Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

How to Unite

31 Aug 2016 1 comment

Ben Shapiro’s essay, We Have Nothing Left Holding Us Together, says it well.  Read the whole thing below (emphases added).  Despite what they say, liberals/progressives/the Left are not pursuing unity.

On Friday, a South Carolina high school stopped students from bringing American flags to a football game against a heavily Hispanic rival school. Why? The principal was presumably worried that waving the flag might offend the Hispanic students. According to the principal, “This decision would be made anytime that the American flag, or any other symbol, sign, cheer, or action on the part of our fans would potentially compromise the safety of all in attendance at a school event.”

This isn’t the first such situation. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that a public school in California could ban students from wearing a shirt emblazoned with an American flag on Cinco de Mayo thanks to fears over racial conflict at the school. The lawyer for the children complained, “This opens the door for a school to suppress any viewpoints that are opposed by a band of vocal and violent bullies.”

Meanwhile, has-been San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been widely praised in the media for refusing to stand for the national anthem during football games. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” explained the man earning an average of $19,000,000 per year for sitting on the bench. He continued: “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

We’re watching the end of America in real time.

That doesn’t mean that the country’s on the verge of actual implosion. But the idea of America required a common definition of being American: a love of country on the basis of its founding philosophy. That has now been undermined by the left.

Love of country doesn’t mean that you have to love everything about America, or that you can’t criticize America. But loving America means understanding that the country was founded on a unique basis — a uniquely good basis. That’s what the flag stands for. Not ethnic superiority or racial solidarity or police brutality but the notion of individual liberty and equal rights before God. But with the destruction of that central principle, the ties that bind us together are fraying. And the left loves that.

In fact, the two defining philosophical iterations of the modern left both make war with the ties that bind us together. In President Obama’s landmark second inaugural address, he openly said, “Being true to our founding documents … does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way.” This is the kind of definition worshipped by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has singlehandedly redefined the Constitution. He said, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

But this means that liberty has no real definition outside of “stuff I want to do.” And we all want to do different stuff, sometimes at the expense of other people’s liberty. Subjective definitions of liberty, rather than a common definition, means a conflict of all against all, or at least a conflict of a government controlled by some who are targeting everyone else. It means that our flag is no longer a common symbol for our shared definition of liberty. It’s just a rag that means different things to different people based on their subjective experiences and definitions of reality.

And that means we have nothing holding us together.

The only way to restore the ties that bind us is to rededicate ourselves to the notion of liberty for which generations of Americans fought and died. But that won’t happen so long as the left insists that their feelings are more important than your rights.


The Emperor’s Clothes

Sadly, this still rings true.  Originally posted June 2008.


Given the current political circus rambling around the country, you, dear reader, may be forgiven if you think I am about to engage in a rant regarding the total vacuity of the political platform of one party, or the wrongheadedness of a significant portion of the other side’s platform (at least at this point).  However, such is not the case.  Others are doing an admirable job on this issue and I will let them take main stage in that arena.  Instead, I am going to pontificate based on a thoroughly glorious experience of this past [i.e., in June 2008] weekend about the cultural vacuum currently strangling the vast majority of composers of music in this fair land.

My daughters are classical musicians, most recently trained in a major university here in the Midwest.  A young man of our acquaintance graduated with them with a bachelor’s in composition, and from his shared experiences with my daughters, and my own observation, the composition “teachers” (and I use that term loosely at this point) at this university pride themselves in being “on the cutting edge” of avant-garde music.  Their output is, to put it mildly, as memorable as the screeching of tires just before the impact in a 50 car pileup on a foggy day…and about as pleasant to the ear.  These poor souls think they are oh so sophisticated in their rejection of the “Old School” that believes that, perhaps, music should be beautiful, melodious, and follow certain rules of structure and composition.  Yet, having cast aside these “oppressive shackles,” their creations insult the definition of music, fitting much more readily into the category of noise, and cacophonous noise at that.  Root canals are more pleasant, and ultimately, their output stimulates at best the three R’s:  rejection, revulsion, and regurgitation!

In stark contrast to these emperors running around with no clothes, we have the titans of music from the past fully clothed in true regal splendor, Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms to name just the “3 B’s,” whose works are beloved still and have stood the test of time, and whose names are foreign to only the most illiterate (i.e., the public school educated).  The experience to which I referred above was a performance of Beethoven’s glorious Ninth Symphony.  Glorious is, was, and will be the word for such music.  But why?  What sets this music apart?  Great, glorious, memorable music reaches into the human soul and resonates with the human spirit, elevating and reminding him of his divine origin, as the Psalmist so pointedly exclaims:

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?  For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.  Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands….  (Psalm 8:3-6)

Remember that the Psalms were Israel’s hymnal.  Johann Sebastian Bach said, “Music’s only purpose should be for the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit.”  Not to be outdone, Martin Luther said of music:

He who despises music, as do all the fanatics, does not please me.  Music is a gift of God, not a gift of men….  After theology I accord to music the highest place and greatest honor.

