Beauty and freedom

The outstanding Mr. Wright has an interesting take on the way the liblepr crowd (to borrow a Kratmanism) destroys beauty, and why:
The most precious, profound and important of the great ideas which the Left has raped from us is beauty. I need spend no time on the proposition that life without beauty is a nightmare: those who have seen true beauty – sublime beauty, if even for a moment – have nothing to which they can liken it except the ecstasies of mystics and the transports of saints. Beauty consoles the sorrowing; beauty brings joy and deepens understanding; beauty is like food and wine, and men who live surrounded by ugliness become shriveled and starved in their souls. 
Why, if beauty is so important, is there no discussion of it? The victory of the Left in this area has been so sudden, so remarkable, and so complete, that the discussion of beauty has lapsed into an utter and a desolate silence. Have you, dear reader, read anything discussing beauty, putting forth a coherent theory of beauty, or even extolling beauty’s central importance of the human soul in a year? In 10 years? Ever? This may be the only essay you will read on the topic this decade, and yet the topic is one of paramount importance. It is a matter of life and death not for the body but for the spirit. 
There is no discussion of it because by convincing the public that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the Left has placed it beyond the realm of discussion. According to the Left, beauty is a matter of taste, and arbitrary taste at that. There is no discussion of taste because to give reasons to prefer tasteful to tasteless things is elitist, nasty, uncouth and inappropriate. To have taste implies that some cultures produce more works of art and better than others, and this raises the uncomfortable possibility that love of beauty is Eurocentric, or even racist. To admire beauty has become a hate crime. 
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then there is no difference between fine art as opposed to mere decoration, no difference between Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and wallpaper. Obviously there is a difference: we decorate an otherwise useful tool to make it more pleasing to look at or handle, like painting details on a car or putting embroidered images on fabric. Popular art is meant for entertainment; it is meant to please the eye and wile away the time. But an episode of I Love Lucy is not made for the same purpose as Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Art is not meant to be useful. When you hold a baby in your arms and look at him, merely look at the wonder and miracle of new life, you don’t do that because the baby is useful. 
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then there is no such thing as training the taste. One can sit down and watch well done popular entertainment – for example, a Mickey Mouse cartoon – with pleasure and enjoyment, and no study is needed to prepare you to appreciate and understand it. But to sit down and read Milton’s Paradise Lost for pleasure, one needs a passing familiarity with classical and Biblical figures to which he alludes, and one’s pleasure is increased if one is familiar with the epic models, the Virgil and Homer, on whose themes Milton plays out so creative and striking a variation. 
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then anything, anything at all, can be declared to be beautiful merely by the artist. Like God creating light from nothing by the power of His word, the artist creates beauty not by any genius nor craftsmanship, but by his naked fiat. It is beautiful not because he actually created anything, but only because he says so. 
By this logic, a urinal is beautiful, a light going off and on, a decapitated cow’s head covered in blood, flies and maggots, a glass of water on a shelf, a crucifix dunked in urine, a can of excrement, or an unmade bed. The argument given by the Left is that your inability to see the beauty in these things is due to your limitations, your untrained soul, your dullness. The argument merely ignores the fact that training the tastes to be dull, philistine and coarse is the opposite of training the tastes to be sensitive to beauty. 
The reader may at this point be wondering who or what on the Left has ever made such absurd assertions. Not every Leftist is concerned with art, it is true, and not everyone who leans Left on other issues adopts the mainstream Leftwing view on art. Those that do, say exactly what I say they say. If you have never heard such nonsense on stilts, I can but reply that you have not been paying attention to the art world – which, come to think of it, is very much to your credit.
It is a fairly long article- admittedly, John C. Wright isn't exactly known for brevity in his writing, though given the sheer intellect and creativity of the man, that is not necessarily a bad thing. It is well worth reading nonetheless.

Vox Day already tackled the way the Left destroys beauty, both aesthetic and spiritual, in his own post using logic and facts. Since Vox is vastly more intelligent than I am, there is little point in my taking the same approach to the same subject. So allow me to provide my own take on the issue from past experience.

If you've been keeping up with this blog for a while, you will know that I visit Calcutta, India, fairly frequently. The last time I was back was... well, rather depressing, for a number of personal reasons. However, I have been visiting the city itself, and India in general, roughly annually for nearly 20 years now, and I have been witness to its transformation during that time from socialist backwater to thriving commercial centre.

Before we proceed, there are a few things about Calcutta that you need to know and understand. At the height of the British Raj, Calcutta was the crown jewel of Britain's empire in the East. If you had compared Singapore with Calcutta back in the day, the comparison would have been absurd- the former was a major port and naval base, to be sure, but the latter was the administrative, political, and economic hub of the Empire in India. When India won independence in 1947, Calcutta was the artistic and cultural centre of the country, and its home state of West Bengal was one of the richest in the new country.

