Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lost in thought


Lost is coming to a close, with a finale that is almost sure to be a disappointment, at least to naive viewers who demand closure from their narratives. I have some of those feelings myself, but mostly the show has succeeded in driving away those everyday expectations. I really believe that it is a sign of artistic ambition (success is another matter) when a show or other work defies genre conventions and makes the viewer/reader wrestle with them (Bolano's 2666 is another work like that, a novel that refuses to act like a novel and constantly veers off in other directions).

I'm not all that sophisticated myself, and one of my perpetual irritations with the show is how it can't decide if its science fiction or metaphysical fantasy. The island has "pockets of electromagnetic energy", but it also has [spoiler alert] twin brothers who are all but immortal represent the light and dark forces of the universe. Make up your mind, which brought down the plane, physics or metaphysics?

But then it occured to me that maybe the show is more sophisticated than I give it credit for. After all, I am perpetually trying to articulate my own half-baked, vaguely Platonistic notion that non-physical entities (ideas, selves, souls, gods even) have a legitimate form of existence, but that their existence is always implemented/incarnated in physical stuff. When I see people confused about this I just want to smack some sense into them. Well, not to get into that stuff here, but it seems that it applies to the world of Lost. Why can't the electromagnetic energy be a manifestation of the spirits, or vice versa? Why can't ideas be both immaterial and material, and Certs be both a floor wax and a dessert topping?

So the question remains (for a few hours) whether the show, in its wrap-up, can make a contribution to this perpetually thorny philosophical problem while also providing the requisite amount of explosions, deaths, flashbacks, and ominous musical cues?
[[update: well, that was about as disappointing as expected. Ultimately, the show at its core was neither SF nor fantasy, but a very vanilla character-driven drama. Thus the perfunctory and unsatisfying activity at the heart of the island, with the giant cork and all, compared with the rather touching character reunions in the sideways universe as the characters reunited with their true loves and got their memories back. Didn't make much sense, except on the emotional level.]]
On a somewhat related topic, I took the kids yesterday to the Maker Faire, a yearly event that represents a concentrated dose of the artist-techie-hipster-tinkerer community (lots of Burning Man type of stuff, without having to endure a eight-hour drive to the desert). It's related because the people there all engaged in giving material form to ideas. I am somewhat in awe of this. While I view myself as a maker, most of the stuff I make is made of words or symbols. Manipulating actual matter takes too much work. Yet here are these people willing to take the idea of a mobile 15-foot high mobile robotic giraffe, or a vehicle shaped like a cupcake, or a musical instrument involving two giant Tesla coils, and do the hard work of turning them into real physical things. While mostly I admire the sheer effort and energy that go into this, a part of me dismisses it as a waste. There's something in me (and I learned it from the culture I grew up with) that thinks of matter as lowly and values abstraction and disembodiment over anything tangible. I've been fighting against tendency my whole life in various ways, and going to events like the Maker Faire is one way of doing that. The immaterial spirits animating this festival of matter-workers were (ahem) palpable.

24 comments:

David Chapman said...

The good thing about creating non-physical entities is that the replication cost is near-zero. So if they are actually of value, they can be of value to an unlimited number of people

Many of my friends spend much of their time doing craft work, which I sort of admire, but.

I can't help thinking "Only one person is going to get to use that, and maybe a few others will enjoy looking at it." As an engineer, I can't help thinking "if that were really such a great thing, it would be far better to spend twenty times as much work to create a machine that would churn them out by the thousands -- the benefit/effort ratio would be overwhelmingly greater".

I am afraid this probably makes me unspiritual and unartistic and materialistic and part of the general problem of left-brained scientific/capitalist/fascist exploitative etc.

mtraven said...

In an age of mass production, hand-crafted objects have serious status value, for both owner and maker. Part of the status-value for makers was being independent. Mass production required the resources of a corporation and the designs were thus mediocre and the designers faceless.

