Sunday, 27 November 2011

Who Killed the Romantic?

When I was younger, my friends and I use to sit at Denny’s till dawn solving the world’s problems over bottomless coffee and French fries. Nothing unusual about this. People have been doing it for centuries. The Son’s of Liberty use to meet in the pubs of Boston to formulate revolution, students in Parisian cafés did the same. The Salons of France, the Coffee Houses of Britain, and yes, even the American Denny’s restaurant chain all served as meeting grounds. Today, we have the internet. I would wager that 99% of all the world solving ever conducted amounted to nothing. But then there’s that one per cent.

This is the story of a group of friends, a bunch of rich college students with affluent and powerful parents, who changed the world, and it all started with regular meetings at a friend’s house in central London. Or perhaps I should describe them as co-conspirators to a murder – a murder I suspect that they would admit to with pride were they alive today. The victim here is the Romantic.

Apologies to my long-term readers, but I have to bring the others up to speed.

By Romanticism, I am referring to the zeitgeist, or temporal culture, of the era from 1776 to 1929. Historians have different methods of chopping-up history into manageable chunks from movements, to periods, to eras, to ages and providing different reasons for their choices and different labels. Sometimes it can become a nightmare of semantics.

In the early 20th century the world changed. Some people say the old world ended with World War I, whereas I say it ended with the on-set of the Great Depression in 1929, but either way, something changed. During the 1920’s it had become fashionable to refer to this new era as “the Modern”. Culturally, the so-called Moderns were those girls who shorn their long tresses into Louise Brooks style bobs and entered the urban job market leaving their corsets behind.

The Modern was the new world labelled by the very people who lived it. The problem here is that it’s not easy to see your own age in context. Since the 1950’s we have been in the Atomic age, the Rocket age, the Computer age, and the Information age. It has become fashionable since the late 1960’s to say that we live in the Post-modern, thanks to Michael Foucault and Jean-François Lyotard.

Here’s where the semantics problem kicks in. The word Post-modern originated in the early 20th century among philosophers who saw the 19th Century, or the Romantic Era, as “the Modern”. Even those philosophers seeking to understand the cultural revolutions of the late 1960’s identified the Modern according to 19th Century terms. What they appear to have missed is that the cultural shifts of the 1960’s were simply a widespread manifestation of what began in the 1920’s. So really, what we call “Modern” is really “Post-modern”, and what we call “Post-modern” is actually nothing new.

The key to understanding the shift from the Modern (Romantic) to the Post-Modern is in understanding the different zeitgeists involved between what was and what is now. The thing about culture is that it is difficult to truly see and understand when you are in it.

When I was about nineteen I was philosophising to a friend in a pub telling him how the world works. He said to me, “You were born and raised in Los Angeles; this isn’t the world. You need to get out.” He was right. We all have a hidden cultural bias that affects our perceptions. This also applies to zeitgeist as a sort of temporal bias. We are children of our age and that cultural perspective influences our cognition as a bias.

Important cultural elements are often simply taken for granted as fact, if they are even noticed at all. But the zeitgeist is just as important to understand when looking at a time period as understanding a culture when looking at a contemporary group of people. The zeitgeist, or as Rousseau saw it, the General Will, drives the culture forward.

To illustrate, in 1834 the concept of socialism emerged. The idea was canonised by the perpetually unemployed Karl Marx and the rich kid Frederick Engels in 1848 in The Communist Manifesto, but it soon became out-dated. Many of the legitimate concerns raised in the book were already on the road to recovery. As a consequence despite socialists and socialist groups popping-up throughout the remainder of the Nineteenth Century nothing ever came of it. The soil was not fertile for this particular ideology. It took seventy years for a government based on Marxism to emerge in 1917.

As the expression “An idea whose time has come” illustrates, the conditions have to be right for an ideology to take root and flourish. When one looks at the 1927 campaign for the US presidency, the American Socialist Party only received 6% of the vote, but within fifty years every one of their economic platforms became law. The Twentieth Century was ripe for socialism. It’s time had come because the zeitgeist was favourable to it.

Bearing this is mind; it can be argued that the zeitgeist produced people who in turn drove the zeitgeist. Socialism emerged at a time when the industrial revolution was still largely negative, faded when conditioned improved, and then re-emerged when the old Romantic zeitgeist became severely wounded by the First World War.

In the post-war years, Europeans blamed the Romantic zeitgeist for World War I and its devastations, so they chose to completely reject it. Classical Liberalism that defined the previous century was replaced by two great political forces. International Socialism, known as Communism, and National Socialism, known as Fascism.

But the true end of Romanticism was the Stock Market Crash of 1929. This was portrayed as the failure of free market capitalism. During the 1930’s it appeared as though the two socialist camps had it right. They prospered while the rest floundered. So countries like the United States and Britain, former bastions of Romanticism, embraced central government economic planning and thus crossed the Rubicon into Socialism, albeit in the form of a “mixed economy” seen as the best of both worlds, but over time the socialist aspects of this mix became dominant.

This is why I make the distinction between the Modern Romantic Era and the Post-modern Socialist Era. A shift occurred in the zeitgeist that was begun in World War I, identified and encouraged in the 1920’s, institutionalised in the 1930’s, and became the accepted cultural norm in the 1960’s.

If we mark the end of the Romantic period as 1929, we find that as the generations grew old, died, and were born, the first generation born into the new socialist zeitgeist were the children of years after World War II. For them, the previous Romantic zeitgeist was a myth but one fashioned by the very people who killed it. They learned that it was a dark time of classism, poverty, child labour, disease, slavery, inequality, genocidal imperialism, robber barons, and sexual repression. They were taught to despise their grandparents and love their enlightened and progressive parents. The cultural revolutions of 1968 were a reaction against Modernity (Romanticism) in favour of the Post-modern Socialism that they were raised to believe in.

So who killed the Romantic? It takes more than a handful of people to change a zeitgeist, especially if the ground is not fertile for such a change to occur, as illustrated by the slow growth of socialism. However, there was a small group of people who have demonstrated enormous influence over the zeitgeist as people over the past century have elevated them to a position where we might call them the founding parents of the Socialist Era. This was the Bloomsbury Group.

What does the Nineteenth Century British nobility and Spider-man have in common? They both subscribed to the belief that with great power comes great responsibility. The children of the British elite were raised to see themselves as responsible for the well-being of the nation, through politics, academics, economics, or even the arts. Furthermore, they had to set an example to the rest of society.

This lasted for many generations until the coming of the Great War. If your parents participate in a colossal fuck-up, it is very difficult to respect them let alone value their guidance. During the 1920’s in Britain a new form of nobles emerged who denounced the responsibility of their class and decided to play instead. The represented a fundamental shift from knowing what is true because your choices have a profound effect on others to knowing what I feel is true because it has a profound effect me.

Of course this is not how it was presented. The philosopher G.E. Moore summed up the Bloomsbury ethos: "one's prime objects in life were love, the creation and enjoyment of aesthetic experience and the pursuit of knowledge". On the surface, I might agree with this statement, however it is a recipe for solipsism and ego.

Romanticism is all about the individual; however it also recognises that the individual lives among other individuals with whom they must trade values to promote their existence. If I was to say that my pleasure comes first, whether that pleasure is derived from love, art, or study, then I am denying certain facts of life, like the need to make a living or the considerations of the consequences of my pleasure.

The amazing thing about the Bloomsbury Group is the way the members can be seen as representative of the key forces of the Socialist Era. For example, in Virginia Woolf we have the Feminist archetype, Lytton Strachey gives us revisionist history, John Maynard Keynes gave us the economic model for the era, Roger Fry gave us modern art, and E.M. Forster would provide the biased social narrative in literature.

Collectively they represent what today we might call hippies. They all met at college, had left-leaning politics, despised anything before their birth as part of the old order including the idea of the nation-state, they came from wealthy upper-middle class backgrounds and yet despised middle-class values, they promoted free-love and all had sex between them, and then upon reaching adulthood exerted a profound social influence.

Virginia Woolf wrote that the modern world began when Lytton Strachey saw a stain on the dress that her sister Vanessa was wearing and asked, “Semen?”. Woolf’s intention here was to illustrate the new openness concerning sexuality, but the passage reveals more. If I could assume the Victorian approach, the stain would be recognised without judgement but not mentioned for fear of embarrassing Vanessa. The truly sexually enlightened would recognise the stain, but not mention it because it was no big deal, as it might as well be a mustard stain for all they cared. What we have here is self-conscious sexual openness conveyed in a certain smugness compounded by the shear solipsism to declare this incident to be the birth of modernity for all of Western Civilization.

One’s native culture is largely imperceptible. It exists as a sort of background music ever present but rarely noticed and experienced in the vague sense of mood. A zeitgeist operates the same way. There is only a collective sense or mood.

The post-World War I zeitgeist created the Bloomsbury Group and allowed their influence to thrive. In this sense the zeitgeist creates people in order to perpetuate itself. In 1921, Sigmund Freud published, Beyond the Pleasure Principle where he outlined the concept of the Pleasure Principle as the drive to satisfy psychological and biological needs in the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of suffering. The opposite of this is the Reality Principle in which pleasure is deferred for a greater outcome. He associated one with childhood and ego and the other with adulthood and personal responsibility. By defining the Pleasure Principle Freud essentially defined the primary driving force of the post-Romantic era as embodied in the Bloomsbury Group and then all who followed in their wake.

