The Breakdown of Western Form
happening in the West is not only Third-Worldization through immigration, but self-imposed
Third-Worldization, consisting of a breakdown of the Western idea of form.
One expression of this breakdown is the ubiquity in our society of loud unpleasant “music” and other electronic noise and, more significantly, the unthinking acceptance of same.
In today’s New York City, for example, you will walk into a retail store or a hair-cutting salon, and not only will there be loud black funk music blasting from speakers in the ceiling from morn till night, with its interminable, melody-less, rhythmless, lyric-less (and identical in every song), “oh ooo ohh, ooh, hoh baby, woohoo, uhh, uhh, Woohoo WoohuahAHahAAA, yeah-huh, baby oh yeah”, but the radio reception is so bad it’s all static. I’m talking about loud static, filling the establishment from powerful speakers. When you ask the employees to adjust the tuning of the radio station or to turn the volume down, they will do so, but there seems to be absolutely no consciousness on their part that there was anything inappropriate about this horrible noise. There is a shocking insensibility in young people today, a complete acceptance of noise and disorder in one’s environment.
It reminds me of India, where villagers love to have all-night festivals with electronic speakers turned up to the max, where people in cities are surrounded by unbelievable, all-encompassing noise and disorder and are not disturbed by it at all. In one sense, this is an impressive quality, expressing the spiritual dimension of the Eastern civilization and the idea of the soul unaffected by matter. But it also means that people—calmly accepting a disordered unpleasant environment—will not do anything to improve their environment. I was once shopping in a small department store in Ahmednagar, a medium- size city in western India a couple of hundred miles east of Bombay. The city consisted of one crowded, dusty street after another, with not a single pleasant prospect or anything uplifting to the senses and the mind. As a young salesman was helping me I said: “Where are the nice places in Ahmednagar?” He answered matter-of-factly: “There are no nice places in Ahmednagar.”
That’s the sort of environment that the Third-World acceptance of disorder leads to. And Americans, even short of a total, literal Third-World takeover of America, have already become Third-Worldized in their own souls, and thus will present no resistance to further Third-Worldization.
Of course, the comparison is imperfect and unfair—to Third Worlders. The disorder of today’s America is a distinctly Western or post-Western pop phenomenon betokening total social and moral breakdown and the release of the self from any larger cultural and moral wholes. It is thus far more destructive than the traditional Third-World cultures, though many of them are also moving in the direction of moral and cultural breakdown.
Nevertheless, there is an underlying similarity: It is the absence of the idea of a transcendent truth higher than self and tribe, the absence of the idea of the individual as a separate entity, the absence of the love of form, the absence of the expectation that the infrastructure of our social existence—buildings, streets, sound systems—will be made well and attractively. It is the passive, nonjudgmental acceptance of nature, or of one’s environment. The West first arose in ancient Israel and Greece in a conscious resistance to the surrounding cultures based on the acceptance of the mere cycles of nature. Western man imposed on nature a form and transcendent meaning above the cosmos and its gods. And Western man now seems to be rapidly losing those very qualities that made him what he was.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 22, 2002 01:23 PM | Send
“Western man imposed on nature a form and transcendent meaning above the cosmos and its gods. And Western man now seems to be rapidly losing those very qualities that made him what he was.”
Didn’t Nietzsche make this point over a century ago?
I certainly agree that there has been a decline in the determination to create an attractive environment. I’m not sure, though, that the reason has to do specifically with the classical and Christian sources of Western culture.
In India, aristocratic and religious architecture doesn’t show a simply passive acceptance of one’s environment. Buildings like the Taj Mahal are carefully ordered along a certain aesthetic judgement of beauty of form.
Similarly in Japan there exists a very refined and almost abstract aesthetic sensibility in the design of temples, gardens and aristocratic houses which represents a kind of human imposition on nature.
Larry, take the hint: MOVE OUT OF NEW YORK CITY!
The architecture of India and Japan to which Mr. Richardson refers are not the creation of modern India or Japan, which have now been westernized to a large extent. So it could be argued that the problem of noise and squalor is a western disease, perhaps as yet another example of the destructive power of liberal ideas.
On the other hand, that older architecture, like all great architecture anywhere, was the product of wealth and refined sensibilities. The masses have always lived in places like Ahmednagar or the shops Mr. Auster describes. So perhaps the better explanation is that liberalism, with its levelling tendencies, has meant the ascendancy of the masses and a marginalization of refinement or the elitism that refinement seems to imply.
