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Category Archives: aesthetics

Urban Land Management In A Post Scarcity Economy

This post is inspired from exchanges with Robert Stark of Stark Truth Radio and is part of the lead-up to our next podcast.

A glimpse of the the disordered sprawl of a typical American city from the air, especially the Sunbelt and West of the Mississippi River, tells you everything you need to know about the culture.  The cityscape itself is a Hobbesian nightmare and tragedy of the commons.  A monstrosity that sprang up over-night like a weed.

Except in the very core downtowns, land management seems almost non-existent.  Whoever buys land uses it however they want within the zoning rules and most architecture is rushed.  It can be hard in a town like Phoenix or Vegas to decide what is more disagreeable, grey stucco boxes or the cookie cutter houses with the fake terra-cotta roof tiles.

Because individuals run rampant, it becomes impossible to do anything without cars.  Even public transportation doesn’t work well when the distances are too great and even urban areas too diffuse for any coherent collective activity.
Every single house stands alone with its own lawn.  At the same time all the houses are nearly identical.  In a glimpse, we see the banality and horror of individualism without duty to others.

The price of everyone snatching their little plot is most have to live far away from where they want to go.  Yet every day they climb into their cars, navigate the labyrinth of their neighborhood and then make their way to the same highway everyone else wants to use at the same time of day.

Of course, in America, few people will object much to living far away from the center because they know what the alternative is.
One direct problem of a civilization in denial is the overunning of urban areas by the underclasses.  
The twin threats of skyrocketing property values from making control of land a free-for-all and underclass dysfunction in the city centers creates a perfect pressure cooker that keeps millions of workers stuck paying huge mortgages and car payments for the honor of driving 2 hours each way to work every day.

When we consider it takes 2 incomes to keep up this facade, it’s no wonder the fertility rate of cooperators has plummeted.  They may even have decent money in the bank after all their toil, but they are worse off than homeless bums when it comes to the critical resources of time and energy.

Not only do these harried worker bees struggle to have time to settle down and have a family, they don’t have time to sustain friendships or participate in civic activities.
The setup of the zoned residential neighborhood ensures that they can spend the rest of their lives shuttling between house and job never coming into contact with strangers in a fun and positive way.

When nothing is close to the house but other houses, it creates a dis-incentive to go anywhere.  Any activity outside of the house, even to get groceries carries an extra time penalty that eats up even more of what little is left.

Now that we’ve examined the problem before us, we can see the solution lies in creating pleasant space-efficient walkable areas to live.

In many city centers people live in apartment buildings where the bottom floor is all businesses. Within a block of someone’s flat, they can stop by the pharmacy for aspirin and by the bakery for a loaf of bread.  They get a little bit of exercise, and come into constant contact with strangers who live near them.  The same activities that are annoying chores in the suburbs can be part of a pleasant daily routine where residences are organized around human needs.

This village structure mimics natural habitats peoples have lived in for thousands of years.  Urban sprawl as we know it, on the other hand has been around for barely 70 years and in that short time has contributed to the civilization-wide collapse of commonality and culture.

Clearly, the village structure where commerce and residences coexist in a walkable core should arise as the new unit of urban organization, even as we get further from city centers.  That way, they aren’t as far and they are compact enough that public transport remains practical.

I was already very skeptical about American cities after seeing Argentina and Europe but what really demolished established ideas for me was the several months I lived in Ansan, South Korea as an English teacher.

The town was planned out as a suburb of Seoul during the rule of the dictator Park and didn’t even become a city until 1986.
This town that’s younger than me now has 700,000 people in a roughly 5×5 mile square.  Even so, it didn’t feel crowded and there were parks and greenspace within easy walking distance of downtown.  In 5 minutes, I could walk from my apartment on a busy street to fields of flowers and follow a path by a river where I’d frequently see large herons fishing for prey.

Just as it’s obvious the typical American city visually represents a cacaphony of individual wills colliding, it was clear from one look that Ansan was planned out and built as a single project.

In some areas nearly identical apartment buildings were built like a line of dominoes and had big numbers painted on them.  This wasn’t appealing visually and felt alien but as I got to know the place I saw it was a superior system.  I found multiple high rises were often organized around central courtyards that spontaneously became community common areas. 

I’ve never forgotten walking through these squares and seeing little old ladies putting out red chile peppers out in the sun to dry on blankets.  People were going going about their daily chores in public like they actually lived there.  It was mundane details like this that made me realize how screwed up things were back in the USA where everyone is afraid to go outside and suffer the scrutiny of their neighbors. 

Because thousands lived in high rises, there were always green areas nearby.  In the other direction would be city streets with occasional small grocery stores and internet cafes.  Every 5 or 6 blocks, there was a heavily commercial street with restaurants, bars, and shopping.  Because of this, few residences were more than 10 minutes walk away from a wide variety of services.

The use of space on the commercial streets also intrigued me.  In US cities, it’s usually just the street level that has businesses.  In Korea, I saw four story buildings, each with businesses on every floor.
It blew my mind how half a strip mall worth of rented office space plus parking lots and bland landscaping was put in a single building instead and repeated down a whole city block.  This compression made it so that one block could serve the needs of thousands of people living nearby without feeling congested.