The Pleasure Principle was also invoked by Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, the father of modern PR, marketing, advertising, and political propaganda, his 1928 book, Propaganda, was the playbook for the Nazi Party. To simplify his approach, Bernays sold products and ideas by linking them to people’s desires. The BBC produced an awarding winning documentary in 2002 about Bernays called, “The Century of the Self”. A more accurate title would have been, “The Century of the Ego”.

In his essay, The Rage of Virginia Woolf, Theodore Dalrymple observes:

In her descriptions of this class, self-pity vies with snobbery. Her reply to the philanthropist who requested a donation to buy evening clothes for professional women vibrates with outrage that the daughters of educated men should find themselves in financial difficulties (which, in her view, should properly belong only to social inferiors). “Not only are we incomparably weaker than the men of our own class,” she writes to the eminent lawyer; “we are weaker than the women of the working class.” “Economically, the educated man’s daughter is much on a level with the farm labourer.” “Society has been so kind to you [the educated men, one of whom is her interlocutor], so harsh to us [the daughters of educated men, of whom she is one]: it is an ill-fitting form that distorts the truth; deforms the mind; fetters the will.” It must therefore be destroyed—presumably by those whose will has been fettered and whose minds have been deformed.

The passage reminded me of George Carlin’s take on Feminism:

I've noticed that most of these feminists are white middle-class women. They don't give a shit about black women's problems. They don't care about Latino women. All their interested in is their own reproductive freedom...and their pocketbooks.

A key feature of Modernism (Post-modernism) is the idea of destruction. Jacques Barzun touches on this in his book, Classic, Romantic, and Modern. Traditional and established virtues, values, ideas, and education must be destroyed to allow for the new world we envision. We see this feature repeatedly in Progressivism.

As Dalrymple observes from Virginia Woolf from her book Three Guineas where she gives her answer to the request for a donation to a women’s college in Cambridge.

“No guinea of earned money should go to rebuilding the college on the old plan. . . . [T]herefore the guinea should be earmarked ‘Rags. Petrol. Matches.’ And this note should be attached to it. ‘Take this guinea and with it burn the college to the ground. Set fire to the old hypocrisies. Let the light of the burning building scare the nightingales and incarnadine the willows. And let the daughters of educated men dance round the fire and heap armful upon armful of dead leaves upon the flames. And let their mothers lean from the upper windows [before, presumably, being burned to death] and cry “Let it blaze! Let it blaze! For we have done with this education!”

Apparently, the college “should teach the arts of human intercourse; the art of understanding other people’s lives and minds, and the little arts of talk, of dress, of cookery that are allied with them” or be burnt to the ground.

Her Bloomsbury fellow Lytton Strachey has been singled out by two authors that I have read, Jacques Barzun and Matthew Sweet (Inventing the Victorians), as dealing the death blow to Romanticism with his book, Eminent Victorians in which he presents his biased view as history. That in itself is no crime, but the book proved to be very popular and influential in creating the modern preconception of the Victorians as hypocritical, stodgy prudes.

Today, the word Victorian is used in two contexts. One to describe heavy-handed moralism, as in “we need a return to Victorian values”, and the other to describe a bleak period of white male oppression against women, children, the poor, and minorities. Both characterisations are false. However, if your desire is to move forward you must first discredit all that came before you by burning the bridges.

I call this “the end of history” where people act as if nothing of value preceded their own time except when taken as a sort of pastiche for the sake of personal entertainment. In America, the past is seen as nothing more than a bunch of old white guys dominating others. This simplistic, arrogant, and self-centred approach fosters ignorance, and in ignorance there is bliss (or so says the fool).

The final member of the Bloomsbury Group that I would like to touch on was John Maynard Keynes. When I write of the Socialist Age in which we live, I am not referring to Marxism. Rather to the notion of economic and social central planning. The Socialist mind believes that the purpose of government is to control society and to take care of it members. In contrast, the Romantic mind sees the government as a sort of night watchman who makes sure everyone plays nice but provides no specific central plan.

The economic theories of Keynes laid the foundation for the modern mixed and centrally planned economies. In terms of macroeconomics, Keynes wrote the modern playbook. It would be foolish to say that Keynes himself was as driven by the pleasure principle and solipsism as were his Bloomsbury fellows, however I find it interesting that his economic theory encourages both the pleasure principle and solipsism.

This is not the place to go into his general theory, but I will touch on a few points. A key feature of Victorian values was the idea of thrift. It was seen as important to accumulate savings. Keynes calls this the paradox of thrift in which by saving money there is less money circulating in the economy and when less money is in the economy, then the economy declines. So the paradox is that we save money as security against hard times, but the act of saving money creates the hard times.

Keynesian economics encourages spending. This can be personal spending or government spending. All that matters is that there is money in the system. This is a recipe for driving the Pleasure Principle of mass consumption and of course government waste. The downside is of course debt. Despite the Keynesian stimulus packages as the governments currently pump money into the economy in hopes of keeping the economy vibrant, the only result is greater personal and governmental debt.

So who killed the Romantic? Was it the failure of Classical Liberalism at the onset of World War I? Was it the failure of Capitalism in the Great Depression? No. Both are innocent of the crimes for which they have been historically accused.

It has been said that it is impossible for a third party to break-up a stable relationship. According to this line of reasoning, any relationship divided by an interloper was destined to die anyway. I have read that the key to a stable relationship is mutual respect. Let’s call it faith. The relationship ends when one party stops believing in the relationship.

After the Great War and during the Great Depression people stopped believing in the Romantic. The zeitgeist shifted from a focus on individuality to a focus on ego. Normally, I would describe this as a shift from individualism to collectivism, but that is not wholly true. Society is a concept. You can point to an individual, but you cannot point to “society”. As a concept, every person has their own idea and feelings regarding the nature of society and what is best for society. This is often the product of ego.

I would like the blame the Bloomsbury Group for killing the Romantic. However, they would not have been successful if people had not lost faith in the Romantic. Virginia Woolf’s rich, white female peers wanted her to be right. Lytton Strachey’s readers wanted to see Victorians as he portrayed them. People and their governments wanted Keynesian economics. As Edward Bernays understood, people want their desires to be fulfilled, even if it is just a mirage.

Besides, Romanticism is not dead. Rather is it slowly being starved in the attic like some embarrassing old relative hidden from public view. I would like to think that it will return, but the current zeitgeist is not ready for it.

I read recently a comment made by an actress in period dramas who mourned the end of chivalry, but her comment illustrated that she did not understand the true meaning of the word and wrongly used it synonymously with the word gallantry. Instead she referred to the heightened respect for women as meaning chivalry.

An up-to-date definition of chivalry is “an ethical use of strength”. So this old-fashioned heightened respect for women observed by this actress is in fact a demonstration of kindness by the strong (men) towards the weak (women). We cannot return to the age of chivalry as a culture without accepting the premise that women are the weaker sex that must be cared for and treated as special because of it. When chivalry does not come from a position of strength then it is no more chivalry than paying taxes is charity. Now, women have to walk through the muddy puddles just like men do – as equals – and yet they still expect special treatment.

We live in an artificial reality largely disconnected from the previous Romantic zeitgeist where some people long for what was but do not recognise the inconsistencies between then and now. To embrace Romanticism is to reject the Post-modern world and to treat it with the same contempt that the Bloomsbury Group showed to Romanticism. So, for example, this means rejecting the Feminist premise that men and women are equal. This is not to say that one gender is superior to another but rather accepting that they are different and therefore cannot logically be equal any more than saying that an apple is equal to an orange aside from both being fruits.

Ultimately what unifies and distinguishes a culture, whether you label it an age, an era, a nation, a club, a tribe, a subculture, or a nation-state, is a number of largely unconscious assumptions about the nature of reality. Upon these premises are built the values, virtues, and vices that define a people as a recognisable unit.

In fiction, particularly in Science Fiction, there is this trope of “the Others”. They are those beings who are not us. In Nineteenth Century fiction, the Others were usually savages, in either Africa or America, portrayed as unsophisticated, superstitious, and emotional. In Twentieth Century fiction, the Others were cold and calculating aliens or machines.  The Others illustrate cultural difference, not only in the Us versus the Others within the story, but also how we have changed from the pragmatic and utilitarian Victorians to the sentimental Post-moderns who value ego over self.

You see, it’s not about emotion versus reason. All emotion is subjective. It’s personal. Championing emotion as a values and a virtue is to champion not feelings in general but personal feelings and therefore ego. Rationality on the other hand endeavours to be as objective as possible, thus making it more universal and less egotistical as the Self seeks equilibrium with other Selves regardless of personal feelings that get in the way.

The novelist, L. P. Hartley wrote, "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." The Romantic Era is dead. It was killed not by a handful of spoiled upper-class students in Bloomsbury. It was killed by the General Will as the zeitgeist shifted away from the values and virtues of the Romantic Era towards those of the Socialist Era. The Bloomsbury Group simply facilitated the change and gave it voice.

