Phoning It In During the Holidays (Left-wing edition)

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Via Arts & Letters Daily comes this set piece from The Nation:

Why are we so lame? Why is American culture, and the American intelligentsia in particular, so closed off from what's happening in the rest of the world? Why do we still need Paris to tell us what's going on (if we still even listen to it)? If anything, the situation is more dire than it used to be, when instability or repression in Europe supplied us with a steady stream of emigres who acted as a bridge back to their former world. Susan Sontag used to play a similar role, but she no longer does, and no one's taken her place. The more we impose our image on the world, it seems, the more foreign the world becomes.

That's the conclusion of a review by William Deresiewicz of Pascale Casanova's The World Republic of Letters which–surprisingly for a French book–posits Paris as the cultural capital of the galaxy. Whole thing here.

Look, we all know the week between Christmas and New Year's is a time for mailing it in, but do we really need yet another piece from leftoid (or rightoid, for that matter) critics lambasting Amurricans for being insular, stupid, boorish, blah blah blah? This is literally the oldest goddamned theme in elite American discourse (dating back to ye olde colonial tymes) and it's about time that what Charles Paul Freund memorably called "the high culture sputter" finally be retired.

For more on globo-culture and America's role, check out this interview we did with Tyler Cowen.

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  1. Amen Nick.
    It should be noted that America has far more independant book publishers and music distributors than Europe, and though many of them do brisk business, they never show up on Amazon’s radar. The French tend to treat thier mainstream culture as “the canon,” and assume that this hlds true for every other country.
    I’ll give France credit for accepting comics as a mainstream artform, although Japan leaves them in the dust on this.
    I also love how the left relishes calling the American populace stupid, while failing to take responsibility for a public ed curiculum that shuns actual knowledge.

  2. start your engines.

    gary – you’re here: europhile
    hick american – you’re here: europhobe
    thoreau – kerry bashing ready?
    warren: sound effects.

    answers to the questions:
    1) because you’re the fucking nation, and you think you can blanket-statement the richest, most diverse, most dynamic culture out there
    2) who gives a fuck? it’s us fat, undereducated midwesterners who don’t know our home state on a map from an old map of Gray Hawk, let alone comprehend a culture that has a century-long memory
    3) isn’t that a contradiction to the second question? blow yourself. sick and tired of those who think that france is the end-all be-all of culture. some like it. others don’t. just be glad we have that choice (both to accept or reject and that it actually exists).
    4) (reason’s question): good damn question. leftoid and rightoid.

    cheerio,
    drf

  3. i’m sure its galling to anglophones to consider the truth: the primary language of western civlization is french. while it may not be as entirely true today, it is certainly true over the timespan of the culture. any honest examination of the intellectual development of the west must easily yield that conclusion.

    and its further galling to american narcissists (and to deresiewicz, apparently) that america is a cultural hanger-on, and probably always will be vis-a-vis the west. one must remember that the united states as an entity that mattered to the western civilizational discourse did not exist until very nearly the 20th century. for this there is nothing and no one to blame. rather as latecoming rome adopted the greek civilization and added relatively little while immersing and imitating, so is our relationship with western europe. so be it.

    to answer his question, we contribute nothing because little remains to be contributed. america did not exist as a cultural center for the most important impulses of western development, only minorly contributing to romanticism; our ascendancy coincided closely with the onset of western decadence and inertia. after all, perhaps the greatest american artist was the antiartist warhol. what does that say?

    if we will lead in or contribute anything fundamental, it will probably have to be in the next civilization, not the last one — and i doubt we will. america has been and likely will remain a relative backwater of the cultural west, just as rome remained the merely organizational capital of a decadent hellenistic world.

  4. I also love how the left relishes calling the American populace stupid, while failing to take responsibility for a public ed curiculum that shuns actual knowledge.

    ?? The right does the same thing.

  5. Gaius –

    I’m actually speechless that you would make such assinine comments that utterly without merit.

    The most obvious contribution, but not limited to, that has changed the world as much as Guttenburg’s printing press is the internet. That America, well Al Gore, invented. I could go on and on, human genome, biotech, nanotech, etc, etc, etc.

    Is it insecurity on your part that causes you to believe such obvious misrepresentations or do you know the truth and are just lying?

  6. Excuse me –

    First sentence – that *are* utterly without merit.

  7. America gave the world Jerry Lewis. I, personally, don’t think that’s anything to be proud of, but the cultured and erudite French sure disagree.

  8. “must remember that the united states as an entity that mattered to the western civilizational discourse did not exist until very nearly the 20th century”

    that sounds like the same shit that i heard when i lived over there:
    “english is a primitive language that cannot express higher thoughts, like philosophy”
    “there are no english-speaking philosophical texts”.

    and when italy was the cultural power, what then? things changed and evolved. now they’ve evolved again. with the amount of technological, philosophical, cultural, and global progress, being on top throughout these changes and having a culture that’s dynamic enough to roll with these changes is pretty cool. not bad for a backwater.

  9. “…the primary language of western civlization is french. while it may not be as entirely true today, it is certainly true over the timespan of the culture. any honest examination of the intellectual development of the west must easily yield that conclusion.”