This also made it so enough activity was concentrated in one place that it felt like an active community with plenty of things to do.  This to me was in especially stark contrast to the lifeless and sterile American-style suburban sprawl.  To top it off the Korean suburb’s size made it practical to connect to the big city.  When I got off work on the weekends, it was a 40 minute train ride into Seoul.

My experiences in Korea, the US, and around the world showed me that more control, not less, is needed for a modern society to thrive.  Nations like South Korea and Chile that greatly improved their fortunes both had dictators set up the framework their current democracies grew into and that is likely a common factor in their successes.

In the case of land, it is abundantly clear by now that it cannot be treated like another commodity.  The amount of land never changes and its primary value for most people in modern life is strategic rather than economic especially when it comes to cities.

Barely a century ago, most people were still farmers and our ideas and laws about land still reflect that.  What we need to consider is that very few people now make their living off the land itself.  Land in modern life primarily determines where people can exist in relation to jobs, services, mates, family, friends.

Thus, the main objective of modern urban land management is to keep life near cities affordable for as many productive people as possible with high quality of living.  It should be treated as a basic means of stimulating the economy and incentivizing people to bring forth the next generations of society’s cooperators.

While I’ve been influenced by living in a real-life example of a planned city, with a little imagination we could do it a lot better by enforcing high aesthetic standards,  for instance making each high rise distinct, yet part of a unified theme for the whole town.  I also recognize, that city centers have historically been “gene shredders” with net negative fertility.  This state of affairs was more sustainable in an age where there was always a countryside brimming over with armies of new young people fresh off the farm.  In our present reality most people now live close to urban areas.  That’s where all the jobs are and that’s where the young women go.

 In a modern civilization, the city has to become capable of sustaining and propagating human life for the first time in history.  Where urban sprawl was a new invention that made ancient problems worse we must now figure out how to make urban life demographically sustainable.

What Might A Post-Western Aesthetic Look Like?

High technology sparingly applied within a minimal zone to make harsh environment survival feasible for as long as possible.

Bleak yet beautiful.

Something about ice bases whether on earth or other planets always captured my imagination.

The universe of Dune hugely ignited my imagination as a kid and its influence stays with me. The ultimate example of a people getting more out of less. The opposite of the wasteful West. Think that guy’s life revolves around paying off auto loans and mortgage?

The aesthetics of Homeworld were genius.

Was always captivated by the way D’ni technology/architecture is integrated into its surroundings, has a rusty, used look to it.  D’ni creatively make use of local materials and energy sources, incorporating basic components like gears and pulleys into tech that’s often more sophisticated than ours.

Post-Western society will have to have something of a badass warrior culture if it is to survive against its predecessor. Martial elements will be pronounced.

Post-Western art will draw great inspiration from patterns in nature, including fractals. This will represent human will in partnership with the rest of the natural world rather than in opposition to it, a struggle represented in Western art by the straight line, the square, the rectangle.

As with the Ancient Persian drinking horn earlier, love this Mughal Indian dagger. Don’t know, I feel there’s something barbaric yet refined about adorning with animal heads.

Use of deliberate “imperfection” in certain schools of Asian ceramics creates the feel of natural patterns. Again, working with nature rather than against it.

Working with nature out of a sense of strategic laziness rather than trying to force it to the will of a separate man and his civilization. See a pattern yet?

Soft spot for weaponry that looks heavily used and clunky to where you can even see the individual bolts holding it together. Looks durable, unbreakable. Can imagine it firing huge rounds with huge muzzle flare maybe 1 every half second. Post-Westerners happily use “obsolete” but cheaper technology where it efficiently and effectively fills a role, especially where it means more independence in the field from traditional logistical limitations.

The fluid grace and natural-looking patterns, the combination of the written word and representation through imagery… Post-Westerners should do something in this vein.

Simple wood gives a warmth to interiors that drywall and stucco never can.

That’s all for now.  What platform is best for further image sharing? Tumblr? Pinterest?

Toward A Post-Western Aesthetic

At heart, the problem with Western Civilization is that it falls into the trap of the peacock’s tail striving for constant growth with flashy results but little thought of basic utility, sustainability, or resilience in the face of sudden shocks.

So great is the focus on competing for dominance now that no one has the time to think centuries ahead.

The truth is Western civilization and its philosophy was utterly discredited by the 20th century with its World Wars, Communist mega-states that killed off tens of millions, disasters like the Great Depression and Spanish Flu that the destruction and despair made possible.

Let’s face it, no one really believes in their hearts anymore that the future is good or meaningful and there’s no going back to the way it was.  The mood of the collective subconscious has been pre-apocalyptic since around the year 2000 and now among the most dominant symbols in the modern imagination are zombies that represent social alienation and atomization and evil clowns that represent mass sociopathy and chaos.

Symbol of a society where no one knows their neighbor and has to compete against everyone in a dehumanized rat race. Zombies originally a metaphor among Africans for how slavery took away one’s previous identity.

Symbol of a society where you have to adopt dark triad traits to survive. And our secret dissatisfaction with such a social order. Secretly many of us would just like to watch it all burn but can’t admit it even to ourselves.