This connection to the divine is, of course, a primary reason for the degradation of the musical arts.  Having its roots in Marxist/Leninist philosophy, the liberal worldview knows nothing of God and seeks to chase God from the culture and public discourse in all possible venues.  This is not some shadowy conspiracy theory.  In a previous post entitled The Enemy Within, I documented goals the Communist Party drafted and published in the 1950’s and which they then went about to implement all too successfully into the American cultural milieu to bring us down.  Two of them read:

Continue discrediting American culture by degrading all forms of artistic expression.  An American Communist cell was told to “eliminate all good sculpture from parks and buildings, substitute shapeless, awkward, meaningless forms.”

Control art critics and directors of art museums.  “Our plan is to promote ugliness, repulsive, meaningless art.”

Note the adjectives they chose to describe what they wanted to create:  “shapeless, awkward, meaningless, ugly,” and their goal to apply this to “all forms of artistic expression.”  While the above only mentions art as found in museums, the art of the concert hall falls under this purview as well, and has suffered under their attack.

What to do?

Support your local radio station that plays classical music.  Take your children to classical concerts and go yourself even if you don’t have children.  (Hmm, take someone else’s?)  Enrich your life with the glory of good music.  Above all, be aware of this front on the cultural war and take your place on the line wherever you can.

Categories: Commentary, Culture & Media Tags: ,

Amusing Ourselves to Death, Part 9: The Impact on Political Discourse

With the current election cycle in full swing, this chapter is exceedingly relevant, and damning, for now!

Another major arena that has been adulterated by the paradigm shift from print to image is the political arena. Here in his ninth chapter entitled “Reach Out and Elect Someone,” Postman provides some additional and telling analysis and observations.

Show business is not entirely without an idea of excellence, but its main business is to please the crowd, and its principal instrument is artifice. If politics is like show business, then the idea is not to pursue excellence, clarity or honesty but to appear as if you are, which is another matter altogether….In America, the fundamental metaphor for political discourse is the television commercial….We may safely assume, therefore, that the television commercial has profoundly influenced American habits of thought. Certainly, there is no difficulty in demonstrating that it has become an important paradigm for the structure of every type of public discourse. My major purpose here is to show how it has devastated political discourse. (page 126 [emphasis added])

This latter statement is bulwarked by the following observations and conclusions:

By substituting images for claims, the pictorial commercial made emotional appeal, not tests of truth, the basis of consumer decisions. The distance between rationality and advertising is now so wide that it is difficult to remember that there once existed a connection between them. Today, on television commercials, propositions are as scarce as unattractive people. The truth or falsity of an advertiser’s claim is simply not an issue. (page 127-128 [emphasis added])

Because the television commercial is the single most voluminous form of public communication in our society, it was inevitable that Americans would accommodate themselves to the philosophy of television commercials. By “accommodate,” I mean that we accept them as a normal and plausible form of discourse. By “philosophy,” I mean that the television commercial has embedded in it certain assumptions about the nature of communication that run counter to those of other media, especially the printed word. For one thing, the commercial insists on an unprecedented brevity of expression. One may even say, instancy. A sixty-second commercial is prolix; thirty seconds is longer than most; fifteen to twenty seconds is about average. (page 130 [emphasis added])

The two quotes above contain two of the most serious assaults of television on the American cognitive ability. In previous posts, we’ve seen these same pernicious trends in other areas of culture. Continuing:

Moreover, commercials have the advantage of vivid visual symbols through which we may easily learn the lessons being taught. Among those lessons are that short and simple messages are preferable to long and complex ones; that drama is to be preferred over exposition; that being sold solutions is better than being confronted with questions about problems. Such beliefs would naturally have implications for our orientation to political discourse; that is to say, we may begin to accept as normal certain assumptions about the political domain that either derive from or are amplified by the television commercial. (page 131)

There may be a case for choosing the best man over party (although I know of none). The point is that television does not reveal who the best man is. In fact, television makes impossible the determination of who is better than whom, if we mean by “better” such things as more capable in negotiation, more imaginative in executive skill, more knowledgeable about international affairs, more understanding of the interrelations of economic systems, and so on. (page 133-134 [emphasis added])

As Xenophanes remarked twenty-five centuries ago, men always make their gods in their own image. But to this, television politics has added a new wrinkle: Those who would be gods refashion themselves into images the viewers would have them be. (page 135)

The historian Carl Schorske has, in my opinion, circled closer to the truth by noting that the modern mind has grown indifferent to history because history has become useless to it; in other words, it is not obstinacy or ignorance but a sense of irrelevance that leads to the diminution of history. (page 137)

Seemingly benign technologies devoted to providing the populace with a politics of image, instancy and therapy may disappear history just as effectively, perhaps more permanently, and without objection. (page 138)

The conclusion of this discussion in the political realm contacts American education as well as politics.

