"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.
Witty; cunning; crafty
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