I'll be back to serious blogging soon. Meanwhile some quick thoughts:
- A podcast by James Howard Kunstler on tattoos and what passes for clothing style among people these days. Kunstler's cheery view on modern American (and by extension, given some minor changes, Western European) culture is summed up in this quote from his blog:
Frankly, I don't want that version of America to survive -- the America of chain stores, and muscle cars, and grown men obsessed with video games, drugs, and pornography, and women decorated like cannibals, and the vast, crushing purposelessness of it all.
I had been wondering about the suprising prevalence among tattoos as well as the general "gangster-like" clothing style of young kids (baggy clothes, hat the wrong way around, etc.) earlier yesterday. When I was in high school during the mid-nineties tattoos were still something new and edgy. Nowadays just about everybody sports them, even people who look otherwise civilized. And most of the time they're ugly and unoriginal as well. Things like barbed wire, "tribal" flame-like patterns, Chinese characters and especially those awful little stars. I mean, if you want something inked into your skin which you can never get off, ever, shouldn't you want something more personal, more individual than tribal flames or barbed wire? Something more meaningful?
So to a big extent, I share Kunstler's dim view of tattoos. According to Kunstler, both the tattoo rage as well as the prevalence of "hip-hop" style clothing (hoodies, baggy jeans, hats the wrong way around, etc.) reflect the general hopelessness and purposelessness of modern-day life in that they combine the marks of a warrior culture (tattoos) with those of infantilism (the baby-like clothes). Fitting for a society which has little place for warriors or indeed responsible, individualist adults - in response to a Nanny state which abhors any healthy kind of warrior instinct, people dress like babies and decorate themselves like warriors. Or, in Kunstler's words, like "violent clowns".
Countercultures are good, and healthy (even if the social discord and marginalization that produces them may not be). At best, they're havens of artistic creativity, genuinely subversive thought, and progress in the realm of ideas. Christianity at best is the counterculture to end all countercultures - the Kingdom of God. But there's something rotten with a society in which countercultural values, codes, symbols instantly get commodified and adopted by mainstream culture, where the borders between "high" and "low" culture have been breached to the extent that culture as a whole seems to survive parasitically on "low" culture. And that's what you are seeing, I think, with the proliferation of tattooing, "gangster-like" dress style, the popularity of music and song that glorifies crime, thuggishness and violence, etc. That's not good for "high" culture which seems to have all but lost its bearings, and not good for countercultures either.
- The liberal interventionist Hurry up Harry is busy denouncing VP candidate Sarah Palin for apparently supporting Pat Buchanan in '99. Now, the general purpose of a blog like Harry's place is to indignantly denounce anyone on the left or right who breaks the cherished taboos of the babyboomer/armchair bomber left, so if it is indeed true that Palin at some point endorsed Buchanan, this increases my interest in Palin considerably. I like Pat Buchanan. He writes well, though occasionally with some pathos; he's predictably ultra-conservative, though happens to be correct a lot more often than the proverbial stopped clock.
Everytime there are American elections, the Western European media, pundits, etc. will en masse support the Democratic candidate, no matter how incompetent or crooked, to the point of shamelessness. A low point of this during the last election was the Guardian's "Operation Clark County" or "Write a letter to a stupid American to vote for John Kerry" - which may well have been a small factor in George W. Bush's eventual victory. One of the prominent participants in this project was none other than Richard Dawkins. Incidentally, this changed my opinion about the man and his attacks on religion forever. Dawkins doesn't have the hatred and bile of a Hitchens. He's disarmingly and embarrasingly honest and sincere. It's just that he has no capacity at all to understand a viewpoint radically different than his. Something which explains both his misunderstandings of religion and his participation in that risible campaign.
But in any event, the same state of affairs concerning Obama (McCain is all but boycotted in the Dutch media) arouses my contrarian instincts. I'm now wondering whether a McCain presidency would be all that bad. And I cannot but like some of the things I read about Palin. Some socially conservative leftists, such as David Lindsay and The Exile feel the same.
- For a good example of what's wrong with the European right, go no further than this article by the Brussels Journal's Fjordman. It starts off very interestingly by breaking down some of the politically-correct taboos surrounding cannibalism and human sacrifice in primitive societies. But then it devolves in an equally politically-correct harangue against any attempts to relativize the alleged superiority of European cultures as well as against the usual postmodernist bogeymen. This leads him to miss some very interesting points. For instance, commenting on a writer seeing analogies between Aztec human sacrifice and the institution of highly ritualized public executions in the Europe of the same period, Fjordman sneers:
So, the Aztecs were a sophisticated bunch of natural philosophers who were great lovers of food and had good health care. They were presumably at the brink of developing microwave popcorn, interplanetary travel and laser eye surgery when the Europeans showed up and invented racism and global warming.
It is undoubtedly true that there were brutal aspects of early modern European culture. It was a brutal age. However, whatever Europeans did at this time, they didn't eat other people's internal organs on a regular basis. I know of indications that human sacrifice was once practiced in Europe, China, Egypt and elsewhere, but that was in very ancient times. By the sixteenth century AD, human sacrifice was not an established feature among any of the major Old World civilizations, but it was quite common among New World peoples.
The thing is that one would think that the prevalence of cathartic sacrificial practices among people - whether the actual killing of actual humans or the driving off of a vicarious one such as the scapegoat of the Old Testament - is of interest to conservatives. Because they tell of a basic need in human society: the one to purge itself of sin and evil, and to ritualistically re-establish loyalty, social cohesion, and the ideal basis underlying society. The theatrical aspects of pre-Enlightenment public executions in Europe are obvious, and the scapegoat mechanisms at work in the purges and show trials of the Communists even more so. Sin and evil are not outside forces to be conquered and defeated, as liberals might believe. Human nature is what it is. And evil is right there in the middle of it.
In general, the problem of the European right as exemplified by the Brussels Journal is that it is a thoroughly secular right in a thoroughly secularized society - one which thus lacks the symbolic means to examine itself and its components (the human individual). As well as to understand other societies. Rather, the European right strongly defines itself against religion in the form of Islam, and gathers itself around politically-correct shibbolets of its own, such as women's rights and gay rights. And don't get me wrong here: I'm in favour of both. But I see little hope for a political attitude that, when confronted with the practices of other cultures, cannot even understand them and the language they speak, but instead scoffs and says: "See? We are not that barbaric. And in fact, we never were."
In other words, we have the old myths of progress and perfectability of man, clothed now in a "conservative" and slightly xenophobic garb. I'm not that optimistic. We were that barbaric. In our hearts of hearts, we still are. And we may yet be.