This is not to say that Romanticism is dead. Simply that it is no longer a gift bestowed from one generation to the next in large proportion and taken for granted as just the natural way of things. The Romantic is now something that must be aspired towards and fought for against a zeitgeist that hates, fears, and misrepresents it as either folly or political incorrectness. Romanticism is no longer an unconscious product of social programming but a conscious decision to adopt and defend the general premises upon which the values and virtues of this cultural period in history were built.

When I was younger my concept of the Romantic perhaps would have been typified by a work done by of the Romantic poets. Today, I believe that I have a better grasp of the subtleties and premises involved to present the Romantic zeitgeist not in the light of its dawn but in the wisdom of its twilight.

The poet and novelist that I have in mind was always a favourite of mine and I was surprised in the 1990’s when I was told that he had been banished from the university curriculum due to his political incorrectness, thus depriving future generations of his works. I have read comments on this particular poem where people spoke of this as an evening prayer. Perhaps in the Church of the Romantic where Romanticism is a conscious ideological choice, it is.  So long as people continue to make that choice, then Romanticism is never truly dead.

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The Culture Wars

I really hate those guys. You know who I’m referring to, and they are running the world into ruin. Those idiots who post the most moronic statements on the internet comments, the fools at those protests, the taking heads that appear on that biased news channel, and the evil that they are teaching kids in school. Thankfully, some people still have a brain and use it. I make it a point to study the trends, read the expert studies, learn the science, and defend my position against this onslaught against the people by the people in power and their propaganda.

You know who I mean. Right? Well, probably not. I was intentionally vague so that you the reader would assume who I was talking about. No matter your position most people would ascribe the above statement as applying to whoever they perceive as “the enemy”. So when I wrote of the biased news channel, did you think MSNBC or Fox News? What evil are children being taught? Is it Creationism or Evolution? We have also redefined the terms idiot, fool, and moron to means anyone who disagrees with us rather than someone with a decreased rational faculty. No matter the debate, there are scientists and other experts ready to provide ammunition to lobe at your enemy. This is the Culture Wars.

The term “culture war” originated in Germany in the 1870’s to describe Bismarck’s vision of Germany against the influence of the Roman Catholics. It emerged again in 1920’s Italy in the rhetoric of the Marxist Antonio Gramsci who viewed the cultural hegemony of the mass media and popular culture as an enemy of the proletariat to be challenged. Also in the 1920’s the term emerged in America to describe the rural and urban split developing in American culture. The common usage of the term today goes back to the 1991 book Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America by sociologist James Davison Hunter.

In the twenty years since its publication the war has heated-up and the primary battle ground is the internet. The culture wars are fought at many levels and on various fronts, the internet is simply the main theatre of war. The saying “man in a crowd is brave and stupid and a man alone is intelligent and cowardly” is often attributed to Machiavelli. We might modernise this to say that a man alone behind a keyboard and internet connection is the bravest of all. He’s Rambo, but he is not necessarily any more intelligent just brasher.

The nature of the conflict is not merely cultural supremacy. It is a crusade, a holy war. This is a moral conflict and I think this fact is often forgotten. The philosophical branch of Ethics in the lynchpin of philosophy and concerns itself with the question of right action. That is, what action will promote flourishing? The answer to that question depends on your concept of Truth as established by Metaphysics and Epistemology and is then enacted through society as Politics.

Take the phrase, “the moral is the rational”. The truth is that every person acts according to their worldview and whatever seems to them to be the rational course of action according to their personal subjective reality. Anyone who chooses a course contrary to your accepted view of reality may seem to you to be irrational, foolish, stupid, and even evil. Why evil? Because if your course of action is moral then any opposing action is deemed immoral. And what do good people do when faced with evil? They rise-up and fight evil by any means necessary. Thus do the righteous justify the most vile, cruel, and appalling behaviour. The Disney villain is a myth. Real life villains think that they are the hero.

This may seem a bit extreme, viewing anyone who disagrees with you as “the evil enemy”. Imagine fighting in the American Civil War for the Union. How far would you get if you said, “Yes, we need to fight to free the slaves, but I think the point concerning state’s rights is a valid one.” At this point your comrades question your dedication and start thinking that perhaps you are a Southern sympathizer at best or a spy at worst. Once you buy into the moral crusade, then it is all or nothing.

This leads to extremism and a blindly followed demonization of the enemy. I remember over-hearing an American girl speaking to some people in a club in Glasgow, Scotland saying, “Do I look like a Republican to you?” It’s an us/them worldview where the enemy are not people but are instead perceived as stereotype manifestations of the enemy ideology.

There is another more insidious creature at work here called the human ego. It clothes itself in righteousness but its main objective is to increase and maintain its innate sense of its own over-estimated self-worth. Any statement contrary to its worldview is felt as a personal attack worthy of the most vitriolic response and escalation ensues spreading hate and fear throughout society. So like the crusades, this holy war also has a more self aggrandising feature as well.

So what is the objective in this crusade? The prize is the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, the culture of our time. This is not simply a conflict of cultures. It is a war to determine the dominant culture and the future.

Two key buzzwords in America over the past few decades have been diversity and tolerance. Diversity is sold as strength and this can be true, but not without Natural Selection. As Charles Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species:

As more individuals are produced than can possibly survive, there must in every case be a struggle for existence, either one individual with another of the same species, or with the individuals of distinct species, or with the physical conditions of life.

In this passage Darwin is building his argument for Natural Selection where various species are tested against the challenges of reality; those more adapted to reality survive and those ill-equipped perish.

Now suppose we take some doomed, ill-equipped species of animal and put it in a zoo where it is cared for, fed, and bred and eventually flourishes in that protected environment. Does this mean that it is suitable for existence? No, it’s still doomed if ever released into the wild. Without competition, diversity looks like a zoo – or a university.

Once Natural Selection is prevented from working by removing the struggle for existence, then there is no counter to the spread of these nonsensical species. When government takes the role of social architect it creates policies and regulations that preserve nonsensical ideas and they likewise flourish.

Part of this ideological animal preserve is the promotion of tolerance. This is where people are encouraged to tolerate other points of view. The problem with this is that tolerance is not a positive thing. When you tolerate something you are putting-up with it. It’s something you cannot stand, but must be patient and endure. It’s like telling the lion not to eat the gazelle. He may obey, but when he gets hungry enough he will eat it. Tolerance is a temporary measure meant for the short term and not as a way of life. This only leads to pent-up frustrations and eventually extreme behaviour once the damn breaks.

The Culture Wars are a result of a society where various ideologies are protected from the consequences of their actions, so Natural Selection through competition cannot function properly and thus inferior species can thrive unchecked, no specialisation occurs, and no niches are found.

This is compounded by promoting diversity where every ideology is said to have merit in the spirit of cultural relativism. When this is enforced through tolerance and Natural Selection is prevented, then the conflicts take a new form.

I will note that when people use the word tolerance they probably mean acceptance. Tolerance is when you choose not to act against something or someone, but acceptance is where you recognise a difference, but have no problem leaving them to be different. Acceptance is a live and let live attitude.

In our cultural zoo, the only truly dominant ideology is that of the zookeeper. So the various cultures struggle with each other to control the zookeeper, and the way to do that is to procreate your ideology until yours is the dominant species in the park. This is not a struggle against Objective Reality to see which species is fit to survive in reality, but it is a competition -- a competition to gain influence within an artificial context, the zoo.

I’m going to continue with the zoo metaphor for society and the species metaphor for the various cultures in this war. Imagine one group of animals thinks that they should have faux natural habitat pens and another that thinks that we should just have traditional cages because they are cheaper and we do not want the zoo to go bankrupt. Remember that the animals are all in competition, but not for survival. Instead they compete on how the zoo should be run by vying for influence over the zookeeper. This requires a skill set for surviving in the zoo and not the necessary adaptations for surviving in wild, meaning the real world.

There is a third group that wants to scrap the whole zoo idea completely. They prefer a nature preserve. The other animals do not like this one bit, because if all the animals are allowed to run free and interact with each other without restriction and boundaries, then you have reintroduced Natural Selection into the equation and some of these ideologies might not survive.

So the Culture Wars are a crusade fought by building a large enough group recruits for the purpose of controlling government for the purpose of controlling society. The recruiting is done by transmitting the ideology’s narrative (worldview) by controlling the communication of ideas through the media, education, and social outlets. The counter-attack is seen in the form of public resistance to the narrative, usually through pundits, protests, and legal challenges.

The ammunition used is expert opinion. Side A begins with a volley of scientific data, social statistics, and the views of expert economists, then side B responds with its ordinance of the same, but stating the opposite conclusion. Like the battlefields of Valhalla, no harm is actually done as neither side recognizes the legitimacy of the other side’s arguments. What these skirmishes do accomplish is bringing more and more on-lookers into the fray and the battle spills from the media outlets and into the streets where the battles can become very real. I know, because I have fought them.

Now on to the combatants. There are three major ideological blocs in the conflict, the Authoritarian Left, the Authoritarian Right, and the Libertarians. The authoritarians are the two pro-zoo factions and the libertarians are the nature preserve faction.

The bulk of the fighting in the Culture Wars is between the two authoritarian positions. Both reject Natural Selection and instead seek to impose their views on society. For example, one group seeks to legalise gay marriage and the other seeks to ban it. Both are looking for legislation backed by the force of government to impose their moral view onto all of society. Other fronts include Creation vs. Evolution, abortion, Climate Change for and against, degrees of social welfare, and both favour government privileges to certain group, but differ only on which special interest groups to entitle.

