Home » culture » the multifaceted faces of the cultural divide, chipped dishes, big rewards for not much

the multifaceted faces of the cultural divide, chipped dishes, big rewards for not much

Dreaming of a World With No Intellectuals. How ‘Conservative Intellectual’ Became an Oxymoron

If the ills of modernity are intensifying, conservatives know why. They rarely mention hyperconsumerism or advertising or a rigidifying class structure—the byproducts of advanced capitalism. Rather, they dwell on the presumably corrosive ideas of the educated, especially the professoriate.

Correspondingly, many conservative politicians flaunt their unworldliness as proof of their virtuousness. Often their provincialism requires no flaunting. Anti-intellectualism flourishes in contemporary America. To the applause of conservatives, George W. Bush took pride in his C average at Yale University. Mitt Romney has sought to burnish his anti-intellectual credentials by complaining that the Harvard-educated Obama “spent too much time at Harvard.” Romney, who has spent more time at Harvard than Obama, and has sent three of his sons there, explained that little can be learned from “just reading” or hanging out “at the faculty lounge.”

Conservatives like to think they have a brigade of intellectuals – Bill Kystal, Thomas Sowell ( who once accused President Obama of being a Nazi) and the bar has been set so low for inclusion in the circle of conservative intellectuals that Jonah Goldberg is sometimes included – even though his historical research and conclusions are below that of the average college sophomore. These are the torch bearers of Edmund Burke ( even in his day Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley cleaned his clock) , Leo Strauss - in his own words would have been a Nazi if not for the antisemitism. Some intellectuals and enlightened reasoning is fine as long as it does not interfere with the dogma of conservatism. They shuffle in and out of elitism when it suits their purpose. The Ivy League especially, but universities in general are farm clubs for liberals, except when conservatives go there. At which point some kind of magic takes place that shields the delicate minds of conservatives from a proper brain washing. If that be the case than conservatives’ worse fears are true, political leanings are genetic in origin.

Historically it is true that with knowledge comes some degree, or type of snobbery. Though one can also chose to be egalitarian – certainly in one’s conviction about public policy. Does it really matter if someone is an elitist about classical music or  literature, or makes it a point to study art history and have contempt for minimalist abstract art. Not unless one cares too much about what other people think about art and culture. This review of three books about evolution, the mind and art gets into the relationships of art and elitism, Art Over Biology

As Nietzsche’s reference to the Greeks suggests, the link between artistry and suffering is not a modern invention. What is modern is the sense of the superiority of the artist’s inferiority, which is only possible when the artist and the intellectual come to see the values of ordinary life—prosperity, family, worldly success, and happiness—as inherently contemptible. The exhilarating assault on bourgeois values that was modernism, in all the arts and in politics too, rested on the assumption, nurtured through the nineteenth century, that there was nothing enviable about what T.S. Eliot bitterly derided as the cycle of “birth, copulation and death.” Art, according to a modern understanding that has not wholly vanished today, is meant to be a criticism of life, especially of life in a materialist, positivist civilization such as our own. If this means the artist does not share in civilization’s boons, then his suffering will be a badge of honor. (Dictators who sought to protect their people from the infection of “degenerate art” were paying a twisted homage to this principle.)

Adam Kirsch is right – damn it – about that phenomenon in art. Yet he is also excluding the different manifestations of elitism or snobbery in the world. The bourgeois practiced their own particular brand of snobbery. They looked down on not just artists, but on the trades like shoe making, iron work, hotel maids, farm hands – all considered a class beneath them. Good upstanding members of society owned things and employed people to do that sort of dirty labor for them. In the south we still have a pretty strong redneck culture – most of it not as bad as Ted Nugent. They’re not as easy to put into convenient categories as some believe. Many are pro-labor rednecks ( something former DNC chair Howard Dean understood). Yet like most groups of what sociologists call cohorts they have some common cultural denominators and traditions. They know you are either one of them or you’re not. Whether intended or not there is an element of elitism, or reverse elitism as a reaction to those people who are “book smart”, but ain’t got no common sense.

An interesting look at how rednecks or wannabe rednecks exploit that image for economic gain, Southern Rock Musicians’ Construction of White Trash pdf

I’ll give Susan Sontag the last word on the related subject of reducing complex thoughts and issues to what has since been called a bumper sticker mentality or soundbite, Susan Sontag on Aphorisms and the Commodification of Wisdom

With the (1943) epigraph of Canetti. ‘The great writers of aphorisms read as if they had all known each other very well.’