    Um, gaius? What about Latin?

  10. drf, I think you misread gaius’ comment. He said that America DIDN’T produce much in the way of high culture in the 20th Century, not that it COULDN’T, and attributed this fact to the recent vintage of our cultural power, not anything inherent to American culture.

    1. we don’t have a high class to produce high culture for.

      One might argue that sit coms are for the highest class the world has ever produced.

      This is without even mentioning Video Games. The highest form of art ever conceived.

  11. thanks joe!
    sorry gaius!

    i would still disagree with the statement that america didn’t produce any “high culture” in the 20th century.

    plus, the merits of “high culture”, and its very definition are questionable. i’d hope that “high culture” as percent of total accomplishments would be diminishing, as there are now more things to see, do, know, understand, and dream up.

    sorry about the misread and thanks joe for calling me on it! 🙂

    cheers,
    drf

  12. Didn’t America invent jazz?

  13. Paging Goethe and his number one fan, H. L. Mencken.

  14. what is “high culture” exactly, in this context? my general impression is one of dollar signs and niche activity.

  15. Um, gaius? What about Latin?

    mr joe, i view latin more as the language of the roman and roman catholic civilization that preceded the modern west. indeed, modernity has been characterized since the reniassance by the emergence of the vernacular languages we now so closely associate with nationalism.

  16. Gaius’s strangely uncapitalized repetition of the “It’s All Been Done” theme is as invalid now as it was in ancient Ur.

    By any conceivable measure, the contributions to human culture continue to occur at an increasing rate. French and English cultures continue to enhance each other at comparable rates, while both claim the upper hand.

    To suggest that Warhol was America’s greatest artist is to ignore far more important, interesting, and creative artists in media that didn’t even exist when France last contended [and failed] to dominate culture like Matt Groening and The Brothers Chaps [http://www.homestarrunner.com].

  17. i would still disagree with the statement that america didn’t produce any “high culture” in the 20th century.

    mr drf, not only would i say america hasn’t, but i would say little high culture of any kind has been produced anywhere in the west since the interwar years — we have lived under the regime of antiart, which is preoccupied with destroying culture, not articulating it.

  18. Rhywun, the Right loves to call Americans stupid, but they had very little to do with Public Ed over the last 40 years.

  19. Matt Groening

    i love the simpsons — but a clever cartoonist is high art?

    given the numbers who would agree with that sad assessment, can one question the depth of our decadence?

  20. “mr drf, along with mr freund’s “sputter” derision, you’re taking a philosophical point of view akin to what you condemns.”

    huh?

    besides reading your post as if it were from the postmodern bullshit generator, throwing in references (i was an english major at a NESCAC college, so referencing is not lost on me) doesn’t do anything to support your original claims that were challenged.

    and the unconstrained individual is still the most powerful force around.

    the knee jerk associate this with commerce is nice: just like junyo running to red bait when various forms of religious extremism were brought up.

    i had originally thought yours was an excellent troll, designed to wake us up this morning, but your quasi middle brow masturbation here is really lost. i guess you also deserve a vizzini award here.

  21. “mr drf, not only would i say america hasn’t, but i would say little high culture of any kind has been produced anywhere in the west since the interwar years — we have lived under the regime of antiart, which is preoccupied with destroying culture, not articulating it.”

    i guess is sucks to be you right now.

  22. The most obvious contribution, but not limited to, that has changed the world as much as Guttenburg’s printing press is the internet. That America, well Al Gore, invented. I could go on and on, human genome, biotech, nanotech, etc, etc, etc.

    techne, mr sigma, marches on — but that is not civilization. that we (not just you) so readily confuse the two is some evidence, imo, of the end of important western cultural development.

    that is not to say that cultural development is over. its rebirth elsewhere is assured as long as humanity exists. but the western impulse has grown absurd and completely decadent.

  23. fine gaius. you think we’re in the middle of the decline of western civilization.

    other posters (including me) don’t.

    to quote king arthur (grahm chapman), “alright. we’ll call it a draw”.

  24. if we will lead in or contribute anything fundamental, it will probably have to be in the next civilization, not the last one — and i doubt we will. america has been and likely will remain a relative backwater of the cultural west, just as rome remained the merely organizational capital of a decadent hellenistic world.

    So, um, you don’t go to the movies or listen to popular music much, huh? Novels and poems (at least poems that are written in journals and read by subscribers) are moribund forms. The Modernists, who form such a central part of Mlle. Casanova Frankenstein’s thesis, realized that 80 years ago, and that’s why they made such a concerted (and I think, mostly successful) effort to exhaust those forms. It doesn’t matter that plenty of losers are still writing novels and poems-these forms are no longer in any way central to any culture, and the creative energy (that is, the energy of truly creative people) that once went into making them now goes into other, newer forms. The United States thoroughly dominated those new forms throughout the twentieth century and has only recently begun to loosen its iron grip on them.