To put it plainly, a student’s freedom to read is not seriously injured by someone’s banning a book on Long Island or in Anaheim or anyplace else. But as Gerbner suggests, television clearly does impair the student’s freedom to read, and it does so with innocent hands, so to speak. Television does not ban books, it simply displaces them….Those who run television do not limit our access to information but in fact widen it. Our Ministry of Culture is Huxleyan, not Orwellian. It does everything possible to encourage us to watch continuously. But what we watch is a medium which presents information in a form that renders it simplistic, nonsubstantive, nonhistorical and noncontextual; that is to say, information packaged as entertainment. In America, we are never denied the opportunity to amuse ourselves. (page 141)

Reread that last quote and compare it to what you know about the culture that surrounds you and, indeed, permeates your own home. Is it any wonder the “touchy-feely” narcissistic rhetoric of the liberal left has become so commonplace and successful?

Having shown us the impact on political discourse, Postman will next turn to the devastation that has occurred in education.


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Amusing Ourselves to Death, Part 8: The Impact on Religious Discourse

Postman now turns his attention to analyzing the consequences of the use of television on religious discourse (or lack thereof) in Chapter Eight, “Shuffle Off to Bethlehem.” Every serious Christian should read this chapter closely. Two conclusions from his watching television’s version of religion (Robert Schuller, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, Jerry Falwell, Jim Bakker and Pat Robertson):

The first is that on television, religion, like everything else, is presented, quite simply and without apology, as an entertainment. Everything that makes religion an historic, profound and sacred human activity is stripped away; there is no ritual, no dogma, no tradition, no theology, and above all, no sense of spiritual transcendence. On these shows, the preacher is tops. God comes out as second banana.

The second conclusion is that this fact has more to do with the bias of television than with the deficiencies of these electronic preachers, as they are called….What makes these television preachers the enemy of religious experience is not so much their weaknesses but the weaknesses of the medium in which they work.

Most Americans, including preachers, have difficulty accepting the truth, if they think about it at all, that not all forms of discourse can be converted from one medium to another. It is naive to suppose that something that has been expressed in one form can be expressed in another without significantly changing its meaning, texture or value. (page 116-117 [emphasis added])

The last paragraph above is an especially important assertion/observation. It ties in to his previous comments on the second commandment and shows the problem of trying to be relevant to the world by using worldly techniques. Any attempt at dramatization of the written biblical record will suffer from this alteration of content due to the change in the medium of communication. He goes on to assert:

Though it may be un-American to say it, not everything is televisible. Or to put it more precisely, what is televised is transformed from what it was to something else, which may or may not preserve its former essence. (page 118)

Postman now turns to the reasons for his bold assertions above.

To come to the point, there are several characteristics of television and its surround that converge to make authentic religious experience impossible. The first has to do with the fact that there is no way to consecrate the space in which a television show is experienced. It is an essential condition of any traditional religious service that the space in which it is conducted must be invested with some measure of sacrality. (page 118-119)

Moreover, the television screen itself has a strong bias toward a psychology of secularism. The screen is so saturated with our memories of profane events, so deeply associated with the commercial and entertainment worlds that it is difficult for it to be recreated as a frame for sacred events. Among other things, the viewer is at all times aware that a flick of the switch will produce a different and secular event on the screen – a hockey game, a commercial, a cartoon. (page 119-120)

I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether. (page 121 [emphasis added])

I believe Postman has hit the nail on the head in the above quote!

The spectacle we find in true religions has as its purpose enchantment, not entertainment. The distinction is critical. By endowing things with magic, enchantment is the means through which we may gain access to sacredness. Entertainment is the means through which we distance ourselves from it. (page 122)

While the assertion that the rituals/spectacles of true religions are magical in nature is equivocal, his point that they are not done for entertainment purposes is still a valid one and an important one.