Here’s an example of a battle fought in Oregon in the 1990’s. The city of Los Angeles school district found that some students realised/decided that they were gay and committed suicide, so the schools offered an outreach program. This was viewed as promoting homosexuality in schools by some people in Oregon, so they decided that this would never happen here and to pass legislation banning the teaching of homosexuality in public schools.

This action by the extreme Authoritarian Right provoked a response from the extreme Authoritarian Left who demanded that homosexuality must be taught in schools as a viable lifestyle. Until this point, there was never an issue, but it became a very real conflict that divided the people of the state.

The city of Springfield, Oregon had already passed legislation banning gay education in schools. At the time I was promoting a Scottish-American event in the town and wanted a group from the adjoining town of Eugene to participate, but they refused on account that they were boycotting Springfield. The legislation never passed on the state level, but it did pass in the State of Colorado, and many people claimed that they were boycotting the state because of it.

The problem with both the Left and the Right is that by pursuing legislative change they are forced to adopt absolute and final positions backed by government force without any considerations for the diversity desired by the Left or the freedom desired by the Right.

For example, take licensing laws. If someone wants to start a business as a hairdresser, then how do you know if she is qualified and competent to do this? You don’t. So, legislation is passed forcing all would-be hairdressers to get a licence from the government to practice in order to protect the consumer, but who decides if someone is qualified? The obvious answer is other hairdressers. But wait, isn’t there a conflict of interest here? You’ve set-up a situation where a business can crush their competition before they even get started, thus allowing a small cabal to control the entire industry in an area.

On the one hand you desire that people practicing in a profession are competent to protect the consumer. On the other hand, people should be free to start a business without the requirement of getting approval from their competition. The resolution requires an equilibrium that legislation by its nature does not allow for since legislators and regulators cannot conceive every possibility or variable.

This brings us to the third faction in the Culture Wars. The libertarian position is that it should be up the consumer to decide if the hairdresser is competent and not the government. According to Natural Selection in the marketplace the bad hairdressers will fail and the good ones will flourish.

The Authoritarian positions often find this difficult to comprehend. They tend to see people as either Left or Right. A libertarian speaking against war is branded a Leftist combatant by the Right and then when he is against social welfare is branded Right-wing by the Left. As a result, libertarians are often branded crazy because they do not fit the accepted Left/Right dichotomy.

I was watching a program where the villain is just defeated and moans that the world he would have created in his image would have been beautiful. The hero counters, no it would not because you are ugly.

All the blocs, factions, and combatants in the Culture War believe that their vision of the world is the right one and that a world in their image would be utopia, beautiful, fair, just, virtuous, strong, free, or whatever. However, if the people with these visions are themselves ugly, driven by ego, fear, hate, disgust, greed, envy, and venality, then the world that they create will be equally vile.

I have tried to be as unbiased as possible here, but I am biased. I’ve chosen a side in the Culture War. I have fought my battles and fight them still. Regular readers know that I’m on the libertarian side because I believe it to be the most moral side. The danger lies is forgetting that the “enemy” believes the same about their cause.

There is a story I vaguely remember about a war fought between Turkey and Russia where the opposing generals met before the battle and spoke terms in French, the diplomatic language. After the formalities, both generals dropped back into their native Scots accents and one general asked he other, “Who all’s with you from Crief?”

These were the days when war was a gentlemanly affair. The opposition were not moral degenerates, demons, or villains. They were just people who you had to fight. This is what is missing from the Culture Wars. We have lost our civility and our honesty to recognise when our enemy has scored a valid point. Instead we ignore it and keep on shooting. We attack the man and not the ball, so to speak.

We have this situation because objective natural reality is no longer important. It is like the university professor whose research was deemed racists. Amidst the protests and inquiries he asked his colleagues to review his research and find fault. They refused. The truth did not matter so much as the appearances.

Ideologues will not back down even if they are proven wrong. They have too much of themselves invested in the cause. When an enemy will not accept defeat, then the only logical alternative is to utterly crush them. Unfortunately, I fear this is where we find ourselves in the Culture War. I fear we have passed the point of reason and the only recourse may be total war unless we can rediscover a place where truth is more important than winning.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Ethics of Violence

We live in a society that condemns violence of any kind, but can an argument be made that violence can actually be a moral necessity? Before continuing I will make my personal beliefs clear. I see violence as justified only in retaliation to violence with the use of reasonable force or in defence of one’s Natural Rights of life, liberty, and property. However, I am going to posit some other arguments concerning the use of violence simply to explore the subject further.

By violence I am referring to physical violence and not the use of lethal force, weapons, or verbal abuse. There are varying degrees of physical violence so I am limiting my discussion to range from an open hand slap to non-permanent physical damage.

When it comes to human conflict there are many ways to reach resolution including rational or irrational argument, intimidation, seduction, stubbornness, trade, bribery, or even calling on an external arbiter, like the police or courts. Of all the various means of reaching resolution, physical force trumps them all. To be blunt, you can simply beat your enemy into submission regardless of how intelligent, eloquent, seductive, stubborn, or rich they are. You can claim your rights, but rights are meaningless if your opponent does not recognise them and chooses to give you a beating.

Might may not make right, but it can win the day. This is why laws are passed against violence to prevent might from succeeding against right. Again, this only works if the perpetrator of violence chooses to acknowledge the law.

Now consider this situation.

What Sean Connery is describing here is a very important phenomenon. When I was a child and my parents fought, I always saw my father retreat in the end. I perceived this as a sign of weakness and a demonstration of female superiority. Later did I realise that he retreated not because he was weak or lost the fight; he left so that he would not hit her. Like the women described by Connery, my mother did not recognise the boundaries and did not know when to stop being provocative even when she had had the last word.

Before we begin any undertaking it is important to understand the risks involved. What are the consequences of our actions? If we remove violence from the equation, then the biggest risk in human conflict has been removed and therefore there is no immediate consequence for bad behaviour.  I am not writing just about women who do not know when to stop being provocative. The same applies to children. If they know that the worst thing that can happen as a consequence of their action is a tongue-lashing, then what deterrent is there to bad behaviour?

A few years ago I was punched in the mouth by a fifteen year old kid on the rampage with his friends. I was told later by the police that it was good that I did not hit him back because I would have been arrested for assault.

A friend recently sent me this message, “I went to a philosophy group last night. It was enjoyable until a socialist with an axe to grind showed up and started dominating the proceedings.” Again we see an example of someone who does not know the boundaries of self-control, decorum, and socially acceptable free speech (meaning, you’ve made your point now let someone else speak). Anyone shameless enough can tread all over everyone else with impunity.

Think of the well known trope where a character provokes another character until he gets punched in the face. “He had it coming”; “He asked for it”; or “He deserved it” is the usual justification. We accept this in films, but not in life. In the old days, bad behaviour was met with a duel or an invitation to “step outside”.

It seems the role of violence as a deterrent to bad behaviour is gone, which begs the question of whether this accounts for the rise in bad behaviour or general rudeness. One may argue that reintroducing violence into society can strengthen the violent by putting them in the position of judge and executioner, so to speak. As Connery said, “If the situation merits it” but who decides if the situation merits it? The perpetrator of violence does. What if he decides that not having dinner on the table at six o’clock merits it?

The word that keeps coming to mind is “equilibrium”. There are those who argue that violence in the home or society is never merited. I’m beginning to question that blanket statement. However, we do not want to live in a society where bullies are allowed to flourish and people live in fear of their fellow man. The answer must lie in-between these two undesirable extremes.

I do not have an answer to that question of equilibrium, but I suppose it might be similar to the gun issue. If guns are outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns. The boy who punched me is a child of violence, so such behaviour is as natural to him as breathing. I am not such a person. I lack the necessary social conditioning to have the will to violence. I am essentially the disarmed good guy while the bad guys are fully loaded.

So perhaps the problem is a lack of chivalry. If we look at the knight’s code of chivalry it can be summed-up as “the ethical use of violence”. Once violence is removed from society then so too is chivalry. So rather than discourage violence perhaps we should focus on teaching children to be chivalrous and thus make them better judges as to which situations merit violence and which do not.

The Code of Chivalry forbade the knights from violence towards women, children, and peasants. Women and children are generally physically weaker than men and peasants are not trained soldiers. Today, women and children are protected by law against violence and social aid agencies are in place for their protection against the violence of men.

Traditionally, the male role in the household was as judge, jury, and disciplinarian concerning all issues of bad behaviour simply by his ability to distribute violence. This duty required him to be a man of character, virtue, and fairness. The image of John Wayne as McClintock comes to mind where he punishes his unruly, shrew wife with a spanking over his knee for her bad behaviour as the town’s folk cheer him on for finally taking his responsibilities as a husband.

This may be a shocking statement, but can we suppose that the socially enforced removal of all violence from the household has contributed to men never learning chivalry, the ethical use of violence? The result is either arbitrary male violence against women and children because he lacks the moral training in how to be a fair disciplinarian or the complete castration of the male role in the household rendering him completely impotent (a virtual slave to a wife and children who know no boundaries).