    You also spout that other great unexamined cliche of the cognoscenti: that the Romans added nothing to the Greek culture they “stole.” Ovid is as good as anything in Greek, and Virgil is only dismissed as second-rate Homer by people who can’t be bothered to read either. The plays of Seneca and Terence were in reality far more influential than anything from the Greek drama, furnishing the models and in many cases the plots for most of the Elizabethan plays. The great Greek culture gets such great props because it exists only in theory for practically everybody. In fact, every period that made a point of rediscovering classical virtues-the renaissance, enlightenment France, the early United States-was looking primarily to Roman, not Greek, models. Roman culture looks shabby next to Greek for the same reason your actual spouse always pales in comparison to some unobtainable lover.

  25. throwing in references

    sorry, mr drf — i’m referring to the charles paul freund article from mr gillespie’s original posting — and should have cut that ‘s’ from ‘condemns’. my apologies.

    and the unconstrained individual is still the most powerful force around.

    precisely — its unchecked power for antisociety and destruction is the problem.

    fwiw, i’m not making this up a la derrida. there’s a broad and deep pool of scholarship regarding western decadence which is, i think, completely convincing. read barzun or russell for starters. it’s a source of constant amazement to me that our greatest thinkers, historians and philosophers are so poorly read, known and understood — but then, completely typical of the age of antisociety.

  26. The limbless Black Knight called it a draw, not King Arthur. Arthur did, however, utter the classic line “What are you going to do, bleed on me?”

  27. jeff:

    arthur puts his sword away while stating the draw comment. the “bleed on me” happens during the fight. check it out.

    do you know the hungarian phrase book? hilarious. the translation for “i would like to buy some matches” is misrepresented by the “my hovercraft is full of eels”

    awesome stuff.

  28. That was the Black Knight (John Cleese)

  29. That is the high culture we’re refering to?

    I would agree.

    But it was just as anti-culture as anybody.

  30. pint:

    the black knight most certainly does NOT call for the draw. the “we’ll call it a draw” was arthur.

  31. What is “high culture”?

    During his lifetime, wasn’t Shakespeare’s work considered clever and crudely funny and occasionally seriously insightful, but for the most part the slightly disreputable entertainment of the vulgar mobs … sort of like episodes of M*A*S*H?

    I don’t think we know what high culture is until it has been sifted through a century or more.

    (Exeunt Hawkeye, grouchomarxing)

  32. pint and jeff:

    http://www.mwscomp.com/movies/grail/grail-04.htm

    this goes along with what you’re saying. it still looks to me like it’s graham saying it as he puts his sword away…

    and i still think this due to the final words of the black knight:
    BLACK KNIGHT:
    Oh. Oh, I see. Running away, eh? You yellow bastards! Come back here and take what’s coming to you. I’ll bite your legs off!

    why would he be saying this when he’s calling for a draw?

    but i’d like the record to show that according to this site that you two were correct. mea culpa and thanks for the correction!!!

    cheers!
    drf

  33. The most obvious contribution, but not limited to, that has changed the world as much as Guttenburg’s printing press is the internet

    Just to be pedantic, the most important implementation of internet technology — the real world-changing, Gutenberg-level one — is the World Wide Web, which came to us from Europe.

  34. Novels and poems (at least poems that are written in journals and read by subscribers) are moribund forms.

    it’s not just the medium that changed, mr cavanaugh. what is the message of postmodern cinema? what does it say? largely, that none of us have any obligation to each other, that the nietzschean heroic quest for individual justification is what is right and that any limitation upon that prerogative is wrong.

    go watch some american movies. it’s what they’re about. i rarely see a film that isn’t.

    that is fundamentally antisocial — as is the vaunted libertarianism of this magazine, fwiw. taken with the moderation and measure of locke, there’s much that can be gained by individualism. but limitation is right out today — anyone so much as breathes at the slightest impingement upon your individual prerogative today and it’s lawsuits.

    the compromise that made individualism compatible with society is dead at the hands of the romantics. good luck with what remains.

    that the Romans added nothing to the Greek culture they “stole.”

    this is obviously not entirely true — but take a look at what is original in roman sculpture, mosiac, fresco. essentially, nothing. there’s a reason the romans plundered greece for its art and artisans. there’s a reason cicero went to athens to be educated.

    The plays of Seneca and Terence were in reality far more influential than anything from the Greek drama, furnishing the models and in many cases the plots for most of the Elizabethan plays

    indeed they were — seneca is a wonderful mind in my estimation particularly — but he is using the vehicle of euripedes for his comments on roman decadence, isn’t he? moreover, observe seneca’s difference from euripedes — pessimism, dark mysticism, the detachment of virtue as heroic and entirely ethereal but ultimately defeated in the world by the forces of evil. sound familiar?

    when seneca died, he did his utmost best to imitate plato’s socrates of the phaedo. this should say what there is to say about seneca and roman intellectuals, and the place they held for the greeks.

    likewise, i would not say that the united states contributed nothing to western culture. but i would say that contribution is (like the roman) diminishingly small in comparison to the french, british and german (like the greek).

  35. drf,
    You had me thinking there for a minute. YOu may be right also. Anyway, we’ll call it a draw!

    Regardless, cudos for bringing up such a interesting topic. Maybe I’m just culturally-challenged, but if I enjoy the entertainment; culture be damned!