The evolution of the West has produced impressive deer antlers but has created a society that is top-heavy and fragile.
The cost spiral started to get out of control with the rise of professional armies and the end of the feudal system until now it costs a trillion dollars to design a new weapon system, let alone manufacture, maintain, or deploy it and nearly a trillion every year to pay for old people and their medical care.  Soon, even all the wealth in the world can’t pay the basic bills and eventually even ever-growing loans can’t fill all the gaps.

Western civilization, with its stock markets, its winner-take-all economic systems and social status markets worships the growth pattern of short-lived weeds that choke the ground in a hurry before winter wipes them all away.  

I would rather worship the growth pattern of lichens that creep slowly, meticulously reinforcing each new growth area against hardship.
I would envision an ideal future civilization as being minimalistic, practical, and durable in its applications of technologies.
 
Extreme disparity in cost is why a single division worth of guerillas can challenge all the world’s great powers in the Middle East, why a guy with an ak-47 riding on a donkey beats a cruise missile or a drone, why a handful of men with boxcutters can shift the course of a nuclear superpower for decades, why an illegal immigrant Mexican roofer can have 3 kids while a salary striver that makes 70k a year can’t even afford 1 kid.
In future warfare, high technology will be limited to targets of appropriate value and low value forces will try to exert stategic pressure that forces cost-inefficient responses.

Much of the vanity of West is its stubborn insistence dating back to Christianity and reinforced by the Enlightenment that man inhabits a different universe than the rest of nature.  In truth the same laws that govern planets, rocks, animals, and bacteria bind humans just the same.

To set the tone for a society that works with the nature of the universe rather than try to defy it, we must begin to imagine what a Post-Western society might look and feel like.
In my next post I will begin to explore a possible aesthetic for such an order, according to my own sensibilities.  

My aesthetic will be austere, minimal, defensive, yet embrace a sort of stark beauty in contrast to a modern civilization of neon-bright advertisements that overload the eyes as high fructose corn syrup overwhelms the palate.

But it also won’t echo the old West cathedrals and row-houses with their straight lines and rigid rectangles, however pretty or pleasing they may be.
My aesthetic will try to appear more fluid, representing a lack of boundaries between man and nature, between intellect and the flesh.  For it’s precisely such dichotomies that gave rise to the West’s most debilitating neuroses.

Sci-Fi Inspired By WW1: Future Best Shown Through The Past

As science fiction grew beyond comic book and serial adventures in the 40s and 50s, it took 2 basic directions.

-In one school we see pristine white interiors, skin tight jumpsuits, uptight space academy scholasticism, no need for money, and neutral female voices waiting to answer every query.

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-In another school we see worlds that are gritty and lived in, with throwbacks to empire, swords, and knighthood.

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Guess which school has had the more enduring grasp on the human imagination?
Guess which has better predicted the trajectory of human societies decades into the future?

As it turns out, the latter has aged much better across the decades and resonated with the sensibilities of new generations.  The squeaky clean sci fi of perfection in contrast seems a faded dream by comparison.  Ironically, it’s the disco age amorphous eggshell swivel chairs with ugly rust orange cushions that no longer look otherworldly to us, but like relics.

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Unsurprisingly it’s the sci fi that borrowed from the past to describe the emotional feel of the future that has both outlasted and out-predicted the other.

The utopian school of sci fi thought we’d have pristine Moon and Mars colonies and solved the problem of poverty by now.
The dirty and gritty sci-fi successfully predicted the social upheaval and dark age we actually live in.

One vision saw humans progressing to be something “higher” and therefore different than they were before.
The other simply projected that no matter what technologies you make, people keep on being people with Empires, wars, and famines like there have been for the last thousands of years.

I will also explore a deeper reason why the gritty, humans-will-keep-being-humans sci-fi/space opera settings win.
They communicate the feel of the future viscerally by heavily borrowing from the past.
They take motifs from a time period where advances changed everyone’s lives forever to give us that feeling of a strange new reality.  Unsurprisingly, I notice WW1 is perhaps the dominant influence.  It was the period that more than any other severed all ties to the thousands of years that came before, that saw the destruction of all the world’s implacable empires in a few years, that saw the apocalyptic slaughter with inhuman new weapons plowing mechanically through countless thousands of lives.
There is also a lot of borrowing from WW2, Korean War, and Vietnam, but WW1 has the advantage of being just distant enough in the collective memory while retaining certain terrible visceral meanings in the collective subconscious.
Some of the most dissonant and disturbing images of WW1 are those of men on horseback or with machine guns wearing gas masks that render us unable to see their humanity underneath.

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It perfectly shows us the modern world we take for granted was being born right then and there, a juxtaposition between the familiar and the foreign country of the past.

One of the Best Examples Is Star Wars:

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Imperial walker vs. a WW1 tank

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Imperial Snowtroopers vs. WW1 machine gunners

Also, with Star Wars, one of the reasons it resonates is its very retro sound design.  It sounds like a failing piston engine when the hyper drive doesn’t work(same sound for airplane engine running out of fuel in Temple of Doom).  A lot of the ships fly through space with a grindy noise, like they’ve got V8 engines or they knock about like they have old diesel engines, not hard to believe from the maker of American Graffiti.
The WW1 tanks that inspire the walkers even make an appearance in Last Crusade.  With lightsabers you can just hear that circuit click into place before the blade hisses out.  The high pitched metallic groans of the carbonite freezer sounds like some sort of real life hydraulic compressor or compactor.
One of the most memorable sounds for me has always been the sinister rushing/zooming/fan noise of the tie fighters.  In THX 1138, one of Lucas’ first films, the robot enforcers drove high tech motorcycles that sounded similar.  In the clean and pristine worlds of sci fi the sound design tends to be smooth and soothing or else made to sound strange and unfamiliar.  It’s the very familiarity of the visual and aural universe of star wars that gives us an immediate connection.
What caps it off of course is setting the mood from the beginning with the words “long ago.”  Lucas deliberately studied the structure of Western mythology and this background served him well.