I suppose it can be argued that men should learn to be disciplinarians without resorting to violence. Traditionally, women used “nagging” to keep an unruly man in line, but I have yet in all my many years met a man who nags and those who come close are easily silenced through a threat of force. At this point he either shuts-up or it moves into the physical stage. This does not work with women if she is confident that violence has been removed from the equation. Thus is the man rendered powerless.

Then there is the question of “Who put the man in charge?” Why should he be the dispenser of discipline? Studies into fatherless homes have found that boys tend to either submit to the mother and become spoiled and feminized or they rebel and she lacks the physical strength to control or intimidate him. In both cases the boy never learns to become a man. So again it is the man’s physical strength and its implied physical force that put him into that role.

Again, if that threat of violence is completely removed then discipline becomes impossible. I heard of a man who disciplined his daughter, not through force of any kind, and in retaliation she called child protective services claiming she was physically abused. They took her and her younger brother away, and when he spoke with his attorney he was told that the only way to get his children back was to lie by saying he had a problem, and then after therapy he would most likely have his children returned.

As far as relationships go, there is the phenomenon of emotional infidelity. This is when one person in a relationship, marriage or otherwise, begins a “friendship” with a member of the opposite sex. It begins innocently enough, but as the relationship progresses the mutual feelings become more intense. Technically, no infidelity has occurred because there is no physical relationship, but eventually the friendship begins to threaten the relationship as feelings become transferred from the partner to the friend.

Both sexes can be guilty of emotional infidelity, but it is most common among women. Unfaithful men tend to prefer the old fashioned sexual infidelity. The cuckolded man knows something is wrong and becomes clingy in an attempt to maintain the relationship. The grasping makes her feel even more trapped, divided, and inevitably she leaves her partner. Studies have shown that the man in this situation has only one tool in his box. He must force her to choose or reject her. This does not ensure success, but every other option ends in guaranteed failure.

In this day and age it seems barbaric for a man to deny his partner a male friend, especially when some girls prefer the company of men to women. However, again we see the lack of enforced boundaries. Should a man discipline his wife before she strays and finds herself in a position where she may throw away a perfectly good relationship over transient emotions? They say women are more emotionally driven than men, so is it the man’s place to ensure she does not make poor emotional decisions? Should he be her disciplinarian? Some say yes, but I would like to believe that in a proper relationship that would not be necessary.

In this Socialist Age the collectivists see people as part of groups. There are men, women, minorities, gays, children, rich, poor, conservatives, liberals, and so on. They pass over-reaching legislation, create quota, and such to help or hinder each group. The problem is that they cannot see the trees for the forest. Individuals are unique. Not all white men hold positions of power and oppress everyone else. Not all Blacks favour affirmative action and welfare. Not all poor people want to go to university. Not all women want to be engineers to address the imbalance of the male to female ratio of students in that field.

Likewise I’m not sure all violence is wrong. Yes, some men beat women and children, but some men use moderate physical force ethically to correct bad behaviour. So I’m no longer completely convinced that violence is unwarranted. Perhaps sometimes instigating violence is ethical because it enforces important boundaries in behaviour. Violence then becomes a tool like any other and with it should come moral education to use it justly. Traditionally, this education came from family and religion, but with the breakdown of both we have instead a State enforced ban on violence leaving only the violent with the capacity to use it.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The False Divide: Emotion and Reason

I have often called this the Age of Feeling in contrast to the Age of Reason. I fear I may have been in error. I was recently introduced to the idea that emotions and reason are not in opposition as is so deeply ingrained in our culture and began pondering this notion and its implications.

Once you reject the false dichotomy of reason vs emotion you have to start thinking differently. What distinguishes the so-called rational man from the emotional one is not about feeling or not feeling. It has to do with the nature and quality of the thoughts inexorably attached to the emotions.

So what are thoughts? They are a mental representation of an individual’s perceptions and reconfigurations of reality. For example, we may make a mental representation of an existent tree or a mental reconfiguration drawn from our library of mental representations to imagine Obama wearing only boxer shorts and playing the tuba while sitting on the back of a pink unicorn. Representations of the real and the unreal continuously flow through our minds in what writers call “the stream consciousness”.

You might say that thought in its most elemental form is the very definition of subjective, but part of being human is communicating those thoughts to others. This requires language. We label our thoughts with words to define and delineate one mental representation from another. Language gives structure to thought.

This allows for thoughts to become the building blocks of more complex ideas and concepts which build into even higher abstractions. Thus does the edifice rise from the primordial foundational thoughts of the hidden unconscious, to that semi-awareness of the twilight trance state, to the light of consciousness, and continue to rise into the heights of complexity. At these soaring heights it is easy to forget that in their most basic form these abstractions championed by reason began as ill-defined thoughts indistinguishable from emotions.

Emotions are a response to thought, and thoughts respond to the emotions. We may choose to make a distinction between emotion and thought but even if that be the case their interactions are so fast and so interwoven that they might as well be considered one flesh. This symbiosis of emotion and thought is the psycho-emotional make-up, or more poetically we may call it “the soul”. So what then is the distinction that people choose to make when they pit emotion against reason?

When we describe someone as being emotional, what are we really describing? To put a positive slant on it, when we say someone is emotional we might also call this person “in touch with their feelings” implying positive feelings like sympathy and compassion – a so-called sensitive person. The negative implication of someone being too emotional is that they are being irrational, morose, or hyper-sensitive taking things too hard or too personally.

We are not describing the passion of a mathematician transfixed by a complex equation that he is resolving or the obsession of the inventor. So what types of thoughts distinguish between the emotions of the mathematician and those of the positive and negative implications of being emotional?

Emotions are a response to thoughts and all thoughts are internal, but some are reactions to our perception of external phenomenon and others to internal phenomenon, like memories and other imaginings. This divides emotions into two types; there are those focused internally and those focused externally.

The intensity of the emotion is in relation to the thought’s value and the most valuable are typically the really really deep primordial unconscious ones. In this rolling subterranean sea the thoughts have not even been given labels, remaining unknown and unclassified, but creatures do emerge from these depths to make their presence known in the conscious mind. These are the most basic emotions of happiness, desire, sorrow, and fear.

Happiness is the gaining of a value and desire is the imagined gaining of a value. Sorrow is the loss of a value and fear is the imagined loss of a value. So we see here examples of emotional responses to either the real or the imagined. Whenever we call something “a value” it is important to determine who the valuer is. In this case, it is the primordial semi-conscious self usually called the ego. When it comes to these four basic emotions the valuer is at the centre and the key value is the ego itself. It is positive when it gains or might gain for itself and it is negative when it loses or might lose what it perceives to have.

Going back to my skyscraper metaphor, think of this primordial unconscious place as the foundations or point zero. From here we move straight up in increments from total black, through shades of grey, and eventually into the white penthouse suite at the top, and the view is spectacular.

The penthouse is all about the view. The Morlocks in the basement are constantly looking inward to check the well-being of their ego as it balances its fear and desire. They are self-conscious, self-obsessed, and solipsistic. But the penthouse is all about the view. This is the point of self-awareness and is constantly looking outward. The focus is not on the ego but on the world outside your window.

Up here the emotions are much less turbulent so the connections between Reason and Emotion seem severed. Emotions, or being emotional, are associated with the basement level while being at the top is considered cold and rational. We see this played out in society where the lower classes are commonly perceived as emotional and the upper classes as “uptight” with the middle-class as a mixed balance of the too. But this is a false divide.

Just as the thoughts in my conceit become more complex from bottom to top, then so too do the emotions transcend from the basics of happiness, desire, sorrow, and fear into emotions like passion, bravery, and love. The emotions begin to resemble something more akin to virtues.

I feel the need to pop in a disclaimer here because of the nature of this metaphor. I am not suggesting that people who are more capable with dealing with higher abstract concepts or who have a higher social status are somehow enlightened beings. The rich and intelligent can be Morlocks too, the difference is that they hide it better because of social demands. Likewise, you can have the simple, down-to-earth type folks living in the penthouse.

What I am illustrating here as my central thesis is that the rift between reason and emotion is an illusion. The true spit is between our base thought/emotion level characterised by the ego and our higher and more complex thought/emotion level characterised by self-awareness. The true conflict is not Reason vs Emotion. It is about the Ego vs the Self. The Ego is its own highest value and therefore anything that feeds it or deprives it elicits strong emotions. The Self finds value outside of itself in people, places, ideas, experiences, and yes, even in self-understanding; the difference is that it is not the life and death struggle between fear and desire that we see in the ego, rather it is an understanding and acceptance of the self.

I’m compelled to comment on sentimentality. Just as the Self looks outside itself for values, the Ego can pull a trick where it confuses what is with what is imagined. It works like this. When you have a dream about a person you are not dreaming about them, but rather your idea of them. They are a symbolic representation of your thoughts.

I watched a documentary that covered a tribe of Indians in Washington State whose culture revolved around whale hunting. They stopped this practice in the 1920’s because of environmental concerns. In recent decades the species of whale they hunted was taken off the endangered list and the Indians resumed whaling. The program showed this activist sobbing in hysterical tears crying for the poor whales and at her perceived betrayal by the Indians. This is an example of sentimentality.

The activist was not crying for the whales, rather her idea and associate feelings for the whales. The betrayal by the Indians was based not on their actions but on her assumption that they were the clichéd stereotype of a people “one with nature”. She was crying for her own collapsed worldview.