  36. ?? What is this “high art” everyone’s talking about? Is it high art because people get dressed up to watch it? or because it costs a lot to see? or because it’s in an old book? I agree stevo:

    “I don’t think we know what high culture is until it has been sifted through a century or more”

    It reminds me of that scene written by the 20th century American artist Matt Greoning, where future Lisa and her British fiance discuss the finer points of the collective works of Jim Carry.

  37. you bet, pint!

    and thanks again for the correction (one thing i can’t stand is misquoting python)

    cheers and have a great 2005.
    drf

  38. go watch some american movies. [having no obligation to each other is] what they’re about. i rarely see a film that isn’t.

    Since you’ve obviously thought deeply about this topic, perhaps you’d regale us with some examples? Keeping in mind that the top five box office grossers of the year in the U.S. were:

    1. Shrek 2 – Concerning two characters who are willing to make enormous changes to their inner and outer selves to be with each other.

    2. Spider-Man 2 – Concerning a superhero, the ultimate altruist, who denies himself a private life solely so he can help others.

    3. The Passion of the Christ – I don’t have to explain this one, do I?

    4. Harry Potter and the Yadda Yadda Yadda – I have to confess that I am unfamiliar with the thematic concerns of Harry Potter.

    5. The Incredibles – See No.2.

    Still, please do go on.

  39. What is this “high art” everyone’s talking about? Is it high art because people get dressed up to watch it? or because it costs a lot to see? or because it’s in an old book? I agree stevo:

    “I don’t think we know what high culture is until it has been sifted through a century or more”

    i disagree — i don’t think you have to be a genius to see that modern art galleries are sorely lacking good material. as a part of the heroic antisocial ethic, art has become an exercize in what one can endure rather than what one can be edified by — it is antiart.

    moreover, under the sway of individual emancipation, effective criticism has died — killing the gatekeepers. every moron on the block is suddenly an artist. chimpanzees create art. art is naive — or worse, found. and it’s wrong somehow to criticize shit as being shit because it some dullard’s holy personal expression, or because the mass of men will buy it. it’s fucking sad, frankly, to see the mirror of our civilization in such a state.

  40. So, let me see if I have this straight: You’re pissed off that the modern Western artistic impulse fails to properly celebrate the notion of societal growth, achievement and cohesiveness . . . said society being composed largely of, as you so eloquently put it, dullards and morons?

  41. dear god, mr phil.

    1. Shrek 2 – Concerning two characters who are willing to make enormous changes to their inner and outer selves to be with each other.

    never saw 2, but let me take shrek, which is probably precious little different: two heroic individuals fighting a society that is a mere system of repression, seeking heroically to manifest their individual personal virtue — see also antiart: ugly is beautiful — see also primitivist pastoralism — see also the return of mysticism.

    2. Spider-Man 2 – Concerning a superhero, the ultimate altruist, who denies himself a private life solely so he can help others.

    nietzschean superman whose weighty noble altruism destroys his life via the oppressive weight of society.

    3. The Passion of the Christ – I don’t have to explain this one, do I?

    i wish someone would — two-hour murder scene. not sure it had a plot except what one inferred. see also: antiart — an exercize in what one can endure. see also: another persecuted byronic hero. see also: the return of mysticism. (no mention of the beatitudes in there anywhere, by the way.)

  42. what is the message of postmodern cinema? what does it say? largely, that none of us have any obligation to each other, that the nietzschean heroic quest for individual justification is what is right and that any limitation upon that prerogative is wrong.

    go watch some american movies. it’s what they’re about. i rarely see a film that isn’t.

    That’s the message of The Polar Express? The Passion of the Christ? Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? The Lord of the Rings? Finding Nemo? My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Monsters, Inc.? Pearl Harbor? How the Grinch Stole Christmas? X-Men? Saving Private Ryan?

    If you seriously think American movies, let alone American popular movies, are about Neitzchean self-fulfillment you are so seriously delusional I don’t know that there’s any point in this exchange. Every other movie is about jumping in with the team for the big win. The trope of the individualist hero who has a change of heart and sacrifices for a greater cause has been a standard of movies from Casablanca through Three Kings and continuing into whatever the next mixed-race buddy picture turns out to be.

    indeed they were — seneca is a wonderful mind in my estimation particularly — but he is using the vehicle of euripedes for his comments on roman decadence, isn’t he?

    Some decadence: Roman civilization was still going strong 200 years after Seneca died, produced the widest and happiest range of civilization the world had seen at the time, and only has its reputation for “decadence” because the Christians who undermined it were the ones who wrote the history. And if your point is that Seneca had models for his own work, well, so long, Shakespeare, Racine, Dante, Joyce, and anybody else who ever borrowed material from some “original” source. Other than that, I don’t see what your point is, other than to keep shifting the terms of the discussion so you don’t have to admit that you are clearly wrong.

  43. Eh, nevermind the nonsense about how worthless western culture supposedly is. What I want to know is why gaius thinks it would be “galling” to English speakers that, once upon a time, French was more widely spoken in Western civilization.

    Who cares that the common tongue used to be something else? I’ve sworn never to use my time travel powers for personal gain, so odds are I’ll never see a world where the primary language isn’t English.