To Mark Richardson, I certainly didn’t mean that Asian cultures don’t have form and beauty. I was thinking about certain aspects of India and certain aspects of the modern West.
“MOVE OUT OF NEW YORK CITY!”
But someone has to stay on the front lines to see what’s happening. Many people who move to the interior imagine that they’ve solved the problem, and so forget about it, when in fact they have only retreated from the problem and done nothing to stop its ultimate victory.
I understand what you mean, Mr. Auster, but the strategic problem might be that we are spread too thin, our dwindling numbers trying to hold on to too much territory. We might be repeating Justianian’s mistake (I’ve been reading the latest issue of Chronicles), and failing to see that the prudent course is to withdraw within defensible borders…
Can New York city really be saved?
Larry, I think you’re a masochist. If you’re so concerned about national suicide, why stay there? Would you want to live in Detroit, Miami or DC as well? You can always see the art museums on vacations and business trips.
Lawrence Auster said:
“In today’s New York City, for example, you will walk into a retail store or a hair-cutting salon, and not only will there be loud black funk music blasting from speakers in the ceiling from morn till night, with its interminable, melody-less,”
Why does music have to have melody in order to be considered good? I’m sure if the volume of the music you heard was turned down and the static removed that you would enjoy it, or maybe at least respect it.
I don’t understand why so many people like loud noise, never having developed this taste myself, but I don’t think it can be simply a lack of esthetic discrimination. When I stayed in a backpackers’ hostel in Vancouver a few years ago there was a fellow who amazingly seemed to need high-volume rock music in order to get to sleep. Much of the frenetic pace of modern life may be due to a fear of quiet solitude. Loud noise is a way of avoiding facing one’s own thoughts when one is not otherwise occupied. Many people also nowadays seem to require excessive levels of sensory stimulation in order to feel anything.
I suspect it is another variant of the desire which Eric Voegelin described as one for an overwhelming, almost orgasmic experience of the world. The point is indeed to NOT be thinking, especially if that means to be withdrawn into a separate self.
But of course, what’s actually happening in the situations like the ones Mr. Auster described is the rape of the world, not a mystical communion with it.
Interesting thought—the “wall-to-wall noise” experience as an expression of the gnostic drive to escape the uncomfortable dualities of human-divine existence. However, I think Charlie may be mixing up two related but distinct analytical concepts of Voegelin’s—the “concupiciential drive” to empire on one hand, and gnosticism on the other. What I mean—and I haven’t read Voegelin in several years—is that Voegelin sees ancient and modern gnosticism as a (distorted and spiritually destructive) attempt to return to the experience of cosmic wholeness, of a “cosmos full of gods,” that was lost as a result of the “leaps of being” toward transcendent truth that occurred in ancient Israel and Greece. But I don’t remember Voegelin describing the gnostic impulse as erotic per se. However, he does consistently describe the drive to empire in terms of a desire for erotic possession of the world.
I was reminded of a couple of things when Mr. Auster advocated that someone remain on the front line to report what is happening. One is that those of us who have fled are apt to put our heads in the sand.
Two, perhaps political demonstrations in the suburbs would significantly counter the human tendency to ignore what they can’t see—the cancer that is spreading from places like New York. If there were widespread demonstrations in favor of immigration reform in the suburbs, reform might come sooner. When people see familiar faces in the demonstrations, they won’t feel isolated and will be less fearful of speaking their minds.
Voegelin is a difficult author, and I will concede that it is very likely I have misunderstood him. But that’s all beside the point.
I do think that, in its origins, the noise culture shares gnosticism’s contempt for the world. But rather than seeking to transcend or transform it, the reaction is to surrender, to try to become more “real” by embracing and identifying with its ugliness.
In his final sentence, Mr. Hare put his finger on a related phenomenon: the widespread belief that a good life is one that is full of excitement or “fun”. Many people have become adrenaline- or endorphine-junkies. While not as destructive as the identification with the ugly, the fun-culture is based on the same drive to lose one’s self in an intense, unthinking experience of the world.
I agree with Charlie’s point that the noise culture can be seen as a gnostic-type expression, and my disagreement with him, if that’s what it was, was only on a secondary issue.
One of the original insights of Fr. Seraphim Rose was that the phenomenon Charlie describes as the “widespread belief that a good life is one that is full of excitement or ‘fun’” is a type of Nihilism, specifically, Vitalism, the restless search for “life” without a belief in truth.
