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Interview With Rob Stark on Culture and Aesthetics

Our latest podcast:

Rob Stark, Matt Pegas, and I had an in-depth discussion on the importance of aesthetics and culture in determining the trajectory of societies and civilizations.
This is one of the most important subjects to discuss because these are qualities often ignored in favor of charts of markets and economic output.

At one point I reflect how the aesthetics of a society are a dialogue between ruler and ruled, between society and the individual.  Whatever official propaganda might be, some part of us always knows the real score from our surroundings.  If we are told society is equal and yet we see palatial mansions looking down on slums from the hilltops, we know the truth.
If we are told everything is progress and our ancestors lived in darkness, we have only to compare a painting from centuries ago to a nonsensical drip painting.  Written in those drips is the abolition of purpose and meaning, plain for anyone to see.

We also see a ruling class that broadcasts their unwillingness to take up their natural responsibilities by their avoidance of appropriate grandeur.  A nobleman who wears hoodies and skinny jeans like a petulant teenager past age 40 not only fails to assume his rightful role; he purposely counter-signals and deprives his people of leadership.

We especially focus on the interaction of aesthetics and social capital.  We note that modern capitalism has produced impressive architecture and can reproduce charming villages whenever demand is sufficient.
What it has not been able to do is produce a society-wide shared cultural vision.  On one hand there are suburbs and strip malls cranked out for maximum short-term efficiency creating miles of soulless sprawl accessible only by car.  On another extreme are a few gorgeous hotels, villages, and pastel-painted row-house neighborhoods commissioned by the wealthy.

One thing that sets apart our society even from many ancient counterparts is that access to even the simplest sorts of beauty has become a privilege of wealth.
It is a clear signal that most of us are not really a meaningful part of this society.  It is a metaphor for how all real wealth and power is centralized in a few parts of a few cities.  It is also a metaphor for all the young women who flock to the cities for comfortable office jobs, leaving the hinterlands bereft of mate prospects for young men.

If you’re not in on the game, in one of the few places where it’s actually played, you may as well be dead.  A message that’s whispered in the ear of every human being in our cultural zone whether they consciously hear it or not.

We examine what goes right and wrong with modern forms of art.  Why are grand buildings still possible in commercial real-estate while other art forms, even Hollywood movies, are all but dead?
Looking at great art of the past, many works had limited patronage in common.  The artist could work within the parameters set by one or a few men.
Mass market demand for art is far more tyrannical by comparison and selects for the lowest common denominator.
Thus, Hollywood movies have declined precipitously in quality since China and the rest of the world became major markets.  What’s for everyone is for no one.
Meanwhile, a fabulous casino or resort is still the project of just a few who are capable of realizing a single united vision.
The flaws of cultural democracy become readily apparent from this basic examination and the rightful place of responsible elitism becomes clear.

If that catches your interest, please join us.

Also, Rob and I have another talk coming up about neuro-tribalism and its ramifications.

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