Next I will talk about Dune 1983.  The film didn’t live up to its potential as a story but many of the design elements show they knew what they were trying for.  The monolithic design of the palaces echoed Ancient Mespotamia, Ancient Egypt, Byzantine/Ottoman architecture brilliantly conveying the feel of an interplanetary civilization that’s been stagnant for thousands of years.
The military uniforms, I will point out, were almost straight out of WW1.

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House Atreides Officer vs. Imperial German Officer

We can also compare with some other officers and enlisted…

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And while we’re on the subject of uniforms it’s impossible to pass up another Star Wars Example

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Galactic Empire officers seem like they’re made from a variety of WW1 influences.

And after all these,  I hardly even need mention Starcraft or Warhammer 40k which for Terrans and Imperial Guard are basically WW2 in space.
Or for that matter, the Colonial Marines from Aliens who came straight out of Vietnam.  Yet James Cameron did do something unique with the design of the marines’ pulse rifles.  Some of the best weapon sound design ever, a gritty sound, almost like a growling motor filtered through some kind of sound distorter so it sounded electrical and futuristic at the same time.  It perfectly bridged the gap between old and new to create the atmosphere.  As if that weren’t good enough, they made the pulse rifles out of tommy guns so there was badass muzzle flare spraying everywhere as they sprayed down rooms with bullets.

I will close with one last example.

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In Warhammer 40k, the Space Orks have an aircraft that’s pretty much a Korean war era MiG jet fighter with a machine gun turret taken from a ww2 bomber.  A completely impractical idea but somehow, it’s still cooler than handheld phasers resembling electric razors that can vaporize boulders in a few seconds.

See Also: Gustav Holst: Inventor of Modern Sci-Fi Music,Why Star Wars OT Appeals More To Men: Aesthetics

The Need For Grandeur

In a glorious order, there would be no homeless people and slums within sight of the Imperial Palace.
Living for about 4 years in Washington, DC, I got used to seeing dirty monuments and signs of abject squalor within a few blocks of some of the most important places on earth.
My first impression of DC was that everything seemed to have a dark layer of greasy soot on it, like seeing the world through a dirty old window pane. I was astonished by the horrid infrastructure. Power outages were common during the summer and once I went days without electricity. Growing up in a desert backwater of the American Empire and living for years in the “flyover” Midwest, I’d never seen or heard of such things in a wealthy country—it was embarassing to witness it in the capital of the world’s greatest power.
I went everywhere on the DC metro and was amazed at how often there were major delays and track shutdowns at peak hours. What should easily be a clean, reliable, safe system is instead notorious for its corruption, minor repairs that take months, and fatal accidents.
This sort of incompetence just comes to be met with sullen shrugs after awhile. Everyone knows the metro is a big affirmative action jobs mill and everyone suffers for it.
This kind of nonsense makes a mockery of the system’s legitimacy. At least most fools have the common sense to make sure it’s other people suitably far away who get burdened by their bad decisions. Who can but laugh when even the city of the rulers gets punished by their own stupid policies? They can’t even get incompetence right.
In a glorious system, it would be a point of pride that the trains arrive on time, especially in the Imperial Capital. Only the best would be allowed anywhere near infrastructure that millions of people see every day. When people see the system can get basic things done right, they can focus on higher things, their faith in the rulers is preserved.

Relentlessly literal-minded enlightenment thought has steadily diminished the old concept of grandeur. In the social cosmology, the elites dwell in heaven. Everything surrounding the rulers must be impressive. A rightful imperial capital would be off limits to most people, it would be pristine, its soil sacred. We can see how even ceremonial rulers like the English royal family are looked on by the whole world with a sense of awe. When a princess is with child, it’s as if she’s pregnant with a new God and millions look on in suspense at the prospect of a new addition to the pantheon. When legitimacy is properly cultivated, even the life cycle of the rulers becomes a living symbol of the continuation of an entire people. For society’s heaven is the source of ideal forms for the common people to emulate.

So in the rightful order of affairs, proper rulers cannot have ugly spouses or live in small houses. They must have the best of everything as a matter of course. The rulers can’t be seen eating French fries or consorting with entertainers. They must keep a mythic distance from the ordinary material world. It should be hard for the average person to imagine the rulers pooping, just as they can hardly imagine movie stars pooping. Lack of awe is why masses of millions would rather look up to entertainers than their rulers. The righteous ruler naturally outshines the celebrities and occupies an unquestioned spot at the top of Olympus.
This is not to suggest rulers would be out of touch with reality or sheltered. Running a state is deadly serious business. They would go through many rough trials in their ascent and much of their legitimacy would come from their bravery, integrity, vision, and competence. But once ascended, they would have a rightful role to fulfill.
Meanwhile, every day life below would reflect the grandeur cultivated at the top.