Among the Vitalist phenomena he describes are “the passion for movement and speed, expressed especially in the veritable cult of the automobile (we have already noted this passion in Hitler); the universal appeal of television and cinema, whose most frequent function is to provide a few hours of escape from reality, both by their eclectic and ‘exciting’ subject-matter and by the hyponotic effect of the media themselves; the increasingly primitive and savage character of popular music and of the perhaps more authentic expression of the contemporary soul, ‘jazz’; the cult of physical prowess in sport, and the morbid worship of ‘youth’ of which it is a part…”
Many of the aspects of modern American culture please the primal aspects of man rather than the refined aspects. I believe this is attributible to several (well actually many) factors. Firstly, mob interest makes the most money. Most people are less educated and will adopt that which is simply dropped in front of their faces. This is a simple fact of humanity as it has been forever, more people are stupid/simple etc. In Roman times they had the gladiators, the Victorian English had the bear-baiting, and many other monarchical cultures that made great achievements simply did not offer anything except work for the large proletaerian populations. The difference is that, and I do not know exactly when this started, only that it has gotten worse, is that many people have lost interest in areas of interest that are more refined (politics, good art, good music, etc.). The idea behind the American dream was that everyone would not only have the opportunity to enrich themselves and society, but they would take that opportunity with joy. Most visibly in recent history, since the racial, sexual, and social revolutions of the 60’s, along with the disillisuonment of a war-ravaged 50 years of western civilizaiton, has destroyed many of the social moirees that previously held society together. It was the unwritten code of the constitution that held the individuals together and created a community. Most of that has been destroyed in our increasingly liberal world, which deems all communities as oppressive in some way or another. Capitalism is the only part of the American ideal that is still flourishing, and without the attached Anglo-Christian-based morals that held society together for so long, the country is gradually turning into a hedonistic playground. People that have something to materially gain promote all types of degrading, primitive crap to people who simply don’t know any better, in order to fill the vacuum created by the destruction of all the social moirees. The change is not in the aristocratic class, there is still a firm set of ideals amongst those of old money, but we judge the new aristocracy only by the size of their pocketbooks, and society has no guiding morals. Materialism has, in a sense, become the new religion! The constant stimulation is even worse amongst the undisciplined affluent, whose numbers are increasing. I know many kids of these families who are well respected within any social order, but occupy themselves with video games, computers, laptops, cars, music, alcohol and drugs 24 hours a day. These are the kids that simply take Ritalin or Concerta when they need to study, because the have no self-discipline. The proof is in the middle-class and even some of the lower-upper classes (I use loose definitions based on my personal experiences), and the best example I can think of is the spread of rap to almost every youth I know. I am a college student, and I see it every day. I have some idea, based mostly on my studies in classical literature, some of the concepts of TASTE that people had in the past, and see that those definitions have been almost entirely eradicated by those who were envious, and rose to power in a nihilistic capitalist society. Ambition is the greatest gift one can have in America; all one has to do is find the balance between what they are truly capable of and how far they are willing to lower their standards, and they can become gods of the mob culture. I see in my world efforts to erase the significance of tests like the IQ, because somehow that is oppressive to those who are dumb! Now we have emotional intelligence measurements, “auditory intelligence”, hell, even “kinetic intelligence”. Soon they will start measuring “retarded intelligence” so people incapable of learning how to speak correctly will finally be viewed equally when compared with the oppressor, an intelligent hard-working student like myself. Simply put, the idea in this country has gone from providing opportunities to simply lowering the standards. If people can’t appreciate good music, or don’t want to take the time, give them neo-classical pieces like the song “Move bitch, get out da’ way” that I heard last week at a party amongst people I would consider to be educated! It is easier to make a quick buck if every moron can understand what you’re peddling, and each fad gives its members the thymos that all men seek, a feeling of legitimacy in being part of something. Capitalism without any social moirees will collapse in on itself.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this transformation is that it is not only limited to the easily manipulated masses. Many bright students are now being brainwashed as young as elementary school. At a recent Daniel Flynn speech presented by the Young Conservatives of Texas (who have 20 well-meaning but socially inept members in a student body of 50,000), I spoke to a couple who reviews educational textbooks and tries to get the liberal ones replaced. There is a concerted effort to rewrite history, and it is terrifying. Many of the young and brilliant are being manipulated by their emotions, not yet knowing how to objectify situations as to approach them entirely rationally, and are converted into angry, smelly Chomsky-ites. Brilliant kids my age. I can only hope that one day I will get the opportunity to execute as many of these scumbags who drive our society to hell as possible. I see such a small hope for a significant conservative influence coming out of my generation; most are either taken to the dark side or simply primalized to the point where to take anything seriously is not ‘just having fun’. Perhaps I am over-estimating the direness of the situation, based on a personal desire to rule the world, but I grew up in a rather conservative part of North Florida, and can not imagine the situation in places like California, the ideologies of which have such a huge influence over all of our lives.
