Friday, September 16, 2016

What is Best in Life, Conan?

It seems as if one of the few places that wisdom might be passed along these days is in popular culture rather than the traditional institutions of schools, churches and government. Wait, perhaps the churches are still in the game--I would be the last to know! Now why do I say such an outrageous thing? It seems as if instead of young people being given the riches of Western Civilization, they are instead being taught to revile them. Every significant figure in Western history, if he is white and male as most of them are (and why is that?) is condemned because of being a significant figure in Western history and white and male. As we are told over and over, the history of the West is a history of oppression, racism and colonialism. Oddly enough, while there are those things in Western history, the history of every other region and culture on earth has much more oppression, racism and colonialism! But magically, through some strange operation of multiculturalism, none of that counts, only Western culture has failings.

In order for this spectacularly massive lie to be sold to the younger generations, they first had to be made nearly completely ignorant of history. That was surprisingly easy and just took a few protests on campus while chanting "Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western Civ Has Got to Go!" Of course this was preceded by decades of Gramscian softening up.

The result is a vacuous progressive monoculture that dominates government, media and academia. It is pretty significant in popular culture too, but there are little cracks where the truth peeks through. Let me give you an example with a famous clip from the movie Conan the Barbarian (1982) where Arnold Schwarzenegger explains what is best in life:

Just in case the accent was deceiving, Conan says that what is best in life is "To crush your enemies -- See them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!" Sounds like fun! But there is actually an interesting point there. The question is "what is best in life" not what is most enjoyable or most pleasant in life and our tendency is to forget the difference. "Best" is a superlative deriving from "good", a normative term meaning what can or should be commended. It is not equivalent to the most pleasant or enjoyable. The truth of this is also in the film. Conan's most pleasant and enjoyable time is when he is reclining on fine furs, surrounded by bowls of precious stones, drinking wine and in the company of the very beautiful Valeria played by Sandahl Bergman. That doesn't end well, of course!! What is best in life is not to indulge in mere physical pleasure (I think Plato said something about that), but to be engaged, to be doing things, specifically, to be doing good things.

So if you ask me what I think is best in life, my answer is "To explore aesthetically strong and active music, to compose and play music, to write about music and to study through scores, recordings and books music of interest." Ok, it's a bit focussed, so sue me! One should add in a lot of other things like taking the opportunity to be kind, to spend time with friends and family and all sorts of other things that we commonly understand.

That idea, that I just put there, about "aesthetically active" is something that just occurred to me as I was listening to Grigory Sokolov the other day. What makes his performances so aesthetically energized? It is not that he plays faster or louder, it is that he activates the music in very profound ways. We hear all the different voices with great clarity, we hear the exact significant intensity of every harmony, we hear the acuity of the rhythm and we hear the notes and chords placed just where they should be aesthetically. And so on. Put into words, it is vague and fuzzy. But when you hear it done, it is perfectly clear and evident.

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