Sentimentality is when we feel emotions regarding our ideas of reality rather than through a direct experience of reality. If the activist had worked at an aquarium and raised a whale from a calf and formed a bond with the animal, then the tears would be valid. If she knew the Indians personally and they claimed to be environmentalists and then killed her whale, then the tears would be valid. However, in this instance she was not crying over the whales or the Indians but rather her personal mental constructs of them – she was crying for herself, her ego. The tragic thing is that she cannot see this. She thinks that evil was done in the world rather than the truth that this is all about the symbolic representations of her thoughts and her ego.

Just to clarify, yes, all emotions are a reaction to our thoughts. The difference is that when I have an emotional reaction to my cat these are a response to thoughts derived from direct experience. If I were to have an emotional reaction to starving children in Africa of whom I have no direct experience, then this is sentimentality. I am reacting to an idea without an experiential anchor in reality.

I fear that it is incredibly common for people to think that they are living in the world, looking outside themselves, being compassionate and sympathetic, or fighting for just causes but in truth all these things are just masks for the ego. They may appear on the surface to be living in the penthouse of enlightenment, but are really just Morlocks in pretty clothes. The best way to deceive others is to deceive yourself first.

“Stick and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”. If you ever find yourself hurt by the political or ideological views of others, or offended by politically incorrect language or opinions, or even if someone says something that just plain hurts your feelings, then chances are that the ego is involved. The source of your pain in this instance is simply another person’s thoughts being contrary to your mental construct of reality and nothing more. Perhaps they might see you as not having as much value to them as you wish they did or they may speak unpleasant truths that you resist.

This is why the concept “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” is so important. It is not a disregard for objective truth nor is it a license to act without ethics. It is an acceptance of the fact that the mental constructs that you call truth are merely a collection of your thoughts/feelings, just as the truths of others are the same to them. To embrace this maxim is to escape the tyranny of the ego and live life in the real and present.

When we say someone is too sensitive or overly emotional we are mislabelling the phenomenon. It is not an excess of emotion, rather an excess of ego that is to blame. Likewise, someone who has learned to manage, control, and even transcend ego is often perceived as being cold, unemotional, or too rational. This is because their emotional responses have become so complex as to no longer resemble anything that an egotistical person can even conceive as being emotions.

So we are not living in the Age of Feeling, though I may insist on calling it that. We are living in the Age of Ego where perception and base feeling is more important than reality. We live in a world where to offend another person is a punishable crime regardless of whether real harm was done. The ego is sacred and must be preserved against the thoughts of others at the expense of truth. For example, in Britain a man who calls his fat wife fat is technically guilty of domestic abuse.

The list of such ego-preserving legislation on both sides of the Atlantic goes on and on. When what a man thinks is deemed a crime because of how someone might choose to respond to those thoughts, then how long before such thought crimes are more thoroughly prosecuted to insane levels? The irony is that every major religion and philosophy has some concept to describe the transcendence of ego, and yet in the name of morality society seeks to preserve, promote, and feed the ego. One product of the ego is arrogance. Contrary to the phrase, it is not pride that precedes a fall but arrogance.

The film Equilibrium depicts a world where emotion is seen as the cause for man’s self-destruction, therefore all emotions, emotional displays, and anything that might evoke emotion is banned. The true danger is not the emotions. It is the ego.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Romantic and the Feminine

The most common use of the word Romantic in our daily lives is to denote love. There is the Romance section in the bookstore and the Romantic-Comedy section in the DVD store. Both these are largely considered as being for a female market, and so therefore is the word Romantic often associated with femininity.

The word Romantic originally meant Roman-like to describe the pigeon Latin that emerged in Western Europe after the fall of Rome. These dialects eventually evolved in what we call the Romance Languages of French, Italian, and Spanish.

In time, a particular type of story came to be referred to as Romances because of the languages in which they were written. All of these stories have four main features: love and adventure in the form of knights and maidens, scenic locations, and some sort of supernatural element, like magical beings or events.

From this we have four uses of the word Romantic. It can be associated with love, but also with adventure, a beautiful bit of landscape, or the strange and supernatural. I do not believe that anyone would assign a specific gender label to a film like Raiders of the Lost Ark, if anything they would call it masculine. In that story we have all the Romantic elements present. It is an adventure story; there is a love interest; it does not focus on landscape like many Westerns, but that element is there; and of course the supernatural element.

Stories that focused primarily on the supernatural were called Gothic Romances. Westerns were likened to the Historical Romances of Sir Walter Scott. So too might we call Space Westerns, like Star Wars, Science-Fiction Romances instead of Space Operas. Most genre fiction in literature, cinema, television, and even narrative video games could be called Romances.

Regarding the Historical Romances and Westerns, people tend to forget that Clio was one of the nine muses who inspired the arts. Her speciality was history. G.M. Trevelyan in his essay Clio, a Muse observed, “The great antiquarian and novelist [Sir Walter Scott] showed historians that history must be living, multi-coloured, and romantic if it is to be a true mirror of the past.”

Another misinterpretation of the concept of the Romantic that is prevalent in our modern language is to associate the word Romantic with the unrealistic, fake, fanciful, or far-fetched. This stems from the supernatural aspect of the Medieval Romances as being improbable.

The truth is that the less-than-factual elements of the Romances made them more interesting. Besides, how many people became historians or archaeologists because of Raiders of the Lost Ark? Or became involved in the sciences because of Star Trek? The Romances inspired attitudes and actions in real life despite being fiction.

The goal of the Romance writer, be it Historic, Gothic, or Science-Fiction, is not to be real, but to be realistic. The objective is the achieve verisimilitude. This is where a Romantic film like Batman Begins succeeds and a camp film like Batman and Robin fails. It marks the difference between a genius like Christopher Nolan and a hack like Joel Schumacher.

It’s unfortunate that we have come to limit the scope of the word Romantic to describe genres strongly associated with the female market when traditionally the word Romantic was either non-gender specific or primarily masculine. Likewise, it is unfortunate that we associate the Romantic with the fake when it is telling us the deeper truths through fiction.

Due to the modern common association of the Romantic with love, to the exclusion of elements that were once more dominant, like action, adventure, and the supernatural, the Romantic is viewed as being a feminine concept. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s funny how critics of the Romantic have blamed Romanticism for The American Civil War and both World Wars, and yet today the Romantic is associated with love and not war.

A few of the key by-words for the Romantic are volition, energy, and action. Why? Because these qualities drive the narrative, whether in a fictional adventure story or in real life history. More importantly, these are considered to be predominantly masculine qualities.

If we look at Romanticism from the perspective of Cultural Philosophy as opposed to literature we see that not only is Romanticism predominately masculine in nature it is also anti-feminists. This is not to say that it is anti-woman by any stretch. Romantics love women, but they are anti-feminist.

The reason is that there are two opposing premises. The Romantics, as represented by the Victorians here, believed that men and women are different both biologically and psychologically. That being the case, then men and women can never be equal because it is logically impossible for two different things to be equal. Although an apple and an orange are equally fruit, they are different and can therefore never be equal, however they can be complimentary. It was this complimentary relationship that was the goal of the Victorians in terms of relationships and the familial division of labour.

The Feminist stance is that men and women are equal except in instances where women are superior to men. This fosters a competitive relationship between men and women rather than a complimentary one and thus the battle of the sexes was born.

The primary casualties in this war have been women forced into the labour market, children in single parent households, and men being socially devalued and alienated from their children. The primary benefactors have been political, financial, and social institutions who feed off the problems caused by the destruction of the family unit and the absence of men.

I am not saying that the Romantic goal is to return women to the home. In the Nineteenth Century, women had yet to prove themselves as doctors, for example, but in the Twentieth Century they have proven their capability, therefore it would be ludicrous to deny any qualified woman such a job.

The Romantic stance is “if you can, then you may”. No person should be denied their chosen profession and its just rewards provided they are capable of performing the required task. However, the competition for these jobs must be fair without any special privileges or considerations.

There is a problem here. Life is not fair because men and women are different. The tool for levelling the playing field for women is the contraceptive pill because it takes reproduction out of the equation. The only way for women to compete with men is for them to sacrifice reproduction.

Contrary to the popular rhetoric, she cannot have it all. There is a choice every woman must make between career and family. Actually, that is not true. The choice has been made for her before she was born.

The way the current economy has developed few women have the luxury to choose between being a housewife caring for the children and a job because few men are in a position to afford a wife and family. It takes two these days. Where in 1911 a man could live a middle-class lifestyle supporting a home, wife, children, and servants while employed by a bank as a common clerk, today’s man would have to be in a much higher paying job to support the same.

Therefore any responsible couple has to examine their joint financial situation before committing to children. The only way she can have it all is through state intervention either through regulating businesses to force them to pay maternity leave (which men do not require) or through state benefits. The third alternative is of course a wealthy husband.

That’s only half the story. Recent government figures in the United Kingdom show that 50% of children are born out of wedlock. According to The Telegraph (12 Sept 2011):

A recent academic study claimed that the Government's benefits reforms have encouraged family breakdowns, since they meant women who left their husbands were better off financially after leaving their husbands because they could claim higher welfare payments and better child care. The introduction of the Working Families Tax Credit in 1999 had a "substantial impact'' on the divorce rate among the poorest households, prompting a 160 per cent rise in separations, the report published in the Economic Journal claimed.

