"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.
Witty; cunning; crafty
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