  44. cultural change is getting faster. or at least appears to be getting faster.

    i think of all the amazing music produced by individuals, on a comparatively small scale in the past 50 years. i think of the new genres, technologies, forms…many of which have come full circle in third or fourth generation cannibalizations (see Topic, Hot for more information).

    if this be decadence and low culture, amen. they’re all examples of individuals working together, whether they knew it or not, and cobbling bits and pieces of themselves and their lives into something else entirely.

    i sit here listening to dub as a german in the year 2000 imagined it to be, on a laptop produced by an american company and probably recorded through japanese converters and uk-built fx. my impressions are to be considered in that light.

  45. Concerning high art vs. low: Shakespeare, back in the day, was considered extremely lowbrow and vulgar, writing plays filled with sex, violence and obscene puns.

    Five hundred years from now, pompous English majors will probably use unnecessarily multisyllabic words to discuss the novels of Stephen King and poetry of Ted Geisel. (That’s ‘Dr. Seuss’ to you non-English majors.)

  46. Oh goody. Gaius Marius jacks another thread in order to sprinkle his nurturing communitarian wisdom down upon the vulgar, antisocial, cutthroat, libertarian masses.

    Is there any topic that doesn’t come back to hyperindividualism and end-stage Western decadence?

  47. “Is there any topic that doesn’t come back to hyperindividualism and end-stage Western decadence?”

    religious fundamentalism.

    sigh. and gaius is a fellow chicagoian. at least his nom de keyboard isn’t kasper hauser (which is a really fucking lame name for a rock group that really affects its cool…)

  48. Matt Groening’s “clever cartooning” is a damn sight more than that faker Warhol was ever able to accomplish. Andy regularly s/t/o/l/e/… appropriated the cartoons of other, much less highly paid artists for his “high art.” He even swiped that trick from that other thief, Lichtenstein.

    Grammar lesson:

    It’s Exit Hawkeye. It would be Exeunt Hawkeye and B.J.

    I do wish Santa had brought g.m. and drf shift keys for Xmas. 🙂

    Kevin

  49. i guess it’s good we’re not text messaging. that’d really cause for some consternation… 🙂

    btw: i shot santa as he attempted to break-and-enter. so there.

  50. If you seriously think American movies, let alone American popular movies, are about Neitzchean self-fulfillment you are so seriously delusional I don’t know that there’s any point in this exchange.

    it’s not the exclusive message of all things, plainly, and i don’t mean to say that it is, mr cavanaugh. but it is clearly part of the basic subtext, the operating system we all use and accept: what frees us is best. that is obviously (or should be obviously) not always so.

    The trope of the individualist hero who has a change of heart and sacrifices for a greater cause has been a standard of movies from Casablanca through Three Kings and continuing into whatever the next mixed-race buddy picture turns out to be.

    how many american films have to seen that glorify the protagonist bowing to the will of his better and gaining happiness from it?

    1. how many american films have to seen that glorify the protagonist bowing to the will of his better and gaining happiness from it?

      Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

      You I write this in 2010 but the movie came out in 1999. It should also be pointed out that movie is a cult classic among the most “decadent” among us.

  51. Five hundred years from now, pompous English majors will probably use unnecessarily multisyllabic words to discuss the novels of Stephen King and poetry of Ted Geisel.

    And many of those multisyllabic words were invented by… Shakespeare.

  52. Roman civilization was still going strong 200 years after Seneca died, produced the widest and happiest range of civilization the world had seen at the time, and only has its reputation for “decadence” because the Christians who undermined it were the ones who wrote the history.

    i think you must misunderstand my use of the word, mr cavanaugh. i don’t mean drunken orgies. i mean what barzun means: “When people accept futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent. The term is not a slur; it is a technical label. A decadent culture offers opportunities chiefly to the satirist.” it is the onset of irony as the primary viewpoint. and it is hte consequence of the impulsive ideas of a civilization being taken to their logical extremes.

  53. “bowing to the will of his better”

    I just wanted to highlight that. It’s hilarious. I picture ol’ gaius saying it in a red velvet smoking jacket with a glass of port, wondering where that blasted footman is with his evening paper and wishing his beloved spouse wouldn’t concern herself so with alms, as it just encourages slovenliness among the working classes.

  54. Phil, don’t be too hard on ol’ gaius. He’s only grumpy because his gout is acting up.

    Kevin

  55. how many american films have to seen that glorify the protagonist bowing to the will of his better and gaining happiness from it?

    Anyone else have the feeling that gaius would describe “1984” as “a feel-good movie with a well-deserved happy ending”?

  56. is it something like this?

    (“Part II” Bad Religion, 1988: “suffer”)

    it’s superficial progress
    they call it liberation
    with opiates of silicon big brother schemes to rule the nation

    we’re one nation under god
    we stand above the rest
    with mighty high technology
    we’re never second best
    our specialty is infiltration!

    prepare yourselves for subjugation
    victory through domination!
    the trepidatious throngs all fear the big eye in the sky
    the government observes them with their own electric eye
    automatons, illiterates and indigents of every shape and size
    don’t stop but aid this cruel crusade
    participate in their own demise

    we’re one nation under god
    we stand above the rest
    with mighty high technology
    we’re never second best
    our specialty is infiltration!

    so pack your bags you third world nation
    victory through domination

  57. I picture ol’ gaius saying it in a red velvet smoking jacket with a glass of port, wondering where that blasted footman is with his evening paper and wishing his beloved spouse wouldn’t concern herself so with alms, as it just encourages slovenliness among the working classes.

    exactly — it’s what most people think of obedience now, mr phil. it seems no one can imagine any circumstances where they should simply do as they’re told and feel good about it. and that is absurd.

    it’s a massive, profound shift in thought, when you consider that hobbes felt it right to argue — as a man of his times, just as we are of ours — that there was no possible moral justification for opposing the sovereign. and it is wholly illustrative, i think, of the distance which western civ has let individualism run in that time.