Unfortunately, it was also home to India's most influential socialist movement.

I am honestly not entirely sure what it is about very clever people falling for very stupid ideas. I have seen this happen too many times for it to be a coincidence; it seems to be an inescapable fact of life that those with the highest IQs tend to fall for the most idiotic, logically absurd ideas in human history- and I will even go so far as to admit that once upon a time, I was tempted by the same set of bad ideas. (In my defence, I was a teenager at the time.) I strongly suspect that when you combine the immense imagination and drive that generally comes with high intelligence, with the theoretical appeal of Utopian fantasies, all of the logical and scientific brilliance in the world simply cannot compete. It is a phenomenon that the former socialist Jean-Francois Revel wrote about in his great book, Last Exit to Utopia.

And believe you me, it was an affliction that brought the city of Calcutta to its knees.

For the next 50 years after independence, West Bengal found itself ruled by one Communist or socialist government after another. Each government proceeded to slowly strangle the city in the name of "social justice"- letting the city rot away while diverting capital and resources in the form of taxation and absurd regulations into the countryside.

The natural consequence was that, over time, businesses and wealth fled Calcutta for friendlier climes- such as Calcutta's great commercial rival, Bombay. And of course, because Calcutta's ability to attract capital and wealth was being destroyed, so too was its beauty (for certain definitions of beauty, I admit- an Indian city is not "beautiful" in any sense that a Western mind can understand). Its once-thriving artistic and cultural scene was being destroyed by its own people and its own government.

My first memories of the city are of unrelenting... greyness. The very basic functions of civilised society seemed to have broken down. Looking back, I see memories of rotting garbage piled high on the sidewalks; open sewers everywhere; filth and human misery on every corner. Ever car was either an Ambassador or a Maruti- because those were the only options available, since India's government, in its infinite wisdom, had long ago decided that it needed to be self-sufficient in the production of cars, and had done a truly appalling job of creating a domestic auto industry in the process. Pollution was everywhere; the slums were ever-present and ever-expanding.

Hope, and with it beauty, had long ago left the city.

Eventually things did turn around, because the evil of Communism cannot long sustain itself. Calcutta did begin to attract capital and investment as the government of the state finally saw reason (sort of) and began relaxing the capital controls and tariffs and regulations that had been strangling the city for so long. If you visit today, the city is booming- there are huge new urban developments coming up every time I visit, and the large influx of returning non-resident Indians, coming back from the West with Western currency and wealth in hand, has led to a major boom in the construction of gated communities that are for all purposes basically identical to anything you'll find in San Francisco or New York.

Yet in many ways, it is already too late. The cancerous, corrosive poison of the Left's philosophy has scarred the city beyond any hope of recovery.

If you go to Calcutta now, you'll see a city choking under its own weight, even with the new jobs and capital and investment. It's still in many ways the artistic centre of India; it still has a completely unique culture that you will not find in commercially-minded Bombay, or politically-minded New Delhi, or IT-obsessed Bangalore and Madras. It is still a place where family means much and comes first, and is still home to some of the finest schools and universities in the entire country.

But the damage has been done. And there is no way to turn back the clock and undo it.

You can see the decay inflicted by the long decades of the socialist disease all over the city. You can see it in the way that the city's greatest landmarks are covered in soot and grime. You can see it in the congested, crammed streets that have never once been developed. You can see it in the pall of smoke and smog that covers the entire city every hour of every day.

You used to be able to see it in the mass media, before liberalisation came; there were really only four or five TV channels, all of them government-run, and at a loss, which ran programming that the government thought was good for you. If you wanted anything else, you had to pay through the nose for satellite and cable TV, which back then was quite restricted.

The power of human imagination is truly awe-inspiring to behold when it is set free to pursue its own ends- because that imagination, and that freedom, was given to us by the Hand of the Divine. We each carry within us a near-silent echo of that divinity- and I firmly believe that our Creator intended for us to be free to use His gifts to us as we wished.

It is when we deny that divinity, and insist on pulling human imagination down into the drab, pathetic boxes prescribed for us by the doctrines of the Left, that we experience the true horror of their philosophy. It is when we let the Left dictate that beauty is "subjective" and therefore malleable, that we find ourselves reduced to denying the simple beauty of human life- and of the capacity of Man to beautify that life.

I am reminded by Mr. Wright's comments of the opening, and closing, remarks of the outstanding documentary, "In the Face of Evil: Reagan's War in Word and Deed":
The Beast has always hated the same things: Religion, freedom of Inquiry, artistic expression, a free press- anything that empowered or elevated the human soul.
That, my friend, is what the Left is. It is not a Utopian ideology. It isn't even a new or radical idea- everything that the Left proposes has been tried a thousand times in a thousand ways for ten thousand years. And because the Left's ideology denies both the presence of the soul and the power of the Lord, it offers nothing better than what the Serpent offered Eve- the illusion of godhood.


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