One of the more interesting things going on in the Makersphere is the rise of an ecosystem of computer-driven foundries (like Ponoko and Shapeways), so individuals can design something and have it mass-reproduced. This is very Wired-magazine-trendy, which makes me somewhat resistant, but it's also kind of cool. The net effect may be to eventually blur the line between one-off art objects and mass-produced on-sale-at-Walmart objects.

Anonymous said...

Your last comment ("in an age of mass production, hand-crafted objects have serious status value...") expresses with apparently naive and sincere belief an attitude that Thorstein Veblen scathingly criticized in his "Theory of the Leisure Class."

Veblen of course had in mind the aesthetic values of the plutocrats of the gilded age, such as we may see preserved in the Morgan Library or the Barnes Museum. It is, however, amusing that what he observed is just as applicable to the patrons of the Maker Faire and the "artist-techie-hipster-tinkerer community" that sells them their handmade gewgaws.

Oh, what affluence and middle age can do to a counter-culture!

mtraven said...

Say what? Where exactly is my naivete?

In fact nobody has more status games going on than artist and hipster subcultures. All they do is invent different status criteria than the mainstream culture. You get points for having more tatoos, or inventing some bizarre persona for yourself, than for having a Rolex and a big house. Or for having artistic talent or creating something interestingly original.

The prevalence of status seeking is not something I particularly like -- that's a subject for another time -- but it's just a basic fact of human society that it's everywhere. Nothing at all to do with middle age and affluence.

So I have no idea what point you think you are making. If you're going to snipe at me at least take the trouble to snipe at something I have actually said or believe.

Anonymous said...

It always seemed to me that Veblen was a sort of proto-counterculturist. According to his Wikipedia biography, for example, he "reflected many of his views in his personal habits; his house was often a mess, with unmade beds and dirty dishes; his clothes were often in disarray; he was an agnostic; and he tended to be rude in dealing with other people." Just so with the beatniks of the 'fifties and the hippies of the 'sixties, whose similar distaste for for "bourgeois values" led them to live in slatternly crash pads or squalid communes, to dress like bums, and to have infrequent contact with soap and water.

Now the counterculture of yesteryear has become the dominant culture of today (at least in places like San Francisco) and it has its own "Veblen goods" on display at events like the Maker Faire. It is amusing that a middle-aged and affluent apologist for that culture can, without any apparent intention of irony, attribute "serious status value" to these gimcracks.

This can be understood as a product of the conflicting roots of the counterculture - on one hand in socialist politics with its supposed concern for the poor and working class, and in the other in the emanations and penumbras of the Arts and Crafts movement. We have seen all this before - it is delineated in masterly fashion by Orwell in "The Road to Wigan Pier."

Events like the Maker Faire and Burning Man are today's answer to the Garden City at Letchworth, and its Independent Labor Party Summer Schools. These gave rise to Orwell's inimitable comments about fruit-juice drinkers, nudists, sandal wearers, sex-maniacs, nature-cure quacks, and the like. Such people, according to Orwell, "...bore the worst stigmata of sniffish middle-class superiority." And what better evidence could there have been then, or be today, than their desire for "hand-crafted objects" of "serious status value"? As Orwell says, if those in attendance at such doings should find "a real working man, a miner dirty from the pit, for instance, had suddenly walked into their midst, they would have been embarrassed, angry, and disgusted." And he'd have been disgusted with them.

mtraven said...

It's really amazing to me how many things you can get wrong in one post.

Now the counterculture of yesteryear has become the dominant culture of today...

One might wonder, if one was actually thinking rather than regurgitating cliches that were stale when they were minted, how a bunch of slatternly, slovenly, lazy bums managed to become the dominant culture. Sounds like way too much work.

"Veblen goods" on display at events like the Maker Faire

The stated ethos of the Maker Faire couldn't be more opposite to that of Veblen's description of conspicuous consumption. It's right there in the name: they valorize creativity, production, and participation, not vapid consumption.

Now, it's a fact of life in a capitalist society, for an artist-producer to make a living, there need to be art-consumers. So there's an element of consumption and salesmanship going on. But that's a problem endemic to modern culture, not specific to the Makersphere, which resists it better than most.

a middle-aged and affluent apologist for that culture...