  58. how many american films have to seen that glorify the protagonist bowing to the will of his better and gaining happiness from it?

    I think Gone With the Wind holds up the glorious tradition of bowing to the will of one’s betters. Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for doing just that.

  59. Oh goody. Gaius Marius jacks another thread in order to sprinkle his nurturing communitarian wisdom down upon the vulgar, antisocial, cutthroat, libertarian masses.

    I’m always happy to see gaius marius busting his freedom-is-slavery moves. It certainly keeps things varied, even when he’s just arguing to win, as is the case here.

  60. gaius, are you from Crossballs? I feel like I’m being Punk’d here.

    You say that modern films are bad [um-Kay] because they advocate the individual over society, which is anti-society, which is bad [um-Kay]. But, when someone (who uses capitalization) offers up art that demonstrates individuals sacrificing their individuality for society, you describe how unoriginal they are. Then when someone mentions very original modern art, you ignore that assertion and decry it as anti-society, which is bad [um-Kay].

    The punchline here seems to be that this is not about art at all for you. The modern world (and its litte art, too), as you see it, is a demonstration of the success of the individual over society. And that individuality is bad because it is winning over society (which is made up of individuals), because society represents more people than there are individuals (even though it doesn’t). And that winning out over society is bad,…because it’s bad….[um-Kay].

    What you fail to see is that this is also a demonstration of the success of society as a result. It is not a zero-sum game. Individuality is a vehicle for the success of society, though the success of society is not and should never be the sought out goal.

    Also, calling Matt Groening a “clever cartoonist” is like saying that Beethoven could turn out a good ditty.

  61. “how many american films have to seen that glorify the protagonist bowing to the will of his better and gaining happiness from it? ”

    rambo?
    riding miss daisy?
    (oh, that’s DRIVING miss daisy)
    star wars
    yank my doodle

  62. But now I’m puzzled — Tim is usually pretty astute, but he claims that giaus marius is arguing.
    Odd, that. I don’t see any argument, only bombast and assertions.
    Do please enlighten us on at least these two points, gaius —
    1) WHY is it absurd that “no one can imagine any circumstances where they should simply do as they’re told and feel good about it”? Can you even provide such a circumstance for discussion, or is this merely additional effluent from your frothing?
    2) What is wrong with letting individualism run [amok?] to the point where we may regard it as absurd that Hobbes seriously claimed “that there was no possible moral justification for opposing the sovereign”? Can you identify any single point on which Hobbes was correct, and justify with argument that he was indeed correct?

    with all due respect,
    Shirley Knott

  63. win? edify. 🙂

    Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for doing just that.

    thank you, mr cavanaugh, for so clearly illustrating the modern hyperventilating equation of obedience and evil. of course, it isn’t so. some level of obedience and obligation is the foundation of society — any society, any marriage, any neighborhood.

    our inability to reconcile ourselves as people with the notion that some significant level of simple obedience is not only good but necessary is why society, marriage and neighborhood so often fail to materialize in our age.

    of course, in a society of irresponsible hyperindividuals, obedience, when observed, is something to be exploited and not stewarded. when obedience has no reward, it’s hard to see how it can make a positive contribution again to western societies.

  64. Furthermore, the “individuality run amok” theory of libertarian social collapse is silly. It’s not so much about submitting to others (although very hot when done consentually, see “Secretary”) but granting when someone is better at a task or a has a genuinly good idea. It’s called S-P-E-C-I-A-L-I-Z-A-T-I-O-N and it’s the economic cornerstone by which society, a collection of individuals, is able to hire everything from plumbers to scientists to those snotty artists some are so fond of.

  65. gaius,
    I award you no points. We are all now dumber from having listened to you, and may god have mercy on your soul.

  66. gaius graced us with:

    it seems no one can imagine any circumstances where they should simply do as they’re told and feel good about it. and that is absurd.

    So, of course, you do do as you’re told, don’t you. And you feel good about it, don’t you.

    Then why are you exercising your individuality over our little micro-society here? Aren’t you desecrating your own sermon with your actions here?

    Not that I want you to stop. I rather enjoy the nonsensical slithering snake of your arguments.

  67. is there a chance to differentiate between “obedience” that is chosen – a marriage, a social sphere, a neighborhood, a business contract – and “obedience” which is not – slavery, etc?