Television is, after all, a form of graven imagery far more alluring than a golden calf. I suspect (though I have no external evidence of it) that Catholic objections to Bishop Fulton Sheen’s theatrical performances on television (of several years back) sprang from the impression that viewers were misdirecting their devotions, away from God and toward Bishop Sheen, whose piercing eyes, awesome cape and stately tones were as close a resemblance to a deity as charisma allows. (page 123 [emphasis added])

Next, Postman looks at the effect on the political realm.


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Amusing Ourselves to Death, Part 7: The Brief Attention Span

For those just joining this series, I would suggest starting at part one here. We are going through this exercise because I firmly believe this book by Neil Postman is a watershed work in understanding from where originates the lack of thought that seems to characterize our culture today. For those wondering, Mr. Postman’s work consists of eleven chapters, and we are going at approximately one chapter per post, so we are a little over half way through. The series also includes two posts so far that do not have the above title format, and are not included in the part count, having originated in excellent comments left on previous installments that I deemed worthy of a more extended response than that usually relegated to a comments section. Enjoy!

Chapter Seven is entitled “Now…This” and it is here that the author turns to the impact of the transition from a word oriented culture to a visually oriented culture upon the news media (aka, the MSM, or mainstream media) and its product. This chapter is an indictment against the thought process, or lack thereof, created by television.

‘Now…this’ is commonly used on radio and television newscasts to indicate that what one has just heard or seen has no relevance to what one is about to hear or see, or possibly to anything one is ever likely to hear or see. The phrase is a means of acknowledging the fact that the world as mapped by the speeded-up electronic media has no order or meaning and is not to be taken seriously. There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating, no political blunder so costly – for that matter, no ball score so tantalizing or weather report so threatening – that it cannot be erased from our minds by a newscaster saying, ‘Now…this.’ The newscaster means that you have thought long enough on the previous matter (approximately forty-five seconds), that you must not be morbidly preoccupied with it (let us say, for ninety seconds), and that you must now give your attention to another fragment of news or a commercial. (page 99-100 [emphasis added)

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Amusing Ourselves to Death, Part 6: Let Me Entertain You

Neil Postman’s Chapter Six, “The Age of Show Business,” is a telling analysis of the effects of television on a cultural scale, made by someone who may be said to be somewhat objective in that he does not have a “religious,” and therefore to some, irrational, reason for opposing television. Postman starts with no holds barred:

Television does not extend or amplify literate culture. It attacks it. If television is a continuation of anything, it is of a tradition begun by the telegraph and photograph in the mid-nineteenth century, not by the printing press in the fifteenth. (page 84 [emphasis added])

Postman’s analysis of and objections to television run deeper than mere objections to content. He analyzes and attacks the world view underlying the entire phenomenon, tracing the consequences into our culture.

American television, in other words, is devoted entirely to supplying its audience with entertainment….But what I am claiming here is not that television is entertaining but that it has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience….Entertainment is the supra-ideology of all discourse on television. No matter what is depicted or from what point of view, the overarching presumption is that it is there for our amusement and pleasure. (page 86-87 [emphasis added])

Thinking does not play well on television, a fact that television directors discovered long ago. There is not much to see in it. It is, in a phrase, not a performing art. But television demands a performing art…. (page 90 [emphasis added])

The above is why commentary and analysis in television shows are usually so shallow. Postman goes on to show us why this is so.

The single most important fact about television is that people watch it, which is why it is called ‘television.’ And what they watch, and like to watch, are moving pictures – millions of them, of short duration and dynamic variety. It is in the nature of the medium that it must suppress the content of ideas in order to accommodate the requirements of visual interest; that is to say, to accommodate the values of show business.” (page 92 [emphasis added])

Television is our culture’s principal mode of knowing about itself. Therefore – and this is the critical point – how television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly to be staged. It is not merely that on the television screen entertainment is the metaphor for all discourse. It is that off the screen the same metaphor prevails. As typography once dictated the style of conducting politics, religion, business, education, law and other important social matters, television now takes command. In courtrooms, classrooms, operating rooms, board rooms, churches and even airplanes, Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas; they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials. For the message of television as metaphor is not only that all the world is a stage but that the stage is located in Las Vegas, Nevada.” (page 92-93 [emphasis added])

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Amusing Ourselves to Death, Part 5: The Transition

For those just joining us in our expedition through this watershed work, I would strongly encourage you to start with part one here to get the full content and context. In addition to the posts by this name, there have appeared in this sequence to date two additional posts in response to comments that expand the discussion into the present.

