L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Monday, November 29, 2010

Another thing that's "just the way it is"?

Why is it that arrogance and vulgarity are so often linked? A particularly noxious pairing. Separately, both are certainly "timeless qualities". Arrogance has always been disapproved of (but often tolerated in the very great), and vulgarity clearly shunned. But the entwining seems to be a very current prevalence: The rude and the crude are given all our attention. The loudest and foulest, the ugly-acting, the ugly-making, are our celebrities. The most tasteless, the most rich, the most outrageous, the most cruel. In our culture everyone has a "right" to do whatever they want - on television, preferably - and shame is the dirtiest word.

Arrogance is one of the basic human weaknesses. But, it seems to me, if you're to be "respectably" arrogant, you need at least to have something - great talent, great beauty, great learning, even old wealth or a noble family - to make it in some way explicable. Never defensible, never excusable, arrogance in a person should at least be comprehensible. If you have little or nothing that is useful or "important" to offer the world, at the very least be kind. Just be kind.

If you're a vulgar person, getting there wasn't your fault. It certainly wouldn't have been a personal goal. But I believe we're all responsible - at least to some degree - for trying to make ourselves better than we are; what's the damned point of being human if we can't improve ourselves a little. Working to recognize our weaknesses, first of all, and working to compensate for them. A lot of people - maybe most - shy away from things they don't understand culturally. They hold close to lifestyle and entertainment choices they know and to the people who make similar choices. Sadly, much - maybe most - of what we do choose (in this country, now, especially) is just junk. Really, just junk. If you choose not to look farther than your comfort zone, if you are afraid to think and appreciate differently than those around you, or if you know the difference and merely enjoy the ugly or inexpert or vulgar, that doesn't make you a bad person. But chances are you're an ignorant (or just perverse) one. And is that ever something to be proud of?

It used to be that people were embarrassed by their ignorance. By their common-ness. They respected education and culture, even when they possessed neither. And they strove to attain it; if not for themselves, at least for their children. But, now, stubborn ignorance is a virtue. Greed is a virtue - it used to be a sin - and tasteless excess is the surest indication of success. In a world of Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, American Idol, the Kardashians, George W. Bush, Jerry Springer, et al, being loud and proud about your intellectual and cultural limitations - large and small - can make you a celebrity. Or president.

I understand that the human mind - even a very deficient one - is a terribly subtle, contrary mechanism. Most people have backward, self-deluding reasons for doing unpleasant or unattractive things. If they think about it at all. So I don't really wonder why people act like this. But I wonder why the rest of us give it such credence, why we don't condemn it. Why, instead of listening to the tantrum or watching the program or buying the music, or in all other ways validating this mind set, we don't feel at least enough "embarrassed for mankind" to look away. I suppose most of our lack of restraint is because of the "car wreck" reflex; we're just programmed to gawk. But shouldn't we fight that instinct? Shouldn't we try? My thinking, as the damnably old-fashioned parent I would have been, is to say to all this fairly toxic nonsense, as I would to bratty child, "If you can't behave in a civilized manner, please go to your room; I don't want to look at you when you act like this."