A few weeks ago on my mother’s birthday, anthropologist Henry Harpending died. Steve Sailer wrote a thoughtful obituary of sorts for him on Taki’s Mag that also reminds us that we live in interesting times: “The Scientist vs. the SPLC.” Sailer also commemorated the man on his blog by quoting Harpending’s lively account of hunting Cape Buffalo: “Henry Harpending, RIP.” May his memory be eternal.
I suspect that his University of Utah replacement will not follow in his footsteps. It’s sad how often I have occasion to think, “Sic transit gloria mundi,” but that has probably been true for most men throughout history. It’s even sadder how often I wonder whether we are entering a new dark age.
When I was growing up, the adults in my world seemed pretty unanimous in thinking that defacing a dollar bill in any way was against the law. Later, I started noticing more and more writing on bills, and I eventually concluded that the illegality of defacing currency must involve counterfeiting. “Call Brandy for a good time” or “Cheeseheads Rule!” clearly are not attempts to trick anyone about the value of the bill upon which they are written. I assumed that those tut-tutting adults were just generalizing a specific prohibition from confusion. So, I read the following article on McClatchyDC about what Americans may do with their dollar bills with much interest: “Ben & Jerry’s co-founder tempts Secret Service by stamping messages on money.”
As I read the story, I thought about how such controversies should be the meat and potatoes of politics. For both sides (the Secret Service and StampStampede.org) have reasonable positions that are grounded in our law and traditions, though each proceeds from and focuses on a particular perspective and interest. Issues and disagreements like this are intrinsic to human society. Unfortunately, they seem so petty to us latter day Americans because our political arguments have shifted toward fundamental principles. In the Kulturkampfalter, our society debates its very understanding of the Good; the dominant American beliefs about morality and human nature are “to be decided.” This is a sign of profound national sickness. In a healthy society, Ben Cohen’s challenge to the Treasury would be front page news.
Jane Clark Scharl revisits Josef Pieper’s sensible words about work and leisure in “Josef Pieper’s Guide to Getting Over FOMO” in the Intercollegiate Review. I did not recognize “FOMO,” but Scharl graciously informs us that it means “fear of missing out.” It’s the less confident acronym for neurotics; type A folks use YOLO. Scharl explains Pieper:
In his book Leisure: The Basis of Culture, Pieper writes, “In order to gain a clear notion of leisure, we must begin by setting aside the prejudice . . . that comes from overvaluing the sphere of work.”
According to Pieper, we believe, mistakenly, in the philosophy of “total work,” which maintains that happiness can be achieved by work. Work he defines as anything “unleisurely”—literally any activity that has its end in the material world. We live today as if work were the most important thing we can do. From grade school up, we go school so we can get into college and get a good job, and then be happy and fulfilled.
But despite the urgent demands of bodies and matter, Pieper reminds us that we aren’t completely material. Humans have intellects, which can transcend matter through reason and reflection. So in order to be truly fulfilled (or fully filled, if I may), we must look for happiness in something that can likewise transcend matter—something other than work. That quest for happiness outside of work is called leisure.
For millennia, leisure was at the core of Western culture (and arguably an Eastern tradition, though that’s for another day). Whether we acknowledge it or not, Pieper says that “leisure is the centerpoint about which everything revolves.” But by the time he wrote his book in 1947, the philosophy of “total work” had pervaded Western society and degraded the concept of leisure to mean “doing nothing” or “free time.” We think of leisure as a void between periods of work, which we can use either to rest from work or fill with the “rewards” of our labor: stuff or experiences that work made possible for us.
But that’s an impoverished view of things. Leisure is far from idleness. Rather, it is the fullest of all time, because unlike work, leisure is dedicated to fulfilling the transcendent part of us. Pieper says leisure includes “relaxation” and “effortlessness,” because it requires us to be fully active, affirming “the universe and [our] experiencing [of] the world in an aspect other than its everyday one” (emphasis mine).