Postman’s Chapter Five is entitled “The Peek-a-Boo World” and here he starts his analysis of the mechanism by which we have moved from one form of discourse to the next. He traces it to two ideas converging. The first idea:

Toward the middle years of the nineteenth century, two ideas came together whose convergence provided twentieth-century America with a new metaphor of public discourse. Their partnership overwhelmed the Age of Exposition, and laid the foundation for the Age of Show Business. One of the ideas was quite new, the other as old as the cave paintings of Altamira. We shall come to the old idea presently. The new idea was that transportation and communication could be disengaged from each other, that space was not an inevitable constraint on the movement of information. (page 64 [emphasis added])

The methodology of actualizing this idea:

The telegraph made a three-prong attack on typography’s definition of discourse, introducing on a large scale irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence. These demons of discourse were aroused by the fact that telegraphy gave a form of legitimacy to the idea of context-free information; that is, to the idea that the value of information need not be tied to any function it might serve in social and political decision-making and action, but may attach merely to its novelty, interest, and curiosity. The telegraph made information into a commodity, a ‘thing’ that could be bought and sold irrespective of its uses or meaning. (page 64)

As Thoreau implied, telegraphy made relevance irrelevant. The abundant flow of information had very little or nothing to do with those to whom it was addressed; that is, with any social or intellectual context in which their lives were embedded. (page 67)

We may say then that the contribution of the telegraph to public discourse was to dignify irrelevance and amplify impotence. But this was not all: Telegraphy also made public discourse essentially incoherent. It brought into being a world of broken time and broken attention, to use Lewis Mumford’s phrase. The principal strength of the telegraph was its capacity to move information, not collect it, explain it or analyze it. In this respect, telegraphy was the exact opposite of typography. (page 69)

The second idea:

And yet, for all the power of the telegraph, had it stood alone as a new metaphor for discourse, it is likely that print culture would have withstood its assault; would, at least, have held its ground. As it happened, at almost exactly the same time Morse was reconceiving the meaning of information, Louis Daguerre was reconceiving the meaning of nature; one might even say, of reality itself….the photograph would invest everyone with the power to duplicate nature as often and wherever one liked….the photograph was to visual experience what the printing press was to the written word. (page 71)

Language, of course, is the medium we use to challenge, dispute, and cross-examine what comes into view, what is on the surface. The words ‘true’ and ‘false’ come from the universe of language, and no other. When applied to a photograph, the question, Is it true? means only, Is this a reproduction of a real slice of space-time? If the answer is ‘Yes,’ there are no grounds for argument, for it makes no sense to disagree with an unfaked photograph. The photograph itself makes no arguable propositions, makes no extended and unambiguous commentary. It offers no assertions to refute, so it is not refutable. (page 73)

The new imagery, with photography at its forefront, did not merely function as a supplement to language, but bid to replace it as our dominant means for construing, understanding, and testing reality. (page 74)

The “origin” of the title of this chapter:

Together, this ensemble of electronic techniques called into being a new world – a peek-a-boo world, where now this event, now that, pops into view for a moment, then vanishes again. It is a world without much coherence or sense; a world that does not ask us, indeed, does not permit us to do anything; a world that is, like the child’s game of peek-a-boo, entirely self-contained. But like peek-a-boo, it is also endlessly entertaining.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with playing peek-a-boo. And there is nothing wrong with entertainment. As some psychiatrist once put it, we all build castles in the air. The problems come when we try to live in them. The communications media of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with telegraphy and photography at their center, called the peek-a-boo world into existence, but we did not come to live there until television. Television gave the epistemological biases of the telegraph and the photograph their most potent expression, raising the interplay of image and instancy to an exquisite and dangerous perfection. And it brought them into the home….To put it plainly, television is the command center of the new epistemology. There is no audience so young that it is barred from television. There is no poverty so abject that it must forgo television. There is no education so exalted that it is not modified by television. And most important of all, there is no subject of public interest – politics, news, education, religion, science, sports – that does not find its way to television. Which means that all public understanding of these subjects is shaped by the biases of the television. (page 77-78 [emphasis added])

The conclusion and summary of the chapter whose truth should send shudders through a biblical Christian:

There is no more disturbing consequence of the electronic and graphic revolution than this: that the world as given to us through television seems natural, not bizarre. For the loss of the sense of the strange is a sign of adjustment, and the extent to which we have adjusted is a measure of the extent to which we have been changed. Our culture’s adjustment to the epistemology of television is by now all but complete; we have so thoroughly accepted its definitions of truth, knowledge, and reality that irrelevance seems to us to be filled with import, and incoherence seems eminently sane. And if some of our institutions seem not to fit the template of the times, why it is they, and not the template, that seem to us disordered and strange. (page 79-80 [emphasis added])

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