The traditional male figure based on the Romantic model of the man of independent action who voluntarily takes responsibility for protecting and providing for his wife and children is now obsolete due to social forces largely engineered by government. So now government moves in to fill the role. The father is forced-out, the mother is either on benefits or working, and the child is raised by the State as its surrogate father.

Romanticism is primarily a masculine phenomenon and women love the Romantic because most normal women love men just as normal men love women. What a man wants in a woman is a partner and helpmate with whom he can raise children and grow old with. He does not want a battle of the sexes.

To avoid such conflict he will typically simply leave the situation. The result is men rejecting women simply because he has learned that on balance she is not worthy of the sacrifices that he is prepared to make. More and more it seems as though the so-called toxic women glorified in the media in shows like Sex and the City are outnumbering the women of virtue that men truly desire.

So men use the party girls for sex and move on because logically that is all they are good for. To linger too long in the relationship is only to invite emotional hardship. If that seems hard to believe, consider that men are three to four times more likely to commit suicide after a failed relationship than women.

Regular readers will know that I have identified two distinct zeitgeists; The Romantic (1776-1929) and The Socialist (1929-present). The Romantic Era was a more masculine period driven by the male qualities of invention, risk taking, and competition. The Socialist Era is more feminine with the rise of government central planning and social programs intended to control citizens under the pretext of care. Winston Churchill observed:

"The women's suffrage movement is only the small edge of the wedge, if we allow women to vote it will mean the loss of social structure and the rise of every liberal cause under the sun."

This has indeed occurred. According to voting trends, women are more inclined to vote for politicians promising greater social welfare programs at the expense of individual responsibility. The result is greater state authority as votes primarily from women sustain the mostly men in power who arrogantly believe that they can regulate both the economy and society and historically do so to the detriment of both.

If I am correct in my hypothesis that the Romantic is primarily masculine, then it is equally true that the ideal man is the Romantic Man. So how does the Romantic Man function in the predominantly feminine Socialist Era?

This is the existential crisis facing modern man. We do not know what to do. We are lost. We are fish out of water. Some men are not men at all but boys lacking the self-discipline of manhood. Others are frustrated Alphas looking for a fight and not finding a morally acceptable one. Some are simply deluded and think that the old rules still apply. While others still have accepted to role of “mangina” catering to the whims of females as “white knights” and “orbiters” who are more than happy to feed a woman’s ego in return for her validation.

Among the Romantic Men there are various points of view. Some figure that the best course is to keep your head down and enjoy life until the inevitable crash, whether that enjoyment means a solitary pursuit of wisdom or social hedonism. My chosen course is to be openly Romantic regardless of the social mores of political correctness and hope someone listens. I suppose it is for each man to make his own choice.

Whether you look at Romanticism from a literary, historic, philosophical, or cultural perspective, I believe that it is clearly a masculine phenomenon. I would go so far as to suggest that attacks on Romanticism are attacks on the masculine virtues themselves and the common perception of the Romantic as feminine is nothing short of a blatant attempt to strip a man of these virtues. If anything the word represents one more territory to be reclaimed in the common social discourse.

We live in an age where narrative fiction is the primary form of entertainment; be it television programs, films and even video games side-by-side with the traditional forms of written fiction stories and the vast majority of these narratives are Romantic. We have been raised on them. The result of this is that we want adventures; we want to be Indiana Jones or Han Solo or Malcolm Reynolds or Captain Kirk. But then the nanny state steps in and says, “No, you might hurt yourself”. The sad thing is that we obey because it’s the law.

If change is going to happen then it’s a spiritual change that’s needed. I don’t mean God or some New Age awakening. It’s a fundamental break from our existing social programming. The truth is that we are asleep while they live. The purpose of the Romantic life is to live and they live at our expense. I for one won’t stand for that.

Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars [Romantics]. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off. -- Tyler Durden: Fight Club

Monday, 5 September 2011

Romanticism as Cultural Philosophy

In the appendix to his book, Classic, Romantic, and Modern, Jacques Barzun provides examples of no less than twenty-two different usages of the word Romantic. I cannot think of any other phenomenon in all of cultural history as diverse, loved, hated, misunderstood, and argued as much as the concept of the Romantic. So it is irresponsible for anyone to discuss or write on the topic without saying what they mean when they use the word Romantic.

This is not to say that there is no definitive meaning of the word. Simply that there is no consensus of meaning. Writers on the subject may share particular spheres of general commonality or touch on common points. They may also disagree on key features, for example, there is the question of whether the Romantic Movement was a reaction against the Classicism of the Enlightenment or a natural manifestation of the Enlightenment when it was put into widespread action. On this point, I believe that a surface reading of the Romantic would lead one to the first conclusion, but a deeper reading would lead one to the second.

My approach to the Romantic is similar to that of Jacques Barzun, Ayn Rand, and others who have approached the Romantic Movement by looking at the common denominators that linked all of these diverse writers, artists, and philosophers labelled Romantic. Their most basic conclusion is that Romanticism is individualism. Or, as I say, the Romantic can be summed-up by one word – I. Admittedly, this is an over-simplification, but it gets the essential point across.

There is a key point where I differ from any writer that I have read on the subject of the Romantic. Most authors focus on the Romantic as an intellectual and artistic movement whose most narrow parameters are set between 1780 and 1850. The more generous critics see the movements that followed Romanticism to be merely variations on established themes and therefore extend the dates from 1780 to 1918. Where my approach differs is that I do not see Romanticism solely as an intellectual and artistic movement but more importantly also as a zeitgeist.

The word zeitgeist means “spirit of the age” and essentially describes what we might call the culture of a particular time and place. My unique interpretation and usage of the term Romantic is to describe the prevailing culture of the West from 1776-1929. What this does is shift the focus of the Romantic from the intellectuals and artists who produced the works that we label Romantic and looks to the prevailing attitudes, beliefs, rituals, social philosophy, and material production and consumption of the people themselves. When we do this, historical figures like Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Washington Roebling, and Wyatt Earp become just as much Romantic figures as Byron, Shelly, Hugo, and Goethe.

The result of this shift takes Romanticism out of the established pigeon-holes of academia and releases it into the world. As a religion, Shintoism has a key weakness. Because it is ancestor worship, the practicing of the faith is bound to the land of Japan. It is not portable. Whereas, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam demonstrate that by having a textbook faith it becomes not only portable but exportable. Likewise, if we look at Romanticism as a cultural philosophy and codify it, then the philosophy gains living power and is not imprisoned within the ivory tower. That is what I am attempting to achieve in these articles.

When I write that Romanticism is a cultural philosophy I must add that as far as I know this is as original as a concept can be these days. For all I know someone else has explored this and given it a different name. I’ll explain the notion.

Cultural philosophy is basically looking at the zeitgeist of a particular period and extrapolating a general belief system derived from the cultural evidence. In a sense, it is the opposite of the traditional approach to philosophy. Rather than an ideology being codified and put to action, the action is codified into an ideology.

Where traditional philosophical criticism looks for the application of reason and logic in the codified arguments of a single person or school of thought, cultural philosophy applies an interdisciplinary approach to identify a general philosophical expression of a particular group, which may involve specific philosophic influences. Once identified, it can be codified in the form of general principles. This process involves looking at both the top of the intelligential hierarchy as well as the bottom and understanding the dynamics in-between

This idea of cultural philosophy is in itself a Romantic notion. From the Romantics comes the idea of Nationalism. This is often misrepresented as a worship of the State, but more accurately it stems from the Romantics valuing different cultures as representative of the general will of all the individuals within that society and the belief that a culture could be seen as an ideological entity unto itself’ as often portrayed as a national symbol, like Columbia, Uncle Sam, and Brother Jonathan in America; John Bull and Britannia in the United Kingdom; or Marianne in France. Just as we can recognise a national spirit, so too can we recognise a temporal one.

Romanticism, like national culture, can be defined in similar terms as the dominant cultural philosophy in the West during a specific period of time (1776-1929). We can observe all the different people of this vast era and still recognise a general similarity that distinguishes them from the Classicists who went before and the Socialists who followed.

To illustrate, imagine two men are walking down a street and encounter a homeless man. One man says, “Isn’t this tragic, I can’t believe that we live in a society where people are still homeless”. The other man says, “Isn’t this tragic, I can’t believe someone could mess up his life so horribly”. Each archetype represents two distinct zeitgeists, the Romantic (1776-1929) and the Socialist (1929-present). The key differential between them is that the Romantic is individualistic and believes the man should have done more for himself while the Socialist is a collectivist who believes that society, in the form of the State, should do more to help the homeless in general.

In this example I am not referring to any high minded ideological conflict to be fought by quoting Adam Smith or Karl Marx. For each individual the zeitgeist manifests as a general feeling of what is right that he may never fix to an established codified ideology or assume a set label recognised by academia. The more inquisitive individual may study and find philosophers to justify their sense of reality, but it is important to recognize that their sense or feeling of truth precedes their understanding of any concrete ideology.