  68. WHY is it absurd that “no one can imagine any circumstances where they should simply do as they’re told and feel good about it”

    because, ms knott, most people refuse to believe that their judgement is worse than someone else’s — even though, in the vast majority of cases, it is, and predictably so. wise men were once elevated to leadership for this specific reason; i don’t see much of that anymore, do you?

    but it’s yet more than that. people have lost, in their self-worship, the ability to compromise — to admit that they may be wrong, that manifesting their view is not what is most important. individualists are inevitably a prideful lot. and i think the affliction of overweening pride runs rampant in our society, destroying modesty and social bonds as it goes.

    Can you identify any single point on which Hobbes was correct

    my point is not to proves hobbes correct; i would not try. i meant only to show how far the pendulum of our perspective has swung.

    i would simply posit that hobbes’ opposite — that there is no sovereign which should not be subverted — is as insufferable as total submission because it is anarchy. your statement What is wrong with letting individualism run [amok?] to the point where we may regard it as absurd is an invitation, it seems to me, for exactly that — what hobbes rightly describes as a state of perpetual war.

  69. Then why are you exercising your individuality over our little micro-society here?

    lol — i am, after all, a man of my place and time.

  70. pint:

    awesome reference. however: confession time. i only know this from Mike&Mike’s “just shut up”. what is it from, originally?

    you’re certainly racking up the points today!

    and Captain: comparative advantage. oh yeah!

  71. drf,
    Billy Madison, though not even close to a direct quote.
    See, I’m steeped in culture! 🙂

  72. is there a chance to differentiate between “obedience” that is chosen – a marriage, a social sphere, a neighborhood, a business contract – and “obedience” which is not – slavery, etc?

    of course, mr dhex — but my point is that while tyranny is the inability to escape obedience, anarchy is the the inabilility to accept obedience.

    i think we suffer, as a society, far more of the latter than the former — a condition so destabilizing that, ultimately, it leads to tyranny from necessity. the greek city-states, the italian 12th-14th c city-states and rome all ran this course, as it has been run innumerable times in history.

  73. hey pint!

    how about this:
    Principal: Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul

    http://www.garnersclassics.com/qbilly.htm

    awesome!

  74. I’m with dhex here. There is a difference between coersed and non-coersed submission. I ask my friends to suggest movies to me, I let Amazon make recomendations to. I let doctors perscribe medicine. But I think that the members of the micro-society here resent when a sovergn tells us what movies we must and musn’t watch or what drugs we musn’t take.

  75. fwiw, people, this was fun. thanks.

  76. Individuality is a vehicle for the success of society, though the success of society is not and should never be the sought out goal.

    in moderation, mr rimfax, balanced by obligation, i completely agree. moderation of individualism is not what we have had in my lifetime.

  77. I’m not sure I can be arsed to listen to a lecture on obedience, taste, art, and good judgment from someone who can’t be bothered to adhere to a simple rule such as using capital fucking letters when he writes.

  78. wise men were once elevated to leadership for this specific reason; i don’t see much of that anymore, do you?

    There was never a point in human history in which wise men were elevated to leadership — only points at which those who had attained leadership claimed to be wise.

    That’s why you “don’t see much of that anymore”; because it never happened in the first place.

  79. Obedience is always chosen.

  80. “Obedience is always chosen”
    so are capital letters. dammit.

  81. I’m jumping in late, but I like Jennifer’s comment on Shakespeare. Whenever I hear that entertainment today is so much more violent and sexual than in the past, I just think about Macbeth:

    -People getting killed in almost every scene
    -The central character is a raging egotist who murders his way to power after 3 goth chicks tell him he’s going to be da bomb some day
    -Lady Macbeth talking about how she’d rip a baby from her breast and dash his head against a stone wall
    -In the middle of everything, for no particular reason some servant delivers a long soliloquy on alcohol and erectile dysfunction
    -When it first came out it ran afoul of the royal censors because the special effects were too graphic–the actors used blood and organs obtained from a butcher shop to make the death scenes more realistic. Well, that and the fact that it was about the murder of a king.

    So don’t anybody try to tell me that entertainment today is so much coarser than it was in the “good old days”.

    Of course, gaius marius would probably say that Macbeth was simply the first step down the road to the ruin of Western civilization, and what we’re seeing now is the final scene before the end… ;->

  82. I’m not entirely sure what causes Gaius’s paranoia about rampant individualism destroying the fabric of society. I can’t speak for anyone else – lest they submit in obedience to my opinion – but individualism is not a holy grail for me. It’s more of a guideline. As a general rule, I’ll make my own decisions about matters that affect me directly. If I notice somebody is better at doing something or is wiser in some area, I’ll yield to him or her when appropriate. Obedience is akin to respect: it is earned and willfully given, not demanded and taken.

    To bring this back to the original post, a few people already asked, “What is ‘high culture’?” It seems to me that it’s just a genre of culture, or maybe a particular aspect of a culture. To some people (Gaius?), it is the pinnacle of cultural achievement even if it can’t be exactly defined. To others, it’s crap because nothing holds a candle to Bazooka Joe comics and films like Twister. There’s no accounting for taste, folks. So some French think culture begins and ends with them… so what? We’ll pick up a few pieces that fit well with our own proclivities, and they’ll in turn borrow a bit here and there from us. All cultures have, do, and will want recognition for their respective advances. All cultures have, do, and will borrow and steal concepts from others.

