Zeitgeist

The Ugly Truth

August 15, 2015

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This world will never come about, however, for the desire for it is neither universal nor lasting nor wholly sincere. It is curious how many pop stars, for example, having made their fortunes, retire in their private lives to the physical surroundings of country gentlemen. Few are they who want to live in grunginess forever, though such people no doubt exist: in most, however, it is a phase that is gone through like measles (before immunization abolished it), or like the dinosaur phase of boyhood.

But while the phase passes in individuals, it remains existent in society as a whole, as epidemic diseases remained even though they conferred lifelong immunity on those who had suffered them once. And like those epidemic diseases, ideological ugliness in the name of egalitarianism continues to do damage, with the paradoxical result that it increases inequality: For as it destroys beauty and elegance, so beauty and elegance become ever more rarefied and available to a smaller and smaller elite, and this is so even where income and consumption increase. The standard of living rises while the quality of life falls”€”at least in some respects.

On the other hand (there is always in life another hand to complicate matters), a purely aesthetic attitude to human existence is clearly inadequate and insufficient, at least for me. When I am among aesthetes, I quickly grow irritated with them and by their concentration on beauty, which ends in pettiness, to the exclusion of everything else: Can”€™t they think of anything but their sensual gratification? Aestheticism taken too far can even destroy appreciation of the world by demanding too much perfection of it. A toothache, as Hume said, will quickly destroy a man’s philosophy, and”€”it might be added”€”his appreciation of beauty. Dentists are as necessary as Donatello.

I suppose I must be arguing for that most boring of principles, a golden mean.

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