News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Will Culture Save Us?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Will Culture Save Us?

The notion that culturism will save us is ridiculous. Of course, the answer might depend on how you define culture. If you're talking about literature and the arts, those are usually the province of the rich and idle elites. Popular culture might serve the bill, but it's exactly this popular culture that not only the effete elite but also the religious find distinctly lacking in the types of virtues that they believe should be informing the public. It seems that what you're left with is an elite browbeating the less appreciative lower classes and the lower classes directing resentment at the elites. ...

The Founding Fathers of the US, at least, did not rely on such abstractions as culturism to promote the underlying virtue of the republic. They set up a framework in which all could go their own way, find their own selves and thereby contribute to the overall benefit of all. If that framework is proving unsuccessful reflects more on the fact that the notion of political representation has perhaps outrun its course. We are not seeing a cultural crisis so much as we are a political crisis whose origin is the constitutional frameworks and its inadequacies for the modern world.

The great Japanese philosopher, Tanabe Hajime, discusses the culturists--those who think that by reinvigorating a culture, either through art or an aesthetic form of religion--miss the point:

It must be said that the very ones now optimistically espousing the cause of culture are mere onlookers who have no sense of social responsibility to the nation. A moment's glance at some of the current social problems--the hunger and poverty of the vast majority in sharp contrast with the luxury enjoyed by a very few owing to the misdistribution of food and goods, the stagnation and paralysis of industry despite the larger number of soldiers returning to the ranks of the unemployed--shows how difficult it will be to rebuild our war-devastated nation. One step in the wrong direction, even one day's delay, may be enough to spell the total ruin of our land. Unless we all undertake the new way of zange [repentance], free ourselves from the evil institutions of the past, and collaborate in carrying out whatever changes are necessary in the social system, there is no possibility of reconstruction. The only course open to us is metanoetics, not culturism. Does not the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah show us the way? -- Hajime, p. lxi
The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard puts the issue even more starkly. Writing in his journals, he notes:
We recognize the animal in the child by the way it wants to put everything into its mouth; this is a very characteristic trait of the animal. But to be animal to the extent of wanting to put truth and spirit into one's mouth, to live off truth, to live off others' having suffered for the truth, oneself pledged by an oath to that one thing to which those others have aspired--imitation--this is beastly! Curiously enough, this bestiality is found in conjunction with the finest culture and good breeding, which is so discriminating that it does not even see the garbage collector or, if such a being dared speak, would loftily let him understand that he is only an animal. Strangely enough, the relationship is the reverse, and the garbage collector is a human being, but this elegantly dressed, finely cultured, bemedalled man of distinction is an animal, an animal who animalistically puts truth into his mouth, thinking truth is something to eat, an animal more loathesome than any beast of prey, even living off the sufferings of others, something no beast of prey does, for it lives off its prey and if it causes its prey to suffer in depriving it of life, it still does not live off the sufferings of its prey. -- XI2 A 434 September 22, 1855

No comments: