Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sober Second Thoughts

A recurring theme recently, and especially in yesterday's miscellanea, is the dumbing down of culture, or, as I like to call it, "slouching towards idiocracy". But I don't think things are quite as bad as they are pictured. For one thing, my experience here at the Music Salon has been quite different. This blog has received around 3700 comments and the vast majority of them have been courteous, intelligent and informed. I have only had to remove 1 (one) for being insulting and obscene (to both myself and Richard Taruskin, of all people!). This is over a four year period. Based on this I would say that the culture doesn't seem to be declining. But if you look at the culture as it is portrayed in the mass media, you would get a completely different impression.

So perhaps we need to look at things from a slightly different angle. Democracy and egalitarianism have metastasized in recent years to the point where it is not only believed that everyone's opinion is as good as everyone else's, but to the astonishing claim that the only people with the right to an opinion, or to express an opinion publicly, are from Official Victim Groups. Let's treat that view with the respect it deserves and walk right on by.

I have been leery of democracy for a long time, since 399 BC to be precise, when a jury of 501 fine and upstanding Athenian citizens condemned Socrates to death for asking annoying questions though the actual charges were impiety and corrupting the youth. Aristotle left town saying he wanted to forestall Athens from committing a second crime against philosophy.

In a normal, healthy, civilized society those members who are ill-informed are discouraged from offering their half-baked thoughts in public fora. In our society they are constantly yammering on Facebook, Twitter, the blogosphere and email. Not only that, but pollsters even call them up and ask them their thoughts on political questions and candidates. Then these ill-conceived and misinformed opinions are actually published!! Hard to believe, I know, but that's what it's come to.

So when someone like Mario Vargas Llosa publishes a book moaning about the horrible state of the culture, perhaps the correct response is to say, Mario, I hear ya, but these people were always idiots. They aren't any more so now than they ever were. But now, through the wonders of the Internet, we allow their opinions to spread like crab grass and infect all of public life. If they had had the Internet in 1750 and encouraged all the peasants to blog, tweet and twiddle, things might have looked just as bad.

There are lots of brilliant, creative people hard at work every day and some of them comment regularly on this blog. Let's not mistake a frothy tsunami of silliness for reality.

Speaking of creative people hard at work, here's a little tune from this year's Proms concerts. Gustav Holst, The Planets, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Susanna M√§lkki:


Rickard Dahl said...

Well, this (excellent) video explains the types of political systems quite well:

The conclusion is that a republic as opposed to a democracy is the most fair and freedom granting system.

Bryan Townsend said...

Aristotle saw three kinds of government, each with their good and bad forms:

Monarchy -- Tyranny
Aristocracy -- Oligarchy
Constitutional Govt. -- Democracy

In Great Britain they have traditionally combined all three forms: there is a monarch, but also an aristocracy, and also representational democracy. They don't have a constitution, though. And this structure is breaking down as the role of the aristocracy is more and more curtailed.

Christine Lacroix said...

Whoa Bryan, careful with the 'peasants' crack. Sounds a bit mean. They were the poor workers and not all idiots.

Thanks for the Gustav Holst and since YouTube's autoplay immediately went to JS Bach's Mass in B minor I'm enjoying that now.

Bryan Townsend said...

Here at the Music Salon we try to push the envelope a bit. But surely you acknowledge that, in 1750, there were actual peasants? It is only by very subtle implication that I insinuate that a lot of people today have a kind of peasant mentality. Hey, my parents were sort-of peasants. Canadian prairie farmers by culture and occupation, which is to say, peasants.

You can't go wrong listening to the Mass in B minor on a Sunday. Sets you up, spiritually, for the whole week.

Bryan Townsend said...

But I should have been clearer. The nice thing about earlier times was that people with little learning or contact with high culture were not encouraged to express their opinions about it. Whereas nowadays, everyone is encouraged, no, incited, to express their opinions. But yes, they are not idiots, just poor workers. Their opinions, however...

Christine Lacroix said...

I didn't realize that I wasn't getting email alerts and that some of my comments had been answered so I just saw this now. It just sounded condescending to say that about the peasants being able to tweet. Of course I realize that there were actual peasants in the 18th century and there still are now. But are you sure that formal education is a necessary pre-requisite for intelligent opinions? Does it really guarantee anything? Certainly it formats people to think a certaub way and can convince us of our superiority however maybe by structuring our thought processes it limits us too?

Bryan Townsend said...

There you go again, making sound rejoinders!

I know that I sometimes risk sounding condescending by pushing back against the tsunami of know-nothingness that is such a powerful trend these days. But I guess I think it is worth the risk. To avoid entirely this issue, I might just cite my own biography. I grew up in an impoverished environment--intellectually and culturally as well as materially. I had the great fortune of being able to attend a pretty good university at a time when class sizes were small and got a good start at an undergraduate degree. Then I transferred to a very good university and completed two degrees. Without this basic training I doubt I would have been able to follow the path I have. Most of what I know I have taught myself, but I think that the intellectual formation I was afforded in these institutions of higher learning was extremely important in learning how to learn, how to do research, what discipline was and what kinds of questions need to be asked and on and on. Very bright people who have not had this experience are hampered accordingly.

Sadly, nowadays I see that many institutions of higher learning are NOT performing their necessary function, but instead are indoctrinating their students into nonsensical views and attitudes. That is not going to end well. So I think that the last part of your comment is extremely relevant, but it may refer to the decline in quality of formal education in recent years.