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A headless world

Some data points:

  • Anthony Esolen notices that at places like Netflix users make normal critical comments on films based on natural distinctions like good, better and best, while in formal literary studies such concerns have been edged out by clunky political posturing.
  • On a local studio tour I’m struck by the number of good artists in Brooklyn. Life goes on in spite of the weather, and to all appearances not many people outside artworld elites are particularly interested in art as in-crowd gesture. They just go on painting whatever absorbs them.
  • Every week Michael Blowhard goes on about the uselessness of most current high culture (“literary fiction,” starchitecture, whatever) and the vast superiority of genre fiction, hot rod design, and for that matter pursuits like cooking and gardening.

What Does It All Mean? Maybe it shows that in a global “opportunity society” the people at the top will be those most obsessed with positioning themselves, so their work will be substantively worthless, while the people interested in what’s good will be found farther down the food chain. That would explain the otherwise puzzling concurrence of two classical liberal—now libertarian—demands: (a) careers open to talents, and (b) keeping the people who rise to the top from affecting anything.

I suppose it also shows that people are human. That means they’re only human—“it takes a great deal of elevation of thought to produce a very little elevation of life,” Emerson is supposed to have said. But it also means they aren’t as bad as their theories. Even Peter Singer was unwilling to put his mother down when she had Alzheimer’s. That doesn’t mean we’re safe in a hyper-conceptual age like our own, because bad theories indeed do damage, but it does mean there are always resources to draw on to fight them.

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