Perhaps police in important areas would be like old fashioned French guards selected for certain height requirements and dressed in imposing uniforms.
Flying airlines outside the US, I’ve noticed a sense of grandeur is cultivated by having mostly elegant and pretty young women as stewardesses.
Going through airports and customs in other countries is night and day compared to the US.
In America airports are heavily staffed by unsightly denizens of the lower and underclasses. Worse, they’re often in positions like TSA where they get to frisk people and question them in unintelligible mono-syllables. They’re placed in a position of power far above their station and the effect on social morale is devastating.
I still remember what it was like to come back from Argentina or Europe and the first sight that greeted me back to the US was lots of morbidly obese underclass blacks of ambiguous gender wearing uniforms that barely fit them. My stomach would sink into my feet and I would find myself wishing I’d just stayed where I’d come back from.
Like the trains, the airports are infrastructural institutions that form the public face of a nation.
We have only to glance at the magnificent rail stations of the 19th and early 20th centuries to see the importance of grandeur was once well understood.

Even outside official insitutions, architecture in general creates a cultural gestalt.
Just as broken windows invite crime, ugly buildings invite malaise and despair.
The USSR is commonly associated with its soul-destroying architecture but surely the USA with the same strip malls with the same floor plans repeating over and over across a 3,000 mile swathe has a similar crushing effect on the human spirit.
Travelling through Europe I saw the beauty of Munich contrasted against Berlin with its drab concrete slabs that dominate entire city blocks. Even the Berlin rail station looked like a borg cube from star trek and surrounding it was acres of empty land paved over with asphalt and concrete. It was depressing!
Where I now live in southern Ohio, I’m astonished to see that even the old water towers were built to look like stylized castles complete with crenellations. People used to simply understand the importance of raising mundane things to the spiritual plane through aesthetics.
In a proper society, grandeur is intuitively understood from the statecraft of rulers to the daily life of commoners. Just like good fiction has themes that tie all of its parts together, a good society engineers its aesthetics so that all its parts tell a compelling story of identity and cohesion.

Celebrities are Folk Heroes Risen Above Their Proper Place

Celebrities are Gods to masses, mythical figures that loom large over adoring millions.
So one way to establish dominance over the multitude is to cast down their Gods. In the ancient world, it was very common to consolidate victory by publicly crushing the idols of the defeated before them to conclusively demonstrate the truth of their superior power and legitimacy.

Let us imagine, for example, a typical arrogant, loud, foul-mouthed singer who teaches millions of young men to be violent and greedy. He acts tough and powerful on camera and society heaps its best rewards on him, giving credence to his claims. Because he is successful, millions want to imitate him. Enabling such a person to become a God in the heaven of apex social status demoralizes and corrupts society.

The correct heavenly order is re-established when the rulers show themselves as the True Gods. Because our example idol is built on being tough and rebellious, he needs only to be humiliated.
Imagine this swaggering tough guy celebrity forced to wear a pink tutu on national television, forced to kneel humbly on the ground while whipped with rods by hysterically laughing clowns mocking him with boastful lyrics from his songs. Then, humbled and bloodied, he might be made to crawl to the feet of an official and have to kiss his ring and beg for forgiveness. And afterwards, pictures of the fallen God’s tear-streaked defeated face spread all across the internet.
The fallen God could never recover his aura of invincibility and prestige. Though people might understand intellectually no one person can stand against the state, their primal lizard brains couldn’t unsee their God scraping on the ground in ridiculous clothing, getting beaten down by ridiculous people.
I think back on some MMA fights I saw on youtube and recall how even the most hulking warrior could appear small and weak while on his back, scrunched up defensively against the attacks of the guy on top. Though I understand intellectually the shabbiest of these fighters could destroy 99.9% of people within a few seconds, instinctual gut perceptions of bodily positions of submission and dominance are as strong in the deep human psyche as they are in dogs.
It is not without reason that statues and stelae since ancient times depict the conquering ruler on top and the defeated crushed underneath to illustrate the outcome in the most visceral way possible.
Because human animals deal in symbolic systems like language the impact is greatest of all when the person ceremonially dominated is no mere human but a powerful symbol.

Celebrities are like traditional folk-heroes, pagan anthropomorphic Gods, or modern comic book heroes. Their larger-than-life powers and exploits are combined with an abundance of human vanities so they can provide moral examples to the common people. In their proper place they are a positive influence in a vital mid to lower caste culture.

Celebrities, stars, and idols are folk heroes that have risen beyond their proper place. When they become Gods of the entire social order, the earthly flaws that make them appopriate symbols for simple souls drags down the entire culture. Without greater values to guide them from further up, they soon promote vice as virtue and rot society from within.
When Hercules commits a murder, he has to perform labors, when Zeus cheats his wife gets revenge on his mistress, Iron Man pays for his pride and recklessness by accidentally creating Ultron, King Arthur accidentally creates his arch-nemesis, Mordred, by cheating with Morgan Le Fay.
Each hero, while powerful, is steered back on course by a greater moral universe, so when Hercules is made the supreme power, he can murder all he likes. The force that corrects him and completes the story is removed.