What am I supposed to be apologizing for?

Orwell may have been a keen observer of British class markers and behavior but his insights don't necessarily translate to a culture a century and half a world away.

In fact, one of the refreshing things about the Maker Faire is that it cuts across such class divisions as persist in a nice way. Alongside the art-hipsters from San Francisco are the garage tinkerers, model-train enthusiasts, and weekend machinists from the suburbs. That's pretty typical of California alterative subcultures actually -- the hippies semed to draw from a wide variety of strata. And it's also a typical role of the engineering profession to be a bridge between the laboring and managerial classes -- some of that ethos is present as well.

One of the bigger exhibitors there was the TechShop, a facility in Menlo Park where random people can come in and use lathes, milling machines, laser cutters and the like, and take courses if they don't know how. Now, whether this is going to be the seed of a new industrial revolution is questionable -- maybe it's just a bunch of hobbyists. But I don't think you can accuse people learning to operate serious machine tools of being lazy or being mere upper-class snobs.

Anonymous said...

"Veblen goods" ARE "hand-crafted objects [that] have serious status value." It doesn't matter whether the object in question is a late Victorian bibelot from the workshops of William Morris, or a thingumabob from the Maker Faire.

However much you attempt to get away from this point in your later comments, you made it yourself in your response to David Chapman. Veblen, who admired engineers, would have agreed with Mr. Chapman.

The pursuit of Veblen goods, whatever they may be, is obviously incompatible with the proclaimed egalitarianism of the left. When middle-aged and affluent leftists endorse that pursuit, it exposes their egalitarianism as the pretense it really is. At least the fellow proud of his big house and his Rolex (rather too mass-produced and marketed to be a true Veblen good) is not such a hypocrite.

As for Orwell, styles may change but themes seem constant. A description of Letchworth Garden City, which attracted so much of Orwell's scorn, may be found at:

www.utopia-britannica.org.uk/pages/Cloisters.html

Here's an excerpt:

"A small permanent community grew up at the Closters augmented by people attending the numerous classes and summer schools... Housework in the community was a male activity carried out by earnest young men in robes and sandals... Members of the community were encouraged to grow their own food, but seemed by all accounts to have preferred to spend their time philosophising, watching the sunset or stars from the rooftop promenade or partaking of nude bathing at dawn.

"J. Bruce Wallace, one of the founders of the Garden City Association... was formerly a leading light in the Brotherhood Church who had by this time 'converted' to Theosophy and his summer school students joined with the community members in practical craft activities such as woodcarving and sandal making whilst pursuing their personal quests for psychic growth and personal freedom..."

Letchworth Garden City was somewhat heavier on what Mencken used to call "the uplift" than are is its current descendants, but the family resemblance between it and such phenomena as Burning Man or Maker Faire is quite evident.

I don't recall I said anything about people involved in these activities being lazy. They are quite diligent in their own way. When they "{learn} to operate serious machine tools," isn't what they are doing comparable to what William Morris or Eric Gill did a century or more ago, and for similar motivations? Time will tell whether they manage to accomplish anything of comparable merit to Morris's textiles or Gill's type designs and stone carvings.

goatchowder said...

It seems really obvious to me. Non-physical entities are emergent phenomona, and they exist as vibrations/disturbances in physical entities. Like fluid dynamics, the phenomena exist apart from the material they're made of, even though they're made of it. I have no trouble wrapping my brain around this.

But on an even more fundamental level, even "physical objects" are just emergent phenomena anyway, made out of spinning atoms that combine and recombine often (more or less often, depending on the chemical composition of them). So, it's all one big emergent phenomena. What we call "solid objects" would be just sneezes to any object-- or phenomena-- that exists for millenia, if such things were self-aware (and maybe they are?), just as ephemeral as the molecules in a column of water that make up a vortex.

mtraven said...

Anonymous: You seem to be setting up retarded sterotypes and then complaining when reality inevitably fails to conform to them. This does not seem very interesting to me.