One wonders why. Can it be that the literature of aphorisms teaches us the sameness of wisdom (as anthropology teaches us the diversity of culture)? The wisdom of pessimism. Or should we rather conclude that the form of the aphorism, of abbreviated or condensed or rogue thought, is a historically-colored voice which, when adopted, inevitably suggests certain attitudes; is the vehicle of a common thematics?

The traditional thematics of the aphorist: the hypocrisies of societies, the vanities of human wishes, the shallowness + deviousness of women; the sham of love; the pleasures (and necessity) of solitude; + the intricacies of one’s own thought processes.

[…]

Aphoristic thinking is impatient thinking: by its very brevity or concentratedness, it presupposes a superior standard …

chipped plates

If you have a job you’ll leave for work tomorrow and you will be expected to deliver work in exchange for money. While libertarians and most conservatives would describe this an an equal distribution of rights and an exercise in free will, very few people who get a pay check could honestly describe the relationship as equal and mutually agreed upon or in any way egalitarian. You employer has such a predominance of power that it keeps the anti-depressant, self-help, yoga industry, meditation centers and over the county sleeping pill industry in business. It is absurdist comedy to think that when millions of people put in a forty hour week they still have to make decisions at the end of the month about what they can do without – things like dental care, tires for the car for another month or help their grandparents with the cost of their medications is simply another happy moment in a mutually rewarding contract. There are two major schools of thought on how to handle the matter and the attitudes to wrap, at least one of them. The first is that it is the individual’s fault – they need to get a second or even third job, they need to sacrifice even more. The system is perfect, the individual, in all cases is at fault. The other way of looking at the situation is that anyone who works a forty hour week should be able to afford all the basics including dental care and a reasonably good set of tires, and their grandparents should have a stronger safety net. The system is not hopelessly broken, but it is in need of some tweaking, some adjustments in how work is valued and rewarded – this last group of people are called descent human beings by some, and radical commies by others. If you joined a conversation in the USA about work, merit and and rewards most people would agree that getting something for nothing is also a bad idea in the long run. Able bodied people who think they deserve huge rewards with work of questionable value are scoundrels at the very least,  Mitt Romney and private equity

The phrase “private equity” conjures up images of venture capitalists pooling their funds and backing promising new ventures or contributing new equity and new management to companies in need of restructuring. But that is not how the game really works most of the time. Typically, private-equity companies borrow a ton of money, sometimes in collusion with incumbent management and sometimes in opposition to it, and take a company private. That is, the company’s shares are no longer publicly traded.

This maneuver has several advantages to the new owners. First, despite the picture of investors putting in equity, most of the money is usually borrowed. That produces a huge tax break, since the interest is tax-deductible. Second, the new owners can pay themselves large management fees as well as “special dividends.” Typically, they take out far more than they put in, by incurring debts carried on the books of the operating company.

For instance, when Bain masterminded a private-equity deal for HCA, one of America’s largest for-profit hospital chains (which has gone from private to public twice and which paid a multibillion-dollar fine for defrauding Medicare), Bain paid itself a management fee of $58 million, even though it had only put up 6.3 percent of the buyout fund.

Questionable value produced, limited input of work ( though the paper pushers in private equity will argue they put in some rough 12 hour days. They might want to leave the office some day and get to know a teacher, a nurse, a brick layer etc). There is no question about the incredibly high compensation. No one took any real risks – except perhaps the people who loaned the equity firm money. Some of the math can get complicated, but nothing most people could not handle with a little training. So we are not talking about charging for special skills.

Then, there are three possible ways to cash in.  If the company turns out to be a success, like Staples (one of Bain’s big winners), the private-equity owners can take their legitimate share of the reward. But that turns out to be the exception. If the company, newly loaded up with debt, starts to falter, it can be broken up, with massive layoffs and cuts in health and pension benefits, and resold, usually at a profit for the private-equity owners.

Or the company can simply declare bankruptcy under Chapter 11 and shed its debts.

Charlie Chaplin in the movie Modern Times, 1936.

Official video for Manchester Orchestra
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