It becomes necessary for the wise ruler to systematically out-alpha usurper celebrities and cast them down where they belong.
The former stars respond by just going underground and that is where they should be, out of sight of the higher echelons, known only to their proper audience, never to stand in society’s limelight.

See also: Pop Music is Folk Music Elevated Beyond its Proper Place

An Aesthetic Declaration of Independence?

Rebel against an established order all you like, but it’s all for naught if you have wallpaper, music, and food characteristic of your people.
Archaeologists characterize ancient peoples by their dwellings, pottery, decorations, and trash piles.  Why doesn’t anyone think to analyze modern peoples in a similar way?  Perhaps the absence of contemperologists is just another blind spot in our established world view.
If we were to make stone spearheads in a particular way, we would be Clovis people, regardless of what we thought about the local chief.
If you like the same top 25 songs everyone else likes, you declare allegiance to your people, no matter if you dislike some politicians.
We’ve established that governments are just outgrowths of the people, therefore it is futile to change a government unless the people change first.  Or rather, if we changed the people, government changes naturally.

There never was a very rebellious soul who had Jif or Skippy peanut butter and Campbell’s soup in their pantry. Brand-name comfort foods connect people to childhood memories of nurture and care, allowing people to feel like warm fuzzy parts of a meaningful tribe even as mass society parasitizes them.
By the same token it is extremely powerful to dismantle these visceral attachments and replace them. To do this is to truly rebel and turn one’s back on a corrupt culture that feeds on its own.
To follow a culture’s aesthetic is an act of powerful ritual significance that ties one to it on a subconscious level. No matter how people might hate their lives within a society, they are trapped so long as peform the rituals of obeisance.
Confucius got it right. He understood the importance of ritual in everything we do—its connection to the movement of societies as gravity shapes the course of celestial bodies.
So by deliberately engineering the rituals on which we base our lives, we shape ourselves.
From the carpets in your dwelling, the architecture of all the buildings around you, the flavorings in your food, the most frequently occurring colors, the shows on tv, the advertisements, the holidays. All these together create an attitude and way of perceiving the world. It’s all around us and influences every thought we think. For example, how does the architecture of a big box strip mall identical to dozens of others make us feel? What more powerful ritual could there be to bolster a philosophy of every place being identical with people plugged into one mass culture and people themselves interchangeable economic units?

So when someone begins to change the cultural environment and how it influences them, they move towards an aesthetic declaration of independence, a sort of hellish, Luciferian defiance magnitudes greater than defying mere governments.

Pop Music is Folk Music Elevated Beyond Its Proper Place

There has always been folk music, the everyday music of ordinary people.  This is lower music.  Folk music is spontaneous; its structure is informal but often guided by pre-existing traditions that can be quite rigid.  In implementation, it often relies on lyrics as much as melody.  Its purpose is to communicate sentiment and emotion.  Folk music is universally and eternally fixated on the fickle, youthful passions of falling in love, heartbreak, celebration, motivation, and protest.  In a previous age, it was just as much about coordinating while laboring or passing an evening before electricity and the distractions of modern “entertainment.”  It marks the passage of holidays, wedding days, and funerals.
Its players are typically musicians wedded to one instrument and they tend to play alone or in small bands of no more than 3-4 people with rigidly assigned roles.

For thousands of years there have been those who create higher music.  Today, we call them “composers” in the West.  These are the people who very deliberately craft works of music just as a skilled painter carefully applies multiple elements with a plan in mind.
There is a science to their art, it is not done on a whim drawing mostly on pre-established conventions.  Thus, while the composer’s work has more formal structure, it has far more potential for variation and originality.
Composers might dedicate some works to young love, but it is one small area of experience to which they can apply their talent.
The composer engineers the sound in advance, but is not necessarily one of the musicians nor is he associated with any single instrument.  He will write the parts of 100 different instruments if need be, they are artists’ tools, not an attribute of the artist.  He transcends the role of a single musician or small band of musicians and looks down on their movements from above, outside of time itself.
Composers are often inspired by folk music traditions.  Folk music serves as a deep wellspring of inspiration, it provides vision into the vastness of the cultural subconscious.  The composer is the rational neocortex who takes the raw passions of folk culture and uses the science of his craft to make something greater and higher than before.

Since the 1960s or so, there’s been a term thrown around to describe most music: Pop music.
What does this mean?
Pop music seems to be defined by bands and is focused on youthful passions, so it’s clearly folk music, but we have a sense that it’s different from folk music of the past.
What changed?

A big clue is how successful “pop” musicians are called “stars” or even “idols.”
This word choice shows that people understand on a gut level what the big change is.

Pop music is folk music that has risen above its proper place.

Pop music ceases to be the wellspring and usurps the social role that rightly belongs to higher music.  The result is the dilution and degradation of the culture we live in.
Pop music can’t inspire humanity to its heights, it speaks to our base instincts.    By its nature, its most successful forms never wander far beyond animal impulses such as “party all night long” and “everybody dance.”  It’s confined to the now just as higher music lives in the eternal.
Without the guidance and example of higher music, folk music runs rampant, becoming pop as it breaks down to its most basic elements.  The higher folk music rises above its proper place, the lower in form it becomes.

If Pop is Folk that has risen above its station, what happened then to higher music?