Look, I've been to these events, so I think I have a fairly good idea of what they are about. Your uninformed opinions of them are worthless to me, and apparently my observations are worthless to you, so why are you here?

mtraven said...

goatchowder: that seems about right. The problem is that our tools for thinking about emergent phenomenena, and the interaction between phenomenena on different levels (say, ideas and neurons) are pretty impoverished, both in science and in everyday life.

Anonymous said...

Instead of name-calling ("retarded stereotypes"), why not formulate a well-reasoned rebuttal? You haven't done, so far.

Let's compare and contrast your observation that "hand-crafted objects have serious status value" with what Veblen actually wrote in his "Theory of the Leisure Class":

"The point of material difference between machine-made goods and the hand-wrought goods which serve the same purpose is, ordinarily, that the former serve their primary purpose more adequately. They are a more perfect product - show a more perfect adaptation of means to end. This does not save them from disesteem and deprecation, for they fall short under the test of honorific waste. Hand labor is a more wasteful method of production; hence the goods turned out by this method are more serviceable for the purpose of pecuniary reputability; hence the marks of hand labor come to be honorific, and the goods which exhibit these marks take rank as of higher grade than the corresponding machine product. Commonly, if not invariably, the honorific marks of hand labor are certain imperfections and irregularities in the lines of the hand-wrought article, showing where the workman has fallen short in the execution of the design. The ground of the superiority of hand-wrought goods, therefore, is a certain suggestion of crudeness. This margin must never be so wide as to show bungling workmanship, since that would be evidence of low cost, nor so narrow as to suggest the ideal precision attained only by the machine, for that would be evidence of low cost.

"The appreciation of those evidences of honorific crudeness to which hand-wrought goods owe their superior worth and charm in the eyes of well-bred people is a matter of nice discrimination. It requires training and the formation of right habits of thought with respect to what may be called the physiognomy of goods... The ceremonial inferiority of machine products goes to show that the perfection of skill and workmanship embodied in any costly innovations in the finish of goods is not sufficient of itself to secure them acceptance and permanent favor...

"The ceremonial inferiority of uncleanness in consumable goods due to 'commonness,' or in other words to their slight cost of production, has been taken very seriously by many persons. The objection to machine products is often formulated as an objection to the commonness of such goods. What is common is within the (pecuniary) reach of many people. Its consumption is therefore not honorific, since it does not serve the purpose of a favorable invidious comparison with other consumers..."

In short, the reason your "hand-crafted objects have serious status value" is, according to Veblen, that they:

1) exhibit "the honorific marks of hand labor"; and

2) these "evidences of honorific crudeness to which hand-wrought goods owe their superior worth and charm in they eyes of well-bred people" are what "serve the purpose of a favorable invidious comparison with other consumers."

When you wrote admiringly of the "serious status value" that the hand-crafted objects available at the Maker Faire have, you seem to be concurring with the judgment of "their superior worth and charm in the eyes of well-bred people" that Veblen made the object of his sarcastic criticism. I find this quite interesting, and am just trying to get you to address the point. It suggests an inconsistency in your thinking that is worth exploring.

mtraven said...

Rebuttal to what? You are just vaporing. If there's a point to it, it eludes me.

I find this quite interesting, and am just trying to get you to address the point. It suggests an inconsistency in your thinking that is worth exploring.

I guess I should be flattered that you find my (apparent) inconsistencies so interesting.

You seem to be spending a whole lot of energy jumping on one tossed-off sentence about "serious status value". If you look back at that sentence, it was neither approving nor disapproving, just descriptive.

It might be somewhat inconsistent, I suppose, if I claimed somewhere that the Maker Faire had an ethos of radical egalitarianism, but I don't think I said anything like that.

Now, there is a particular kind of egalitarian ethos found there, but it's one of equality of access and opportunity, not of outcomes or status. Anybody can get access to a plasma cutter, or a DNA synthesizer! You don't have to work for a large corporation! That's exciting (and somewhat scary). But it's much different from trying to abolish status, which will go to the person who can do the most attention-grabbing thing with the available tools.

There are some religious groups that try to abolish status (supposedly the Amish don't allow buttons on their clothing because it's too ostentatious) but that is poles apart from the frank exhibitionism of the subcultures under discussion here.