    Furthermore, The Nation just sucks ass. Here’s the synopsis of the latest (and every) issue: “Everything wrong in the world is George W. Bush’s fault. Amen.” W sucks ass too, but the president isn’t all powerful (yet – knock wood) like The Nation makes him out to be. At least it used to be like that; I haven’t read it in about 18 months.

    Since somebody brought up Billy Madison, and since Gaius was being such an obstinate prick earlier in this thread, here’s a ‘high culture’ retort to his musings:

    Gaius drinks his own pee.

    🙂

  83. after a few months i do sort of see mr. marcus’ point – the barzun stuff comes flooding back after a while – but i don’t think what we’re experiencing is either a loss of obedience or obligation beyond what’s been lost from times past that i, as a relative youngster, cannot begin to imagine. i tend to point to both an increase in superficial freedom – i.e. being passionately superficial about cell phones or whatever – and the rapid increase in social change. it’s disorienting and weird, but at the end of the day people do believe in gatekeepers and authority via power. the great disagreement between the two thirds of this country who voted for president is who should hold those reigns.

    people still form their own voluntary obligations, but they’re not the choices of the past. considering how little time has passed since, for example, severe racist measures were part and parcel of state and federal law, such spasms spawned from these choices are unavoidable. we are experiencing a 40 or 50 year downswing from thousands of years of sun kings and other divine right gibberish. i don’t think wise people go into politics, it’s simply too ridiculous to believe.

    besides, the real money’s in kabbala these days.

  84. So don’t anybody try to tell me that entertainment today is so much coarser than it was in the “good old days”.

    who is trying to say this?

    the culture of manners is not what i mean, ms jennifer and mr thoreau, when i say civilization. it’s well known that anything we would construe as good behavior became commonly practiced among the nobility only as recently as louis xiv — and the masses long after that.

    Concerning high art vs. low: Shakespeare, back in the day, was considered extremely lowbrow and vulgar, writing plays filled with sex, violence and obscene puns.

    it should be noted that shakespeare but imitated seneca in this, who wrote in the decadence of the romans. but this is not to understand shakespeare’s relevance to western art. he was first (or anointed first, after a much later rehabilitation) to develop character in western literature. prior to him, the persons of a play were types — with names like Chastity, Gluttony, et al. shakespeare and his contemporaries were the first to put people — fully fleshed characters, with complex personalities, into theater.

    along with his mastery of the poetic style of the ancients, this is what made him revolutionary and important — and high art.

    but beyond that, civilization was a progression toward manners of sorts — from the complete lack thereof during medieval times until the romantics, men aspired to live in a fashion that can only be called more civilized.

    this process has plainly reversed — in manners, in dress, in language (thank you e.e. cummings) — and do you believe that these conventions have no role in bonding us to one another in society? this is the romantic impulse — revolt of the solitary against the social is the philosophical cornerstone of romanticism; the aim was to emancipate the individual from social tradition and morality.

    it is amazing to me that so many of us sit here and pretend to be the reasoning inheritors of burke or voltaire (who wrote “essay on manners” in 1756)
    while implicitly condoning the backsliding of society that they so obviously would have abhorred — but that rousseau endorsed. do we really understand so little of these men?

  85. Clearly at least one of us understands far too little of these men.

    Sidney Wang: What meaning of this, Mr. Twain?
    Lionel Twain: I will tell you, Mr. Wang, if YOU can tell ME why a man who possesses one of the most brilliant minds of this century can’t say his *prepositions* or *articles!* “What IS THE,” Mr. Wang! “What IS THE meaning of this?”
    Sidney Wang: That what I said! “What meaning of this?”

    I couldn’t resist. Prepositions, articles, capitals, whatever.

  86. Hey Rim!

    Excellent reference. Murder By Death. Great Movie.

    Cheers,
    drf

  87. …..(thank you e.e. cummings) For what, making it “hip” to not capitalize? At least Don Marquis’ Archy had a reason.

    — and do you believe that these conventions have no role in bonding us to one another in society?

    For libertarians, social convention and etiquette should be important. They are a sub-species of customary law, which is less dangerous to human freedom than positive legislation.

    Kevin

  88. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_wide_web

    Actually the WWW was invented in America but by two Europeans… Does that make it American or European? Or does anyone care, seems to me it is what America is, the capital of the world, not a country but a destination…

    As for igh Art and Culture, if High Art and Culture is only what you say is High Art and Culture, then welcome to the rest of your life…

    Study a bit of history and you’ll quickly see that most things we call High Art as of today were once considered backwater and simple… But in the end who really cares, if you like the Dogs Playing Poker, then hang it up on your wall, is art solely dependent upon what Elitists call art?

  89. Hi, I am Sabuj, an M. Phil researcher, here in Bangladesh. I would like to help in Indonesia, Sri Lanka or where needed, but I’m not with any organization. It seems there is too much politics and red tape to try to get involved with any organizations that I know of. I’m wondering how to go about helping independantly, or possibly hook up with some group over there? Do you have any helpful info, or how do you plan to go about helping? Thank you for any response you can give me.
    I also have wide experienceses fundraising and helping to the flood effected people in the rural areas of Bangladesh.
    Sincerely,

    Sabuj.

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