Previously by Charles A. Burris: Our Establishment Church: ItsRulesandCredo
As there are ages of cultural renaissance and enlightenment, so are there, on the critical evidence of history, ages of cultural sterility and degeneration.
Today's mass youth Rock/Rap culture, with its consecration of the trivial, the sexually perverse, and the infantile, is characterized by the debasement and corruption of language.
In his book, The Second Sin, Thomas Szasz observes:
To concepts like suicide, homicide, and genocide, we should add ‘semanticide’ – the murder of language. The deliberate (or quasi-deliberate) misuse of language through hidden metaphor and professional mystification breaks the basic contract between people, namely the tacit agreement on the proper use of words. Thus it is that the ‘great’ philosophers and politicians whose aim was to control man, from Rousseau to Stalin and Hitler, have preached and practiced semanticide; whereas those who have tried to set man free to be his own master, from Emerson to Kraus and Orwell, have preached and practiced respect for language.
Social Media and the Internet, hailed by some as visionary tools of liberation and empowerment, are the new digital Platonic caves of false reality and noble lies. They are the vehicles where vulgar manipulation of a generation formed linguistically around the primitivism of tribal Rock music by atavistic poseurs and the monotonous dirge of Rap by nihilistic gangsters, will not be a difficult generation to enslave politically, socially and culturally.
Imagine willfully ignorant cybervultures (digital progeny of O'Reilly, Olbermann, Hannity, Maddow, Coulter, Uygur, or Savage) leading thuggish illiterate mobs via Facebook and Twitter.
For four decades my mentor in political and culture matters has been the magnificent Albert Jay Nock, while Nock himself turned to the high Tory essayist Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy as his seminal guide.
But Nock and Arnold did not always see eye-to-eye.
Arnold, as a second generation educational bureaucrat, believed that in order to move his sterile Victorian culture towards "sweetness and light," the defining civilizational appreciation of the best cultural achievements that the West had produced, a vast network of state-sponsored schools must be created to educate the "barbarians," "philistines," and "populace," (his famous labels for the aristocracy, the middle class, and the toiling masses of his day).
Nock was adamantly opposed to this compulsory imposition of coercive egalitarianism and regimentation. He believed (gleefully standing Karl Marx upon his head) the much-heralded u2018universal literacy' of the statists would bring further immiseration of Arnold's "populace," while lowering the cultural common denominator of the hapless bourgeoisie and the predatory "barbarians."
As a state-controlled enterprise maintained by taxation, virtually a part of the civil service (like organized Christianity in England and in certain European countries) the system had become an association de propaganda fide for the extreme of a hidebound nationalism and of a superstitious servile reverence for a sacrosanct State. In another view one saw it functioning as a sort of sanhedrim, a leveling agency, prescribing uniform modes of thought, belief, conduct, social deportment, diet, recreation, hygiene; and as an inquisitional body for the enforcement of these prescriptions, for nosing out heresies and irregularities and suppressing them. In still another view one saw it functioning as a trade-union body, intent on maintaining and augmenting a set of vested interests; and one noticed that in this capacity it occasionally took shape as an extremely well-disciplined and powerful pressure group. (The Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, pages 263-264)
In this day of the triumph of the Idiocracy, Nock has the last haughty and disdainful laugh at the naiveté of Arnold and the progressive educational reformers who followed in his wake.
In the Arts, the modernist and postmodernist projects are exhausted. No more tiresome Épater la bourgeoisie (Shock the middle classes). The avant-garde novelty of Rimbaud, Klimt, Schoenberg, Joyce, Dada, Ligeti, Pollock, Sartre, and Mapplethorpe has degenerated into boorish louts such as Eminem, Lady Gaga, and Kanye West.
Yet in a measured bow towards the underclass lumpenproletariat, mainstream media moguls market this filth as the authentic, spontaneous outpouring from "the streets." But then, so is dog excrement.
Good music should be an elevating celebration of the human spirit. It is an affirmation of life, of the richness and texture of being.
Much contemporary literature and music is an unintelligible exercise in the pathetic and the phallic performed by "trousered apes" (to use Duncan William's excellent descriptive title from his now woefully archaic exposition on related cultural and literary subject matters.)
Weaken, corrupt, dissolve the cohesive authority of language in a society and the rest follows rather easily — a life nasty, brutish, meaningless; an existence void of beauty or purpose.
Perhaps this old curmudgeon could be tragically wrong in my baneful prognostications. I hope I am so.
Our future may indeed be vastly freer and more just, as brilliantly sketched by libertarian visionary Stefan Molyneux, in his powerful, inspirational remarks delivered recently before the Free State Project's PorcFest 2011.
Let us hope that the optimistic brave new world he describes will also be characterized by more civility and simple decency and respect towards one another.
Pioneer communications analyst Marshall McLuhan famously observed, "The medium is the message." McLuhan’s most celebrated work, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, was a revolutionary study in media theory. He said that media themselves, not the content they carry, should be the primary focus of analysis.
McLuhan’s brilliant insight was that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not by the content delivered over the medium, but by the characteristics of the medium itself.
And in today’s world of Social Media and the Internet, erudite, principled, strait-laced, grandfatherly, wonderfully middle class Ron Paul is that medium towards the brighter future outlined by Molyneux.
Such are the humble confessions of a cultural reactionary.
Charles A. Burris [send him mail] is a history instructor in an American high school.