Anonymous said...

Yes, and isn't that frank exhibitionism in conflict with egalitarianism? Equal access - the old saw of "equal opportunity" - and equality of condition or outcome are often presented as alternative approaches. But they boil down to the same thing in the end, since the egalitarian will always find that there is no real equality of access or opportunity unless it results in equality of outcome.

As for being "neither approving nor disapproving, just descriptive" - Mr. Chapman was making exactly the point Veblen does about the superior utilitarian benefit of mass-produced articles, and you were defending the event's concentration on the one-off, hand-crafted object, which, as he says, only one person is going to get to use, and maybe a few others will enjoy looking at. You and he are at opposite ends of an argument - neither is expressing a neutral or descriptive position.

Anonymous said...

PS - the Amish do not dress plainly in an egalitarian effort to abolish status. They do so in pursuit of the Christian virtue of humility, in an effort to avoid at least the outward manifestations of the cardinal sin of pride.

A better example of plain dress in the pursuit of egalitarianism is the Mao suit. Of course Maoism, like most egalitarianism, was a pretense, behind which hid the massive self-aggrandizement of the ruling clique, the "Gang of Four."

Egalitarians rarely if ever actually want the equality they profess to hold dear. Egalitarianism is instead a stratagem used by a rising, would-be, elite, to displace and degrade an existing elite. Thus the egalitarianism of the French revolution led to the deposition of the weak and decadent Bourbon kings, to be replaced ultimately by the ambitious tyranny of Napoleon. The egalitarianism of the Bolshevists was a pretext for their overthrow of the ineffectual absolutism of the Romanoffs and its replacement with the more efficient totalitarianism of Lenin and Stalin.

Egalitarianism is hence a delusion, since there will always be an elite, and it will always seek to distinguish itself from hoi polloi, in among other ways, by its pursuit and acquisition of Veblen goods.

mtraven said...

Yes, and isn't that frank exhibitionism in conflict with egalitarianism?

No, as I just explained.

Again (and I think this will be the last time): if the world doesn't neatly conform to your cliched and simplistic conceptual categories, that's not really my fault, and not my problem.

Mr. Chapman was making exactly the point Veblen does about the superior utilitarian benefit of mass-produced articles, and you were defending the event's concentration on the one-off, hand-crafted object

The world is not limited to one or the other. And in fact, the point I made directly after Chapman's was that the lines between these two modes are blurring in an interesting way.

Another point: handcrafted objects serve as prototypes for mass-produced ones. So if a handcrafted object that costs $1000 dollars turns out to be seriously useful or just have mass appeal, you can be sure that someone will attempt to mass produce it for $25 soon enough.

I don't know how Mao and Stalin got into this conversation, since it's hard to imagine a more appealing vision of capitalism than the Maker Faire culture-- it's got all of the entrepreneurial vigor and creativity, with none of the dark satanic mills, class struggle, or rape of the environment (in theory).

mtraven said...

And (surprise) you are wrong about the Amish:

Everyday life and customs in the Amish community are governed by an unwritten code of behavior called the Ordnung...A respected Ordnung generates peace, love, contentment, equality, and unity. It creates a desire for togetherness and fellowship....

But I guess they are deluded, according to you. Probably, but they seem to have hit upon a robust and workable set of delusions, that is more likely than most to survive over the long term than does industrial civilization.

Anonymous said...

The Maker Faire appears to me to have about the same relationship to real industry as Marie Antoinette playing at being a milkmaid had to a real dairy, or as the shepherds of the imaginary Arcady of Theocritus and Virgil had to real sheep farming.

Furthermore, its hand-made products do not appear to be prototypes for later mechanical production, but, as you yourself said, "the realization of manifestly silly ideas." It is just this that makes them examples of Veblen's "conspicuous waste," and hence, in their own way, objects of virtu - at least in the perception of people who acquire them for what you identified as their "serious status value."