The briefest glance at art tells us that the world wars broke the spirit of the West.  Some of the high music of the late 19th and early 20th century was among the most sublime ever known.  In painting, this impressionism combined the best of abstract and literal representation.  You could clearly see a sunny meadow, but could also see the blurring of motion as grasses swayed in the wind.  In the shades of golden sun, you could feel the artist’s pleasure in simply being alive.
High music of that period created creeping and colorful impressions, the composers experimented with rhythms and scales taken from other cultures.
This culture reflected eager anticipation of the progress of humanity to greater and more beautiful forms.

The Great War and then World War II brutally crushed this old culture with its worship of beauty.
Art in all its forms was stripped down to its most basic elements robbed of purpose and meaning, and degraded into an obsession with harsh lines, stark contrasts, and jarring primary colors.
The 20th century was the high tide of centralization as the world was reduced to just a few major nation-states, each with just a handful of people who controlled mass media, systems of education, all access to information.  Uniform mass culture proliferated, until the greatest cultural success was defined by appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Defeated by the 20th century, high music abdicated its place.  Composers toyed with atonal, degraded, nonsensical music and monstrously, inhumanly chose to distance themselves from beauty and meaning.  By neglecting their sacred duty to culture, the sages of higher music left a yawning vacuum.  With the advent of mass media, this vacuum was rapidly filled by folk music—folk music that was hot-blooded as the new high music was dead and wan.  It picked up where the high music left off like it should, adopting the experimentation with new scales and rhythms and trying out new kinds of instruments in new combinations.  Without a firm guiding hand from the sages, though, the new folk music degenerated into pop music, joining the now defunct high music in its worship of ugliness and the lowest of instinct.

In the present day, the high music certainly remains underground, or rather in the background.  Composers continue to thrive in mediums such as movies and video games  but after a time, one begins to realize:
Dramatic movie music is  all descended from Wagner’s operas.
Sci-fi music comes straight from Holst’s the Planets.
It innovates and does wonderful and beautiful things, but in its very limited scope.  The high tradition lives on here, but like a goldfish, is stunted in growth by its small bowl.

If we are to look for composers who don’t just do music that’s considered “classical” or “orchestral” certain schools of electronic music stand out as possible heirs.
I notice that these kinds of music are composed, not played.  Using computers, hundreds of instruments can be used at once if need be, in any combination desired.  The science and philosophy of composition that leads to high music lives on here, but exists marginally.
High music won’t displace pop music in a culture that’s become mob rule in every sense.
Re-organizing culture will require re-organizing society itself.  To have a correctly aligned culture that effortlessly produces the highest of innovation and beauty at the top, the inherent breeds and strata of humanity must be restored to their rightful places.  First, mob rule of culture must end.
Until then, high music will remain mainly as a 18th-19th century style orchestra, a formidable ghost.  If folk music were the same way we’d never have seen banjoes replaced by electric guitars.

Where There’s Tea There’s Civilization

Just as I suppose there’s no such thing as home without piping hot food, there’s no such thing as civilization without hot tea.

Hot tea requires taking your time.   The caffeine is stimulating but not overwhelmingly so.  The very act of sipping requires patience.  Every little sip is a ritual of taking delight in the smaller things.  You have to be able to hold back and enjoy sips before a large bite can taste its best.
This goes not just for food, but all life’s pleasures.
Without enjoying the sips, hedonistic overload devolves into the ashen discontent of jaded excess.

Being able to sit down and sip slowly is the mature sensibility of an adult rather than the capricious, excessive desire of a child.  It’s the ability to wait for good things to grow rather than plundering a lesser reward right now.

Taking tea with others is a ritual of humanity.  You pour from same pot as equals, you sit near, humbly, looking one another honestly in the eye.  Taken together, it’s about acknowledging another’s humanity even should they be your mortal enemy outside of that moment.

A person who can’t take tea with you is not a real person, never to be let into one’s trust.
If they can’t share tea with you from the same pot and look you in the eye, how can they be relied on to back you up when it counts?  When survival is at stake?  How can they be taken seriously as an ally in this perilous wilderness if they won’t even acknowledge shared humanity on the most basic level?

Why Haven’t Americans Figured Out How to Serve Hot Food?

In the time I lived in Korea I noticed a fantastic innovation at their restaurants.  Food was brought to the table simmering in these big steel cookers for everyone to browse from.
I was amazed how these not only kept the food hot, they even had an adjustable heat dial anyone at the table could use.

Such a marvellous invention would be unthinkable, revolutionary in stodgy, joyless American culture that takes greatest pride in its prolish junk food.

