Thursday, February 18, 2021

I Will Not Be Participating in Your New Culture Wars

There I was, stranded by a snowstorm and nothing better to do, reading up on what a journalist unjustly pushed out of his left-wing muckracking gig (one with whom I disagree about nearly everything) had to say about the forced resignation of a reporter from a newspaper I no longer read over the meta-ethics of using a racial slur in a non-derogatory context during a field trip for rich kids to South America that probably cost more than six months of most people's mortgage.

Then I checked my social media "feed",  only to discover that my attention was needed elsewhere. You see, an actress I have never heard of, who rose to prominence in a sport I loathe, had been fired from a television program I have no plans of ever watching on an online streaming platform that I would never subscribe to for employing a tired but once-popular Holocaust-derived analogy in an argument about well, I really don't know, but I was supposed to be thrilled that she is now engaged in an unnamed new film venture with another journalist whose work I don't care to read

Sandwiched between these two incidents was at least one other pseudo-controversy involving the inconsistent application of privacy rules at the aforementioned paper. It led to a once-pseudonymous blogger, who was supposed to be the subject of an abandoned profile, outing himself and then being written about in a somewhat nastier manner by the same publication. This in turn gave rise to dozens of impassioned defenses of the unlucky scribe by countless other 40-something male bloggers, including one prominent defender of polygamy.

What the hell am I doing reading this crap in my precious extra time I thought. In all of these and goodness knows how many other cases or whatever the word is supposed to be for these extended online sessions, what was being elicited was an intense fury that, upon a moment's reflection, I realized I did not actually feel. 

This is not because I do not care about truth or justice or any of the rather grand-sounding words trotted out by online sophist whenever we do these things, but because even when I squint and see how they enter at least proximately into the incident, it is not clear to me what my being outraged would accomplish.

I think the best way of illustrating my point is to mention what brought me to this point of thinking. It was yet another recent example of the tendency I am simultaneously decrying and refusing to engage with: the increasingly commonplace and utterly ludicrous contention that Western art music is the product of some kind of white supremacist conspiracy that is perpetuated every time someone praises or even listens to a work such as 'Fidelio'. 

Attempting to rebut a person who says that Beethoven was merely an "above-average" composer and that the centrality of tone in 19th-century music is a racist plot is a mug's game. One's intended interlocutors are simply not arguing in good faith.

There are only three conceivable responses to such idiotic assertions. The first, that of the indefatigable John McWhorter, is to attempt meaningful adult conversation, which is a bit like trying to convince someone making fart noises that your preferred translation of an 11th-century Japanese court romance is worth reading.

The second is performative indignation, as seen best in it's natural habitat, the Tweeter. This often feels good and occasionally allows us to enjoy feelings of camaraderie. But among other things I worry that when something becomes a wedge issue in these culture-war arguments, sooner or later the actual object (in this case the music of Beethoven) recedes into the horizon, merely instrumental if not irrelevant. This is a familiar pattern in the so-called "canon wars" of the last few decades: The entire modern history of the conservative movement might as well be the story of otherwise intelligent 20-somethings devoting their lives to defending "the products of Western civilization" without betraying even the slightest familiarity, much less sincere interest, in this vaguely defined corpus.

The third possible response is the one that seems to me the most reasonable. It is silence. Never mind the other considerations. The truth is that I cannot change the fact that all of America's institutions, political, economic, cultural,  are controlled by mendacious philistines.

But I can ignore these people, robbing them of the only thing that really matters to them: their ability to impose their will upon me and millions of others.   *burp*

No comments:

Post a Comment