't have to be triggered.
In Bradbury's fictional society, no worries (and probably no law school):
When people are dumbed down in school and not given authentic history, when their lessons have been tailored to avoid anything triggering or controversial, then what's left? When people are babied and coddled and protected, then what else can be done but to give out the proverbial "participation trophy" at that point? This aspect of Beatty's speech rang especially true regarding today's society and culture. Knowing facts but not worrying about analyzing them. Watching the panoply of faces flow past on TV or the phone or whatever other mobile streaming device we have, without having to go into depth on any of it. We can read clickbait headlines on social media, troll total strangers, virtue signal to all our Facebook "friends" we don't actually know, and come out feeling ever so smart and informed, when in fact, we're not. We're so marketed to, so controlled by Google and Microsoft and Disney that reality is an impression, a passing thing, an opinion, but not reality.
At the start of the novel, Clarisse McClellan seems so odd to Montag, in part because she and her family engage in this strange activity called "conversation." But let's look around, right now. If you're in a public space as you read this, look at those around you. How many are absorbed in their phones? And it's not just kids, either! Adults have been sucked in just as much, now tragically proving Beatty's point.
But what if we didn't have to shut down speech? What if we learned to take in the world for what it is rather than trying to micromanage the culture? What if we could allow people to be themselves and to establish healthy relationships regardless of how nasty they might be? The optimist in me wants to believe that we don't have to devolve into a dystopic milquetoast conformity with no spice and no real individuality. I want to think that we can free ourselves from the tyranny of those who want to dictate speech and thought, though that will take some effort.
One thing that's important is to rethink our relationship with social media. I'm not saying get rid of it--as a consumer of social media, I can see that it has real value in sharing ideas or news or experiences, and it can authentically keep people connected. But the anonymity of social media, as many have pointed out, has contributed to the downfall of our culture and to our struggle to be ourselves, without fear. I think we must find a way to develop a healthy self confidence and to have faith in our gifts. That has to mandate, therefore, that we must allow others to do the same, even if they are very different from us.
Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 has been a brilliant prediction of our current culture, but it shouldn't signal an end. Rather, we should look at this novel in light of what our culture has become, and then work together to ensure that this trend is reversed so that people no longer have to live in fear that what they might say or even think will get them fired or punched or destroyed.
The video below is an ad from Coca-Cola, but it makes a great point about our addiction to mobile devices. Take a look and have a laugh, but you might also see where you fit in that picture, and see how you can strive to change.
According to alt-right leader Richard Spencer, the alt-right movement is something very specific. People such as Spenser are very clear that this movement is primarily about race, precisely that they believe that Western Civilization can only be promoted and developed by white people. I won't give you the links (I'd rather not insult your intelligence or your moral sense), but you can examine this for yourself, and I think you'll quickly see that the alt-right movement is indeed white supremacist at its very core, and they're proud of that.
This is NOT conservative, and it is not even right-wing.
For the alt-right, race comes before everything, including personal and economic freedom, whereas for the authentic right, personal freedom and liberty come before anything else. A true conservative will promote the concept of the free-market as the best means to pull the most people out of poverty, regardless of race or culture, whereas the alt-right have a more fascistic view of economics, valuing the collective over the individual. The authentic right wants everyone to succeed, and to be able to compete in the marketplace, knowing that a more robust market and trade atmosphere benefits everyone, including those who are disadvantaged, whereas the alt-right wants white people to succeed over everyone else.
It's a disgrace to listen to both media figures and politicians such as Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, Maxine Waters, and many more, brand all conservatives as alt-right, when this is far from true. At the same time, it's also a disgrace that many conservatives, including the President, not take a clear stance against the alt-right. Both sides only prop up the alt-right, along with their radical twin, ANTIFA, and then nothing gets resolved.
Identity politics are never healthy because they are automatically exclusionary, and in the long run, they seek to "other" anyone deemed an outsider. Identitarian movements come in all shades and lifestyles, but rather than bringing diverse people together, they shut everyone else out by saying "your ______ privilege makes you incapable of understanding my experience." That's when dialogue shuts down and where demagoguing and virtue-signaling starts. Take that to the extreme, and you end up with Charlottesville or Ferguson or Berkeley or any of the growing number of incidents blowing up all over the nation.
None of that is remotely conservative. Conservatives want people to be happy, to push themselves and work hard, to succeed in the world and the economy, to be able to start their own business free from over regulation, and to be able to provide opportunities other others. No identity politics, no obsession with privilege, no macing people they don't like, nor keeping down any race.
So what do we do about this? The mainstream media has long declared war on conservatives, which means that the authentic right MUST loudly disavow the alt-right and to send the message again and again that the alt-right is not conservative and doesn't represent the authentic right. The media may not listen, of course, but that doesn't mean that conservatives should continue to let the alt-right speak in the name of conservatives or to appropriate conservative ideas. Conservatives' failure to completely condemn the alt-right as robustly as they have condemned ANTIFA has helped give rise to the current situation (in part, not all).
The alt-right and ANTIFA are two sides of the same, fascist coin, and both should be denounced so that both kinds of regressive extremism can float into the background, where it belongs.
PS: ANTIFA is nothing like the soldiers during WWII, unlike how some in the media are portraying them. To make this comparison is an insult to those who fought and died fighting against Hitler, and to those who suffered under the Nazis.
Witty; cunning; crafty
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