One of my favourite films to illustrate this temporal cultural divide is Kate and Leopold which depicts the clash of cultures and attitudes between a Nineteenth century duke and the people of the Twenty-first century world he finds himself in. Remember that the word attitude means orientation. The feelings we describe as attitude are simply the product of a person’s orientation to reality, that is, their philosophy of life. Understanding and codifying this is the process of cultural philosophy.

By emphasising the importance of cultural philosophy it is not my intention to discredit the role of the philosophers, writers, and artists, especially those associated with the Romantic. It is important to understand the connection between these creators and the cultures that they influenced.  Far too often academics focus on the literary and material products of the few at the top because that is their critical expertise and ignore the movements of the much larger cultural mass at the bottom which requires the skill sets of a social scientist or cultural historian.

Richard Dawkins coined the word meme to describe how ideas move through society. A meme is "an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture." Malcolm Gladwell describes a meme as "an idea that behaves like a virus--that moves through a population, taking hold in each person it infects."

The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau was written in 1762 and yet it is cited as one of the key influences of the French Revolution of 1789. That’s a twenty-seven years span. The Communist Manifesto was written in 1848, and yet we do not see the first Communist nation until seventy years later.

Memes take time to spread and often when they reach the stage of widespread cultural influence the ideas presented often become diluted, misinterpreted, or misrepresented, like Chinese Whispers. The source of the ideas may be unknown outside the true believers, but the ideas are still there, imbedded in each person’s general sense of life.

For example, the British free newspaper The Metro had this from a girl who had participated in the London Riots of 2011. The message is watered-down and converted to common perception, but if you look closely you can see Karl Marx’s message, “Property is left”.

One of the girls bragged about ‘getting a couple of free things’, before insisting: ‘It’s the government’s fault. I don’t know. Conservatives, whoever it is. It’s the rich people who’ve got businesses and that’s why all this happened.’

Likewise, the ideas of Romanticism spread like memes through Western Civilization and became the key defining feature of Nineteenth Century culture. This was supported by the laws, governments, institutions, and social codes of conduct that developed and reaffirmed among the people by their attitudes and actions.

When of my favourite little stories that I repeat often is that of the American outlaw Curly Bill Brocious. He had just evaded conviction for murdering of the marshal of Tombstone, Ed White. After the trial, he and a friend rode into a town and went to a restaurant where they forced the patrons to undress and dance at gunpoint. A passing deputy saw this through the window and formed a posse. A gunfight ensued and a horse in the livery where the posse held-up was killed in the crossfire before Bill escaped. The following day a messenger from Bill paid compensation to the livery owner for his loss.

So here is a cruel man who takes pleasure in humiliating people, has no regard for the law, and had just narrowly avoided a murder conviction and yet he felt obligated to take personal responsibility for the livery owner’s property losses. I find that incredible. Compare that attitude with the girl from the London riots or try getting a parent to pay for an item in a shop broken by their child. Even the lowliest criminal of the Nineteenth Century showed more respect for the property rights of others than the average person today. If Bill robbed someone, then that was intentional, but killing the horse was an accident to be repaid. Amazing thought process by our standards.

Here’s in another example of the Romantic attitude from the National Review dated 19 April 1999 called Paying for Beauty - motion picture 'Titanic' misrepresents the social codes of the wealthy.

Yet Cameron-who, as I say, did his homework-knows that there were many true gentlemen in first and second class who indeed, according to their code of behavior, "did the right thing." For example, we see in a cameo shot Isidor Strauss and his wife. They are lying together on a bed in their stateroom, waiting for death. Cameron knows that their real story is more complicated and much more poignant.

Isidor Strauss created the great department store Macy's. In his late 60s, rich and retired, he toured Europe with his wife. They were now heading home on the Titanic. As the ship sank, Mrs. Strauss was allowed to board a lifeboat. She pleaded that her elderly husband be allowed to board too. This was allowed. But Mr. Strauss refused to board. He said, "I will not go before the other men." That was that. She said that she had spent her life with him and would not leave him now. She stepped out of the boat, and they sat on deck chairs to watch others load.

The point here is that the upper-class gentleman's code of that era was deeply felt and sternly enforced. It involved "setting an example" for the rest of society. When things went wrong, one bore it with stoicism, or irony, or humor. Perhaps above all, one was deferential to women.

Col. John Jacob Astor, whose ancestors first earned their money in fur trading, also makes a cameo appearance in Titanic. He was traveling with his second wife, young and pregnant. She pleaded that he be let into a lifeboat with her. Second Officer Lightoller refused: "Women only." Without complaint, Astor withdrew. Apparently while swimming in the ocean he was crushed by tons of steel as one of the funnels tilted and crashed. Benjamin Guggenheim, of the great steel fortune, met a similar fate and asked a departing passenger to tell his wife he had died "like a gentleman."

It is possible that Cameron intuited that a modern audience would scarcely believe that any such code of honor existed. Yet I think he never considered for a moment trying for genuine complexity here, because he had a very different, more up-to-date ideal in mind: that of Jack Dawson.

The author makes a chilling point. We of the Twenty-first century can scarcely imagine how people could possibly be so noble. Remember, this is not a foreign culture. This was us one hundred years ago – next year will be the century anniversary of the Titanic.

We can learn just as much on how to live our lives as Romantics from the examples of the people who actually lived according to the Romantic philosophy as we can in studying the raw material of Romanticism as taught in university literature, political science, philosophy, and art history courses.  You might say that being a modern Romantic requires abandoning your native culture to emulate that of Victoriana.  In its ideal form that is what subcultures like Goth and Steampunk seek to achieve.

When coming to understand Romanticism it is import to know the works and ideas of the key individuals involved in the movement during its first sixty years, but Romanticism cannot be limited to that relative minority. The real Romantic revolution is to be found in the unwritten cultural philosophy and history of the millions of people who participated in the zeitgeist created by those ideas and together created the modern world that we have inherited.


I appreciate that in writing this I found I had to explain the concepts of zeitgeist, cultural philosophy, and memes and in doing so I never actually elaborated on the Romantic principles I say are inherent in the Romantic zeitgeist.  So I will abandon my responsibility to defend my position and simply list a few here that I have gleaned from my research.

Equilibrium:  Life is full of contradictory extremes that must be held in balance.  For example, man is an individual creature but also a social creature, therefore the needs of the individual and the legitimate needs of the group must be balanced.  Life is full of such things requiring balance.

Emotion and Reason:  Romanticism rejects the false dichotomy separating emotion and reason.  You cannot have an idea without an emotion or an emotion without an idea.  When someone is accused of being too emotional, we are actually judging the quality of their thoughts and how they act on those thoughts.  Likewise, when we accuse someone of being too rational, we are denying that they are feeling but choosing not to act in an demonstratively emotional manner.

Volition: This is a fundamental component.  Romanticism is an action oriented philosophy so there is strong emphasis on the will to act, take risks, and try new things.

Energy: This pairs with volition for the purpose of action.  The Romantics glorified men of will and energy who accomplished  great visions.

Natural Rights:  The high value placed on individualism requires a high value also be placed on the importance of the Natural Rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. If the man of will and energy accomplishes his vision at the expense of the rights of others, then he has violated the key rules that define the Romantic.

Karma:  This is cause and affect.  With actions come consequences and each man must take ownership of his actions.  This is positive if he reaps rewards and negative if he brings hardship.  Everyone has the right to keep their justly earned rewards and a responsibility to rectify their mistakes against themselves and others.

Self-Awareness and Acceptance: The Romantic must accept himself for who he is and not be afraid to be honest and open about that.  This ties in with individualism.  You own your life, so it stands to reason to know yourself.  The converse of this is ego, self-consciousness, and self-obsession.  These are forms of fear, and fear is after all the mind-killer.

Diversity, Tolerance, and Acceptance:  The world is a diverse place with diverse opinions with every piece playing its part in the whole dynamic.  Uniformity is never the goal.  This means tolerating things you cannot bear, like the free speech of others with whom you disagree, and accepting those  things that you cannot change. Diversity does not mean allowing people of other cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds walk all over you and yours for fear of offending them, but it does mean respecting the rights of others to act and if need be holding them accountable for their words and deeds.

Social Responsibility:  Humans are social creatures and we choose to join groups for our benefit.  With this comes a responsibility to carry your own weight, so to speak, and see that others do the same.  This also means being someone of your word.  Do what you say and say what you do.

Faith:  As Shepherd Book tells Mal, “I don’t care what you believe, just believe”.   A common trait among all the Romantics was that they had faith is something bigger than themselves whether that be God, or forces of nature, or the nation, or even science.  I call this the great mystery and I think Romanticism needs mystery.

Truth: This is one of the higher Romantic values. It is a honest and un-prejudicial pursuit of understanding the reality the things.  It is a fearless desire to know what is no matter where that journey takes you.

Heroism: The Romantics believed in heroes as exemplars of their values, as models to emulate, and as people worthy of praise.  This ties in with a few other principles: the denial of ego, the respect for other individuals and their achievements, and the will to achieve your own greatness.

Finally there is the Romantic’s idea of the purpose of life.  The answer is simply to live.  Have experiences, find the high places and the low, be brave and bold, search every corner that interests you, take risks, and make life interesting.  Do not be content with the office cubical lifestyle or even a hedonistic routine.  You are an individual, so go and think, feel, and act.