Religious reasons underlie the Amish Ordnung, as I pointed out before you brought it up; as Christians, they consider pride a deadly sin, and its outward manifestations as leading away from the peace, love, contentment, etc., they prize. The equality they believe in is equality in the sight of God. That is at least understandable; but in whose sight do atheists wish to be equal? Their egalitarianism is just a device to excite envy and thereby to advance a political agenda.

You sneered in an earlier comment, "take the trouble to snipe at something I have actually said or believe." Very well - although I thought I already had, here's another:

"There's something in me... that thinks of matter as lowly and values abstraction and disembodiment over anything tangible."

Veblen explains:

"The archaic theoretical distinction between the base and the honourable in the manner of a man's life retains very much of its ancient force even today. So much so that there are few of the better class who are not possessed of an instinctive repugnance for the vulgar forms of labour. We have a realising sense of ceremonial uncleanness attaching in an especial degree to the occupations which are associated in our habits of thought with menial service. It is felt by all persons of refined taste that a spiritual contamination is inseparable from certain offices that are conventionally required of servants... vulgarly productive occupations are unhesitatingly condemned and avoided. They are incompatible with life on a satisfactory spiritual plane - with 'high thinking'. From the days of the Greek philosophers to the present... exemption from contact with such industrial processes as serve the immediate everyday purposes of human life has ever been recognised by thoughtful men as a prerequisite to a worthy or beautiful, or even a blameless, human life."

You can run from Veblen, but you can't hide - even in the dilettante "industry" of a Maker Faire.

Anonymous said...

Further on the Amish, from the same site to which you linked:

"Two key concepts for understanding Amish practices are their revulsion of _Hochmut_ (pride, arrogance, haughtiness) and the high value they place on _Demut_ (humility) and _Gelaßenheit_ (calmness, composure, placidity). This all translates into a reluctance to be forward, self-promoting, or to assert oneself in any way. The willingness to submit to the will of God, as expressed through group norms, is at odds with the individualism that is central to general American culture."

It wasn't convenient for you to excerpt and quote that paragraph, since it confirmed that I was right.

mtraven said...

The Maker Faire appears to me...

I should have stopped reading right there, because why should I care how it appears to you when I've seen it up close?

...to have about the same relationship to real industry as Marie Antoinette playing at being a milkmaid had to a real dairy

Let's say for the sake of argument that this is true, and all the Maker Faire activity is only a silly hobby for silly people. If so, why are you spending so much energy on it? There are a great many silly recreational activities in the world.

Religious reasons underlie the Amish Ordnung

Duh. So what? Egalitarianism is one of element of their ethos, which is what I said and what you erroneously claimed was wrong.

BTW, your constant recitation of Veblen is tedious. Nothing against him, but his insights on consumerism and status goods have been completely absorbed into the culture. Everyone knows that stuff, and there have been countless cycles of commentary on it, for instance Warhol's Pop Art.

in whose sight do atheists wish to be equal?

Each other.

But in one respect I sort of agree with you; attempts to build radically egalitarian societies on a secular basis have generally failed (like the left-wing Israeli kibbutzim); whereas religious ones have sometimes succeeded. This is not because secularists are horrible, devious, selfish people, but I don't really have the energy to go into the actual reasons here.

Anonymous said...

You can't quite admit that Veblen's criticisms apply to you. They do. You don't like that and therefore find it tedious. I find it amusing.

Religiously-motivated egalitarianism, as found among the Amish, and even religiously-motivated communism, as found among monastic orders, now works mainly because it is voluntary. When it was not, there was great disorder and unhappiness, as evidenced by the poor morale, licentiousness, and outright revolt in monasteries and nunneries, so frequently described in the histories of late medieval and early modern Europe. Popular song was written about it:

"Une jeune fillette
de noble cœur,
Plaisante et joliette
de grand' valeur.
Oultre son gré on l'a rendu nonnette
Cela poinct ne luy haicte
dont vit en grand' doleur.

"Ung soir apres complie
seulette estoit,
En grand melancolie
se tourmentoit,
Disant ainsi, doulce Vierge Marie
Abregez moy la vie,
puisque mourir je doy..."