I covered a lot of turf here but I hope there may be a few valid points lost in there somewhere.
There is no real disagreement between us, Mr. Auster.
Thank you for the reference to Fr. Seraphim Rose; I hadn’t heard of him before, but I did a Google search and found some fascinating reading.
Remus, I very much appreciated the following points you made, which have been discussed by many authors. There is indeed an unwritten, un-spelled-out code behind the written Founding Documents of this country, without which the written ones cannot work but must ultimately come crashing down into dust. As you say, the Left with unerring instinct has understood this and has been toiling night and day to get at, and destroy, that unwritten code.
“The idea behind the American dream was that everyone would not only have the opportunity to enrich themselves and society, but would take that opportunity with joy. … [T]he revolutions of the 60s … destroyed many of the social mores that … held society together. … [T]he unwritten code [undergirding] the Constitution … held individuals together and created a community. Most of that has been destroyed in our increasingly liberal world … . Capitalism is the only part of the American ideal that is still flourishing, and without the attached Anglo-Christian-based morals that held society together for so long, the country is gradually turning … hedonistic … . People … promote all types of degrading, primitive crap to people who simply don’t know any better, in order to fill the vacuum created by the destruction of all the social mores. … Capitalism without any social mores will collapse in on itself.”
(1) You express a wish (I don’t know how seriously) to execute a large number of people who are probably our common enemies. While this is an understandable sentiment, it is also fascism, and is an illustration of how fascism is a danger for traditionalists in the modern world. (I think Thomas Molnar discusses this tendency to fascism, e.g. among the French traditionalists, in *The Counter-Revolution*, if my memory serves me.) It seems to me that traditionalists should, if only for practical reasons, be supporting a minimal (classical liberal or libertarian) central state which permits the coexistence of separate cultures either on a regional or “communal” basis, rather than a restored traditionalist state, which could only be imposed by force, and for this reason would actually be nothing like a traditional state, which was in normal times based on a high degree of social consensus (although it is also true that there was the occasional violent repression or even mass extermination). Under a minimal state which gave free rein to organization below the central state level, the most viable culture or cultures ought eventually to prevail, and liberalism of the modern kind would collapse without any further assistance from traditionalists.
(2) You say that “the change is not among the old aristocratic class”. Now I am neither an aristocrat nor even an American, but I have the impression that this view may be lacking in perspective, and that you are under- rather than overestimating the “direness of the situation”. I remember reading in the *New York Review of Books* a few years ago that when TV first appeared on the scene the American aristocracy at first rejected it but then (1960s?) succumbed to the habit of watching it like everyone else. Nowadays, what appears at first sight to be a traditional way of life may actually be no more than a fading afterimage of a traditional way of life, distinct only by comparison with the somewhat more advanced degeneration to be found elsewhere. We have lost so much of the traditional way of life that even the more educated among us probably have difficulty appreciating what has been lost; at least this is something I have slowly been coming to realize, long after leaving university.
At least until recently, the English were typically quite complacent about the immunity of their comparatively aristocratic upper-class culture from “Americanization”, when all the time that culture was adopting “American” features with merely a slight delay after America. Perhaps the same is the case for the old-money U.S. aristocracy. If there were a genuinely flourishing aristocratic class anywhere, one suspects that it would be have an irresistible force of cultural expansion, rather than be cowering in the face of democratic power.
Ian is on target. The “old money” fortunes that were made during the industrial revolution of the late 19th-early 20th centuries have been put completely at the disposal of liberal tendencies in our society. The other night on the O’Riley Factor, Bill interviewed Robert Kennedy’s daughter (the one married to Cuomo) and she sounded just like the left end of the Democratic Party. I’m sure if her grandfather, old Joe Kennedy, had heard her he would have taken her over his knee, spanked her and sent her to her room without supper. The same, of course, can be said for the Rockerfellers and all the rest of those families who are considered “old mmoney”. After all most of the Foundations their fortunes founded are now totally at the service of the left-liberal agenda. Henry Ford II was the last one to complain about it and he lost control of the Ford Foundation. Even the “old money” grandchildren want to be considered “hip” these days.