When it comes to American food, a piping hot meal is one of life’s challenges.
Everything gets served in complete portions on individual plates made of thick, cold ceramic, completely open to the air.  Everyone takes great care to eat as isolated individuals, avoiding any appearance of sharing from the same source.(that would be disgusting)  Browsing from a collective pot is taboo.  Just watching a people at meal time offers great insight into how they see the world on the most visceral level!
By the time people begin to eat, especially if there’s prayer before eating, even the mashed potatoes are starting to get cold.
I never really understood what a truly hot meal was until I went to some other countries where thick sauces, flaky crusts were common, served in the same container it was baked in hot from the oven, served in cast iron cookware or thick pots with small openings or lids to hold in the heat.  It was never the same again to just eat off of a cold plate that hadn’t even been warmed up.  It’s barbaric, really.  Cold food would offend even cave people cooking over their fires.  Actually, cooking over with a fire in the remote woods is far superior to eating off a cold plate.  There’s a radiant glow of heat that warms your face when you take those foil wrapped baked potatoes and pork loin from the embers of the fire.  Something about really hot food revives the spirit even as cold, soggy food chills the mood, even down to the tips of the toes.
In the States, I still often eat out of the hot pan I cooked in instead of serving onto a plate when making food for myself.  I’ll bring a chair right up to the stove and keep the heat on low as I eat.  If I take it into another room, I keep a lid on until the moment I’m about to eat and enjoy the ebullient rush of hot, delicious-smelling steam rising into my face before I dig in.  But even this is often difficult in America since almost all cookware I encounter is designed to get damaged if it’s so much as touched with silverware.  What backwards and alien customs!

I guess I feel that one of the main reasons to even bother to have a society is to make life pleasant for people.  It’s part of the implicit Contract that motivates us to cooperate with a social order at all.
First a people figures out how to invent a perfectly piping hot meal and then worry about surplus activities like missions into space.
It’s perverse in a way that the most wealthy populations on earth haven’t figured out how to apply sustained heat to their food or contain heat with insulation.
Perhaps it’s the Calvinist, Puritanical disdain for joy in this life that leads to such apathy.
Or is it misguided “enlightenment” empiricism? It has the same calories or nutrients served hot or ice cold after all.
Or is it simply a secular religion of competition and money-making that leaves no place for enjoying the smaller things that make life worth living to begin with?

I suspect it is a combination of all these that impede a culture known for innovation from serving food in containers that have a heat source and adjustable dial.  These are after all the same people who take toasters for granted.

How Microsoft’s Human Resources Culture Drove Away Talent

“Microsoft’s implementation – “stack ranking”, a bell curve that pits employees and groups against one another like rats in a cage – plunged the company into internecine fights, horse trading, and backstabbing.

…every unit was forced to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, then good performers, then average, then below average, then poor…For that reason, executives said, a lot of Microsoft superstars did everything they could to avoid working alongside other top-notch developers, out of fear that they would be hurt in the rankings.

Employees quickly realised that it was more important to focus on organisation politics than actual performance:…”

LINK

One of the commenters on this article, a ‘mikesmith’ gives some real food for thought by challenging current conventional wisdom about the ascendancy of STEM.

“I was particularly struck by the very last line, quoting Jobs: ‘Microsoft never had the humanities and liberal arts in its DNA.’ That is so insightful and so true, and says so much about why Apple is now the world’s biggest company. And it’s now fundamentally an arts company, nont a tech company. Sure it has to have great technology. But the purpose of the technology is to sell the arts products. It’s the products created by musicians, writers, filmmakers and others sold on iTunes that is financing Apple’s growth.

And it’s not just true about companies but about countries as well. Those that prosper in coming years will be those that promote the arts, the humanities, the liberal arts. Education in those areas should be a country’s number one priority, and those countries that do that will be the leaders and will have the most prosperous economies. People who study business and technology simply aren’t capable of coming up with the creative ideas. They are good at bean-counting, or finding ways of making the creative peoples’ ideas work better, but they shouldn’t be in charge and they certainly shouldn’t be receiving the bulk of the investment. It’s the artists and the creatives who matter, who now generate the ideas and the profits. Consider how much economic activity just two artists, Tolkien and Rowling, have generated in the past decade. Huge streams of billions, stemming from the work of just two artists! And they will continue for decades.

I’ve read numerous articles in this paper and others recently that young people are studying business and the sciences more than the arts and the humanities. That is just disastrous, both for the individuals and for their countries. And I feel so sorry for those young people who have been brainwashed into thinking that that’s the way to go. There’s no future for them. They should consider well Jobs’ insight, it’s quite brilliant.”

Objectivism and Bioshock: The Art Deco Connection

Here’s the typical art deco cover for an Ayn Rand book.
It was first published in 1957 but I think this edition came much later. Perhaps someone in the publishing industry saw a common thread between the attitudes of elites in the 1920-30s and the objectivists. Or perhaps because that’s the era that produced Ms. Rand?

Now here’s an art deco style angel from real life. This one is a monument to humanity attaining a divine level of mastery over nature at the Hoover dam. It’s a relic of a world where people saw humanity headed ever upwards with man on the verge of becoming God. This unbridled optimism only seems all the more horrific to us in retrospect as Western civilization was running straight for the cliff’s edge even as everyone was celebrating.
Something seems to have broken in the Western spirit after two suicidal world wars and a great depression.
Ever since then, we’ve seen the growth of a Modern Art that tries to actively destroy beauty and meaning and the spread of existentialism and atheism.

In retrospect, art deco seems creepy, tragic, naive, fallen, and above all hubristic.

It’s now usually portrayed in a dark and/or sinister way in modern culture.

Batman’s Gotham city is a good example.

Better still is the aesthetic of the computer game, Bioshock in which a Randian superman founds an underwater dystopia in an effort to leave behind the slave morality of our society and achieve human perfection and godliness on Earth.
The main villain of the game looks rather like a piece of art deco statuary by the end of the game.
And his name is ‘Fontaine’ French for ‘fountain’ I believe. Certainly not a coincidence.

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