Modern atheistic egalitarians would impose their will on others who don't wish to be equal with them, principally by expropriating and redistributing their property. Some of the latter might wish to die, like the young girl forced into the convent. Others will resist. As Orwell wrote:

"As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents...

"The truth is that, to many people calling themselves Socialists, revolution does not mean a movement of the masses with which they hope to associate themselves; it means a set of reforms which 'we', the clever ones, are going to impose on 'them', the Lower Orders...

"The ordinary man may not flinch from a dictatorship of the proletariat, if you offer it tactfully; offer him a dictatorship of the prigs, and he gets ready to fight."

These passages seem quite relevant to the present unpopularity of government bail-outs and take-overs, the passage of Obamacare in the teeth of public opinion, Obama's sinking approval numbers, and the likely shellacking his party will face in the coming election.

Anonymous said...

Still further on the Amish: They have not abolished status by their outward plainness. The same article to which you have linked indicates that "The Amish community is divided into church districts... Each district has a bishop, two to four preachers, and an elder..." Such figures rank at the top of the status ladder. At the bottom are the rule-breakers, who are shunned - pariahs.

Their outward equality of appearance hence does not mean they lack hierarchical organization. Submission to God must be reflected in submission to authority, just as it is reflected in the humility of their plain dress and avoidance of vanity. Similarly, though monks may all wear the same habit and share in a communal life, there are clear distinctions of rank or status, e.g., abbot, prior, etc. Even religious communities attain only a superficial semblance of equality.

goatchowder said...

Man, you guys are having a flamewar over politics and dialectics, and I was getting all metaphysical on ya. What are you arguing about? The "physical world" all just vibrations anyway.

I think you guys need to have a nice bong load together, and all will be well.

mtraven said...

You can't quite admit that Veblen's criticisms apply to you. They do.

Well, he was critiquing a culture; I am part of that culture; so if his criticisms have some applicability to me that is not very surprising.

But in general, you have the same problem here as you have with the Maker Faire: I am much more familiar with myself than you are; so there's little you can say about my character that will be novel or interesting. To me that is. I doubt very many other people are following this conversation, but if you really want to spend your time tearing me down for their benefit, knock yourself out.

Modern atheistic egalitarians would impose their will on others..

Kibbutzim and hippie communes were purely voluntary. That's the only sort of egalitarian communism that ever appealed to me, but as I said before, it hasn't proven very workable.

But you are conflating that kind of radical egalitarianism with the more modest egalitarian tendencies of liberal or socialist governments. They really aren't the same thing at all. Not very many people want to live on a commune, but most people in the world (the US is something of an exception) want the government to provide a safety net, flatten massive disparities of wealth, and otherwise make society more egalitarian than a state of nature.

Neither of these forms of egalitarianism have much to do with the Maker Faire (and once again you've managed to divert the discussion into an irrelevant obsession). Whatever egalitarianism is present there is of a distinctively American type, the type that celebrates equal access to the tools and materials of creation, not social leveling. I know that the Tea Party pinheads are trying to appropriate the American founders and their narrative for their own purposes, but I guarantee that Jefferson and Franklin, at least, would be delighted with the Maker Faire and appalled at the inchoate whining ignorance that informs the Teabaggers.

Anonymous said...

A doctor doesn't need to have come down with syphilis in order to recognize it. No more do I have to have visited Burning Man or the Maker Faire in order to form a pretty good idea of them - and I have not formed it based only on what you have written here.

I have been to San Francisco, and have observed the local fauna, flora, and "fruita" well enough to find Orwell's phrase quite applicable:

"all that dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come nocking toward the smell of 'progress' like bluebottles to a dead cat."

As for "the more modest tendencies of liberal or socialist governments," Santayana's comment in "The Intellectual Temper of the Age" is apposite:

"Liberalism has been supposed to advocate liberty; but what the advanced parties that still call themselves liberal is control, control over property, trade, wages, hours of work, meat and drink, amusements, and in a truly advanced country like France control over education and religion; and it is only on the subject of marriage... that liberalism is growing more and more liberal."

That was written in 1911, and after 99 years it still rings true!