Scharl’s discussion of Pieper reminds me of the recent examinations of Common Core in the Intercollegiate Review and of how the new educational guidelines reduce childhood education to vocational training. A old style Marxist might suspect that the wealthy just want to dull the minds of the people while simultaneously training them to be efficient workers—well shaped cogs in the economy’s production machine. Yet, I fear that the truth is even worse—for the elite appear to want the same reduction of education even for their own schools—for their own children. Naturally, they want finer trappings with a pedagogical orientation toward higher earning vocations, but they remain committed to the belief that education equals vocational training. Gone are the days when the mighty captains of industry supported the cultivation of the human spirit (not to mention the more proper elite of the ancien régime). The industrialists of yore benefited from liberal education and had to have a broad grasp of the West’s history, controversies, achievements, and failings. Even had they come from secular families, they would have known more about the Christian religion than contemporary theology majors. Notwithstanding their possible tendencies toward philistinism, the culture at large would have impressed the importance of beauty and refinement on them so that they would have at least attempted to comply for appearance’s sake. Today, our commercial titans go to Silicon Valley, which is full of brilliant men whose interests and horizons largely correspond to their work. The t-shirt wearing, tieless man-children who pontificate at TED Talks after having read one Malcolm Gladwell book or having volunteered for a charitable stint in the Third World think themselves intellectual eagles, but they know less about the nature of man and of civilization than the schoolboys at Yale a century ago. The current plutocrats are themselves products of a degenerate society; while rich and powerful, they are spiritually emaciated and are too tunnel-visioned—indeed, too ignorant—to influence and lead the nation wisely.
For example, though his mother supported the Seattle Symphony, Bill Gates scoffs at traditional philanthropy to support the fine arts and humanities. Gates has given charitably for medical research and epidemiological missions, which are fine goals. Survival is a good thing, but flourishing is better. Yet, flourishing is too frivolous, too marginal for our latter day plutocrats to support. For the new elite is utilitarian in their morality, materialist in their metaphysics, and worse than Marx in their understanding of man and of the potential for human excellence. There are obvious exceptions, but our society’s technocratic managers’ coarseness and striking ignorance of matters beyond their specialized fields surprise and frighten me. The spiritual squalor of America’s rich matches that of its feral poor and compliant, complacent bourgeoisie—all is a consumerist wasteland where the nomads delight only in gadgets and in the meanest of pleasures.
A blessed synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel to you!
I’d like to share a short excerpt from L. Scott Smith’s essay, “America’s Lost Sense of Community”: “Is American Community the Result of Its Constitution?” The main point:
The truth of the matter is that America’s sense of community is not now, nor has it ever been, predicated upon the Constitution. Robert A. Dahl, Yale University political science professor, notes that a constitutional system is a reflection of a people’s identity and needs “to be tailored to fit the culture, traditions, needs, and possibilities of a particular country.” For this reason he maintains that the American constitutional system “is probably not suitable for export to other countries.” He points out that, although our Constitution and the institutions it created were in place for over a half century, the Civil War still occurred, thanks to “the extreme polarization in interests, values, and ways of life between the citizens of the slave states and those of the free states.” The professor observes that he “cannot imagine any democratic constitution under which the two sections [North and South] could have continued to coexist peacefully in one country.
If the American people are the chicken and their Constitution the egg, then for Professor Dahl the chicken came first. It will not do to ascribe the sense of community ot the power of a single solitary document, even one that is foundational. A scheme of government, including a declaration of rights, is a reflection of a people’s traditions, habits, mores, and customs, and arises from deep within their very soul.
The founding stock created the American regime according to their own values. Let’s call that W.A.S.P. privilege. The various immigrant groups in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries brought their own ideas about community and governance, and the country transformed as a result. The New Deal depended on those New People. The drastic demographic changes of the last fifty years are having their effect, as well—slowly transforming us into the Brazil of North America. It ought not to be necessary to remind people that São Salvador looks a lot different from Boston.
Today my father told me that he had listened to an interesting lecture by Steven Pinker wherein the professor defended the American tradition of free speech. I responded by saying how sad it was that a noted intellectual has to defend the “controversial” notion of free speech in contemporary America. Yet, America today is not the America of yesteryear, and the change is not simply or even principally a matter of generational change. A people makes a nation; change the people, and you change the nation. By electing a new people, the American elite are creating a new country—what Lawrence Auster called America 2.0. I suspect that such was the plan all along—the plutocrats of Brazil have far less obstacles in controlling their fragmented society, a significant portion of which consists of habitually servile and occasionally violent halfwit proles ready to run amok when an elite faction requires a crisis that will not go to waste. How our managerial class must envy those white masters of the brown masses. As long as they can escape the occasional bloody coup and calm proletarian rage with just enough pão and carnavais (only enough to placate the mules—one wouldn’t want to waste resources), they have it so much easier—without that annoying Anglo-Saxon insistence on due process or that Germanic civic engagement that complicates inside business dealing, which the Protestant types quaintly call “corruption.” So, let’s flood the country with hordes already tamed by the husbandry practices of oligarchic societies while we prevent a negative reaction by the natives through dishonest but effective brainwashing. As the butcher trains livestock to behave complacently to make his job easier, so the elite have convinced Americans that “diversity” is a great good—good for the butchers, that is. Divide and conquer 101. Welcome to the America of the future (or, more precisely, a possible future, which will occur unless radical measures are instituted).